Many of the headlines about the three state elections in Germany over the weekend follow a similar theme:
And those stories attribute the performance of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to the chancellor’s open-door policy for refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria, and indeed Merkel herself acknowledged a “difficult day” for the party. A closer reading of the results present a more complicated picture, however.
Merkel’s CDU governed one of the states, Saxony-Anhalt, up for play in the regional elections. The other two, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, were governed by a center-left coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. In other words, Merkel’s CDU was a challenger in those two states. It lost in both, though it was expected to win in Baden-Württemberg, a former stronghold.
In both Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU candidates were vocal opponents of Merkel’s position on Syrian refugees. Indeed, the victors in both these places, the ruling center-left coalition, strongly supported Merkel’s policy. In Baden-Württemberg, nearly 8 in 10 voters said they supported welcoming refugees, according to exit polls; in Rhineland-Palatinate, the exit polls showed, nearly a third said they switched their support from the CDU to the Greens because of their more posture toward refugees.