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The Far Right Comes Back to Germany: Why Do Germans Vote for AfD?

Germany's AfD, known for racist and anti-Islam politics, gets currently the vote of one out of five voters, following its rise in recent months. Being the climax of the German far right since the Nazi Era, let's analyze the motivation behind the suddenly bolstered support for AfD.

Alice Weidel, co-chairwoman of the AfD since 2017

Embroiled with the refugee crisis and cultural conflict, Europe has witnessed the rapid rise of right-wing populism and, thus, a far-right tendency in the 2020s. So much so that far-right politics became the decisive political power in the continent for the first time since the Second World War, getting into power in Italy and achieving remarkable electoral success in Austria and Finland.

Meanwhile in Germany, the trend in other European countries notwithstanding, the view has so far prevailed that far-right politics can never again gain power, as the consequences of the Nazi ideology in the country’s past are evident.

Although, the far-right populist Alternative for Germany, abbreviated as AfD and characterized by anti-EU and ethno-nationalist policies, has been able to turn the decline of mainstream German parties in the past few months in its favor and currently receives about 22 percent of the votes in Germany according to polls, coming into second place.

Well, but how come such an extremist party has become so popular?

As its agenda is full of anti-immigrant and anti-Islam promises, AfD understandably garners most of its votes by turning immigrants to targets. Indeed, AfD voters give Germany’s lax immigration policies as the top motive for their voting preference with 65 percent, which explains why the party had gained popularity by 2015 as well, following the European migrant crisis.

AfD's anti-Islam campaign poster: "Islam? It doesn't fit in with our cuisine."

However, the fact that AfD reached its all-time high in the last months when there is no significant immigration influx to Germany, points out that the support for AfD cannot be explained solely by the far right or racist electorate.

A June survey, published by Statista, reveals the leading cause behind the popularity of AfD: Only one-third of AfD supporters state that they are really persuaded by the party’s program while the remaining two thirds indicate that they support AfD because they are “disappointed by the other parties”. In other words, it is not their sudden approval of far-right and even Neo-Nazist views of the party that makes many Germans abruptly shift to the AfD, but their lack of trust in the established politics and the politicians in charge.

Primarily responsible for this distrust is obviously the government. German government parties, social democratic SPD, environmentalist GRÜNE, and liberal FDP, have failed to tackle problems like inflation, heating, and housing caused by the War in Ukraine, while they were too busy with their internal fighting, which was reflected in the media and caused uncertainty among people. Furthermore, the government and the main opposition, the Christian Democrat Union, have worn each other by constantly arguing over controversial issues, such as climate protection and gender-neutral language, and this has created the impression that the existing political spectrum is incapable of comprehending the “real problems” of the people, ending up with a political vacuum in Germany.

Political vacuums always allow populist parties to slip through. Some examples include: the Justice and Development Party (AKP) taking advantage of the political vacuum in Turkey in 2002 and coming to power, and AfD succeeding in filling the vacuum in German politics. Using people’s sense of distrust and discontent, the AfD has pursued a policy of enmity, accusing the government, especially GRÜNE, of “being against the German people”. So the AfD ultimately gained nationwide support, speaking like the spokesperson for millions of disgruntled Germans, who were dissatisfied with the present politics and turned their backs on mainstream German parties. In fact, AfD, perpetually complaining, but being far from finding a solution, works like an anti-party rather than a party, making some, if not the majority, Germans believe that it is the one and only party that is on the side of them.

Protesters at a pro-AfD rally in Berlin

As Germany still bears the scars of the Nazi era, it seems despite everything unlikely for AfD, a party that has been labeled as far right, to become sufficiently strong enough to form the government. Even so, fearing of losing votes to AfD, it may be involved in the longer term that older German parties like Christian Democrats swing further to the right and develop populist discourse as well, which would mean the real comeback of the far right politics to Germany.

Written by: Bora Kutluk

Edited by: Melisa Altıntaş


(1): Chronik aller Wahlumfragen zur Bundestagswahl, published in DAWUM

(2): Umfrage unter AfD-Wählern zur Entscheidung für die AfD im Juni 2023, published in Statista

(3): Ampel-Wut, Ukraine, Inflation: Deshalb ist die AfD aktuell stark wie nie, published in Merkur

(4): Der Aufstieg der AfD: Die Angst vor der Partei regiert mit, published in Stern

(5): Far-right surge triggers alarm in Germany, published in Politico

(6): AfD im Umfragehoch: Warum die Partei erfolgreich ist, published in Tagesschau

(7): What explains the remarkable rise of Germany’s AfD?, published in The Spectator

(8): Die Grünen als eigentlicher Gegner der AfD, published in Heinrich Böll Stifung


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