German SPD Gains in Poll as Steinbrueck Enjoys Merkel Break

Germany’s opposition Social Democratic Party gained on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc in a Forsa poll as SPD challenger Peer Steinbrueck took advantage of Merkel’s absence on vacation.

Less than seven weeks before Sept. 22 elections, support for the SPD rose a percentage point to 23 percent, with its Green party ally also up a point at 14 percent, the weekly poll for Hamburg-based Stern magazine and RTL television showed today. Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc had 40 percent, down one point. Her Free Democratic coalition partner held at 5 percent. The Left Party dropped one point to 7 percent.

As Merkel holidays in the Italian Alps before hitting the campaign trail next week, Steinbrueck has raised his profile with a television interview, a talk-show appearance and a TV documentary about his life in the past three days. All the same, the latest poll would still allow Merkel to resume her coalition with the FDP, Stern said.

With an “unusually low number” of those who voted SPD in 2009 saying they will do so again -- 57 percent -- the party “has a lot of work still to do” to win them over, Forsa chief Manfred Guellner was cited by Stern as saying. “That can only happen if the SPD is able to convince them it can solve the country’s problems and its choice of personnel is accepted.”

History Lesson

Merkel will give a history lesson at a Berlin school on Aug. 13, in her first official engagement after her summer vacation, government spokesman Georg Streiter told reporters. The chancellor will deliver a 45-minute lecture on the building of the Berlin Wall, Streiter said. She kicks off a 56-stop campaign tour the following day in Hesse state. Steinbrueck will hold the first of 100 SPD rallies tomorrow in Hamburg.

If voters were able to vote for the chancellor directly, 55 percent said they would vote for Merkel and 21 percent for Steinbrueck, according to the Forsa poll.

With broad voter support for Merkel’s handling of the euro-area debt crisis, the CDU campaign is focusing heavily on the chancellor: A 24-page leaflet unveiled by her party on Aug. 5 features Merkel on all but 2 sides; none of her seven fellow CDU Cabinet colleagues merits a mention, still less her party’s 236 federal lawmakers.

Tactical Switch

Steinbrueck, 66, has struggled to connect with voters after revelations of his earnings from speaking fees and missteps including saying that the chancellor should be paid more. He has recently allowed glimpses into his private life, giving access to childhood photographs and sanctioning a TV interview with his wife, Gertrud, for last night’s documentary.

The switch in tactics to stress the personal side of the public politician may fail to help him trim Merkel’s lead, said Andrea Wolf, an executive board member of polling company Forschungsgruppe Wahlen. Merkel’s CDU/CSU and FDP have a combined 44 percent to 47 percent in the five polls published in the past week; that compares with 37 percent to 41 percent for the SPD and the Greens together.

“Far more important is voter perception of how well the chancellor is doing his or her job,” Wolf said by telephone yesterday. “Merkel has an advantage here since she gets very good marks for her time in office. That’s also why she’s the main driving force for the CDU in this campaign.”

Forsa polled 3,003 voters between July 29 and Aug. 5. The results have a margin of error of as much as 2.5 percentage points.

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