Merkel's Election Challenger Schulz Sinks in First National Poll

  • Coming weeks will show if Schulz’s challenge real: Forsa chief
  • Picture mixed as another poll shows rival parties in dead head

Germany’s Social Democrats took a hit in a national poll after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party scored a decisive victory in a regional vote just over a week ago, suggesting that political reality may have caught up with SPD leader Martin Schulz’s election challenge.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats held a poll lead of as much as 18 percentage points over their Social Democratic coalition partner as recently as January, only to watch it evaporate after Schulz was selected to contest the chancellery in September’s federal election. That gap opened up again to seven points in Tuesday’s Forsa poll.

Forsa chief Manfred Guellner attributed the shift in support to Merkel’s victory in a state election in Saarland on March 26, a result that defied pre-election polls suggesting a tight race, and one that appeared to deprive Schulz of momentum. The phenomenon could be temporary, according to Guellner, who signaled that the Sept. 24 election is still in play.

“The next few weeks will show whether Schulz can come forward with a sustainable political pitch and can smooth over the bump,” Berlin-based Guellner said in a statement.

Political Risk

The German vote will cap an unprecedented year of political risk in Europe, with populism influencing events from the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union to last month’s Dutch election. Next up is the French presidential election in three weeks, in which National Front leader Marine Le Pen is on course to reach the runoff on May 7.

In Germany, the Social Democratic rebound under Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament, has helped to deprive the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party of both support and attention. The AfD has lost about a third of its support this year so far.

The SPD dropped three points to 29 percent in the weekly Forsa poll, while backing for Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their Bavarian CSU sister party climbed two points to 36 percent. The anti-capitalist Left Party placed third with 9 percent, ahead of the AfD on 8 percent and the Greens on 7 percent.

To read a QuickTake on Angela Merkel, click here.

Still, the political picture remains fluid. Forsa is the first pollster to show the CDU/CSU regaining the lead it held for all this legislative term, and it showed that 24 percent of respondents were undecided. An INSA pol for Bild newspaper, also published Tuesday, showed the two main rivals in a dead heat, with Merkel’s bloc unchanged at 32 percent and the SPD gaining a half percentage point to 32.5 percent.

Last month’s state ballot was the first of three regional contests in the run-up to the Sept. 24 election. The most important of those takes place on May 14 in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state and a Social Democratic stronghold. Polls suggest the current SPD coalition with the Greens will struggle to be re-elected without the co-operation of either the liberal Free Democrats or the Left party.

Forsa surveyed 2,504 people between March 27 and March 31, with a margin of error of 2.5 percent. INSA polled 2,033 people between March 31 and April 4 and gave no error margin.

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