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High Voter Turnout in German State Elections Upsets AfD

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party hoped to win Eastern Germany going into the 2019 German state elections. However, due to an unusually high voter turnout, the AfD party was unable to win any of the state elections this year. Despite the upset, AfD was still able to place well in many states, narrowly beaten in Saxony and Bradenburg by opposition parties.

In response, AfD co-leader Alex Gauland stated, "we're satisfied in Brandenburg as well as in Saxony.” Even though the AfD did not win their targets, the party was still successful in increasing their election percentage to 18 percent. While the AfD may not have won first place, it is still a major force in Germany, especially in the eastern region.

AfD leadership members in the Bundestag. Photo:  Olaf Kosinsky

AfD leadership members in the Bundestag. Photo: Olaf Kosinsky

The AfD was founded in 2013 and is led by Alexander Gauland and Jörg Meuthen. In 2016, the party exploded onto media sites worldwide when it won 20 percent of Germany’s regional election vote. In 2017, the AfD shocked Europe when it became the third largest party in Germany’s federal Parliament. Controversially, the AfD supports an anti-immigration rhetoric, and is known for several bombastic remarks toward the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The surge in support came in the wake of Chancellor Merkel’s decision to accept large numbers of migrants, primarily from the Arab world. 

The higher than expected voter turnout reflects a trend throughout Europe. Sweden’s far right party, the Sweden Democrats, lost the national election from an unusually high voter turnout. Earlier this year, European Parliament elections had the highest voter turnout rate in over 20 years at 50.9 percent. In comparison to 2014, when the turnout rate was only 43 percent, German state elections have reflected a more democratic trend. The rare voter turnout consisted mainly of opposition to the AfD, which prevented an expected victory.

The AfD has historically had a stronghold on the eastern part of Germany. Researchers from LSE’s Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit have found a correlation between an aging population and emigration in areas that voted for the AfD. Currently in East Germany, there is a brain drain, in which young professionals have emigrated to western Germany where there are more opportunities. They leave behind an aging population and a stagnating economy, perfect for an anti status quo party to succeed. 

For now, the AfD seems to be contained in eastern Germany. Germany’s Social Democrats, along with the Christian Democratic Union, still maintain a centrist political system. While the AfD is not as powerful as it used to be, it still keeps a strong grip over politics in eastern Germany.