Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Final Stretch

Today, I attended the last big CDU rally in Berlin at the Arena in Treptow. The venue was full, but the average age of the audience was probably about 60 years old (I don't know what this says about the CDU's or Germany's demographics). In any case, Merkel arrived shortly after the event began and engaged in a rather weird "chat" with Ronald Pofalla and two moderators. Then we went live to Munich and there was a casual back-and-forth with Horst Seehofer at a CSU rally. Everybody talked about how much they love each other and can't wait for a positive election result.

After an extremely cheesy rock back interlude ("Superfrau"), Merkel took the stage alone and delivered what was supposed to be a rousing campaign speech. Yet, the lack of an enthusuiastic response was palpable. Perhaps it had something to do with the age of the audience, suboptimal staging, or Merkel's visible exhaustion (she did just get back from the G20 Summit). Maybe Merkel's lack of charisma was once again evident--or maybe this lackluster response was symbolic of the entire campaign. In any case, the noise level did not really rise and the applause was only sporadic.

Substantively, I thought Merkel was quite good. She spoke about the need for global economic rules ("exporting soziale Marktwirtschaft"--a new German nationalism?) and the necessity of never again letting such an economic and financial crisis occur. Retaining and creating jobs and returning to pre-crisis levels of propserity were major emphases. She also spent quite a bit of time talking about family and educational policy. Interestingly, she did not directly attack any of her challengers (she didn't even mention Steinmeier by name). She mentioned various anniversaries, especially the fall of the Wall and noted that the CDU was always for unification.

Her most frequent points, however, had to do with the necessity of maximizing the CDU-CSU's share of the vote--especially Zweitstimme (earlier she quipped that her job is contingent on these second votes). She implored people to vote "simply," implying that vote splitting and other strategic forms of voting are highly dangerous this year. Towards the end of her appearance, she mentioned the desirability of a Black-Yellow coalition--but in my opinion, she really de-empahsized this possible outcome--many have long thought she would prefer another grand coalition--at the least she is hedging. She also mentioned the high pecentage of undecided voters and thus the necessity of vigorous last-minute efforts (although as the pollsters noted yesterday, higher levels of turnout usually benefit leftist parties).

The uncertainty that I blogged about yesterday was evident in Merkel's speech. It is a rare occurence that a major democratic leader has to lecture voters (repeatedly) about the intricacies of the electoral system. But, she is right to be worried. The last polls released by Forsa show the left and right camps even at 47% and the CDU down from an average of 35% to 33%.

Let the voting begin ...

--Eric Langenbacher

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