Friday, September 11, 2009

The Latest Polls, a Real Issue (gasp!), and a TV Duel

With little more than two weeks before election day, three things are keeping campaign observers busy at the moment.

First of all, out of nowhere, Die Linke has gained up to four (4!) points in recent opinion polls while SPD, Greens and CDU are losing a point each and the FDP remains stable. Where does this mini-surge come from? Some observers have suggested that the recently flared-up Afghanistan issue is behind the numbers, but this can't be, as the polls were conducted before last Friday's incident. Others suggest that, finally, Die Linke gets rewarded for being the only party that has stubbornly been trying to insert issues into the campaign when everybody else was trying to avoid it. Could be, although the credibility of most of Die Linke's promises and announcements is rather doubtful. While I am not an expert number cruncher, my feeling is that the increase is solely the momentary result of the party's recent successes in the Thuringia and Saarland state elections. Winners tend to generate such psychological bonus effects in the polls. While this most certainly won't lead to a Red-Red-Green coalition, it should make the SPD think very hard. Despite its eager attempt to exploit the CDU's disastrous results in the state elections, they have actually lost votes, instead of gaining some. So the real interesting question coming out of the new polls is why the SPD keeps on losing support when it is already so weak. I do not have an answer.

Secondly, though it's hard to believe, a real policy issue has snuck into the campaign! A rather technical dispute over the treatment of German nuclear waste has resurrected the "Atomdebatte" in Germany. This is one of the few issues where there's actually a real policy difference between Steinmeier's SPD (which is for abandoning nuclear power altogether) and Merkel's CDU (which believes nuclear powers is necessary for some time to come). Theoretically, this should work in favour of the SPD, as there exists a rather broad anti-nuclear-power consensus in the German population. But whether this issue will stay on the agenda in this campaign remains to be seen. If it does, it is unclear whether it could deliver decisive percentage points for the SPD on election day. As the Allensbach polling institute points out in Wednesday's Frankfurter Allgemeine: There's a majority in Germany in favour of abandoning nuclear power, but there is also a majority of people that believes that this is an unrealistic goal. Not exactly the stuff a heated debate is made of.

Thirdly, those who have not yet dozed off or turned their backs on this rather un-thrilling campaign are eagerly expecting Sunday night's big (and only) TV duel between Merkel and Steinmeier. A recent poll suggests that a strong majority of people expects the chancellor to do better than her opponent. This, of course, is bad news for Mrs Merkel, as high expectations are the biggest enemy for anyone involved in this kind of modern day gladiator's fight. Steinmeier did very well in a recent "town hall meeting" program. It will be very interesting to see how these two politicians, who are known to have a relationship of trust and mutual respect, will make use of one of the last opportunities to really make a case for themselves. Your humble blogger will keep you posted!

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