Berlin (CNSNews.com) – The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is now the second most popular party in Germany, surpassing one of the country’s major parties for the first time, according to a new poll.
The news comes as the government struggles to form a new coalition – with the party that has now been overtaken by the AfD – and prevent the need for fresh elections.
The Insa research institute poll, published by Bild newspaper, placed the AfD at 16 percent, half a percentage point about the Social Democrats (SPD). The 15.5 percent showing for veteran center-left party is the worst showing since Insa started the poll in 2012.
The combined bloc of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), remains well in the lead, at 32 percent.
The results mark a new high for the far-right AfD, which captured 12.6 percent of the vote in federal elections last September. Campaigning against government policies that allowed more than a million asylum-seekers to enter the country since 2015, the AfD became the first party on the far right to win seats in the federal parliament since the Nazi era.
Reacting to the poll result, AfD leader Alice Weidel described it as a historic day, declaring on Twitter that her party had become the “official people’s party” of Germany.
There was no early response from the SPD. The party had attempted to revive its fortunes by appointing the prominent former European Parliament president, Martin Schulz, as its chancellorship candidate in the September election.
Instead, suffering its lowest post-war election vote, Schulz stepped down as SPD leader last week saying the party needed “renewal.”
Germany could face the prospect of new elections after six months of unproductive coalition talks.
Merkel initially tried unsuccessfully to form a coalition with the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP), before turning to the SPD.
She then reached a coalition agreement with SPD leaders, but now the party’s 463,723 members must vote on it by March 2. It remains to be seen how that party vote may be affected by Schulz’ resignation and the poor poll results.
Should the SPD members’ vote fail, Merkel could try to lead a minority government, but legislative decisions could be easily overturned. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier may instead call for fresh elections.
In the event of new elections, the Insa poll suggests the AfD could secure second place, behind the CDU/CSU bloc.
Germany’s major parties previously ruled out considering a coalition with the AfD. But if the Insa poll result was replicated at the ballot box – and that’s far from certain – the CDU/CSU and SPD together would secure just 47.5 percent, short of a majority in the Bundestag.
A coalition of the CDU/CSU, Greens and FDP could work (a combined total of 54 percent, according to the Insa poll), but Merkel’s attempts to forge just such a coalition has already failed in recent months.
Manfred Guellner, head of polling group Forsa, told Bloomberg the party vote will be difficult to predict.
“The biggest risk to the membership vote is posed by the left-leaning members who for ideological reasons oppose a grand [CDU/CSU-SPD] coalition,” he said.
The SPD’s youth wing, with more than 70,000 members, is also strongly opposed to the coalition deal.
Youth wing chairman Frederick Cordes said the party should not let the prospect of new elections scare members into voting for a coalition with Merkel.
“The SPD is a proud, old party and doesn’t have to orient itself based on what Mrs. Merkel wants,” he told the ARD broadcaster after a rally Sunday near Frankfurt. “We’re not in a monarchy.”
Despite the opposition from young and left-wing members, a poll conducted by the Kantar Emnid research firm last week showed 66 percent of SPD members do want a coalition, compared to 30 percent favoring new elections.
Fear of being overtaken by the AfD could bolster support for a grand coalition option, in the view of SPD general-secretary Lars Klingbeil. He told DW television Tuesday a “yes” vote to a grand coalition under Merkel would counter the AfD’s rise in the opinion polls.
The AfD was launched in 2013 as a euroskeptic party, but saw its fortunes rise amid voter concerns about Merkel’s liberal asylum policies.
It has courted controversy multiple times in the past, for instance when Björn Höcke, AfD leader in Thuringia state, called the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame” early last year.
AfD party leaders initially moved to expel Höcke, yet, a year later, his position remains unchanged.