Polls have opened in Germany’s national elections after a summer campaign season that’s been dull as dishwater. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party has been expected to win by a landslide for months, and she spent a good part of her only TV debate with her closest rival Martin Schulz discussing the nuances of road tolls. But for the first time in almost 60 years, a far-right nationalist group is making its Bundestag debut, breaking long-standing taboos with its anti-immigration, anti-Islam platform.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) is a new, rabble-rousing party that has drawn Nazi comparisons from major politicians. If predictions hold true, it could become the third-largest party in German parliament. Yet the populist party’s meteoric rise is largely a symbolic victory. The AfD will certainly change the tone of debate, but it won’t find any partners to help implement its policies.
I’ve been following these elections in a few ways, including going out campaigning with the two biggest parties, the CDU and SPD. Both have been (very timidly) getting on board with the idea of door-to-door campaigning. Compared to the in-your-face American style, where volunteers at your door will kick and scream until you change your political position and sign up for a newsletter, the Germans are extremely timid. They offer just a quick reminder to go vote, and are instructed to suggest voting early by mail only if homeowners respond very enthusiastically to their advances.
When the United States, Britain, and France have all seen recent political upheavals, why are Germany’s elections so boring– particularly in the wake of a refugee crisis that saw more than a million immigrants arrive in 2015? I find the doldrum to be a refreshing reminder of democracy in action; discussions are policy-oriented, detailed, and covered soberly by the press. Germany’s election laws dictate incredibly short and cheap campaigns compared to spectacles in the United States. And fringe parties have been unable to make such big inroads into German politics due to the country’s post-war political structure designed to prevent fragmentation. After spending last year working in a newsroom covering tumult in the rest of the world, I’ll take a yawn-inducing election any day.