Drop in Support for Merkel’s CDU

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Poland today, joining other world leaders to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II. But her thoughts are likely back here in Germany, where two days ago her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) suffered major setbacks in state elections, possibly undermining Merkel’s hopes for a conservative Grand Coalition.

In state elections held Sunday, four weeks before German federal elections, support for the conservative CDU dropped by more than 10 points in Saarland , a state along the French border, and Thuringia, in the former communist east. While the CDU remains the largest party in both of those states, the drop in support could make it more difficult for Merkel to garner enough public backing for a coalition between the CDU and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party.

It also put Merkel, who is running against Social Democratic Party candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on the defensive yesterday. Many in the media here have been critical of the chancellor’s outright unwillingness to campaign, making for an extremely boring election season and an increasingly incensed general public. When asked if Sunday’s losses will change her strategy, Merkel replied, “I won’t think in terms of camps but rather try to win over people. That’s why I’m not going to become more aggressive.”

Minus a huge misstep or a scandal, it’s unlikely that Merkel will lose the chancellery four weeks from now. But the election results are nonetheless dispiriting, as they show a lack of support and enthusiasm for the CDU and the once-popular Merkel.

Meanwhile, support for parties on the left continues to grow. Merkel has implemented a number of sweeping policies that have proven unpopular with Germans — the bailout of German automaker Opel, for instance — even though these policies, in part, can be credited with helping Germany emerge from recession. It’s still very likely that Merkel will win the election. But in the process, she risks losing the German people.