Frustration vs fear

The Christian Democrats’ poor showing in Germany’s elections indicates that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was right to bring about a snap election. Not even the Social Democratic leader believed he could catch up with Angela Merkel’s party, which had enjoyed a comfortable lead in all opinion polls during most of the pre-election period. Schroeder was confident that the earlier the elections, the better. The verdict of the ballot box is always shaped by many different factors. However, some things influence voter preferences more than others. In Germany, it was the debate about the contenders’ economic and social policies. Social insecurity is growing across the continent and its political implications will depend on the states’ national particularities. The German elections became a battleground pitting public disillusionment with the Social Democrats against fears that the Christian Democrats and their pro-business allies, the Free Democrats, would actually be worse. It’s the same old lesser-of-two-evils principle. An after-the-event explanation about the failure of opinion polls to accurately predict the outcome is that surveys recorded public grievances but made the mistake of translating these into voter intentions. As the moment of truth approached, the voters’ dilemma became more pragmatic. That explains the large number of undecideds shortly before election time. There is little doubt that Merkel’s slip-ups prior to ballot day and Schroeder’s victory at the TV duel also helped reverse the trend. But these would not have been able to trim a solid lead.

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