As Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to leave office after 16 years in power, millions of Germans will go to the polls on Sunday in an election that will transform the face of Germany and Europe.
Voting takes place at polling sites across Germany between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. local time, although many people have already voted by mail. Shortly after the polls close, exit polls will be released that will give an idea of the election result.
Recent German elections have lacked any significant surprises, and Merkel’s re-election has been widely predicted.
However, since announcing her resignation, the election campaign has remained wide open, forcing voters to search elsewhere for fresh leadership.
Polls of voters in the run-up to the election on Sept. 26 have piqued the interest of commentators and the general public alike.
The Green Party saw a surge in popularity in April, taking the lead in the polls until being surpassed by the Social Democratic Party, which has managed to maintain a slim advantage in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Merkel’s ruling conservative coalition of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union has been unable to break away from the pack, and recent opinion surveys show the party lagging behind the SPD in second place.
The vote is still too close to call, with recent surveys showing the SPD with 25% of the vote, the CDU-CSU with approximately 22%, and the Green Party with around 16%.
With 11 percent of the vote, the pro-business, liberal Free Democratic Party is in second place, followed by the right-wing Alternative for Germany.
Die Linke, a far-left party, is expected to receive 6% of the vote.
Merkel, who has been in office for 16 years and presided over what many Germans consider the country’s “golden period,” is known for favoring stability over charismatic leadership.
Given the SPD’s involvement in the current coalition with the CDU-CSU, Olaf Scholz, the SPD’s candidate for chancellor, is likely to have benefited from this desire for a “safe pair of hands” in power, given his experience as Germany’s finance minister and vice-chancellor.
The other candidates for chancellor, the CDU-Armin CSU’s Laschet and the Green Party’s Annalena Baerbock, have had less successful election campaigns, with both being dogged by controversies and concerns about their capacity to lead.
Laschet of the CDU, in particular, has seen his ratings plummet as a result of a poor campaign trail and a weak performance on the public stage.
Being captured on tape laughing on a visit to a German town devastated by floods, for which he later apologized, also did little to improve his public image.
Despite departing Merkel’s efforts to resuscitate Laschet’s prospects of replacing her, three TV debates amongst the main contenders have failed to reverse the CDU popularity.
Since 1949, when the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, formed a parliamentary group and participated in the first federal election after World War II, the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, have dominated German politics.
In recent years, the party has lost favor with younger German voters who value environmental principles and want to see Germany invest in and modernize its aging industry and infrastructure.
The CDU-CSU received its lowest election performance since 1949 in the 2017 election. Although the bloc received 33% of the vote, this was a decrease from 41.5 percent in the last election in 2013.