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Out of luck, comrade? Petra Köpping and the poll shock in Saxony

A look at the polls is not exactly uplifting for the SPD. Things look particularly bleak in Saxony, where a new state parliament will be elected this year. What's going on there?

Petra Köpping (SPD), Saxony's Minister of Social Affairs and top candidate for the 2024
Petra Köpping (SPD), Saxony's Minister of Social Affairs and top candidate for the 2024 state

SPD in the East - Out of luck, comrade? Petra Köpping and the poll shock in Saxony

Petra Köpping could make history: As the SPD's top candidate, leading her party in Saxony below the five percent hurdle. And thus out of the state parliament. This scenario would be a first for the SPD, and a bitter blow anyway - one year before the federal elections of all things. But if you believe the pollsters, it is certainly conceivable.

According to a recent Civey survey for the "Sächsische Zeitung " newspaper, the AfD is now at 37% (state election 2019: 27.5%), the governing CDU of Minister President Michael Kretschmer would come in at 33% (32.5%) and the co-governing SPD at a meagre 3% (7.7%).

So far, these are just polls, a snapshot without any consequences. But a look into the crystal ball shows: The SPD is facing turbulent months ahead.

The super election year 2024 as a whole threatens to be a defeat on a grand scale for the Social Democrats. A new state parliament will be elected in Saxony on September 1, as well as in Thuringia. Three weeks later it will be Brandenburg's turn. According to the latest surveys, the AfD could make significant gains in the European elections on June 9 - and the SPD could suffer significant losses in some cases. Like in Saxony, for example.

Köpping, 65, who has been a member of the SPD for 21 years, should bring about a turnaround. Thanks to her (crisis) experience and biography in Eastern Germany, the lead candidate is considered the wild card of the small state association, which had to cope with the worst result in its history in the last state election in 2019.

Köpping was already mayor in the GDR, integration minister during the 2015/16 refugee crisis and later social affairs and health minister during the coronavirus years. Consequently, she set herself the self-proclaimed goal of "at least double-digit results" in September. That sounds modest, but given the weakness of the SPD in Saxony, it is certainly ambitious. Perhaps even overambitious?

Köpping blames the traffic light coalition

In any case, the SPD lead candidate does not see the reason for the miserable poll results in herself, but in the traffic light coalition at federal level. "The poll results cannot be explained by state politics," Köpping told the "Tagesspiegel" newspaper. "But they reflect the mood here in Saxony towards the traffic light coalition." In view of this mood, the state political issues would fade into the background. The federal government had "disappointed the expectations of many people - especially here in the east", said the Social Affairs Minister. "Many have the feeling that they are not being thought of when it comes to the many changes."

In the Civey survey in question, none of the "traffic light" parties actually performed well, with the Greens and FDP also suffering losses. According to the survey, the Liberals would once again miss out on entering the state parliament, to which they have not belonged since 2014. The unpopularity of the traffic light system among voters, which is evident nationwide, appears to be confirmed in Saxony.

However, the figures should not be overestimated. Manfred Güllner, head of the opinion research institute Forsa, does not believe that the SPD will completely disappear into oblivion in Saxony. He considers 7 to 8 percent to be realistic, he told the "Berliner Zeitung". Other polling institutes also see the comrades a few percentage points above the five percent hurdle. Nevertheless: "Of course, that's not exactly a great result either," said Güllner.

He also doubts that the AfD will move into the East German state chancelleries. However, the pollster warns: "The democratic parties must now join forces and take joint action against the AfD." The front must stand firm, which could mobilize non-voters in particular and thus prevent the AfD's success. According to Güllner's figures, the AfD could receive 30 percent or more, but not an absolute majority.

Offering the competition a target

Ms Köpping of the SPD could thus become a victim of adverse circumstances that go beyond her party's traditionally difficult position in Saxony. On the one hand, there is the AfD, which is deliberately fueling and collecting protests against the traffic light policy. And there is Saxony's CDU Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer, who is also verbose in his criticism of the work of the federal government.

The campaigns against the traffic light coalition are particularly strong in Saxony, Köpping told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. Populism and fake news are being used to fuel the mood, and not just by the AfD. The result can now be seen. The CDU in Saxony is working on the traffic light, but is not presenting any solutions - this weakens people's trust in politics as a whole. "And who benefits from that? In the end, only one party, the AfD," said Köpping.

That's election campaign rhetoric, of course. Especially as Köpping recently had to deal with a funding scandal in her ministry, which gave her rivals plenty to attack. But her all-round attack also shows that the nervousness of the SPD in Saxony is growing - even when looking into the crystal ball.

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