State of the German polls: the AfD is down, but not out

What’s the matter with the AfD?

Over the last couple of weeks, the mainstream media (or as the AfD would have it, the “lying press”) have begun to write off the AfD as past its sell-by day (btw, did you realise that we won the battle against populism when Wilders performed slightly less well than expected after some early polling?). There are basically three reasons for that:

  1. New lows of infighting
  2. The Saarland election
  3. A modest slump in the polls

Let’s look at them in turn.

More infighting in the AfD

I cannot remember how often I have used the phrase “fear and loathing” by now, but hey, it still fits. Frauke Petry and her supporters in the national and state-level leadership are still trying to expel regional leader Björn Höcke over his Holocaust comments. Höcke’s own chapter, however, have just selected him as a delegate for the upcoming party conference. Within her own chapter, Petry is under pressure because she is seen as a) too moderate and b) too obsessed within her own agenda. Just yesterday, the Stern magazine leaked a draft resolution for the party conference which aims at re-defining the AfD as a “moderate”, “civic” outfit that would in principle form coalitions with other parties. This is particularly funny once you remember that this is exactly what Petry’s predecessor Lucke had in mind before Petry ousted him with a little help from the less-than-moderate elements in the party. And the list goes on …

What about the Saarland election?

In the election for the Saarland state parliament, the AfD won six per cent of the vote, which is a bit of a comedown after the party’s performances in the last round of state elections in 2016. The media read this as an omen for the Bundestagswahl in September, which is nonsense for a number of reasons: First, the AfD tends to do better in the eastern states. Second, and more importantly, state elections tend to be affected by federal politics, but only up to a point: first and foremost, they are regional affairs. In the case of the Saarland, this means (amongst many other things) that the regional chapter of the AfD is so closely enmeshed with right-wing extremists that the national leadership tried to disband the chapter only last year.

Yes, you read that right. The move was blocked by the AfD’s highest internal court, which ruled that the evidence against the chapter was insufficient. The national leadership then asked the state party to clean up their act and not to take part in the election. The state party declined that request. Their frontrunner candidate was caught on camera selling Nazi devotionalia in his shop only weeks before the election. And they still got six per cent of the vote in a high turnout election. Not too shabby, I would think.

What do the polls say?

How strong is the AfD? Depends on whom you ask

Repeat after me: “It’s just a single poll” … which is not entirely true any more. The last nine days have brought the same number of new polls (pushing the total to 51), the last of which seem to indicate a further slump of AfD support. Just today, FGW published findings from another Politbarometer survey, which has the AfD at six per cent (that’s the mood, i.e. weighed but not otherwise adjusted data), even worse than the seven per cent Forsa gave them after the Saarland election. Even INSA, who are always rather bullish on the AfD, reported a mere nine per cent support on Monday. But another Forsa poll as well as an Emnid poll which both gave the AfD nine per cent again went largely unnoticed. And FGW always generates huge negative outliers (which still might represent public opinion accurately) when it comes to the AfD. My model, which aims at factoring in these things, currently puts them at eight per cent — definitely less support than they had in January, but sufficiently far away from the electoral threshold

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For all purposes and intents, the Left and the AfD are currently indistinguishable.

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But the same can not be said for the FDP. For the first time since I began pooling the polls in January and less than six months before the election, support for the FDP may have fallen below the electoral threshold. As of Wednesday (the mathematical midpoint of the FGW poll), the estimated probability of the FDP having exactly five per cent support or more was 64 per cent. As one of the great political philosophers of our time is apt to say: SAD. Losers?

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Support for the Greens, on the other hand, is lower than it was in January but has been stable at this level for the last two months.

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And finally, the major parties. According to their political preferences, the media have variously reported an ongoing Schulz effect, the Christian democrats catching up with the SPD, or Merkel pulling far ahead. The latest polls seem to support any of these views. They look rather noisy, and estimated levels of support are still overlapping: the Christian democrats could be anywhere between one point behind or five points ahead of the SPD.

In sum, the overall estimates have not changed much over the last two weeks. The two major parties are more or less neck-on-neck, with the CDU/CSU still struggling to re-establish a clear lead. The AfD, Left, and Greens are all well below ten and well above five per cent. The only relevant change is that the FDP has slipped back a bit, which brings them perilously close to the electoral threshold.

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This, in turn, rules out a “civic” coalition: in 60,000 simulated draws from the posterior, not a single one indicated that on current levels of polling, the FDP and the Christian Democrats could be able to form a government. Neither is there a red-green majority. A red-red-green coalition (vastly unpopular with most voters) is a mathematical possibility in 63% of all draws. Unsurprisingly, it becomes much more likely (99%) if the FDP is out. A “Jamaica” coalition (FDP, Greens, Christian Democrats) is not even mathematically likely (11%), and the odds for a “Trafficlight” coalition (FDP, Greens, SPD) are even worse (2%). On the other hand, unless the AfD makes a massive recovery, there is no chance that a Grand Coalition would not have a crushing majority. Watch this space


Originally published at kai arzheimer.