Personality continues to trump policy as German elections loom

Angela Merkel’s method of winning elections has earned its own phrase among German political scientists: “asymmetric demobilisation”, the art of running a campaign that skirts around hot-button issues in order to present voters with a choice between personalities rather than policies.

Three and a half months before 德国 goes to the polls, Merkel’s aspiring successor Armin Laschet seems to have taken her strategy to heart. With a campaign that has so far failed to tackle the country’s hard choices on carbon emissions, digitisation, eurozone integration and military spending, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its candidate for chancellor may get away with it too.

As the country has been released into the summer from an exhausting seven-month lockdown, the political conversation has come to focus on Laschet’s closest rival, Annalena Baerbock of the Greens, and questions around her résumé.

On Saturday, Baerbock’s campaign spokesperson said the CV on her official website had been “adjusted and corrected” to clarify that the Green party co-leader had never been a “member” of the German Marshall Fund and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 反而, the organisations were now listed under the header “Advisory boards, (sustaining) membership, regular support”.

The correction came shortly after Baerbock’s team had to fend off accusations that her LSE master’s degree in international public law did not justify her calling herself a Völkerrechtlerin, an expert in international law.

Questions over the wording on a CV would not normally be the making of a political scandal. CDU candidate Laschet’s CV, 也, contains inaccuracies, omitting to mention a spell at the RWTH Aachen University during which the politician lost his students’ test papers and marked them on the basis of his notes instead. He resigned from his lectureship after the error emerged.

After a strong start to Baerbock’s campaign in which Green party leapfrogged the CDU in several polls, recent surveys have put Germany’s conservatives back in the lead, without quite regaining the dominance at the height of the Merkel era.

Baerbock’s “unforced error”, wrote commentator Stefan Kuzmany in Der Spiegel, “creates a picture of an overly ambitious candidate who constantly wants to represent more than she really is”.

Merkel, more than any postwar German politician, knew how such impressions could swing elections. One slogan forever associated with her 16-year chancellorship in Germany is a phrase she uttered in a TV debate with her then-rival Peer Steinbrück ahead of the 2013 elections: ”Sie kennen mich” (you know me).

In spite of Merkel’s imminent departure from the political scene, the strategy of prioritising personality still holds. In each of the three state elections held in Germany this year, the incumbent premiers managed to defend their title or even improve their majority. One, the Green leader of the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg, simply copied Merkel’s “Sie kennen mich” slogan.

Laschet, 也, seems to have settled on what Der Spiegel called a “sleeper carriage strategy” for winning the national vote on 26 九月, even if his personal popularity ratings are way below those of the outgoing chancellor.

Less than four months before the election, the German electorate can get an idea of the political offerings by flicking through draft or finalised manifestos of five out of the country’s top parties.

Voters can, 例如, find out that the Social Democratic party (SPD) wants a “citizens income” to replace the unemployment and welfare package introduced by its last chancellor, leftwing Die Linke plans a wealth tax and the Greens want to increase petrol and diesel prices more quickly.

The only party that has yet to present a manifesto – outlining, 例如, by which route it aims to achieve an 88% reduction of carbon emissions by 2040 – is Laschet’s Christian Democrats.

Until a presentation on 21 六月, the CDU will continue to consult with its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, on which policies it wants to offer potential voters.

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