On the eve of the long-awaited regional elections in the eastern German states of Brandenburg and Saxony on Sept. 1 (and Thuringia in October), the polls all show one thing very clearly: the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is heading for large gains and, perhaps even, the largest share of the vote in at least one of the states. The party scores about twice as well in the east as it does in the west.
Once again, as we have seen in one recent election after another, Germany's traditional Volkspartien, the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) are probably in for losses. In most of the eastern states, the SPD and CDU are currently even less popular than in the west. The Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP) are also less popular than in the western states, although the projected tally for the Greens should double this year from five years ago, while the FDP has ticked up only slightly. Die Linke is also about twice as popular in the east than the western parts of Germany.
In Brandenburg, the national populist AfD is up ten points over five years ago, which puts it neck and neck with the Social Democrats (SPD), who are down eight points, according to infratest-dimap. In Saxony, the AfD has climbed 14 points and is challenging the CDU for the top spot. And in Thuringia the AfD has climbed a full 20 percentage points, putting it slightly above the CDU and just a bit behind Die Linke.
The results of recent polling give some insight into the grounds for this worrying development. Neither time, it appears, nor a solid economy have won over many middle-aged and older easterners who say they do not feel themselves at home in the Federal Republic.
Only 42% of eastern Germans say that democracy, as that practiced in Germany, is the best state form, compared to 77% of western Germans, according to polling by Allensbach Institute completed for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in January of this year. As for satisfaction with the constitution, 70 years after the promulgation of the Basic Law, 78% of easterners thinks it’s “very good” or “rather good”, compared to 90% of western Germans, found an Infratest Dimap poll. A third of easterners say they feel that they’re treated as if they were “second class citizens”.