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German election 2017: How Angela Merkel became the 'cool' option for young voters

‘I don’t like the CDU but I like Merkel. She’s just cool, in a funny way, she’s just cool’

Chloe Farand
Monday 18 September 2017 17:53 BST
Angela Merkel has become the undisputed face of the CDU party (Chloe Farand)
Angela Merkel has become the undisputed face of the CDU party (Chloe Farand)

If Germany votes as expected in Sunday’s election, Angela Merkel will win a fourth term in office and extend her reign at the helm of German politics to 16 years. Rather than seeing a backlash from young people eager for change, Ms Merkel has turned into a popular and even “cool” figurehead.

Her motto “for a Germany in which we want to live well” is a reminder of the feeling of prosperity enjoyed by many Germans during her 12 years as Chancellor. Retaining a commanding lead in the polls with 37 per cent of the votes, Ms Merkel has stifled her opposition by modernising her party and moving into the political centre ground.

Her open-door refugee policy in 2015, which saw Germany welcome more than a million migrants, challenged the traditional political line of her conservative alliance but resonated positively among many younger voters.

An opinion poll by Forsa published in June showed that 57 per cent of German voters aged between 18 and 21 supported Ms Merkel as Chancellor, compared with 53 per cent of all voters.

Conrad Clemens, the 34-year-old national secretary of the youth organisation of the CDU, the Junge Union, told The Independent this surge in support from young people was a new development he described as “unique and spectacular”.

“It has become cool to be conservative,” he said. “When I was 16 years old, it was cool to vote on the left but that has changed, I don’t think it is cool anymore.”

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Mr Clemens said over the years Ms Merkel had become “a cool, international leader who modernised the CDU” and with whom younger voters could identify, adding her popularity had led membership of the Junge Union to rise to 110,000 members.

But as Ms Merkel’s image was redefined, Mr Clemens said young Germans’ attitudes also started to change, with studies showing they held traditional values around family and marriage in higher esteem. At the same time, youth unemployment fell to become close to non-existent.

“Young people don’t pursue leftist ideologies as much anymore but they also have adopted more conservative attitudes and these factors coming together, I think, explain why Angela Merkel is so popular with young people,” he said.

For many young people in Germany, this election is not a time for change.

“They see the world in turmoil,” Mr Clemens added, describing an international order rocked by Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the rise of right-wing populist movements across Europe, including Germany’s own Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), which is anticipated to enter parliament for the first time this year as the country’s third biggest political force.

At the heart of Ms Merkel’s campaign efforts in Berlin is an unusual exhibition using robots and high tech to showcase how her conservative party wants to build a better, modern future.

The CDU exhibition shows the party is seeking to marry modernity and conservativism (Chloe Farand)

In the exhibition hall, a giant heart in the middle of the room is heard pumping blood to two huge screens filled with graphs and figures showing the growth of the economy since Ms Merkel took office in 2005.

Interactive tablets allow visitors to explore issues around cyber security, a planetarium draws constellations reflecting on the meaning of Europe and a pair of state-of-the-art robots write and stick visitors’ messages about a future with Ms Merkel on the hall’s windows.

Guiding visitors around the exhibition, Merkel supporter Elena Poeschl, 23, said she was herself impressed with the high tech on display.

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“This is a very unlike the CDU thing to do. The party wants to showcase its ability to adapt and innovate but it is also meant to attract young people and families,” she said.

Ms Poeschl said her vote for Ms Merkel was a choice for security and the continuity of the comfortable life that people enjoyed in Germany.

“I would not want groundbreaking changes,” she said, adding: “I am impressed by Angela Merkel. She is a role model, she is definitely my role model.”

Sometimes referred to as “Mutti” or “The Mother” although she does not have children of her own, Ms Merkel’s personal appeal extends beyond the ranks of her conservative alliance.

In Pankow, an eastern district of Berlin, PR executive Ulrike Queissner told The Independent she would be voting on Sunday for the socialist Die Linke party. And yet, Ms Queissner said that while she disagreed with Ms Merkel’s politics, she found her a “fascinating politician”.

“I don’t like the CDU but I like Merkel. She’s just cool, in a funny way, she’s just cool.”

The lack of a strong left-wing opposition means that even in the most left-leaning districts of the capital, voters say Ms Merkel may be a least worst option for Germany.

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“You cannot have a strong view on Merkel because she constantly avoids confrontation. She is a nice person, she is neutral,” said 34-year-old Tomy, who described himself as being from the left, before adding: “She did the right thing dealing with the refugee crisis but overall she isn’t progressive.”

Daniel Reiser, 32, said the reason for her popularity was that she spoke for common sense. “She doesn’t have her own opinions, she goes with the opinion of the majority.

"Maybe the German people are becoming too comfortable. It’s a difficult situation for us because even if we want to vote for change, there isn’t anyone else to vote for.”

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