At the height of the refugee crisis two years ago, many Germans thought that Angela Merkel’s days as chancellor were numbered. Merkel’s open embrace of Syrian refugees upset the conservative wing of her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and fired up the far-right, anti-Muslim Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Fast forward to Sept. 24, 2017, and the CDU lost millions of votes. But it remains Germany’s largest party, with Merkel at the head. The election campaign was widely characterized as boring, in part because her center-right CDU and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) largely agree on how to approach the immigration issue.
But this bipartisan centrist consensus alienated many voters and helped the AfD secure 12.6 percent of the vote. The AfD is now the third-largest party (behind the CDU and the SPD) and is sending over 90 politicians to the Bundestag.
How much do issues related to refugees, immigration and Islam matter in German politics?
Though significant in a country that has long kept far-right parties at bay, this outcome doesn’t actually tell us much about the status of immigrant integration in Germany today — or about the future role of Germany’s Muslims in politics.
That’s because parties in Germany are just starting to grapple with the inclusion dilemmas that arise when parties incorporate Muslim voters in their coalitions. According to recent estimates, 1.5 million eligible German voters are Muslim, representing 2.5 percent of the electorate.
Electoral inclusion may run counter to social inclusion
A long-held view claims that political incorporation goes hand in hand with social inclusion: As immigrants begin helping major parties win, they also integrate into society. But there are reasons to think that this development is not afoot in Germany or in Western Europe more generally.