Tuesday 31 March, 2020

Merkel's conservatives regain momentum ahead of state elections

Published: 06 April 2017 Thursday, 10:50  AM

Merkel's conservatives regain momentum ahead of state elections

Bonn, 06 April (deutschenews24.de/dpa)- German Chancellor Angela Merkel`s conservatives have regained their political momentum according to an opinion poll published Tuesday, even as the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) seem to be losing ground ahead of two key state elections.

The SPD had enjoyed a surge in support in opinion polls starting in January, when the party selected former European Parliament president Martin Schulz to spearhead a campaign aimed at toppling Merkel in the national election set down for September.

But a weekly voter survey from Berlin pollsters Forsa pointed to the so-called Schulz effect as possibly fading just as the SPD enters the critical stage of its campaigns for elections next month, one in the small northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, the other in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany`s most populous state.

While national support for Merkel`s CDU has risen by 2 percentage points to 36 per cent during the last week, the SPD has slipped three percentage points to 29 per cent, according to the Forsa poll.

Another survey by pollsters INSA and published in the daily Bild on Tuesday showed the SPD running neck and neck.

Schulz has benefited from essentially being an outsider on the German political stage after being a member of the European Parliament since 1994.

The 61-year-old Schulz is also not a member of Merkel`s present CDU-led coalition with SPD, which allows him to score political points at the expense of the conservatives.

He has so far focused on the need for social justice in German political life and called for a watering down of the tough welfare reforms launched by former Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

However, the Forsa poll showed support for Schulz as a possible chancellor also falling.

In January, if voters had been able to directly elect the chancellor Schulz and Merkel would have each received 37 per cent of the vote.

But in the latest Forsa poll, support for Schulz as chancellor has slumped to 31 per cent, while Merkel as chancellor is now backed by 42 per cent of voters.

Merkel`s campaign for a fourth term as chancellor also received a boost last week when Horst Seehofer - who heads up the CDU`s Bavarian-based allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU) - lent his support for her bid for a fresh term.

Laying aside months of tensions about Merkel`s handling of the nation`s refugee crisis, Seehofer, who is also Bavarian premier, told dpa that the 62-year-old chancellor was an asset for the CDU-CSU in the September election.

"We will only win this election campaign with Angela Merkel," he said. "That`s our greatest trump card."

Still, state polls also point to the SPD once again emerging as the largest political blocs in both Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine Westphalia.

After a surprise slide in the SPD`s vote in last month’s election in the tiny industrial state of Saarland, Schulz last weekend underlined the importance of the vote in North Rhine Westphalia in helping his party build political momentum ahead of the national election on September 24.

With 13 million registered voters, the sheer size of North Rhine Westphalia electorate means that the state is seen as major test of the nation`s political mood.

In particular, this time around should be a test of Schulz`s chances of mobilizing support for the SPD, which has languished in opinion polls for years. 

At a weekend SPD rally backing the bid for a third term as state leader by North Rhine Westphalia`s popular Premier Hannelore Kraft, Schulz linked an SPD win in the state to his own national campaign to replace Merkel as head of Europe`s biggest economy.

When Kraft wins in North Rhine Westphalia, the "SPD will be the major political force in Germany and I will be chancellor," Schulz declared at the rally.