Germany: Engine of Europe

Germany’s election race is too close to call as Socialists' poll lead narrows

Key Points
  • With just a handful of days until Germans vote in the federal election on Sunday, the latest poll shows the gap narrowing between the top two contenders.
  • While Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) remains in front, a new poll by Insa for the German newspaper Bild has found the gap is narrowing.
  • The SPD is now leading the Conservatives by just three percentage points.
Construction workers place a barrier in front of an election campaign poster for Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party leader and candidate for Chancellor Armin Laschet.
JOHN MACDOUGALL | AFP | Getty Images

With just a handful of days until Germans vote in the federal election on Sunday, the latest poll shows the gap narrowing between the top two contenders.

While Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) remains in front, a new poll by Insa for the German newspaper Bild has found the gap is narrowing. The SPD is now leading the Conservatives by just three percentage points.

The center-left SPD has seen a dramatic rise in popularity since August, with the party's candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, performing well on the campaign trail. The party's manifesto — which encompasses left-leaning taxation and social policies, a pro-EU stance and flexible debt brake rules — has also appealed to voters who want a change to the status quo when Merkel leaves office.

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The poll showed the SPD winning 25% of the vote, compared to 22% for the alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), the ruling party of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, followed by 15% for the Green Party.

It indicates that the election is too close to call, although German voters have tended to favor stability in past elections meaning that the lead for the SPD could be scuppered when it comes to election day.

Nonetheless, the SPD's Scholz — a seasoned politician who is currently finance minister and vice chancellor — appears to be more popular with the public than his CDU/CSU rival Armin Laschet, chosen as the alliance's successor to Merkel earlier this year.

Debate wins

Three television debates between main candidates Scholz, Laschet and the Greens' candidate Annalena Baerbock have seen the public consistently vote for Scholz as the winner of the wide-ranging and often combative discussions on issues ranging from climate protection to security and taxes.

The latest debate on Sunday night was no exception, with a snap poll putting Scholz as the clear winner (with 42% of viewers thinking this, according to a Forsa poll), while Laschet got 27% and Baerbock received 25%.

Perhaps a signal of things to come when it comes to coalition negotiations after the election (no one party is expected to gain enough seats to govern alone) both Scholz and Baerbock suggested during the debate that it would be a positive if the CDU/CSU were to become the opposition rather than a part of a new coalition. However, they both signalled a willingness to negotiate with all parties except the far-right Alternative for Germany.

Which party will become part of that future coalition government has been occupying experts in the run up to the vote as there does not appear to be one obvious and easily-achieved coalition.

There are various three-party formations being mooted. For example, a "Green-Red-Red" alliance of the Greens with the SPD and far-left Die Linke party, or perhaps a "traffic light" coalition of the SPD, Greens and liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).

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"The interesting story about this election is about how unpredictable it has been in recent weeks to determine who will lead the country after the election," Gerlinde Groitl, assistant professor of International Politics and Transatlantic Relations at the University of Regensburg, told CNBC on Monday.

"The FDP really wants to be in a coalition government, but they have various gaps to bridge with the Social Democrats — they are far apart in terms of tax policy, social policy etc — and we have really a couple of coalition options probably on the table beginning next Sunday."

Also in question is whether far left Die Linke (which has called for the abolition of the West's military alliance NATO) would be involved in any coalition, a prospect that could be unpalatable for many German voters that err towards the center or center-right.

Indeed, the CDU/CSU's candidate Laschet has used the TV debates as an opportunity to stoke public concerns over Die Linke's possible inclusion in a future government. Neither Scholz nor Baerbock have ruled out working with Die Linke, although Scholz has said that any party in a German coalition would have to commit to NATO.

Groitl noted that while the SPD has moved "quite to the left," the party's candidate Scholz was more on the conservative side of the spectrum within the party and again there would be more gaps to bridge before any such left-leaning alliance was formed.

She predicted "tough negotiations" in any coalition talks after that election, which could "drag on for some while."