While Britain reels from Brexit, the US reels from Trump, and France flirted dangerously with the possibility of a far-right president, Germany looks like a safe and stable land right now. A powerful economy, low unemployment, a positive image on the world stage, the country has a lot going for it—and a large chunk of young German voters want to keep it that way—or at least keep Angela Merkel at the helm come September’s federal elections. She’s already served three terms, a fourth would boost her to the top of the leaderboard of longest-serving European leaders.
“Ever since Merkel became chancellor, we really saw things happening, she’s always been somebody to represent Germany, she’s been scandal free—she just did her job,” said Johanna Rüdinger, a 28-year-old marketing professional in Berlin. “We really saw her as someone very serious and very dedicated.”
Recent polls showing that 47% of first-time voters, aged between 18 and 24, backed Merkel for a fourth term in the September election, with just 29% of that age group supporting Social Democrat Martin Schulz, Merkel’s main contender for the country’s top job.
“Young people know chancellor Merkel, with whom they grew up,” said Manfred Güllner from the Forsa Institute said, noting that it’s especially the young who are “looking for stability and continuity in these uncertain times.”
A YouGov survey from May 12 echoed Forsa’s findings: 46% of the 18-24 age group intended to back Merkel’s Christian Democratic party in the election versus 20% for the Social Democrats.
Rüdinger says that even though she’s been more of a Greens voter in the past, and still hasn’t decided how to vote in these elections, she approves of Merkel for the actions she’s taken during her 12 years at the helm—like suddenly deciding to pull Germany out of nuclear energy and how she handled the refugee crisis.
“I think a lot of young Germans applaud her a lot for the fact that she never closed Germany for refugees and that resonates within a young generation who thinks about everything that has happened in the history of Germany,” she says. “I think we’re kind of proud of the way that she handled it. “
Merkel’s decision to accept around a million refugees in the past two years cost her dear in political terms last year, causing some in her party to openly question her leadership and giving a boost to the anti-immigrant upstart party, Alternative für Deutschland.
Carsten Nickel of Teneo Intelligence says that it’s actually not that surprising many young voters are backing Merkel: “The alternative is not very clear cut and is not very enticing.”
When Martin Schulz returned from a long career as an EU politician and official in Brussels and launched his candidacy with great fanfare earlier this year, many, including the German media, heralded him as the country’s great new hope. He initially boosted the SPD’s popularity to level with the Christian Democrats, but that surge has fizzled out significantly. Beyond talk of equality and social justice, Schulz has so far failed to set out a clear program.
“People are realistic, they know they can rely on Merkel, especially against the backdrop of what’s going on….Trump, Le Pen,” said Nickel. “If this chancellor is seen as standing up to Trump and as the last defender of a liberal world order, then I think she has a strong case.”