One party has been grabbing all the headlines in Germany’s federal elections: Alternative for Germany, or the AfD.
Started in 2013 as a eurosceptic party to the right of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), the AfD won regional and european parliamentary seats before lurching even further to the right.
Not afraid of criticism
Despite the acceptable face presented by leader Alice Weidel, the party is no stranger to criticism. Its other leader, Alexander Gauland, once expressed pride in what he saw as the achievements of the Nazis during the second World War.
Björn Höcke, head of the AfD in Thuringia, described the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a “monument of shame”.
With an election slogan of “Burkas: we’d prefer bikinis”, the party is demanding the immediate closure of borders, to stop what it sees as uncontrolled mass immigration.
Since the start of the refugee crisis in 2015, the party has become increasingly islamophobic. While most parties welcomed the intake of refugees, the AfD opposed it, attracting voters in the process.
Timo Lochocki of the German Marshall Fund said
“The refugee problem isn’t an issue for German parties anymore, but it is for German voters. The electorate is looking for a party that deals with the issue and takes conservative concerns seriously.”
But the party’s success can’t be explained by this alone. According to the Hanns-Böckler-Fund, people’s dissatisfaction with their personal situations also plays an important role.
They feel that politicians don’t care about them any more.
Support for the AfD continues to grow, regardless of what is happening in society, the economy and the jobs market.
Its voters fall into two categories, according to researchers: on the one hand a mostly-male lower middle class on a below average income; and on the other, well-educated high earners.
These disparate groups are united in fear, a fear that established parties have neglected to address.
And it’s this fear that may well make the AfD the third strongest party in the German parliament after the elections.