Despite charges from mainstream politicians that it is “fascist,” the right-wing Alternative to Germany party is now polling second, ahead of the left-wing Social Democrat Party.
The party’s growing popularity may be due to its strong stand against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s lax immigration policies. Or, it could be because it offers a clear alternative to the oddball coalition cobbled together by Merkel of Social Democrats and the chancellor’s CDU party.
Last month, when an AfD politician in parliament stood up and lambasted Merkel for her lax policies, the chamber erupted in insults and smears of AfD. That caused the 19 AfD deputies to walk out of parliament.
It is the latest sign that many citizens are drawn to a populist movement that is reshaping politics in Germany, a trend that’s playing out in Europe and elsewhere. AfD politicians are regularly accused of extremism and don’t shy from the type of nationalist rhetoric that mainstream German politicians largely have shunned since World War II. After launching in 2013, Alternative for Germany has grown powerful by focusing especially on the public’s fears and frustrations over the country taking in record numbers of migrants and refugees in recent years.
That’s the superficial view. But there’s a lot more to the AfD’s growing popularity than stoking nativist fears:
So, how has the AfD managed to garner so much support for its “alternative” for the country?
According to Werner Weidenfeld, a political scientist at the University of Munich, the party appeals to a variety of sectors. “The AfD supporters are not all right-wing radicals,” he says. There is a range of backers, including “disappointed middle-class” citizens and “some right-wing extremists.”
He thinks the AfD’s success reflects people’s longing for simple solutions to complex issues, like security and artificial intelligence. “We live in an age of complexity,” he says, “while at the same time nobody explains the complex connections. So there is confusion, and people become incredibly insecure. They are frustrated, afraid and want a simple answer.”
Spoken like the arrogant elitist he is. The AfD is popular because people are stupid and those of us who refer to them as “fascists” are a lot smarter than the ordinary citizen.
The people don’t want “a simple answer.” They want someone to listen to them.
Weidenfeld says Germany’s mainstream parties do not provide these answers, so “many of today’s AfD voters stayed home on election days. Now they have found a way of expressing their fear and frustration — by voting for the AfD.”
“Democracy is not threatened today, but it might be the day after tomorrow,” Weidenfeld says. The traditional parties have to “regain the trust of citizens.”
That, too, is the elitist view. They know that AfD doesn’t threaten democracy — today or any day in the future. They fear losing control of the masses. They are the ones using fear for political purposes, raising the specter of Nazis to convince people not to support AfD.
German elites still don’t get it. And the harder they try to scare people into staying away from AfD, the more converts the nationalists will get.