Regional German Polling Gives Merkel Some Good News

  • CDU leads SPD in Schleswig-Holstein for first time this year
  • Regional vote less than five months before Bundestag election

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to be facing the threat of a resurgent Social Democratic Party under Martin Schulz in September’s national election. But a regional vote in Saarland last month -- her Christian Democratic Union’s biggest win in the state in 13 years -- suggested the boost to the SPD from its new leader was already dwindling.

With the next regional vote coming up on May 7 in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s northernmost state, there was more good news for Merkel and bad news for Schulz in local polling released Thursday.

The first regional poll this year for local broadcaster NDR, in the wake of Schulz’s nomination as candidate for the chancellorship, showed the SPD leaping 7 percentage points. But further NDR surveys showed the Social Democrats stuck at 33 percent, while support for Merkel’s party edged up from 27 percent to 31 percent. Thursday’s poll for national ZDF television suggested the tables had been turned, with the CDU back into a 2 percentage-point lead.

While Schleswig-Holstein, located northwest of Hamburg, has only 2.3 million voters, the outcome will provide the latest clues about the strength of Germany’s two biggest parties as Merkel runs for a fourth term. 

Even if the favorable polls are right, the Social Democrats don’t look as if they’ll significantly improve their position in the state compared with the last election in 2012. It would mean the SPD state premier, Torsten Albig, could just scrape together a continued narrow majority in the regional legislature with his existing coalition partners, the Greens and the SSW, which represents the Danish-speaking minority.

If the ZDF survey is correct, that majority would be lost.

Even an alternative SPD-Greens-Left coalition, emulating the city government in Berlin, would only have 47 percent of the vote, compared with 50 percent for other parties in the chamber. Either of the main parties, though, could form a three-way alliance with the Greens and the Free Democrats of the sort that’s been seen in other German states. The simplest solution, however, might be a grand coalition of CDU and SPD, replicating the current national arrangement.

Merkel will seek to build on the good polling news with a series of campaign appearances in Schleswig-Holstein on Friday. Then, attention will quickly turn to a much bigger prize -- state elections a week later in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, the final such contest before the Sept. 24 national vote.

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