Germany’s AfD Party and Its Anti-Islam Platform – The Atlantic

Good analysis of the demographics of the right-wing vote:

The party’s beginnings weren’t quite so dramatic. The AfD started out in 2013 with a Ph.D.-riddled member list and a wonky Euroskeptic manifesto that could have lulled a caffeinated squirrel into a midday nap. It called for empowering national governments to ditch the euro, limiting state bailouts, and mandating national referenda for certain EU policies, alongside scintillating stipulationsabout European Central Bank maneuvers and alternative funding for renewable-energy subsidies. Yet the huge influx of predominantly Muslim refugees in the past year, along with incidents such as the infamous New Year’s Eve assaults on women by men seeming mostly to be of North African descent, has helped radicalize group. Last month’s manifesto not only declared Islam incompatible with German legal and cultural values, but also endorsed a ban on burqas and the call to prayer.

The AfD’s founder Bernd Lucke, an economics professor, left the party last summer, condemning rising xenophobia. Many other founding members have likewise defected. So who are the new supporters that helped the party to its best-ever election performance a few months ago? Which people, specifically, want to kick Islam out of Germany?

Demographically, surveys show, AfD supporters fit a certain loose profile. First, despite having a woman at the helm in the figure of Frauke Petry (as well as trigger-happy aristocrat Beatrix von Storch, who has advocated using deadly force illegal migrants at the border, as deputy party chief), AfD supporters are predominantly male. In January, one poll found 17 percent of male respondents nationwide would vote for AfD in a hypothetical immediate election, while only 2 percent of women would. In the March regional elections in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt, 27 percent of male voters chose AfD, as compared to 18 percent of female voters. As the German daily Die Zeit pointed out, that means AfD support follows roughly the same pattern as support for the intensely anti-Islamic pan-European movement PEGIDA (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West”).

Theories abound as to why and to what extent men are more likely to vote for far-right or xenophobic platforms than women—a pattern that holds with Trump supporters in the United States, as well as voters for Austria’s far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, who just barely lost that country’s election this week. But few political scientists doubt that the trend exists in some form. “That’s one finding that we all agree on,” said David Art, a political-science professor at Tufts University who studies comparative politics and right-wing extremism.

A second trend in AfD demographics involves class. Originally, professors, journalists, and business leaders dominated the party, with over half the founding members in 2013 sporting a “Dr.” in front of their names. Surveys around the March 2016 elections in three German states, however, showed the AfD drawing about a third of its support from laborers, and another third from individuals currently unemployed. Those with “higher education” were in the minority. That’s not to say that AfD supporters are entirely uneducated, or that no one with a university degree continues to support the once doctorate-led party. But in general, said Kai Arzheimer, a political-science professor at the University of Mainz who has become the go-to expert on voter behavior in the AfD, “it’s people who have done Realschule, which doesn’t qualify you for entering a university, but is still quite a respectable degree.”

Third comes age. “[AfD supporters] are youngish to middle-aged,” said Arzheimer. “Interestingly, voters over 60 seem to shy from voting for the AfD because they’re still tied to the Christian Democrats,” Merkel’s center-right party.

… What all these voters seem to share, say the experts studying them, is intense concern about immigration and Islam—issues with extraordinary capabilities for generating strange bedfellows. “Suddenly the far-right is pro-Jewish because it’s anti-Muslim,” said Lenka Bustikova, a political scientist at Arizona State University who has studied far-right movements further east in Europe. “Suddenly with the [influx] of refugees you have this new twist: You are for Western gender rights because you think the Muslims are cavemen. It’s going to be interesting to watch.”

Source: Germany’s AfD Party and Its Anti-Islam Platform – The Atlantic

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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