Reservations about Merkel
Evidently, reservations about Angel Merkel the candidate had become so numerous within her own camp in the final phase of the campaign that even a portion of those who had declared their support for the Union in polls conducted prior to the elections didn’t end up voting for the CDU or the CSU on election day. Roughly 2.5 million former CDU/CSU voters abstained from voting on account of these reservations. And about 1.5 million didn’t vote for the Union, as they had done before, but for the FDP instead.
Merkel’s main handicap was that she hadn’t acquired enough of an identity in the reunified Germany to satisfy voters. For the “Ossis,”* she had ceased to be an “Ossi” as soon as she became integrated into the Kohl government and the leadership structure of the CDU; at the same time, she wasn’t accepted by the “Wessis” as a “Wessi.”
Therefore, Angela Merkel’s backing among her own supporters was much weaker than Gerhard Schröder’s among SPD supporters. In 2005, as in 2002, more than 90 percent of SPD supporters chose Schröder as their preferred chancellor, but only 78 percent of CDU and 62 percent of CSU supporters chose Merkel as theirs. With 79 percent of CDU supporters and 90 percent of CSU supporters, [Edmund] Stoiber’s backing in 2002 was stronger.
Additionally, the fact that television was once again the dominant media form in this election had further negative effects for Merkel: 70 percent of all voters had obtained their information on the election through televised election programming. Posters and billboards were the only traditional forms of advertising that still played a role. And on television the incumbent usually fared better with viewers than his challenger. Furthermore, the television images exposed the stylized posters of Merkel as lies, causing her further identity problems. The contradiction between the illusory world of billboards and posters and the world of television, which viewers perceive as real, was too extreme.
Furthermore, many potential voters (including Union supporters) did not associate Angela Merkel the candidate with much hope for the future. In the 1998 campaign, however, great hope had been attached to Schröder’s candidacy (at the time, Schröder was regarded by a majority of the population as young, dynamic, and modern. People believed that he was familiar with the demands of the economy, could bring about an economic upswing, had a vision for the future, and that he was a new kind of politician). Only very few voters ascribed these attributes to Merkel in 2005. She was viewed as diligent and disciplined, but not as personable, modern, young, or dynamic, or as a new kind of politician. Actually, only very few felt that a change in government and a CDU/CSU-led government would improve conditions in the country.
The aforementioned abstention of a share of potential CDU/CSU voters was the result. On Sunday, the Union was ahead of the SPD in only one of Germany’s three distinct electoral regions: in Bavaria, the CSU received 49.3 percent of valid votes, whereas the SPD received 25.5 percent. In Eastern Germany, as in the remainder of the country, however, the SPD was the strongest party. The SPD came in ahead of the CDU in the East (30.5 versus 25.3 percent of valid votes) as well as in the West (excluding Bavaria) (37.3 versus 34.8 percent).
* “Ossi” and“Wessi” are (slightly derogatory) terms used to denote citizens from former East Germany (GDR) and the former West Germany (FRG), respectively – trans.