Here's why so many Germans vote for the far-right AfD

The Local Germany
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Here's why so many Germans vote for the far-right AfD
An AfD demo in Hamburg. Photo: DPA

A new pan-European study analyzes why right-wing populists are on the march across Europe. One factor above all was most relevant.


After interviewing around 11,000 people in 28 European countries in August 2016, the Bertelsmann Stiftung on Tuesday released its report “Globalization or a value clash? Which Europeans vote for populist parties and why.”

“The results of our study show that above all, fears about globalization are what drive some people to turn away from mainstream politics and vote for a populist party. Values only play a secondary role,” the report concludes.

“The lower the level of education, the lower the income and the older the person is, the more likely they are to feel threatened by globalization.”

In Germany the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party have scored several shock successes in state elections in Germany in 2016, winning over 20 percent of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

According to polling, they could become the third largest party in the Bundestag (German parliament) after national elections in 2017.

The Bertelsmann report finds that their supporters are particularly wary of the effects of globalization. Not only are they the Europeans most anxious about globalization's impact, they are more than twice as likely to express this concern as voters for Germany's mainstream parties.

Germans in comparison with Europe

Of respondents who said they vote AfD, 78 percent felt anxiety about globalization, as opposed to 45 percent of Germans overall.

In France the score was similarly high, with 76 percent of voters for the National Front (FN) saying they fear globalization.

But in other countries, the proportion of populist voters who fear globalization was generally lower. Sixty-nine percent of voters for the FPÖ in Austria, 66 percent of Lega Nord voters in Italy, and 50 percent of UKIP voters in the UK felt the same way.

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Above: Percentages of voters who express these sentiments, based on party affiliation.

Nevertheless in six of the nine larger EU countries studied in detail by the report, fear of globalization was more prevalent among populist voters than both a feeling of economic insecurity and attachment to traditional values.

AfD voters were comparatively unattached to traditional values in comparison to other European populist voters. While 46 percent of AfD voters said traditional values were important to them, 67 percent of FN voters in France said so, as did 63 percent of voters for the populist PVV in the Netherlands.

In fact, fewer AfD voters expressed an attachment to traditional values than voters for any of Britain’s main parties, including the Liberal Democrats.

How do German voters think?

The results also showed clear divisions between AfD voters and those for Germany's other political parties.

Voters for the far-left Die Linke are also more concerned about globalization than the national average, with 55 percent seeing it as a threat.

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Above: Percentages of voters who express these sentiments, based on party affiliation.

But the mood among mainstream party voters is very different. Among those who vote for the Social Democrats (SPD) and the conservative Union (CDU/CSU), which currently govern the country in a grand coalition, 33 percent and 32 percent respectively said they feared the effects of a more integrated world.

The study’s authors claim that Angela Merkel’s conservative Union have lost voters to the AfD in large numbers because they have recently moved away from their traditional stance that “Germany is not a country of immigration.”

A lack of calmness and authority on the part of the government on the refugee crisis has exacerbated fears about rapid change to German society, the report argues.

“A concerted action to communicate the message 'we have things under control' would be extremely damaging to the AfD.”



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