German Election Frontrunner Stumbles After Flooding, Poll Shows

Armin Laschet, the Christian Democratic frontrunner for Germany’s fall election, has damaged his bid to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel with a bungled reaction to the devastating floods in the Rhine valley, a poll showed.

Laschet fell six points to 17% in a survey that asked who voters want to lead the next government. The Green party’s Annalena Baerbock and Social Democrat Olaf Scholz polled 19% and 18% respectively in a study by Forsa poll published on Wednesday, while 45% of respondents said they didn’t like any of the candidates.

Less than nine weeks before the election on Sept. 26 and two weeks after floods killed more than 170 people, the poll painted a grim picture for the candidate chosen by Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. Laschet drew widespread condemnation after chuckling on camera as the German president solemnly promised aid to those left homeless. The CDU chairman apologized for the gaffe.

“His appearance in the flooding crisis has apparently given life to the image of a ‘candidate without qualities,’” Forsa director Manfred Guellner said in a statement. “Only a few think that he’s dynamic and decisive -- or that he has a good plan for Germany’s future.”

German Election Frontrunner Stumbles After Flooding, Poll Shows

Laschet’s CDU-led bloc still leads in terms of voting intentions, Forsa’s research showed, but its support slipped by two points to 26%, while the Green party, who briefly led during the spring, gained two to 21%. The Social Democrats had 15% support, while the pro-business Free Democratic Party were at 13%. 

The German chancellor isn’t directly elected and the biggest party in the Bundestag doesn’t necessarily get to govern. Instead, the candidates have to try to piece together a majority once the make up of the Bundestag has been decided by voters. 

Forsa’s seat projections showed that Laschet would have a slim majority in partnership with the Greens, but Baerbock herself would have a stronger coalition if she could negotiate support from the SPD and the FDP, another potential combination. 

Forsa polled 2,501 peoples from July 20 to 26, with a margin of error of 2.5%.

The catastrophic flooding in the western states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate created a risk for Laschet by shifting voters’ focus to climate change, which in the past has been a tailwind for the Greens. Indeed, the poll showed that the extreme weather events displaced the pandemic for the first time since the outbreak as the most important issue for voters.

In a separate poll of around 20,000 people that Forsa conducted with the University of Hohenheim and the Munich-based Ifo Institute, 17% of potential voters viewed Laschet sympathetically, far behind Baerbock and Scholz, who each scored 33%.

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