Wagenknecht, by contrast, was never a Social Democrat.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, she joined its successor, the Party of Democratic Socialism, which in the early years after reunification remained a fringe party with its base in the in former East. In , Lafontaine led the merger of her party with a small party based in western Germany, thus creating the Left, which began to compete in elections across the country.
In the years since, Wagenknecht moved up the party ranks and is now the leader of its parliamentary group in the Bundestag. These positions are widely shared within the Left.
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Still, rather than a unifying figure in her own party, she is widely viewed as the leader of a controversial faction that wants to move to the right on issues related to migration and multiculturalism. Aufstehen thus tries to unite the fractured camp of left-leaning voters who have turned their back on the established center-left parties, some of whom have even wandered off to the far-right. Voters who abandoned the SPD should by lured by left-wing economics, and those who sympathize with the AfD could be won over via right-wing identity politics.
And various polls indeed show that many German blue- and white-collar workers demand more left-wing economics and more restrictive policies when it comes to migration. But in practice, Wagenknecht and Lafontaine are trapped by their own personal track records, which will prevent them from coalescing wide support. Plenty of center-left politicians therefore accuse Lafontaine of putting personal vanity above the interests of his party and the nation.
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This is hardly a promising position for someone trying to unite scattered voting blocs. Aside from the known political enemies she made during her career, her enduring sympathies for Marxism alienated many left-leaning Germans. Polls show voters of the SPD and the Left are neatly split down the middle on migration questions.
The same goes for economics: They might be in favor of a strong welfare state and high taxes, but they are not interested in leaving the eurozone, heavy tax increases, or the implementation of an East German-style welfare state. A talented politician might be able to finesse these tensions. Just like her husband, however, Wagenknecht tends to cause more political frictions than she reconciles and open more personal wounds than she heals.
But even if both could overcome the accumulated grievances against them, the existing party landscape will make their lives difficult. For a party to increase its vote share, two things need to exist: The right-wing populist AfD, for instance, rose because the CDU under Merkel stopped offering conservative positions on immigration matters.
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The conservative position on immigration policy is pretty much covered by the AfD and some CDU politicians. A similar problem bedevils the new movement on economic issues, which seems to be where Aufstehen is placing most of its energy. The movement wants to portray itself as the left-wing alternative to the governing SPD, which it accuses of being too market liberal.
And it does have a point. There is one big problem with this strategy—the SPD has essentially come to the same realization.
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Until recently, the SPD was not keen on increased public spending because it wanted to defend the reforms it had itself previously passed. Instead, to the extent that the party emphasized economics at all, its policies were channeled through cultural and identity politics, including vague calls for more pro-European and pro-refugee policies.
But this approach clearly backfired: The SPD earned its worst electoral result at the last federal election in September , dropping to only A few weeks ago, the SPD announced plans to guarantee German pensions at the current level until , which experts calculate will cost hundreds of billions of euros.
A more radical leftwing party formed in The free-enterprise, pro-business party has spent more time in government than any other party, but failed to enter parliament in for the first time. Their data also suggests that there is much room for the other parties to up the ante.
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Levels of trust in traditional media remains higher in Germany than in other parts of Europe pdf , and fewer young people use online platforms like Facebook as their only source for news. As in the rest of the EU, Dittrich said, populist parties like the AfD used social networks, especially Facebook, as a main tool of their communication strategy.