Merkel's about face on refugees key to her electoral surge
German national elections will be held in September and Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative coalition party, the CDU-CSU, has widened its lead over the social democrats to 15 points.
Merkel's comfortable lead is attributed to the momentum her party has built in winning 3 straight regional elections. The poll gains are also seen as a validation of the chancellor's change of heart on refugees. Her "open door" policy that resulted in more than a million migrants flooding into Germany two years ago gave the nationalist party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, a huge boost. But last year, Merkel did an about face and severely restricted the flow of migrants into the country. Most of the AfD voters who would normally have voted conservative have come home.
The Christian Democrats (CDU) and its CSU Bavarian sister party were steady at 39 percentage points in the Emnid poll published in Bild am Sonntag newspaper, while the SPD fell one percentage point to 24.
The SPD had surged from 16 points behind the CDU/CSU in mid-January to a 33-32 lead in mid-February after nominating Martin Schulz as chancellor candidate. The SPD held even with the CDU/CSU at 33-33 until early April before falling behind.
Merkel's conservatives won three regional elections in the last three months while the initial euphoria surrounding Schulz, a former European Parliament president, wore off.
Despite the widening lead, Merkel's CDU/CSU is far short of a majority and might have a difficult time finding a junior coalition partner. Their preferred partner, the Free Democrats (FDP) were steady at 7 percentage points in the Emnid poll.
The pro-environment Greens, who could form a center-left coalition with the SPD or a center-right alliance with the CDU/CSU, were up 1 point to 8 percentage points. The far-left Left party were steady at 9.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), ostracized by the other parties and without any coalition partner options, was steady at 8 percentage points.
The social democrats have failed so far to offer a credible alternative to CDU. Their leader, former European Parliament President Martin Schulz, has decided to run as a social justice warrior, proposing to raise taxes on the rich. But Germany has had strong economic growth under Merkel and not very many voters appear interested in redistributive policies.
By pulling the teeth of the nationalist's agenda, Merkel has positioned herself and her party to win a plurality of votes on election day. But forming a coalition with other minor parties will be a challenge and, at present, her options appear limited.