It would go too far to call last night’s regional elections representative for the general political mood in Germany but it definitely was symbolic.
Yesterday’s regional elections in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern were another shot across the bow for the national government and chancellor Angela Merkel. According to the latest vote counts, all so-called established parties except for the AfD lost votes. The Social Democrats (SPD) remained the strongest party in the state with about 30% of the vote. At the same time, the AfD for the first time ever gained more votes in a state than chancellor Merkel’s CDU (21% vs 19%).
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has around 1.3 million voters, has the highest youth unemployment rate of all German states, has a high poverty rate and the extreme right wing party, NPD, has been member of the regional parliament for ten years. Therefore, yesterday’s results are obviously not representative but they definitely are symbolic for chancellor Merkel and the entire German landscape.
The refugee crisis is damaging chancellor Merkel’s popularity; not only in the German population but also within the own government coalition. The Bavarian sister party, the CDU, is not getting tired in criticizing Merkel. Latest regional elections have to a large extent been used as a protest vote and have been significantly affected by national and not regional politics. Since 2014, the AfD has made it into nine out of 16 regional parliaments. It looks as if the AfD has become more than a protest party that only finds support in the Eastern part of Germany. The big test case ahead of the national elections will be next year’s elections in North Rhine Westphalia, a state which has more voters than all Eastern German states together.
Last night’s elections will in our view not change chancellor Merkel’s stance on the refugees or the economy but the atmosphere in her own government and party will become rougher.