Exit polls suggest Angela Merkel’s conservatives have romped to a shock win in the heartland of the rival SPD, North Rhine Westphalia.
Support surged for the CDU in a state the SPD have held almost uninterrupted since after the Second World War, giving them 34.5% of the vote, up from 26.3% in 2012.
The SPD fell from 39.1% to 30.5%, their fourth state election loss in a row since March, and a deep dent in their hopes of recapturing power in the national elections in September. Allies the Greens also lost out, dropping to 6% from 11.3%.
The CDU’s likely coalition partner the Free Democrats are on course for around 12%, while the far-right anti-EU AFD could win 7.5%.