What an image for Peer Steinbrueck: raising his left-hand middle finger in Sueddeutsche Zeitung magazine. It is one of a string of gaffes that the German Social Democrat (SPD) candidate for chancellor has committed. With his campaign in full swing, it has not helped his poor standing in the public’s eyes.
He’s been described as arrogant and undiplomatic, and many find his attempts to ingratiate himself with ordinary Germans have failed to ring true.
The SPD candidate is widely recognised as intelligent and a good speaker. But in spite of his experience as finance minister a few years ago, Steinbrueck’s campaign has been struggling.
His international experience is as undeveloped as Angela Merkel’s before she became chancellor. While he made social justice a prominent part of his platform, he also said he would not advocate harsh austerity for southern Europe. At the height of the euro zone debt crisis when Germans were afraid their savings were in danger and threatened a run on the banks, Steinbrueck and Merkel appeared together to reassure people.
But Steinbrueck has ruled out an SPD-CDU “grand coalition” as there was from 2005-2009, after a subsequent plummet in vote share for agreeing to such an alliance. He and Merkel overlap on many political ideas, though the Chancellor is more popular.
Humboldt University politics professor Friedbert Rueb said there are clearly key distinctions, and not only in style: “I would say Steinbrueck is much more a person which takes over what we would call political leadership. He has much more an idea (of) how to shape the German society. He has much more an idea (of) how to push through some important policy issues (that) he feels are important to put through; that, would Merkel never do. So, there is a difference in policy and personality.”
There was one live television debate between them – which survey judged roughly even as to who scored better. They didn’t attack each other.
Steinbrueck has preferred campaigning through small rallies with select groups, fielding questions and trying to entertain. Voters who seem to like Merkel’s modest, understated manner have been left cold by his antics.
Merkel’s camp hoped Steinbrueck’s rude finger gesture in a magazine photo would reinforce the impression held by some German voters that his occasional lack of self-control made him unsuitable for leadership. An online poll by Spiegel magazine, however, found that about half of the 17,000 people it surveyed said they admired his audacity.
Steinbrueck’s supporters believe his trump card is authenticity. They say the SPD candidate is as reliable as a politician as he is in his private life. He has been married for 38 years.