The last state election of the year is about more than just power dynamics in Hesse. The roughly 4.4 million eligible voters in Hesse will also influence the fate of the federal coalition. The incessant debate in Berlin has clearly left its mark, even on the elections in Hesse.
The ballot on October 28th further threatens the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democrats following the Bavarian state elections, in which both parties lost out. The mainstream parties have performed badly in the polls in Hesse. Depending on how great the losses are, both party leaderships could face serious difficulties.
In the most recent poll on voter preference, the CDU snagged 26 percent, the Greens at 22, the SPD at 20, and the AfD at 12, reported DPA on Thursday.
The CDU and Greens: is another coalition possible?
New debates about Chancellor and CDU leader Angela Merkel and SPD leader Andrea Nahles could follow – after the Bavarian elections, they were largely swept under the carpet.
The black-green state government in Hesse – an alliance of the CDU and the Greens – has flourished in the last five years from an experiment to a stable alliance. This was the first so-called green-black coalition in a German state.
Both parties would happily continue together. Poll results, however, do not currently show that this will be the case, although the Greens seem to be popular. If possible, the FDP will have to be hauled on-board; the Liberals in Hesse appear to be open to a so-called Jamaica Alliance of the Greens (green), FDP (yellow) and CDU (black).
The CDU in Hesse has slumped in the most recent polls – a possible consequence of the weeks-long quarrels in the government. The Christian Democrats are currently polling at 29 percent, which is almost ten percentage points behind the results of the 2013 state elections, in which they won 38.3 percent. Many, including some inside the party, are holding Chancellor Merkel and the tensions in the federal grand coalition at least partly responsible for the losses.
Hesse’s Minister President Volker Bouffier, however, has implied the closeness of his relationship with the party leader. “I talk to the Chancellor almost every day,” the CDU vice assured recently about the struggles over the diesel compromise. This loyalty could be taken badly by voters who are critical of Merkel.”
But it’s unthinkable that Hesse’s head of government will change his course. He will be bearing in mind how the CDU lead candidate in Rhineland-Palatinate, Julia Klöckner, produced a plan “A2” shortly before the state elections in 2016, to distance herself from Merkel’s controversial refugee policies: a manoeuvre which possibly cost her victory.
A loss of power for the CDU in Hesse would, however, also seriously affect Merkel. She will stand for re-election as party leader at a party congress at the start of December. But the idea that she might reconsider, should Bouffier not be able to defend the state chancellery, is not being cast aside by the CDU.
Does the SPD stand a chance?
According to the most recent polls, the SPD in Hesse is, at 23 percent, indeed performing better than in the federal government (where they would receive around 15 percent), but is still significantly behind the CDU.
For party leader and lead candidate Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, a lot is at stake: the SPD vice is trying, for the third time, to become Minister President. Will the 49-year-old become opposition leader again in another failure? That’s hard to imagine.
Schäfer-Gümbel is not completely discounting a ministerial office in a grand coalition with Bouffier, in spite of personal tensions. Is an alliance between the SPD and CDU in Hesse is acceptable both to the parties and publicly? In light of the disunited grand coalition in Berlin and the public’s sinking trust in the large parties, it seems more than open.
If the hessian SPD loses out significantly in comparison the 2013 ballot, at which they won 30.7 percent, it would be another hard hit for party leader Nahles, following the disastrous elections in Bavaria, where they won only 9.7 percent.
Where does the AfD come into play?
In the shadow of the Bavarian election, it hasn’t been easy for voters between Kassel and Darmstadt to highlight local topics. Federal governmental policies are currently too dominant, as is the question of how to deal with the Alternative for Germany (AfD). According to polls, more than ten representatives for the right-wing populists are expected to enter the state government – they will then be present in all parliaments on federal and local levels.
Prior to the election, the parties dealt with the AfD – which was founded in 2013 in Bad Nauheim in Hesse as a Euro-skeptic party – very differently. In some ways, the AfD was mostly kept quiet. More recently, the tone has become sharper. Bouffier named the party as a “way into extremism”.
The AfD in Hesse subsides as middle-class-conservative; its representatives, however, are increasingly clearly expressing their stance on the migrant question in the end phase of the election campaign. The right-wing populists have identified the Greens on a state level, and Merkel on a governmental level, as their main opponents.