The rise of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has set off one of the largest waves of protest in modern German history. Half-a-million or so demonstrators took to the streets last weekend: they were a mixed bunch of all ages and ethnicities; politicians also marched alongside members of the public. All were united in their desire to stem the rise of the far-right AfD.
But while the marches looked impressive, there is little sign that they are working – or that they have the power to actually change anyone’s mind. Much has been made out of the fact that, while the AfD polled at around 23 per cent for much of December and January, support for the party has now ‘dipped’ a little to 20.5 per cent. The marches are unlikely to be the reason: that decline is more likely to be due to the fact that a new populist party with an anti-immigration and ‘leftwing-conservative’ offering was formed in January and included in the polls. The Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW) currently has 7.5 per cent support, so combined with the AfD that makes 28 per cent of people rooting for the political fringes.
Despite the competition, the last few weeks have been good for the AfD. While the revelation in January that AfD members had met with neo-Nazi activists to discuss a ‘masterplan’ for Germany led to mass protests, there was also an influx in AfD membership applications: the party claims that, since reports about that meeting emerged on 10 January, it has received 1,900 new signups.
There is no doubt that the party is benefitting from the crisis facing Olaf Scholz’s administration. Even as Scholz took office in December 2021, only a quarter of the public deemed his government capable of solving the country’s problems. Nearly two-thirds couldn’t name a party that could.