German SPD to Target Disaffected Voters in Bid to Oust Merkel

German Social Democratic chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck said he’ll rely on a get-out-the-vote operation targeting disaffected voters in the final weeks of the September election to defeat Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany’s SPD has lost as many as 9 million voters since it won the 1998 election, most of whom stayed away from polls rather than turn to alternative parties, Steinbrueck said. He aims to win them back in a voter-mobilization drive in the six weeks before the Sept. 22 national election.

“Then we’ll be in a strategically interesting position,” Steinbrueck told foreign journalists today in Berlin.

Steinbrueck’s SPD trails Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union by more than 10 percentage points in most national polls, having failed to gain resonance on a campaign of social justice and tax increases as he confronts a popular leader. The SPD politician fired his chief spokesman this week following a series of campaign gaffes.

Steinbrueck, who was Merkel’s finance minister from 2005 to 2009, lashed out at what he called the chancellor’s absent leadership and “one-dimensional” crisis management that’s focused on budget cuts. He sounded campaign themes of tax fairness, fighting tax evasion, education and rent regulation.

The candidate predicted that the election campaign will start in earnest by mid-August and the SPD’s objective will be voter turnout. He cited the historically low turnout of 70.8 percent in 2009 as an element of the SPD’s misfortunes.

Volatile Voters

“Germany’s voting population is more volatile than ever before,” Steinbrueck said. “Many decide in the last seven to 10 days whether they’ll vote and for whom.”

The SPD was 16 percentage points behind the CDU-led bloc in a weekly Forsa poll, at 24 percent to 40 percent. Neither party had enough support to form a coalition with its favored partner, with the SPD-allied Greens at 13 percent and Merkel’s current partner, the Free Democrats garnering 5 percent. The poll surveyed 2,501 people from June 6-7.

Steinbrueck’s candidacy has been hampered from early revelations of speaking fees from banks after he left government in 2009 and gaffes including his claim that the chancellor’s annual 220,000 euro ($293,000) salary isn’t enough.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.