German Election

The polls

On September 26, Germans go to the polls to pick who will replace Angela Merkel as chancellor after 16 years.

Currently, the SPD leads in our polling aggregate by 4 points over the CDU/CSU after rising more than 9 points in the last 8 weeks.

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Parties must clear a 5% electoral threshold in Germany to win seats in the national parliament or at least three of the party's candidates must win their local elections outright.

The parties

When Germans vote, they’ll choose both a direct representative and separately vote for a political party. The result of that second vote will determine who controls most seats in the national parliament. The majority party will then choose the next chancellor. These are the major parties vying for control and their candidates for the chancellorship:

CDU/CSU

candidate
Armin Laschet

The traditionally Catholic conservative bloc is made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. The “Union”, as it is usually called, stands for low taxes, budget discipline and conservative-liberal values. Members were deeply split over Merkel’s open-door migrant policy in 2015 which cost them votes but now, after 16 years in power, the party is looking for a way to reinvent its electoral success.

SPD

candidate
Olaf Scholz

Germany’s oldest party and the main centre-left force. As junior partner in a coalition with Merkel’s conservatives for 12 of the last 16 years, the SPD has struggled to carve out a clear identity for itself. Policy focus is on investment and tackling inequality and the party has recently embraced more green policies. A leftist leadership duo of Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans has had little impact since taking over in 2019 and centrist Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has given the party a poll boost.

Greens

candidate
Annalena Baerbock

Born out of the pacifist movement of the 1960s, the party first took a role in government in 2002, sharing power with SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Under the leadership duo of Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, the Greens have widened their appeal by developing clearer social and economic policies, such as reforming strict fiscal rules to allow more public investment. This complements their main focus on tackling climate change which they aim to achieve through faster CO2 price rises and phasing out combustion engines. It is critical of China and opposes the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

FDP

candidate
Christian Lidner

Dubbed the party of doctors and dentists, the FDP campaigns for low tax and deregulation. Often kingmaker, the party has shared power with both conservatives and the SPD in the last 70 years. Current policies are closer to those of the CDU/CSU. They want to reinstate a binding debt brake and oppose a euro zone fiscal union. On the environment, they prefer incentives through CO2 emissions trading schemes.

Left

candidate
Janine Wissler
candidate
Susanne Hennig-Wellsow

A radical left party which includes some former East German communists, it has struggled to attract broad voter support. Policies include big tax hikes for the rich and rethinking the NATO defence alliance.

AfD

candidate
Jörg Meuthen
candidate
Tino Chrupalla

Set up as an anti-euro party in 2013 at the height of the euro zone debt crisis, it has ousted its leadership team several times and morphed into an anti-immigrant grouping with some radical far-right members among its ranks. It capitalised on the 2015 migrant crisis to become the third biggest party in the 2017 election and is the official parliamentary opposition.

Coalitions

With no party likely to win more than 50% of the vote outright, the winners will need to build a coalition with others in order to form a majority government. Here are the most likely scenarios:

Currently polling
47%
CDU/CSU
SPD

The Grand Coalition

After three of Merkel’s four terms spent in a “grand coalition”, there is little appetite within either party for another go. The SPD in particular is desperate for an alternative. However, the two parties have proven that they can work together, and they could thrash out a “more of the same” programme with a greater emphasis on green issues if they had to.

48%
CDU/CSU
Greens
FDP

The Jamaica Coalition

Some pundits think this is a likely scenario but it would be tricky given the opposing priorities of the Greens and Free Democrats, especially on fiscal policy and their approach to the EU. This three-way alliance almost took power under Merkel after the 2017 election but collapsed when the FDP walked out of talks, seriously damaging trust for another run at it.

37%
CDU/CSU
Greens

Conservatives and Greens

Until the last few weeks, this was seen as the most likely coalition. Laschet has made clear he is open to a more environmentally-friendly agenda than previously and that there is room for compromise on fiscal policy such as higher investment in tackling climate change. This coalition is currently in power in the state of Hesse.

33%
CDU/CSU
FDP

Conservatives and Free Democrats

With a long history of sharing power at federal and state level, both parties would prefer this alliance which would prioritise strict budget rules and lowering taxes where possible. Green policies would focus mostly on using market instruments, such as an emissions trading scheme, to achieve CO2 reduction targets. But both parties’ current polling numbers makes this partnership unlikely to combine for a majority.

63%
CDU/CSU
SPD
Greens

The Kenya Coalition

Set to be the three biggest parties, this coalition would have a big parliamentary majority. It could agree on stepping up efforts to tackle climate change but there would be big differences to overcome on investment, social and financial policy.

52%
SPD
Greens
FDP

The Traffic Light Coalition

This looks like a very difficult alliance to agree on due to differences between the two centre-left parties and the FDP, which wants low taxes and strict budget rules. The Greens would push for higher emissions taxes and more ambitious carbon emission reductions. It would rely on the FDP making big concessions.

47%
SPD
Greens
Left

SPD, Greens and the Left

This leftist alliance could theoretically be led by either the SPD or Greens, depending on the outcome of the election. After years of ruling out a partnership with the Left at the federal level, the SPD no longer excludes the possibility and the three parties already share power in some regional assemblies. Such a coalition would probably increase spending, loosen Germany’s tight fiscal rules and impose stricter labour regulations, but it would be a tricky partnership due to the radical stance of some in the Left party, especially on foreign policy.

By

Jon McClure, Prasanta Kumar Dutta & Madeline Chambers

Additional design

Sam Granados

Sources

Polling data from wahlrect.de.

Methodology

Our poll aggregate for parties is estimated using local polynomial regression, which is a method we can use to fit a curve through individual poll points.

The margin of error for individual polls is estimated from the poll’s sample size and the number of eligible German voters reported by the German Federal Returning Officer.

Edited by

Raissa Kasolowsky