Chancellor Angela Merkel trounced three leading opposition challengers in a poll underscoring her popularity as she balks at using Germany’s economic might to underwrite debt in the wider euro area.
Merkel, who has indicated she will seek a third term in elections due a year from now, would defeat Peer Steinbrueck, a Social Democrat who was finance minister during her first term, by 50 percent to 28 percent if voters could elect the chancellor directly, the Forsa poll for Stern magazine showed. Two other Social Democratic leaders, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Sigmar Gabriel, would lose by wider margins.
Merkel “seems unbeatable right now,” the Hamburg-based magazine said in an e-mailed statement today. Young and first-time voters are among her strongest supporters, Stern said.
The poll highlights the German opposition’s difficulty in attacking Merkel’s track record on crisis-fighting before federal elections due in the fall of 2013. The chancellor has been subject to criticism internationally for her refusal to commit more to halt the crisis that emerged in Greece in late 2009, yet domestic voters say they back her stance.
‘Credible’ to Voters
“Chancellor Merkel is popular because she is credible in the eyes of German voters,” Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy Ltd., said by e-mail. “She’s also perceived to be holding firm against further debt mutualisation in the euro zone without appearing to be intransigent. It’s a political strategy that is evidently paying off.”
While Merkel rejects joint euro-area bonds as too easy a way out of the debt crisis, the Social Democrats backed the measure as recently as April. Since then, the party has shifted to urging the pooling of old debt in the 17-nation euro area. Merkel hasn’t embraced that idea, which was proposed by her council of economic advisers and backed by billionaire investor George Soros in a plea to avoid the euro area’s break-up.
Polls consistently show Merkel is Germany’s most popular politician and suggest her Christian Democratic bloc would win the most votes if the elections were held now. Yet neither her current coalition nor a combination of the Social Democratic Party and their traditional Green Party partners would win enough seats to govern, leading to speculation about another so-called grand coalition with the SPD that she led during her first term between 2005 and 2009.
Faced with a collapse of support for her Free Democratic coalition partner since 2009, Merkel said on Sept. 17 she “can’t rule out” a rerun of the grand coalition, though she said it isn’t her goal.
“In a grand coalition, there’s always another partner that wants to have the chancellorship,” she said.
In direct contests, Merkel would defeat Steinmeier, her former foreign minister and current opposition leader in parliament, by 49 percent to 26 percent, the Forsa poll showed. SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel, Merkel’s first-term environment minister, would lose by 16 percent to 60 percent.
Her current environment minister, Peter Altmaier, like Merkel a member of the Christian Democratic Union party, made a plea for party consensus on Germany’s energy overhaul to avoid it becoming an election theme. Opposition parties accuse Merkel of mismanaging the switch to renewables from nuclear energy, stoking electricity-price increases that are due on Jan. 1.
“We have an interest in keeping the fundamental decisions on energy out of the election campaign because those are decisions that have to be valid for 20, 30 years, and you can’t change them every four years,” Altmaier told reporters today.
Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc dropped one percentage point to 39 percent in a separate weekly Forsa poll released today, while her Free Democratic Party partner gained a point to 5 percent. That put support for her coalition at 44 percent compared to a combined 38 percent for the Social Democrats and Greens, both of which were unchanged at 26 percent and 12 percent respectively.
Forsa polled 2,502 voters on Sept. 10-14, with a margin of error of as much as 2.5 percentage points.