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Introduction

Merkeldämmerung

Eric Lagenbacher

The elections for the German Bundestag on 24 September 2017 saw heavy losses for the two governing parties—the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD)—and the rise of the rightpopulist Alternative for Germany (AfD). It took almost six months for a new grand coalition to be formed in light of the extremely fragmented parliament. Despite the good economic situation and relative calm domestically and internationally, much change is occurring under the surface. Most importantly, the country is preparing for the end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long tenure. Who and what will come next? Can the surging AfD be contained? Will Germany step up into the leadership role for which so many have called?

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David Art

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) made history by winning 12.6 percent of the vote and capturing ninety-four seats in the Bundestag in the federal elections of 2017. This article asks whether the AfD’s rise threatens to undermine the strategy of containment that contributed to the demise of previous incarnations of the radical right. It argues that the current strength of the AfD is a direct result of Angela Merkel’s decisions to rescue the Eurozone and to welcome over one million refugees since the fall of 2015. While the AfD is still likely to suffer a collapse similar to other radical right parties, its consolidation or strengthening would have major consequences for Germany and for Europe.

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The Left Party and the AfD

Populist Competitors in Eastern Germany

Jonathan Olsen

In the 2017 German Federal Election. The Left Party (Die Linke, or LP) saw its vote share in eastern Germany seriously erode. The main culprit behind the LP’s losses was the Alternative for Germany (AfD): 430,000 voters who cast their ballots for the LP in 2013 voted for the AfD in 2017. Why was this the case? This article suggests that the AfD in 2017 was able to attract protest voters, largely in eastern Germany, dissatisfied with the state of democracy and the political establishment in Germany who once voted for the LP. The LP and AfD have become eastern German populist competitors.

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A New Blue-collar Force

The Alternative for Germany and the Working Class

Philipp Adorf

Within a mere five years, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has established itself in the German party system. During the same period, however, it has undergone a significant ideological transformation as well. Initially regarded as a direct competitor to the small-government Free Democrats, the AfD has since adopted the tried-and-tested electoral approach of other rightwing populist actors by embracing welfare chauvinist positions, linking the survival of the welfare state to that of the nation state. In doing so it has made substantial inroads into the blue-collar electorate, in some German states even overtaking the Social Democrats as the preferred choice of the working class.

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Pointing Fingers at the Media?

Coverage of the 2017 Bundestag Election

Alexander Beyer and Steven Weldon

The 2017 Bundestag election and the breakthrough of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) will likely long be remembered as a pivotal moment in German politics. One of the key questions in the aftermath of this breakthrough is what role the mainstream media played in this party’s success. Drawing on online data from the four largest German news outlets, Google-trend searches, and Twitter, we examine the media coverage landscape over the course of the election campaign, focusing on the coverage of the AfD relative to other parties and its key issues of immigration and Euroskepticism. Our results indicate that the AfD did indeed face a favorable media environment, especially in the final month of the campaign. Further analysis, however, suggests that the media was in many ways simply responding to public interest and demand—immigration, especially, was a highly salient issue throughout the campaign, something that was a significant departure from recent elections.

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Radical Right-Wing Populists in Parliament

Examining the Alternative for Germany in European Context

Lars Rensmann

Founded just five years ago, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) represents the biggest opposition party in the German parliament. This article addresses three questions in European comparative perspective: What is the nature of the AfD as a relevant political party in the Bundestag? What explains its rise and popularity? What is the party’s behavior and impact in parliament, and on German politics in general? Examining platforms, the article first identifies programmatic and ideological shifts that have turned the AfD from a single issue anti-Euro party into the first radical right-wing (populist) party in parliament since the Nazi era. Second, voter analyses suggest that the AfD’s political radicalization has not undermined but increased its appeal. Third, the robust electoral support for radical positions makes it likely that the party seeks to further deepen political conflicts. Behavior in parliament shows that the party follows its European counterparts’ polarizing strategic orientations, reinforcing the Europeanization of a nativist sociocultural “counter-revolution.”

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Samuel Salzborn

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has been sitting in Germany’s federal parliament since September 2017, having won 12.6 percent of the popular vote. In considering this young party’s recent development, researchers have focussed on its rhetorical strategies (i.e., populism) and its radicalization. Until now, much less attention has been paid to antisemitism within the AfD— also because the party would prefer to keep this out of public debate. By investigating its treatment of antisemitism, Nazism, and the politics of remembrance, it can be shown that the AfD has the features of a far-right party, to a much clearer extent than might be guessed from its media image, particularly inside Germany.

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The Race for Third

Small Parties in the 2017 Bundestag Election

David F. Patton

In 2017, the small parties achieved unprecedented success in the Bundestag election. This article examines their success, assessing both longterm and short-term factors. It analyzes each of the four main small parties in turn, and considers their recent performances, their goals, campaign strategies, and election results. Finally, it asks why the small parties’ electoral gains have not led to greater executive power and concludes that it is because the expectations surrounding party system formation in Germany have not adequately adjusted to the fragmented and increasingly polarized system that has emerged.

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Samuel Salzborn

Right-wing extremism in Germany has recently undergone considerable changes with a new right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) successfully entering several local state parliaments as well as the European Parliament, “Pegida” demonstrations representing a new type of public action in terms of social movements, and the emergence of institutions like the Library of Conservatism and magazine projects like Sezession. This article considers whether such developments could be seen as a renaissance of the “New Right”, representing a long-term success in its strategies. Since the 1970s, the strategy of the New Right has been based on promoting a culturally conservative metapolitics in the pursuit of “cultural hegemony”, meaning to influence public opinion in the Federal Republic of Germany and shift it to the right— which at first glance might seem to have succeeded in light of recent events. The developments seen in German far-right extremism, however, have been neither monocausal nor monolithic. Therefore, this article will take a closer look at various aspects of the idea that recent changes in Germany’s rightwing extremism might represent a successful implementation of this New Right strategy.

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Explaining Germany's Electoral Geography

Evidence from the Eastern States

Steven Wuhs and Eric McLaughlin

Partisan attachments and voting behavior in Germany today are more volatile than in the past. This article tests the enduring influence of social cleavages on voting relative to two other factors that account for party performance: path dependent forces and spatial dependence. Drawing on original data from the eastern German states, we explain support for Germany’s main parties in the 2017 federal election. We find relatively weak evidence for continued influence of social divisions for the major parties, but that support for the radical right Alternative for Germany (AfD) did reflect underlying cleavage structures. Additionally, we identify reliable effects of the historical immigrant population on contemporary voting. We also see weak evidence of lock-in political effects associated with German reunification, limited only to the CDU. Most interestingly, we observe powerful and robust effects of spatial dependence for three of the four parties we examine. We conclude that the effects presented here should signal to scholars of parties and electoral politics the need to incorporate history and geography into their analytical frameworks alongside more traditional approaches, since eastern Germany may in fact be less spatialized than western Germany or other country cases because of the homogenizing efforts of the SED regime.