Overall group prejudices on the decline
The SPD-linked Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at the University of Bielefeld have conducted a representative sociological survey of 1,896 Germans to probe how widespread right-wing populist attitudes are among the population. According to the authors, the results draw “the picture of a divided society.”((Zick, Andreas, Beate Küpper, and Daniela Krause (2016). Gespaltene Mitte, Feindselige Zustände: Rechtsextreme Einstellungen in Deutschland 2016. The entire study is available at https://www.fes.de/de/index.php?eID=dumpFile&t=f&f=11000&token=63d1583c0c01b940d67518cf250f334b87bf5fdb; an executive summary at https://www.fes.de/de/index.php?eID=dumpFile&t=f&f=10999&token=d27af43a8d36326af8cf0964a25a57f3b95f8ba4 ))
Overall, patterns of rejection social minorities has continued to decline since the first comparable study was published in 2002: negative attitudes towards people with disability, homosexuals, immigrants, and Sinti and Roma are down, as is prejudice based on sex or race.
Islamophobia and hostility against asylum-seekers bucking the trend
However, Islamophobia and rejection of asylum-seekers are on the rise, being voiced by 19 and 50 per cent of respondents, respectively. Negative views of asylum-seekers therefore overtake the stubbornly high levels of prejudice against the unemployed, shared by 49 per cent of the population, as the most widespread form of group-based stereotype.
The authors note further interesting trends: since a similar study was conducted in 2014, the polarisation of opinions has increased, with more people either categorically rejecting or absolutely upholding stereotypes. Moreover, prejudice against immigrants, Muslims, Sinti and Roma, asylum-seekers, or against the homeless are significantly more widespread in the Eastern part of the formerly divided country, and among social classes with lower income and education.
Politically, it is the partisans of the Alternative für Deutschland Party (AfD) that most often exhibit a comprehensive worldview marked by the denigration of others. They express dislike of immigrants (68 per cent), Muslims (64 per cent), Sinti and Roma (59 per cent), asylum-seekers (88 per cent), and the unemployed (68 per cent).
Views on immigration
A majority of 56 per cent of respondents nevertheless continues to support the intake of refugees. 24 per cent see negative side-effects of recent immigration but are optimistic that these can be overcome. 20 per cent explicitly denounce the fact that Germany has taken in refugees.
38 per cent unequivocally support an upper limit to the number of refugees accepted in any given year – a measure frequently proposed by Angela Merkel’s sister party, the Bavarian CSU – while 21 per cent strictly reject it.
While only single-digit percentages feel culturally or financially threatened by refugees, around a quarter of respondents fear a drop in living standards. 35 per cent believe that the German state is more concerned with helping refugees than ethnic Germans in dire socioeconomic straits, while 50 per cent reject this statement.
Right-wing extremist attitudes
The study thus asserts that – perhaps in the media frenzy surrounding the rise of populist forces – the German population’s fundamentally positive attitude towards refugees is being “underestimated”. The tolerant majority is lodged against “a not unsubstantial and loud minority” that “does not just reject refugees but also denigrates other social groups and has a penchant for right-wing extremist views.”
Overall, such right-wing extremist attitudes (captured in the study by the relativisation of National-Socialist crimes, a belief in German racial supremacy, national-chauvinist attitudes, and anti-immigrant sentiment) remain at stable and relatively low levels of 5.9 per cent in East Germany and 2.3 per cent in the West.
However, the percentage of East Germans professing such views doubled between 2014 and 2016, mainly due to rising right-wing extremism among the elderly, the uneducated, and the poor. During this time, the east of the country also witnessed an increased incidence of right-wing violence and terrorism.((For bomb attacks in Dresden shortly before the German National Day, see http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/german-national-day-celebrations-dresden-overshadowed-bomb-blasts-right-wing-agitation/))
The rise of right-wing populism
Beyond such far-right views with a neo-Nazi edge, a more diffuse set of opinions associated with “right-wing populist orientations” has slightly risen since 2014, now observable among 20 per cent of the population, as well as 80 percent of AfD voters.
The study’s authors conclude that “classical right-wing extremist attitudes are increasingly replaced by the modernised variant of new right-wing attitudes”. This outlook carries “nationalist-völkisch ideologies in more subtle form and in a more intellectual garb”.
The most widespread belief in this category (held by 40 per cent of respondents) is the conspiracy theory that German society is being “infiltrated by Islam”. Beyond that, 28 per cent accuse the ruling elites of “committing treachery of the people”, and assert that the German state today prevents dissenters from uttering their views and opinions freely. 29 per cent assert that “it is time to show more resistance” to contemporary political decision-making.
Populist suspicion towards Islam
Indeed, especially the high incidence of the belief that Islam and Muslims were subversive actors seeking to infiltrate the country is jarring. It demonstrates the extent to which suspicion against Islam as an alien force has become the cornerstone of right-wing populists’ appeal to the population.
This widespread suspicion also resonates with a wealth of other empirical findings, including a study published earlier this year that had highlighted the stark divergence in perceptions of Islam between German Turks and ethnic Germans.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/07/14/religiosity-integration-participation-new-survey-attitudes-experiences-citizens-turkish-descent-germany/))
Politically, this sentiment echoes the AfD’s assertion that Islam is “not compatible” with the German constitution.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/04/24/islam-not-compatible-with-german-constitution-says-far-right-afd-party/)) Of all the populist tropes the AfD relies upon – such as the defamation of elites, disparaging of the press, and the call for resistance – the fear of Islam is the belief most widely held in the population. This fact showcases the incentives for the party to continue to free-ride on and exacerbate these fears.
In the wake of the recent American election, the study also highlights trends in Germany that are similar to those that brought Donald Trump to power in the US. Most notably, it captures a widespread feeling of disaffection among white Germans that can be found disproportionately in some regions of the country (the former East) and that are often poorly educated as well as concentrated on the lower ladders of the income distribution.