With Chancellor Merkel getting ready to step down next year, politicians – and voters – are thinking about who can fill those big boots.
And one name keeps cropping up: Markus Söder. Yes, the Bavarian state premier has impressed the nation with his quick action and crisis management in getting Covid-19 under control in the southern state hit hardest in the pandemic.
Many see the 53-year-old from Nuremberg as a strong contender to replace Merkel as conservative chancellor.
However, Söder, 53, who is head of the Christian Social Union, (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of the Christian Democrats (CDU), has been coy about the prospect of throwing his hat in the ring.
Yet a new poll shows that 64 percent of people, and 78 percent of CDU/CSU supporters, believe Söder has what it takes to be chancellor.
Meanwhile, 27 percent think that Söder is not suited for the job. Among the supporters of the CDU/CSU, 17 percent share this opinion.
The ZDF “Politbarometer” shows that Söder's popularity has soared in recent months. In March only 30 percent of respondents thought he was suitable to be chancellor.
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Why does Germany need a new Chancellor?
Right now it doesn't. The position is, of course, taken up by much-loved Merkel. But she announced her intention to stand down from politics when her current legislative term ends in autumn 2021 (unless of course the coalition breaks before then, triggering a new election and she'd have to stand down earlier).
Meanwhile, Merkel gave up her post as leader of the CDU in late 2018, passing on the baton to her ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
But Kramp-Karrenbauer announced she was to step down from the position following a rocky road at the top, and would not seek to be the party's candidate for chancellor in next year's general elections.
Her successor – and possible future chancellor – was originally supposed to be chosen at a party congress in spring, but the process was delayed indefinitely due to the pandemic.
Now the race is picking up again for the Christian Democrats to find a worthy successor which could pull the party together and go on to become eventual leader of the country.
The CDU/CSU have been riding high in opinion polls recently, probably due to Merkel's handling of the coronavirus crisis. The party increased in popularity among voters to 40 percent, according to a recent survey – the highest amount in almost three years.
The interesting thing about Söder is that he is in the Bavarian CSU so would not enter the race to become leader of the CDU – but could potentially become chancellor if the party leadership was separate from the chancellery, and if he convinced both parties that he could represent the CDU/CDU alliance.
So far though, Söder insists he's content being leader of Bavaria. However, both voters and the media seem to be singing his praises.
Spiegel magazine even put him on the front cover of their latest issue.
— DER SPIEGEL (@derspiegel) July 10, 2020
A recent poll by public broadcaster BR put his approval rating at 94 percent, earning him the nickname “Corona Kaiser”.
Could Söder, who took over as Bavarian state premier in 2018, have a change of heart? We'll have to wait and see.
The CSU leader Markus Söder at an event in Munich in April. Photo: DPA
What do the polls say about other politicians?
The battle in the CDU camp – between veteran party heavyweights Armin Laschet, leader of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), businessman Friedrich Merz, and Norbert Röttgen – has been quiet in recent months, but the race is picking up again.
Here's what respondents to the ZDF poll had to say about these choices, and other possible future candidates in Germany:
Merz achieved 31 percent support in the poll, while 55 percent consider him an unsuitable choice to run the country.
Nearly 30 percent are in favour of Green Party leader Robert Habeck as chancellor.
North Rhine-Westphalia's state premier Laschet comes in at 19 percent, while a huge 65 percent think he is unsuitable.The huge coronavirus outbreak at Tönnies meat plant in the state of NRW won't have helped matters for Laschet.
Habeck's colleague in the Green Party leadership, Annalena Baerbock, follows with 17 percent and 65 percent against.
CDU politician Röttgen is in last place in the survey: 14 percent think he is suitable for the chancellorship, while 59 percent disagree.
Nearly 90 percent in favour of compulsory masks
Meanwhile, the pandemic is still at the forefront for voters in Germany, the poll shows.
For 64 percent of respondents to the ZDF poll, coronavirus is currently the most important political problem in Germany. In second place by a wide margin is the economic situation in the country (17 percent).
A total of 40 percent believe their health is currently endangered by the coronavirus, while 60 percent do not see any danger.
In the survey there is also a clear majority in favour of compulsory masks: 87 percent of all respondents – including majorities in all party supporters – believe it is right that compulsory masks should continue to apply when shopping. Only twelve percent disagree.
It came after there were calls to help the retail trade by getting rid of mandatory masks in Germany in shops.
In general, 73 percent believe that the mouth and nose covering helps “a lot or very much” to stem the spread of the coronavirus.