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State elections: Why did the far-right AfD do so well in Bavaria and Hesse?

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
State elections: Why did the far-right AfD do so well in Bavaria and Hesse?
Robert Lambrou, co-chairman of the AfD in Hesse, and federal spokeswoman Alice Weidel celebrate the first forecast of the state election in Hesse. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Helmut Fricke

The far-right party made significant gains in two German state elections on Sunday, becoming the second-most popular party in Hesse and third in Bavaria.

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On Sunday, voters in the German states of Hesse and Bavaria went to the polls to select their new state parliament. Both states retained their CDU/CSU leaders, with the Bundestag’s main opposition party and former party of Angela Merkel obtaining the highest share of the vote in both states.

What did change, however, was the percentage of votes gained by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. In Hesse, the party gained 18.4 percent of the overall vote – the highest ever in state elections in the west of the country - making them the second most popular party in the state.

READ ALSO: Scholz's coalition dealt blow in German state elections as far right make gains

In Bavaria, the party gained 14.6 percent of the votes, putting them in third place behind the CDU/CSU and the Free Voters party.

Why did the AfD do so well?

In both state elections, three parties that make up the federal coalition government – the Greens, the FDP and the SDP – lost votes, while the AfD made gains, suggesting that many of the votes were cast in protest at how the current government is being run.

Political scientist Jürgen Falter from the University of Mainz told BILD: "There is a hardcore of committed AfD supporters who endorse the party's agenda and its leading figures. However, a significant portion of the newly acquired votes are likely to come from protest voters."

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But the protest votes were not just directed at the coalition parties, it seems. Though the CDU/CSU gained the most votes in both states, in Bavaria, most of the voters migrated from the CSU to the AfD, accounting for around 100,000 votes.

According to Falter: "Even the Union is not seen as a genuine alternative by the dissatisfied after 16 years of Merkel's government. Many of these dissatisfied individuals have turned to the AfD to send a message to the established parties."

READ ALSO: Why are the far-right AfD doing so well in German polls?

As to the motivations of voters turning to the AfD, Falter pointed to the increasing numbers of migrants and "the insensitive energy transition policy, which some perceive as an attack on their property", as significant factors. 

Who voted for the Afd?

Surprisingly, it seems that the AfD was particularly successful amongst younger voters. 

In Bavaria, a similar number of voters under 25 years old cast their votes for the AfD and the Free Voters as for the Greens and SPD (Social Democratic Party). Among voters aged 25 to 34, there were more votes for the AfD and Free Voters (32 percent in total) than for the Greens and SPD (together 28 percent).

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According to the research group Wahlen, in Hesse, the AfD reached 18 percent among those under 30, which is an increase of eight points compared to the state election five years ago. In contrast, parties like the Greens, who are normally strong in this age group, experienced significant losses in comparison.

Men in Hesse voted for the AfD much more frequently than women: according to the research group Wahlen, a total of 21 percent of male voters said that they voted for the AfD, compared to only 13 percent of women. In Bavaria too, the largest male voter base was found within the AfD.

In terms of working status and education, the AfD performed particularly well among workers in Hesse, gaining as much as 29 percent of their votes from those in employment. The AfD also found strong support among those with a high school degree as their highest level of education, with 28 percent of eligible voters in this group choosing the AfD.

In Bavaria, the Greens performed well among those with a higher level of education while people with a lower level of education tended to vote more frequently for the CSU, as well as for the Free Voters and AfD.

'Ready for more'

The AfD celebrated its significant gains on Sunday, with Bernd Baumann, the First Parliamentary Managing Director of the Bundestag faction declaring: "The wind is changing in Germany, it is shifting from left to right."

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AfD leader Alice Weidel said that the record results validate AfD's policies and reiterated the party's "Ready for more" slogan, which the party has been using since the summer to make it clear that they eventually want to be part of the government.

READ ALSO: 33 years on: Are east and west Germany growing apart?

The political landscape could be significantly shaken next year when new state parliaments are elected in Saxony, Thuringia, and Brandenburg. In recent polls, the AfD was leading with over 30 percent in all three states, ahead of all other parties.

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