Last year, after a string of surprise successes in state elections, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) were clear favourites to become the third largest party in Germany. Upon winning 14 percent of the vote in liberal Berlin, the AfD boasted that it would become “at the least” the third biggest party in parliament.
But in those heady days the AfD apparently forgot that they are the AfD. One of their leaders duly suggested in January that Germany was spending too much time feeling bad about the Holocaust – and their polling numbers imploded.
Since then it has been anyone's guess who will end up as the third largest party. The Greens had their time in the sun in 2016, but have since fallen worryingly near to the 5 percent threshold needed to stay in the Bundestag (German parliament).
A Statista map showing polling four the four smaller parties since 2013.
Die Linke (the Left Party) meanwhile have apparently cracked the code for being consistently irrelevant, chugging steadily along just below the 10 percent mark for years.
Lastly the neo-liberal Free Democrats (FDP), who were chucked out of parliament by voters in 2013, have made an astonishing comeback in recent months under cocky young leader Christian Lindner. Some polls suggest they will reassert themselves as the third biggest party.
The fact that polling suggests over 40 percent of voters still haven't made up their minds makes this race hard to predict. But one thing is for sure, with six parties likely to sit in the next Bundestag, coalition building won't be easy.
Both CDU and SPD have ruled out a coalition with the AfD. So that leaves either a grand coalition between the two (which the SPD don't seem keen on) or a government that has never been seen before on the national level. That could be CDU/Green/FDP or SPD/Green/Die Linke.
Spot the difference
In a TV duel on Wednesday evening between leaders of the four smaller parties, there was a surprising consensus from far-left to far-right on several key issues, including policing and health care.
All four leaders said they wanted the police to be better equipped. Lindner spoke out in favour of an increase of 15,000 officers above current numbers. AfD leader Alice Weidel said that police should wear cameras on their helmets and have more scope to use DNA evidence during investigations.
They were also united in identifying the need to deal with poverty in old age by paying proper wages during people's working life. Die Linke leader Katja Kipping reminded viewers that her party is calling for a minimum wage of €12 per hour and a minimum pension of €1,050 a month.
Lindner and Weidel called for tax cuts so that people would have more money in their pocket at the end of the month.
There was also broad agreement on health care. Weidel, Kipping and Green Party leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt wanted an increase in hospital and care staff, with Kipping suggesting a 160,000 boost in healthcare staff.
The prickly issue of immigration caused more division.
AfD leader Alice Weidel demanded an effective border control in order to stop potential terrorists from crossing the border. She also demanded more deportations of failed asylum seekers, saying Germany needs “negative arrivals” meaning more asylum seekers leaving than arriving.
Göring-Eckardt rejected closing borders. She said she knew what it felt like from her youth in the GDR to be closed in by borders. Whoever is fleeing from war or persecution needs asylum in Germany.
The AfD and FDP called for an immigration law based on the Canadian model. Lindner said that Germany needs to be free to choose who joins its labour force.