It wasn’t supposed to be this easy. Six months ago, there was little hope that the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats would become the nation’s replacement for retiring chancellor Angela Merkel. But with a week to go before some 60.4 million Germans are eligible to vote in a federal election, all of the smart money — and a lot more besides — is saying Olaf Scholtz will be the kingmaker in forming the next coalition and will be the new chancellor to boot.
If things go according to a slew of opinion polls, Merkel’s Christian Democrats and its sister party from Bavaria will finish with less than one-in-five votes of Germans — down from the levels of 33 per cent support it enjoyed consistently under Merkel’s last term as chancellor.
After four terms of Merkel’s CDU-led governments, Germans are saying they want change — and are looking to Scholtz’ Social Democrats to provide it.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for a politician who less than 12 months ago was seen as boring and uninspiring. But boring and uninspiring seems to have caught the imagination and support of Germans, with one-in-three voters in the elections on Sep. 26 likely to tick the box for the SPD — a party that has been part of the political landscape of Germany when it was first unified in the 1870s under the chancellorship of Otto von Bismarck and one that opposed Adolf Hitler’s rise to power eight decades ago.
In two recent prime time television debates between party leaders, Scholtz delivered credible and solid performances, with most Germans who tuned in giving their thumbs up to his performances.
A snap poll for ARD television taken soon after the last Sunday’s 90-minute debate showed that 41 per cent of those asked thought Scholz was the most convincing performer, compared to 27 per cent for Armin Laschet, Merkel’s hand-picked choice as CDU leader, while 25 per cent favoured the performance of the Greens candidate, Annalena Baerbock.
Come Monday Sep. 27 when all the votes have been cast, it will be Scholtz who will likely lead the largest bloc in the Bundestag — but most certainly not enough to govern without the support of at least one other — more likely two — parties.
The CDU’s Laschet is becoming increasingly aggressive in his questioning of Scholtz’ role in a money-laundering scandal. Trouble is, the more dirt Laschet tries to throw, the less is seeming to
the senior partners in the ruling coalition with the Social Democrats. If anything, German’s have not been willing to forgive Laschet for being video laughing and joking as homes and businesses were washed away in serious flooding that claimed some 100 lives in early summer.
Those floods, experts say, were down to climate change, where weather events are more severe and have catastrophic effects on property and people. Given that, you would expect Germany’s Greens to benefit in support. Simply put, that hasn’t translated into a surge of support for the Greens’ Baerbock.
Those 60 million German’s eligible to vote? Demographics suggest that many who cast votes are older. While climate change is a pressing issue for younger voters, they don’t turn out to cast ballots in the numbers that older voters do. And, according to a survey by Germany’s Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union, some 60 per cent of voters over the age of 65 said they would not let the climate and nature conservation interests of younger generations influence their voting decision.
Germany’s election officials expect the number of voters under 30 years age to fall to around the 15 per cent level. By contrast, nearly 40 per cent of voters who will turn out at polling stations across the nation will be aged above 65 years.
For older voters, the ability to maintain Germany’s fiscal standing is important, so too a safe pair of hands at the reins. With Merkel stepping into retirement, the sentiment seems to have shifted to Scholtz as being trustworthy. It is he who has controlled Germany’s economy during 20 months of coronavirus restrictions and challenges — and the largest market in the European Union has done better than others following the economic hibernation brought by the pandemic.
Like other older nations in the EU, the population of Germany is ageing, with more deaths reported each year than births. To offset this demographic trend, Germany welcomes in refugees and migrants — preventing its workforce from ageing. The problem is that these refugees don’t get to vote in federal elections and the path to eventual German citizenship is long and complicated.
More than half of Germany’s electorate is above the age of 50, election officials say.
There is also a general corollary that the older and more settled voters are, the less likely they are to change their political preferences. But given the fall off in support for the Christian Democrats under Laschet’s leadership, older voters are showing that they are prepared to shift their long-standing allegiances — Merkel has been in power for much of the current millennium — and Scholtz is considered to be the best next bet after the retiring chancellor.