Germany regional elections: More than 50% of people plan to vote for right-wing or far-right parties

Attacks on politicians come at end of campaign dominated by fears over rising living costs, increase in migration

After weeks of anti-immigrant populism, Nazi jokes and campaign violence against politicians, few would raise an eyebrow if Sunday’s two state elections were taking place in eastern Germany.

Some 33 years after unification, though, the 15 million people invited to the polls live in old West Germany: the southwestern state of Hesse and southern state of Bavaria. And yet opinion polls predict that 52 and 66 per cent respectively plan to vote for right-wing or far-right parties.

Things are so heated in Bavaria, in particular, that not even far-right politicians are safe. On Tuesday Alice Weidel, a leader of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), skipped a Bavarian election rally and went into hiding after what police called a credible and serious threat on her family.

Two days later co-leader Tino Chruppala was rushed to intensive care where he remains under observation; party colleagues say he was the victim of a needle attack at a Bavarian rally on Thursday.


The Bavarian threats and attacks come at the end of a campaign dominated by fears over rising living costs, a fresh increase in migration and concern over climate measures, in particular for Bavarian farmers.

More than most, conservative Bavarian voters seem uniquely susceptible to right-wing populism, with some 36 per cent set to back the ruling Christian Social Union (CSU). The sister party to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has ruled in Bavaria for all but three years since 1946. CSU leader and Bavarian state premier Markus Söder enjoys his role as self-styled state patriarch and pragmatic populist-in-chief, adopting elastic positions on climate protection, nuclear power and immigration.

After a tough campaign, though, he needs a strong result on Sunday to secure a fresh term in Munich – and give him first refusal to run as CDU/CSU chancellor hopeful in two years time.

“It’s good to be happy about good polls, but no one should be too happy too soon,” said Mr Söder on Thursday. “Things always turn out differently than you think.”

Things used to be different for the Bavarian CSU. The party is used to state poll results well over 50 per cent, but the AfD have peeled away 14 per cent support – and could take every fourth vote in some regions. Another 15 per cent of voters meanwhile back Bavaria’s populist Free Voters (FW), the CSU’s junior coalition partner.

Barring upsets, the CSU-FW alliance is set to remain in power, even after FW leader Hubert Aiwanger was confronted last month with an old pamphlet he helped distribute in secondary school, heaving with anti-Semitic tropes and Nazi jokes.

After apologies and denials, Bavarian voters shrugged off the fuss and private CSU polling – and subsequent campaign messaging – sees a far greater evil in Bavaria’s Green Party.

Mr Söder has denounced the Greens for being obsessed with banning meat and cars, calling them a party that “doesn’t quite belong to Bavaria”.

But he is outflanked for the populist vote by FW leader Hubert Aiwanger. At a recent campaign event, Bavaria’s deputy state premier and economics minister for the last four years urged voters to “take back their democracy” on Sunday.

It was dismissed as a “Trump speech” by Bavarian Green co-leader Katharina Schulze. She accuses the Söder-Aiwanger duo of helping stoke a “massive rise in populist hate and baiting” in the current campaign.

“Outside one beer tent event someone was selling stones,” she recalled, “and one actually was thrown at us”.

A key question on Sunday is not whether this conservative state remains right, but how far right it shifts.

“If the CSU or FW sink to the simple argumentation of the AfD,” said Prof Jürgen Falter, a leading German political scientist, “there is always the risk that, in the end, people vote for the AfD original.”

Far from the heat of Bavarian populism, the less flashy Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in neighbouring Hesse is set to return to power with a solid 31 per cent support. All eyes here, though, are on the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and its luckless lead candidate, Nancy Faeser.

If Sunday’s result mirrors final opinion polls – and the SPD finishes in fourth place behind CDU, Greens and AfD – Ms Faeser’s day job as federal interior minister in Berlin may be up for grabs, and chancellor Olaf Scholz may use the opportunity for a cabinet reshuffle.