A week today voters in the German Federal State of Saarland will go to the polls to elect a new regional parliament. Normally Saarland, the second smallest of the country’s 16 Laender with a population of just 995,000, would barely feature on the political radar – but this contest will be interesting for several reasons:
- It represents the first electoral test since Martin Schulz took over as Social Democrat (SPD) leader and ‘Chancellor candidate’ in late January, shaking up the national opinion polls in a way not seen for twenty years. Yesterday Schulz was formally confirmed in post with a record majority of 100 per cent.
- It will be the first opportunity to test how Germany’s populist AfD fares in the wake of the SPD’s revival. The anti-immigration party did not even exist in March 2012 when Saarland last voted, and this is one of the six remaining regional parliaments where it is not yet represented.
- It is the first time German voters have gone to the pollng stations since momentous international developments, notably the election of President Trump and the Dutch parliamentary election.
Just eleven opinion polls have been published in the last five years in the tiny State, but four of them have come in the last fortnight, following two in January. As in Berlin, an oversized grand coalition of CDU and SPD run the administration in Saarbrueken. Both can take comfort from the latest polling.
The CDU is scoring between 34 and 37 per cent in the March polls, straddling its 2012 result of 35.2 per cent. It does not seem to have lost ground compared to the two polls taken in January before the ‘Schulz surge’ and benefits from the popularity of its regional Minister-President, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who enjoys a substantial lead in personal ratings over the SPD’s local leader Anke Rehlinger.
For the SPD, the national benefits of new leader Schulz are being enjoyed in Saarland as elsewhere. Compared to scores of 24 and 26 per cent in January, the March polls give support of 33, 33, 34 and 32. All these numbers are ahead of 2012’s actual score of 30.6 per cent.
Coalition building after the election is likely to be decided by the fate of the smaller parties. Three of the four have been hit by the SPD’s resurgence: the AfD is down from 9-10 per cent in January to 6-7 per cent in March, and the left-wing Die Linke from 14-16 per cent to 12-13. Crucially the Greens have fallen just under the 5 per cent threshold for representation in three of the four March polls: back in 2012 they scraped into the Saarbruecken Landtag with exactly 5.0 per cent.
The Free Democrats (FDP), who bombed in 2012 with just 1.2 per cent, have recovered to 3-4 per cent now, but only one of six polls in 2017 has shown them overcoming the 5 per cent hurdle.
Should the Greens and FDP fail to enter the parliament, a Red-Red coalition of the SPD and Linke cannot be ruled out. However the most likely outcome would seem to be a continuation of the current arrangement. That is also the approach favoured by most voters, according to the polls. Forschungsgruppe Wahlen found that a CDU-led grand coalition would be considered ‘good’ by 46 per cent, against 28 per cent saying ‘bad’, while an SPD-led grand coalition was approved by 41 to 32. All other combinations drew net negative scores. Exactly the same findings were reported by Infratest Dimap, this time with a grand coalition rated positively by 61 to 37 points.
These findings are perhaps not surprising given the remarkably high performance ratings given to the administration at the end of its term, with 68 per cent ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ according to Infratest Dimap, the highest score in a series that has run since 1999.
FORSCHUNGSGRUPPE WAHLEN 17 March
CDU 37, SPD 32, Linke 12, AfD 7, Gruene 4, FDP 4, Others 4
Media partner: ZDF television. Fieldwork: 14.03-16.03.2017. Participants: 1054.
INFRATEST DIMAP 16 March
CDU 35, SPD 34, Linke 13, AfD 6.5, Gruene 4.5, FDP 3, Others 4
Media partner: ARD television. Fieldwork: 13.03-15.03.2017. Participants: 1001.
FORSA 9 March
CDU 34, SPD 33, Linke 13, AfD 6, Gruene 5, FDP 4, Others 5
Media partner: Forum. Fieldwork: 01.03-08.03.2017. Participants: 1001.
INSA 7 March
CDU 36, SPD 33, Linke 12, AfD 7, Gruene 4, FDP 4, Others 4
Media partner: Bild. Fieldwork: 02.03-06.03.2017. Participants: 1025.
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