An old party with aging membership, led by a politician with the charisma of a middle-ranking bank employee, following the humiliating descent from a national institution to also electoral ones already suffered by his comrades across Europe. The obituary of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) had already been drawn up.
Yet as the German election campaign is about to enter its home stretch, it is Olaf Scholz’s center-left party enjoying a boost as its rivals begin to take late.
The last five polls released over the past week have shown the SPD to overtake the Greens, who appeared on track to claim first place in the spring. In a poll published on Sunday by the INSA pollster, the SPD approached the Christian Democratic Union of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel for the first time since spring 2017, with both parties with 22% of the vote.
In the German proportional voting system, Scholz could become the next chancellor even if his party came in second behind the CDU – his great idol Helmut Schmidt did so in 1976. According to current polls, the SPD should be excluded to join a conservative party. coalition with the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats, and persuading the pro-business and anti-fiscal FDP to join a power-sharing deal with the SPD and the Green Party instead.
If Scholz’s name appeared on the September 26 ballot, rather than his party’s, he would already be the clear favorite: In a poll released last week, 41% of those polled said they would vote directly for him as chancellor if they could, against only 16% who opted for the designated successor of center-right Merkel, Armin Laschet, and 12% for the candidate of the Greens, Annalena Baerbock.
The struggles of the two former favorites are the most obvious factor behind the revival of the Social Democrats. “Scholz’s current strength is mainly the result of the weakness of his rivals,” said Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at the Free University of Berlin.
The approval ratings of Baerbock and Laschet, who did not hold any ministerial positions at the national level, narrowed as the voting public had the opportunity to take a closer look at their characters and imagine them instead of Merkel. Both seem prone to blunder.
Scholz, the current finance minister and former labor minister and mayor of Hamburg, did not shine in the election campaign either. But the taciturn northerner, once nicknamed “Scholzomat” for his monotonous flow, was not wrong either.
Yet the SPD campaign is also going easier than many expected. Scholz, who hails from the right-wing party, has been nominated his party’s candidate for chancellor, even though he is led by two politicians from his left. Indeed, Scholz lost to Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken in the party leadership race just a year and a half ago.
During the election campaign, the two wings convincingly demonstrated an internal party truce. At UFA film studios in Berlin last week, Scholz shared a scene with Kevin KÃ¼hnert, the former left-wing leader of the SPD youth wing who had staged a rebellion to prevent his party from forming an alliance with the CDU in 2018.
KÃ¼hnert, who has in the past advocated the collectivization of large German companies such as BMW, stuck to his scenario, expressing skepticism about a referendum, which is due to be held in the German capital on the same day. than the national vote, to expropriate the large proprietary companies.
Scholz, in turn, adopted a policy favored by the traditional left as one of his campaign’s benchmark promises: to raise the minimum hourly wage from â¬ 9.50 (Â£ 8.15) to â¬ 12 (Â£ 10.30 ) in the first year.
The policy would only affect 1.4 million people and may not speak of his deepest beliefs. âThe traditional rhetoric of Scholz’s centrist wing was to redefine social justice as social mobility,â said Anke Hassel, professor of public policy at the Hertie School in Berlin.
âInstead of the state providing only a safety net, the narrative was that it would help people advance in education,â Hassel said. âThe current discourse of the SPD is more conciliatory: we will make sure that those who cannot go up are not left behind. “
But promises like the â¬ 12 minimum wage and a new 1% wealth tax have also given the center-left campaign the kind of memorable take-out that the CDU has so far lacked. Social Democratic insiders claim that Germany’s strengthening of Germany’s social safety net is popular with voters – the problem is that Angela Merkel has, over the past 16 years, taken credit for such policies developed by the SPD.
To emerge as the direct or indirect winner after the September vote, Scholz will need to convince swing voters that he not only cares about those left behind, but understands the needs of Europe’s largest economy as well. “The CDU doesn’t understand anything about economics,” he said last week with unusual volume from the stage in Berlin’s Tempelhof district.
As the man who hardly challenged German fiscal orthodoxy during his four-year tenure in the finance ministry, Scholz may be more up to the task than his rival: polls suggest he is the preferred choice for the chancellor, even among voters in the FDP, which is socially liberal but fiscally conservative.
“There was a prejudice among the German electorate that the Social Democrats could not be trusted with money,” Neugebauer said. “Scholz has definitely reduced his party’s reputation for lavishness.”
And yet, poll after poll, it has been shown that most voters still trust Merkel’s CDU to run the economy and thus ensure their financial well-being.
âAt the moment, Scholz may look like the one-eyed among the blind,â Neugebauer said. “But in Germany, electoral behavior has traditionally been determined less by personalities than by parties.”