The Merkel effect

Emily Schultheis reports: On August 12, German Chancellor Angela Merkel kicked off her reelection campaign in the west German city of Dortmund. Fresh from a three-week vacation in the Italian Alps, she joked that she’d neglected to mention that the election wasn’t yet over and done with. “I almost forgot to say that the election isn’t already decided,” she said. “And of course, we need every vote.”

With the way this campaign is going, Merkel could be forgiven for nearly forgetting that crucial piece of information. After expectations that this year’s campaign would be Germany’s most contentious one in years, the final weeks of the election have felt decidedly devoid of drama—enough so that the Wall Street Journal’s headline in a recent story about the campaign declared succinctly: “Wow, it’s Boring.”

But still, the fact that Merkel could make so casual a comment barely a month before election day is a sign of how much the political outlook has shifted even in the last six months—and how secure her position has become. A confluence of several factors, from her opponent’s stumbles to an improving outlook for refugees, have converged to Merkel’s benefit, seemingly making her reelection an all-but-foregone conclusion.

2017 was expected to be Merkel’s toughest campaign yet: to start, it’s the year when Europe’s far-right populist parties, including the anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), have sought to showcase their electoral strength amid a growing backlash against globalization and Europe’s refugee crisis. When Merkel announced her reelection bid last December, she did so battered by more than a year of tough criticism over her open-door policy toward refugees, and facing a certain degree of voter fatigue after hitting her 12th year in office. [Continue reading…]

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