Merkel Falls Behind Social Democrats for First Time Since 2010

Updated on
  • German chancellor’s re-election campaign faces SPD poll bounce
  • In Munich, Merkel’s Bavarian ally backs her fourth-term bid

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, attends a meeting of European Union heads of state in Valletta, Malta, on Feb. 3, 2017.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing bloc was overtaken by the Social Democrats in a poll for the first time since 2010, underscoring the uncertainty surrounding her bid for re-election in September.

Merkel acknowledged the surge in support for the Social Democrats on Monday even as her Bavarian allies endorsed her candidacy, uniting her Christian Democrat-led bloc behind the chancellor. The SPD has seen a poll bounce since Germany’s second-biggest party nominated Martin Schulz as Merkel’s main challenger in January.

Support for the Social Democrats jumped 4 percentage points to 31 percent -- a 10-point gain in two weeks -- while Merkel’s bloc slipped 3 points to 30 percent in an INSA poll for Bild newspaper published Monday. The Feb. 3-6 poll of 2,042 people is the only national survey to suggest that the SPD would win the most seats in parliament if elections were held now.

This year’s election is “the most difficult campaign I’ve ever faced, partly because of the international situation,” Merkel told reporters in Munich at a news conference with Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer, head of her CSU sister party. Polls suggest that “we have quite a fight ahead, so we have plenty of work ahead of us,” she said.

Germany’s political calculus has been upended by Schulz, 61, the former president of the European Parliament who’s a political outsider in Germany. The surge for the Social Democrats has opened an unexpected new front against Merkel, 62, who said she’ll run on a platform of “dependability, stability and order” after more than 11 years in office.

“There is something of a weariness when it comes to Merkel,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING-Diba AG in Frankfurt, said in an interview.

Though Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the smaller CSU usually campaign together in national elections, their unity has been in doubt after Seehofer split with Merkel over her open-borders refugee policy. The CSU is demanding an annual limit on migration, which Merkel rejects on humanitarian and legal grounds.

The Social Democrats last led the CDU-CSU in an Allensbach poll in August 2010, when voter dissatisfaction with Merkel’s handling of the euro area’s debt crisis was running high. Schulz has signaled he’ll run on a platform of boosting incomes and cracking down on tax cheats.

“In each election that I’ve run, I’ve taken my challenger seriously and offered him respect -- and it’ll be the same for this campaign,” Merkel said Monday.

— With assistance by Zoe Schneeweiss

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