Since this time last year, Germany’s populist political party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), has shot up in polls, increasing their support from 11% in July 2022 to 20% in the most recent surveys.
In both 2017 and 2021, they were the fourth-biggest party behind the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and two the left-leaning parties, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party.
If these numbers are accurate, AfD is now the second-most supported party in Germany. The former second-place party SPD, which is now polling at 18%, on average 2% less than the AfD. The biggest party is still the CDU, which consistently polls at around 27-28%.
Launched in 2013, the AfD started as a party opposing bailouts of Greece and other European Union members. Since then, its focus has shifted to opposing mass migration and combatting the influence the EU exerts over Germany.
In the year of its founding, the party received only 1.9% of the vote in the federal legislative elections, which did not meet the 5% cutoff required to receive representation in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. In 2017, they gained representation in the Bundestag after getting 11.5% of the vote in the federal election and 10.1% in 2021.
So what’s happening to fuel a nativist and populist movement in the nation that boasts Europe’s largest economy?
Markus Frohnmaier, an AfD member in the German Bundestag, told RCP that he thinks the AfD is rising in popularity because “We [the AfD] are the only party which stands in direct opposition towards [the far left] and offers an alternative vision for the welfare of the German people,” and that “All other parties are basically left-wing at this point, including the Christian Democrats.”
He specifically pointed to four key areas of disagreement between the other German parties and the AfD: “immigration policy, EU policy, economic, and social policies.”
On immigration, he pointed to riots in France as problems that the AfD wants to avoid in Germany: “The riots in France, which are reminiscent of civil war-like conditions, are primarily, but obviously not exclusively, the result of a failed liberal migration policy of the French government and the EU at large.”
“Our main problem is mass migration from regions that are strongly alien to our culture, not immigration from European (neighboring) states,” Kevin Seidle, referent of the AfD faction in Brandenburg’s Landtag, told RCP. Later, Seidle explained why the AfD supports European immigration but does not support Muslim and Middle Eastern immigration:
“From Ukraine came about 80% women and children, often well-educated and with a clear desire to return,” Seidle said. “Of the Ukrainian women and children who stay here, the very most that will remain of their Ukrainian heritage within two or at most three generations will be somewhat strange-sounding surnames – otherwise, they will be fully assimilated. That is why many AfD members have also welcomed Ukrainian refugees with open hearts and taken them into their homes.”
Skeptics of the AfD, such as German Chancellor and SPD member Olaf Scholz, believe this rise in popularity of the AfD is just a temporary response to the Ukraine-War crisis and the related energy problems it has caused. On July 14, at his summer news conference, Scholz said, “I’m quite confident that AfD won’t perform much differently at the next federal election than it did at the last.”
“The climate crisis is coming to a head; war is back in Europe; the global balance of power is shifting … These are the challenges the federal government is taking on. This great upheaval will end well for us and badly for the AfD, because [their] line of work will be gone,” Scholz told the German Parliament back in March.
On EU and economic energy policy, Jan Behr from Sachsen, former treasurer for the Junge Alternative (the AfD’s youth organization), told RCP that energy prices were another important reason more Germans are supporting the AfD. A law to ban the use of gas and oil home heating systems in Germany in 2024 and in the EU by 2029 was of particular concern.
“With the intention of alleged climate protection and to reduce the dependency on Russian gas, there will be a huge bill that will prevent homeowners from buying new heaters operating with gas or oil. The people fear – correctly – that the heating prices, which are already very high in cross-national comparison, will skyrocket even more and that there will be the possibility of blackouts because of the overload of the power grid,” Behr explained.
On social policy, Arthur Hammerschmidt, board member for the Junge Alternative in Baden-Wurttemberg, told RCP that he thinks part of the reason the German people are becoming more favorable toward the AfD is because of their stance on criminal justice issues.
“We cannot have a situation where police officers first have to think about whether they should intervene in a criminal act or not without getting a criminal complaint and a suspension. The rights of police officers to enforce the Basic Law must come first not the individual interests of a criminal,” Hammerschmidt argued.
Frohnmaier, on the social policy front, also referenced how the AfD was fighting against the “insane far-left culture war,” specifically advocating against “laws which would allow anyone to legally change their gender once a year by mere verbal declaration.”
Many of the proposals and messaging on the issue of transgenderism by the AfD mirror the Republican Party’s stance in the United States. Deputy head of the AfD in the Bundestag, Beatrix von Storch, said last year that the “trans lobby” in Germany is trying “to persuade as many children as possible to be chemically castrated and physically mutilated in order to enforce their ideology as ‘normal’ in society.” Partial or full bans of puberty blockers and “gender-affirming surgery” have been passed in 20 states in the U.S.
All the members of the AfD emphasized that the failure of the current government triggered, in the words of Jan Behr, “much rage and anger,” which has led to “the AfD doubl[ing] their projected vote share in just a year.”
“[W]e have to state that the federal government is doing the best election campaign for us. Their bad policies against German people, the self-made inflation, bans to ‘save the climate’ and an increasingly authoritarian state bring general resentment to the German people,” Hammerschmidt finished.