For the past several months, it was clear that the German election wasn’t going to be much of a cliffhanger. And that expectation was met in spades on Sunday as the first projections emerged soon after the polls closed at 6 p.m., with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives easily outpacing the center-left Social Democrats as the country’s strongest party. The result will send Merkel to her fourth term in the Chancellery. Nevertheless, Sunday’s vote marks a significant shift in German politics, with initial projections showing the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party winning over 13 percent of the vote, thus becoming the first overtly right-wing party to win seats in the country’s federal parliament in over half a century. The result slightly outpaces the most recent public polling data — and is a far cry from the 7 percent the AfD had been polling at as recently as mid-summer — and it means the party will send close to 90 deputies to the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament.
Those deputies are almost certain to change the debate culture of the Bundestag. Lawmakers like Alexander Gauland, who has repeatedly made headlines for his racist comments targeting blacks and Turks, and Jens Maier, an extreme right-wing historical revisionist, will almost certainly ratchet up the rhetoric in what has long been a relatively staid if stodgy plenary. One of the key things to watch as the next parliament begins its work will be how the other parties choose to react.
The Social Democrats (SPD), meanwhile, appear to have fallen to their worst result since World War II, with initial projections indicating that under 21 percent of voters have cast ballots for the party. The result is particularly disappointing due to the party having been led in the campaign by Martin Schulz, the former president of European Parliament who is well-liked in the country, if not widely seen as inspiring. When Schulz initially announced his candidacy in January, the SPD immediately shot up in the polls, pulling almost even with Merkel’s conservatives. But Sunday’s result, if it holds, is even lower than the 23 percent the party won in 2009.