A few months ago, when we were a month out from the French presidential election, there was still quite a bit of uncertainty; the opinion polls were telling a dynamic story. But with a month to go until the German election, things look a lot more stable.
You can study the polls yourself here, but they all tell the same story. The Christian Democrats (CDU), the party of chancellor Angela Merkel, are consistently polling just under 40%; her rivals and coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), are in the mid-20s. The other four parties – the Greens, the Left, the liberal FDP and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) – are all about equal, around 8% or 9%.
Voting is proportional (Sainte-Laguë method), so those numbers will translate very closely to percentages of seats, provided the four minors all stay above the 5% threshold.
Last time around, in 2013, both the FDP and AfD just missed out (with 4.8% and 4.7% respectively), leaving only four parties in parliament. But this time they all look reasonably secure; AfD, which has been in fairly steady decline since its peak last year in the mid-teens, is probably most at risk, but so far no polls have put it lower than 7%. And German opinion polling has a pretty good record.
So assuming these results hold up, here’s what we can say about the shape of the next government:
- The CDU will remain the largest party, and no government will be formed without it. An SPD-Greens-Left coalition, which is the only plausible alternative, will be well short of a majority. (That combination does have a majority in the present parliament and failed to form a coalition, so there’s no certainty it would do so this time either, but for now the question looks academic.)
- The current CDU-SPD coalition will retain a large (albeit reduced) majority. If its partners want to continue together, there will be nothing to stop them.
- A government of the CDU and one minor party – which means either the Greens or the FDP, since the CDU would never partner with the Left and no-one will touch AfD – is a possibility, but the odds are probably against it, and if it does have a majority it will be a very narrow one.
- The most likely alternative to the grand coalition is a CDU-Greens-FDP combination. The Greens have never governed with the centre-right at federal level before (although they have done so in some states – perhaps most notably in Baden-Württemberg, where the CDU is junior partner to the Greens), but this could well be the moment for it.
Putting those things together, they suggest that Merkel will be in a strong position to choose which way she wants to take the government. But since playing second fiddle to her does not seem to be doing the SPD any good, it may well decide that a term in opposition would be better for its longer-term health.
Donald Trump’s presidency seems to have hurt the fortunes of far-right populists across most of Europe, and delivered a boost to the sort of sensible, centrist politics that Merkel has associated herself with. And of the many ways in which Trump could (and has) upset world opinion, cozying up to neo-Nazis is probably the one least likely to play well in Germany.
A month is sometimes a long time in politics, so things could still shift in some unexpected way. But for now, it looks as if the chancellor’s title of leader of the free world is hers for the keeping.