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ELECTIONS

One in two Germans don’t know top European election candidates: Survey

With just a month to go before the European elections take place, the top German candidates are still largely unknown by the public.

One in two Germans don't know top European election candidates: Survey
Katarina Barley is lead candidate for the Social Democrats (SPD) in the European Parliament elections. Photo: DPA

A survey conducted by the opinion research institute YouGov on behalf of DPA, found 45 percent of Germans did not know any of the nine top European Parliament election candidates from the parties represented in the Bundestag.

The Minister of Justice Katarina Barley, who was sent into the race by the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD),  has the highest degree of recognition, the poll found. A total of 39 percent of people said they knew who she was, just ahead of far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party chairman Jörg Meuthen, with 35 percent.

SEE ALSO: Voting in Germany: What you need to know about the EU elections

A total of 2,029 people from a variety of backgrounds were surveyed across Germany between April 18th and 22nd. They were asked which candidates they were aware of and which election topics were important to them.

The most surprising result was that only one in four people – 26 percent – know the leading conservative candidate Manfred Weber, of the centre-right Christian Socialists (CSU, the sister party of the Christian Democrats), who is bidding to become president of the EU Commission.

Around the same amount of people are aware of pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) General Secretary Nicola Beer.

The top candidate for the Greens, Ska Keller is virtually unknown with 7 percent and Sven Giegold is in a similar position – only 6 percent of respondents recognized him.

From The Left party (Die Linke), 15 percent said they knew Özlem Alev Demirel and only 4 percent recognize Martin Schirdewan.

SEE ALSO: 'It's about our Europe': German business make unusual political push for EU elections

Schirdewan shares the last place on the recognition scale with Udo Bullmann, the SPD's second top candidate, who also only achieved 4 percent. Even among the SPD supporters, only one in twenty (5 percent) knows the Hesse politician, who has been a member of the European Parliament for 20 years.

Meanwhile, only one of the nine top candidates has an awareness level of more than 50 percent, at least among voters of his own party: 54 percent of AfD supporters said they were aware of Meuthen and his European Parliament election bid.

SEE ALSO: 'I've seen war in Europe': Berlin veteran in push to get people voting in EU elections

According to the YouGov survey, the importance of the election is estimated to be lower than that of the Bundestag, Landtag and local elections.

A total of 23 percent consider the Euro elections to be the least important of the four polls.

Climate protection and environmental policy (55 percent) were named by respondents as by far the most important issues, just ahead of refugee policy (54 percent). Then came right-wing populism (28 percent), financial policy (26 percent), Brexit (17 percent) and defence policy (15 percent).

Only 12 percent said internet regulation was an important issue.

Germany goes to the polls for the European Parliament election on May 26th.

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ELECTIONS

Germany’s far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance

Best known as an anti-migrant party, Germany's far-right AfD has seized on the coronavirus pandemic to court a new type of voter ahead of regional elections in the state of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday: anti-shutdown activists.

Germany's far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance
Björn Höcke, party chairman in Thuringia, at an election event in Merseburg, Saxony-Anhalt on May 29th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

“Sending so many people into poverty with so few infections is problematic for us,” is how Oliver Kirchner, the AfD’s top candidate in Saxony-Anhalt, views the measures ordered by the government to halt Covid-19 transmission.

The anti-shutdown stance seems to be paying off in the former East German state. The party is riding high in the polls and even stands a chance of winning a regional election for the first time.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD chooses hardline team ahead of national elections

Surveys have the AfD neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, with the Bild daily even predicting victory for the far-right party on 26 percent, ahead of the CDU on 25 percent.

In Saxony-Anhalt’s last election in 2016, the CDU was the biggest party, scoring 30 percent and forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

But the CDU has taken a hammering in the opinion polls in recent months, with voters unhappy with the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

Social deprivation

A victory for the AfD would spell a huge upset for the conservatives just four months ahead of a general election in Germany — the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel.

They started out campaigning against the euro currency in 2013. Then in 2015 they capitalised on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 decision to let in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last general election in 2017 when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party.

Troubled by internal divisions and accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups, the party has more recently seen its support at the national level stagnate at between 10 and 12 percent.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD investigated over election ties

The party is also controversial in Saxony-Anhalt itself. In state capital Magdeburg, posters showing local candidate Hagen Kohl have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and the words “Never again”.

For wine merchant Jan Buhmann, 57, victory for the far-right party would be a “disaster”.

“The pandemic has shown that we need new ideas. We need young people, we need dynamism in the state. For me, the AfD does not stand for that,” he said.

Yet the AfD’s core supporters have largely remained unwavering in the former East German states.

For pensioner Hans-Joachim Peters, 73, the AfD is “the only party that actually tells it like it is”.

Politicians should “think less about Europe and more about Germany”, he told AFP in Magdeburg. AfD campaigners there were handing out flyers calling for “resistance” and “an end to all anti-constitutional restrictions on our liberties”.

Political scientist Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University puts the AfD’s core strength in eastern Germany down to “social deprivation and frustration” resulting from problems with reunification.

The party’s latest anti-corona restrictions stance has also helped it play up its anti-establishment credentials, adding some voters to its core base, he said.

Other east German states in which the AfD has a stronghold, such as Saxony and Thuringia, continue to have the highest 7-day incidences per 100,000 residents in the country. Saxony-Anhalt’s 7-day incidence, however, currently is below the national average (31.3) as of Wednesday June 3rd.

READ ALSO: Why are coronavirus figures so high in German regions with far-right leanings?

Hijab snub

Funke predicted the AfD would attract broadly the same voters in
Saxony-Anhalt as it did in 2016, when it won 24 percent of the vote.

“Some have dropped off because the party is too radical, some radicals who didn’t vote are now voting and some of those who are anti-corona are also voting for the AfD,” he said.

The Sachsen-Anhalt-Monitor 2020 report, commissioned by the local government, found that the main concern for voters in the region was the economic fallout from the pandemic. But the AfD’s core selling point — immigration and refugees — was number two on their list.

According to AfD candidate Kirchner, many people in Saxony-Anhalt still view the influx of refugees to Germany “very critically”.

“And I think they are right,” he said at a campaign stand in Magdeburg decked in the AfD’s signature blue. “Who is going to rebuild Syria? Who is going to do that if everyone comes here?”

When a young woman wearing a hijab walked past the stand, no one attempted to hand her a flyer.

By Femke Colborne

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