After 16 years as Chancellor of Germany, the end of Angela Merkel’s fourth term is fast approaching, with a Federal Election scheduled for 26 September 2021. While the candidate list for the election has not been finalised, Armin Laschet’s recent election as Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader puts him in a strong position to run on behalf of the CDU and the Christian Social Union (CSU, the Bavarian partner of the CDU).
The latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that only 23% of German respondents explicitly approve of Laschet’s election as CDU leader, whereas 31% disapprove. Meanwhile, a plurality (33%) says they neither approve nor disapprove.
Approval of Laschet’s selection as CDU leader is highest among younger voters: 41% of 18-to-24-year-olds said they approve, compared to 18% of those over 65. Approval is naturally also highest among those who voted for the CDU in the 2017 General Election, although with 36% approving and 32% neither approving nor disapproving, Laschet does not have the widespread approval of CDU voters. Likewise, Laschet lacks significant levels of approval from voters of the CDU’s current coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD)—45% of whom responded that they neither approve nor disapprove—and from voters of Alternative for Germany (AfD), as a majority (53%) of them said they disapprove.
In light of the public’s minimal approval for Laschet, it is indeed possible that he will not be chosen as the CDU/CSU’s Chancellor candidate for the 2021 Election. Other possible candidates include CSU leader Markus Söder and Minister of Health Jens Spahn.
German respondents largely would prefer Markus Söder (42%) as Chancellor over Armin Laschet (12%) or Jens Spahn (8%), even though many said they don’t know (38%). Of those who selected one of the three potential candidates, Söder is the preferred choice by voters of all parties, including 57% of CDU voters and 41% of SPD voters. He is also most preferred among the three options by all age groups, most especially those 65 and over (51%).
Stances on European and foreign policy issues will likely play a role in the CDU/CSU’s choice of their candidate for the election. At a time when Germans are frustrated with the European Union over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, debates surrounding the EU’s role in Europe persist. On the topic of European integration, a plurality (43%) of German respondents expect that Laschet will push for the same level of European integration as Merkel. Indeed, Laschet is viewed as representing a continuation of Merkel’s course. While very few think he will push more (7%) or less (16%) for European integration, a considerable 34% said they don’t know, suggesting a lack of familiarity with his policy positions.
There also appears to be a lack of public knowledge about Laschet’s views on China and Russia, though his positions would likely become more widely scrutinised if he is chosen as the CDU/CSU candidate for Chancellor. Laschet is perceived as soft on China and Russia, calling for greater dialogue with the countries and speaking out against ‘anti-Putin populism.’
36% of German respondents said they neither approve nor disapprove of Laschet’s views on China and Russia, and 28% said they don’t know. Both approval and disapproval were minimal, with 13% saying they approve and 22% saying they disapprove of Laschet’s views on China and Russia.
While German respondents do not have a clear position on Laschet’s stances on China and Russia, our June 2020 poll found there was little desire in Germany to seek closer relations with these countries. At the time, only 23% of respondents said Germany should seek closer relations with Russia and 16% said Germany should seek closer relations with China.
Climate Change is also sure to be an important electoral issue in Germany this year, especially as The Greens grow in prominence. In fact, even though The Greens have the smallest number of Bundestag seats among the major opposition parties, 40% of German respondents said The Greens are now Germany’s leading opposition force.
This sentiment is shared by 44% of 2017 CDU voters and 54% of SPD voters. By contrast, 56% of AfD voters disagree that The Greens are the leading opposition force, most of whom likely view AfD—with 21 more seats than The Greens—as the opposition’s leader. It is important to note that the SPD are currently a partner in the coalition government and therefore are not considered part of the opposition.
If Armin Laschet is chosen as the CDU/CSU’s candidate for the 2021 Federal Election, he has much work to do in order to gain the German public’s approval in the coming months. Laschet himself has warned that many in the past have voted for the CDU out of admiration for Merkel and not necessarily the party, a notion which may be put to the test in September.