Germany's CDU has become familar with losing election-winning leads in opinion polls. At the last election it saw a large opinion poll lead eroded by concerns at the flat tax agenda of an adviser to Angela Merkel. The election before that saw Gerhard Schroeder return from the political dead because of his energetic campaign against the Iraq war. Could history repeat itself again? Polls have until now suggested that Chancellor Merkel was on course for a victory at next month's federal elections (27th September) and the opportunity to govern with her natural allies – the liberal FDP. But the CDU has suffered big setbacks today in regional German elections.
The CDU has lost its majorities in the two states that voted today. In Thuringia support for the CDU fell by 12% to 32%. Support dropped by 13% to a little under 35% in Saarland. Majority coalitions are now possible in both 'Laender' if the SPD, Greens and Linke parties join forces. The FT sees the results as the latest manifestation of the splintering of the German electorate.
The very idea of the Left joining forces could be a propaganda opportunity for Merkel. The CDU will present any SPD dalliance with the Linke party of Oskar Lafontaine (Sun readers may remember the 'Is this the most dangerous man in Europe?' front page that targeted his Europhile agenda) as a preview of what might happen at a federal level. Most centrists Germans strongly oppose the inclusion of the SPD in any coalition.
Over the next few days Chancellor Merkel will look anxiously at national polls which up until now have been showing CDU leads of approximately 15% over her current coalition partners, the left-of-centre SPD.