Voters in three German states are going to the polls in regional elections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Conservative Christian Democrats, the CDU, hold a comfortable 12-15 point lead in the national polls over their centre-left rivals the Social Democrat SPD. The elections are being seen as a barometer of the government’s support ahead of federal elections next month. The SPD sees the state votes in Saarland, Saxony and Thuringia as a chance to undermine Merkel’s attempt to attain a second term. Any erosion of support could endanger her hopes of sealing a centre-right government with the business-friendly Free Democrats, the FDP and possibly force her into another awkward “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats. A poor performance by the conservatives would give the SPD a psychological boost for the final phase of the campaign and sour the mood in Merkel’s camp. Conservative allies of Merkel currently govern in all three of the states where voting is underway today but victory is far from assured. Three-way coaltions of the SPD, the left-leaning Die Linke party and environmentalist greens could sweep the incumbents from power if voters believe the factions have overcome their differences.