Germany’s Christian Democrats were set for an election win in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday, an exit poll showed, but their share of the vote shrank, denting state premier Armin Laschet’s ambitions to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Laschet, who is positioning himself as the continuity candidate to succeed Merkel, had hoped to increase the Christian Democrats’ share of the vote in the local elections to boost his standing ahead of a December party leadership showdown.
But an infratest dimap forecast for broadcaster WDR based on exit polls showed support for the Christian Democrats (CDU) slipping 1.5 percentage points from the last local elections in 2014 to 36.0%.
The left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD) came second with 23.5%, down 7.9%, and the Greens third with 19.0%, up 7.3%.
Polls showed voters have rated Laschet’s management of the coronavirus pandemic in Germany’s most populous state poorly. More than 14 million people were entitled to vote in Sunday’s elections, in which voters chose local town councillors.
The elections come as the CDU looks ahead to a congress in December when it must choose a new leader.
The new CDU chairman will be in pole position to be the party’s chancellor candidate, though in theory the leader of its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), could run as the candidate for their alliance, dubbed “the Union”.
Merkel, in power since 2005, has said she will not seek re-election in federal elections due by October next year.
A poll published on Sunday suggested Laschet has his work cut out. Most Germans – 31% – favour CSU chairman Markus Soeder as the Union candidate for chancellor, the Sept. 9-10 survey of 1,013 voters by pollster Kantar for Bild am Sonntag showed.
Health Minister Jens Spahn came second, on 14%, followed by erstwhile Merkel rival Friedrich Merz, on 13%, and then Laschet on 8%. Among Union supporters, support for Soeder hit 46%.
Soeder, who has so far played down any interest in running for chancellor, told Saturday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “My place is in Bavaria.”
No chancellor has ever come from the CSU.