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From Opinion polling for the German federal election, 2017, poll were quite stable between 2014 and 2017, only with a gradual decline of CDU/CSU with a moderate rise by AfD since late 2015¹:

opinion polls
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

However, since the beginning of 2017, the SPD has risen dramatically, seemingly at the expense of all other parties except FDP. CDU/CSU had a virtual 15-percentagepoint lead that has essentially vanished. The SPD situation is in contrast with the situation of social-democratic parties in other northern/western European countries such as France, UK, or The Netherlands, where social-democratic parties are doing poorly in polls or in reality. In neighbouring The Netherlands, where social-democrats are the junior party in a grand coalition similar to the one in Germany, social-democrats have consistently polled below 15% since 2013 and below 10% since 2015 and are now the 7th party, polling at 7.4–8.5%.

What are the causes of the sudden recent increase in the opinion polls for the SPD?


¹Around ⅛-⅐ of CDU/CSU-voters apparently moved to AfD, this is often attributed to dissatisfaction over the refugee policy, EU, and Euro.

  • Did you mean to say "were quite stable between 2014 and 2016" or something? – David Grinberg Feb 15 '17 at 16:59
  • CDU is Merkel's party. Didn't her popularity drop like acid? – user4012 Feb 15 '17 at 17:16
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    @user4012 It dropped somewhat since summer 2015 due to opposition of her liberal refugee policy, but voters dissatisfied with that rather move to the nationalist-conservative AfD than to the social-democratic SPD, which agrees on this policy. – gerrit Feb 15 '17 at 17:21
  • @gerrit - this is Germany. I strongly suspect people at large would shy from AfD in general for cultural reasons... and then; there's the famous German rationality - you might expect people to be voting tactically and SPD is the best chance to defeat Merkel on pure numbers ground. – user4012 Feb 15 '17 at 17:23
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    @user4012 I'm aware the German context is particular, but SPD and Merkel are in government together. Either way, the sudden rise in SPD started January 2017 whereas the refugee crisis was heaviest in winter 2015/2016, when both CDU/CSU and SPD were dropping (and AfD was rising). So I suspect there's something else going on. – gerrit Feb 15 '17 at 17:26
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The recent raise in SPD poll results correlates very obviously with their nomination of Martin Schulz as their chancellor candidate for the election this summer. I am not implying that correlation generally implies causation, but in this case it is extremely obvious.

Before that nomination, the general assumption was that party leader Sigmar Gabriel would be nominated. Gabriel is not particularly popular among followers of the SPD. The SPD held a vote of confidence regarding Gabriel's leadership in December 2015 and only 74 percent of the party delegates voted for him, which is the lowest for an SPD leader in 20 years.

A big advantage of Martin Schulz is that he spent the past two decades doing politics in the European parliament, so he is able to criticize the politics made by the current large coalition between CDU and SPD. Gabriel would be in a quite weak position to attack the policies of the CDU in general and Merkel in particular, because as vice chancellor he is partially responsible for them. Schulz, on the other hand, can (and does, sorry, could only find a German source) even criticize unpopular decisions by his own party, like the Agenda 2010, the welfare reform under Gerhard Schröder which was very unpopular with the German left.

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