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Survey Shows a Strong Sense of Belonging after Four Decades of Division (October 23, 1989)

Although active hopes for reunification had all but disappeared, the conservative pollster Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann drew on the results of over four decades of research to suggest that there was still a relatively stable sense of mutual belonging between East and West Germans – one that fueled hopes for the eventual return of a united state.

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The Sense of Belonging Together Has Remained Strong


[ . . . ]

The following question was posed in an Allensbach* survey in late September – early October [1989]: Do you think that in the future, when history books write about the flood of Germans leaving the GDR and coming to us now, it will be reported as a German national event, or do you think that it’s not that important? Sixty percent said: “It will appear in history books as a national event”; 22 percent said: “It was not all that big a deal”; and 18 percent were undecided.

It’s as if the sight of the young people, of the families with children who were shown on TV as they arrived and got off the trains, brought something into our consciousness that has not been a major subject for a long time – either in textbooks or the media. An Allensbach question from late September – early October went as follows: “What do you think will be more important in giving a sense of well-being to Germans from the GDR who are now coming to us: our higher standard of living or the freedom here?” Sixty percent answered: “the freedom here”; 26 percent said “our higher standard of living”; and 14 percent were undecided.

Since the mid-1950s, public opinion research has been called upon to confirm that Germans [in the Federal Republic] do not want to see their prosperity threatened by any ideas about German reunification. And then more urgently in the 1970s, [to confirm] that a sense of two separate German states had developed, both here in the West and in the East.

In 1965, “reunification is most important” was still the most popular response (with 45 percent) to the question posed since 1951, “What do you think is the most pressing issue deserving of general attention in the Federal Republic?” After the conclusion of the treaties with the Eastern countries [Ostverträge] in 1971, the response “reunification is most pressing,” was given by only 3 percent in January 1971 and later by one percent at most. This question could no longer be used to measure developments as regards the national sense of belonging together. Public opinion polls in the 1970s and 1980s reported that fewer and fewer schoolchildren had ever heard of GDR cities such as Rostock and Halle, and that no one reckoned with reunification; the question was no longer considered relevant.

[ . . . ]

In social research, one speaks of a tool having lost its effectiveness if real conditions change to such an extent that developments can no longer be followed with questions that had been used over an extended period. In 1970, we started looking for a new question with which to gauge the mutual feeling of belonging between West Germans and Germans in the GDR. The question had to be far removed from topicality and politics in order to remain applicable as a measuring stick for as long as possible.


* The Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research [Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach] is Germany’s best known institute of its sort. Founded in 1947 by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, it tends towards the conservative side of the politic spectrum. The institute, which takes its name from the town in which it is headquartered, is located on the Bodensee in the far south of Germany – eds.

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