Germany's anti-migrant AfD party reaches new heights in polls

Support for Germany's right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) has surged to its highest level ever amid a voter backlash against Chancellor Angela Merkel's handling of the country's refugee crisis.

The AfD would secure 16 per cent of the vote if a national election was conducted today, according to an opinion poll released on Friday.

The data, gathered by pollsters Infratest dimap for state broadcaster ARD, show a 2-percentage-point rise in AfD support compared with September 1.

At the same time, support for Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU) allies slumped by 1 percentage point to 32 per cent of the vote.

The AfD has made big gains in a recent string of state elections after siphoning off votes from the major parties, in particular Merkel's CDU/CSU.

The refugee crisis has exposed deep divisions in the chancellor's conservative political bloc and Merkel has repeatedly clashed with the CSU leader, Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, over her asylum policy.

The chancellor admitted on Monday that mistakes had been made in her government's reaction to a rush of refugees and migrants to the country last year, in particular in communicating her open-door policy to the German electorate.

The comments came after another in a series of electoral disasters for the CDU and another success for the AfD, this time in Sunday's election in the city-state of Berlin.

The chancellor said she has also decided against repeating her much-derided phrase "we can manage it," which she first used more than a year ago just as the influx of refugees was beginning to grow.

The AfD's success "has something to do with the fact that we have difficult problems to solve in the country", said Peter Altmaier, who heads up Merkel’s office in Berlin.

"We are sure, however, that the polls will be better if people can see and feel that we have these problems under control," he told German television.

But the AfD's national leader Joerg Meuthen said: "We say it much clearer than the others: 'We cannot manage this'." This was one reason for his party's recent electoral success, he said.

About one million refugees arrived in Germany last year following Merkel's controversial decision to open the nation's border to allow refugees stranded in Hungary to travel to Germany.

However, figures released on Friday by the Germany's office for migration and refugees (BAMF) showed the number of refugees entering the nation has fallen sharply since the start of the year.

In January more than 90,000 refugees arrived in Germany. But by August the numbers had dropped to about 16,000.

Founded just three years ago, the AfD is now represented in 10 of Germany's 16 states, which the party hopes will help it build political momentum ahead of another batch of elections next year, including the federal election in September.

At 16 per cent, AfD support is about three times higher than the 5 per cent of the vote it needs to enter federal parliament.

Friday's poll showed support for the left-leaning Social Democrats, which are the junior member of Merkel's ruling coalition, sliding by 1 percentage point to 22 per cent.

The environmentalist Greens garnered 12 per cent, a rise of 1 percentage point versus the start of the month, while the hard-left Die Linke edged down 1 percentage point to 8 per cent. The pro-business Free Democrats have gained 1 percentage since September 1 to now stand at 6 per cent.

The poll shows Merkel's current coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD would be returned with 54 per cent of the vote.

Infratest dimap surveyed 934 people for the poll, which has a margin of error of between 1.4 per cent and 3.1 per cent.

Last update: Fri, 23/09/2016 - 17:13

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