What I learned about the German election from the polling – and the election signs


If you believe the polls, Angela Merkel is cruising to her fourth term as Chancellor. This is somewhat surprising on our contemporary political scene, where politicians no longer enjoy longevity and the electorates are restless and often fickle. Merkel seems to have weathered any public dissatisfaction with the unprecedented numbers of “refugees” (mostly economic migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East) who have poured in and continue to pour in through the open German borders. The economy, however, is going well:

At first glance everything looks good. The German economy is growing steadily (up 1.9 percent in 2016), unemployment is at its lowest level in decades, tax revenue is flowing in like never before and the finance minister has ended another year without new debt.

Companies are also optimistic, and their products – from cars to machines to pharmaceuticals – are bestsellers around the world. The economy is doing so well that some are already dreaming of tax cuts while others are afraid of the whole thing overheating.

As “Deutsche Welle” observes, there are structural problems, particularly crumbling transport and education infrastructure. In addition, Germany has a very large number of low-income workers and seemingly shrinking middle class. But people rarely vote on structural issues or longer term trends. Hence this, not bad from a three-term government:


The centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) has been in coalition with centre-right CDU in this current government, as well as in Merkel’s first term. These two parties are Germany’s biggest, leading to a union dubbed the “Grand Coalition”.

The polls are currently suggesting that Germans are content with their current government, which means a Grand Coalition could happen for a third time in just four elections.

Another option is a Black-Yellow coalition, consisting of Merkel’s CDU party propped up by the smaller Free Democratic Party (FDP). This would take Merkel over the target needed for a majority, and was the option the party opted for in 2009-2013.

The only situation that poses a risk to Merkel’s leadership is a left-wing “Red-Red-Green” coalition, led by the SPD’s Martin Schulz. For this, he would have to gather enough seats together alongside the Linke (Left) and Grüne (Greens) parties.

A few days ago I went around the streets of Aachen and Cologne in the western part of Germany, the Rhineland, looking for election corflutes. Actually, that’s a lie; I went looking for beautiful churches and other historical buildings in the old city centres, but at each step I would bump into an election sign affixed to street lamp or other (small “p”) pole. Apart from the fact that German political parties have tons of money to spend on election advertising, I have learned a few things from looking at the German corflutes; possibly all wrong, since based on a geographically biased sample, but possibly at least partially right:

They hang Angela Merkel high

img_7348Every time I saw Angela, she was up very high, much higher than all the others, and well out of reach. Possibly to make it more difficult for people to vandalise her signs in particular.

The Social Democrats don’t exist

This is Rhineland – more Catholic, more conservative, the heartland of Merkel’s Christian Democrats – but in all my wanderings I haven’t seen even one single lonely Social Democrat corflute.

Greens are nutty everywhere

Not even the main Green party which will enter the Bundestag, but a smaller Ecological-Democratic Party, which fortunately won’t make the 5 per cent vote threshold.


“Fairer trade” and “People before profit” – even without speaking German I can understand why I wouldn’t be voting for the disco ODP candidate. And neither will this annotator:

img_7300“Change is possible” (or less elegantly: electable), to which somebody added “but not with” before the list of the Ecologist policy priorities: de-growth, fairer trade and basic income. Solid.

Free Democrats are cool

They generally stand for freer market and lower taxes. Shock horror in a generally social democratic Germany, right? So how can you resist voting for them,particularly if their candidate is Dr Cliff?

img_7295But not for V-Partei3 – Party for Change, Vegetarian and Vegans.

Or MLDP – Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany. Of course the party was funded in what was West Germany. Whatever you do, don’t vote for Gabi. She’s rabid.

Mainstream parties are boring


But hey, if my choice was to vote for Ecologists or Vegans or Marxist-Leninists, I would probably vote for the Christian Democrats too.