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German SPD extends lead over Merkel’s sliding conservatives

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Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) have opened up a five-point lead over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives ahead of a Sept. 26 national election that promises multiple coalition options, a poll showed.

The centre-left SPD’s surge in polls has dimmed the prospects of another victory by the conservatives, whose promise of “steadfastness” is failing to resonate with voters concerned by climate change, immigration and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Infratest dimap poll for broadcaster ARD put support for the SPD at 25%, with the conservative CDU/CSU bloc on 20%, the Greens on 16%, the liberal Free Democrats on 13%, the far-right Alternative for Germany on 12% and the far-left Linke on 6%.

Support for the SPD was up seven points from early August and it was down seven points for the conservatives, according to the poll of 1,337 voters conducted from Monday to Wednesday.

The upshot is that only three-way coalitions look plausible after the election, raising the prospect of extensive negotiations to form a new government. Merkel, in power since 2005, plans to stand down after the vote.

Armin Laschet, leader of her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), is trying to breathe life into his campaign after a snap poll suggested he lost a heated televised debate with his two main rivals on Sunday.

On Friday, Laschet plans to present eight lieutenants – four women and four men – to reinforce his campaign on key issues. Thursday’s poll showed the top topics for voters are climate protection, followed by immigration and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Party sources told Reuters that Laschet’s team will include Friedrich Merz, an erstwhile rival for the party leadership who carries weight with voters on the right of the political spectrum. Laschet styles himself as a centrist, like Merkel.

Laschet has been under fire since he was caught on camera laughing during a July visit to a flood-hit town. The CDU’s slide marks a remarkable fall after 16 years in office and four straight national election victories under Merkel.

In a rare campaign intervention, Merkel took aim on Tuesday at the SPD’s candidate, Olaf Scholz, for declining to rule out a coalition with the far-left Linke. Conservatives say this would mean a big lurch away from Germany’s centrist mainstream.

Scholz remains by far the most popular candidate. The Infratest dimap poll showed that in a hypothetical direct vote for chancellor, he would win 43% of the vote, against 16% for Laschet and 12% for the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock.

Photo: A file photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) (R) and Finance Minister and vice Chancellor, Olaf Scholz (SPD) (L) arrive at the plenary hall of the Bundestag. EPA-EFE/MICHELE TANTUSSI