Germany’s Social Democrats Should Have Picked Side

If you try to appeal to blue-collar voters and college graduates at the same time, you risk losing both.

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1 (Bayern SPD/Joerg Koch)

Germany’s Social Democrats are going the way of the Dutch Labor Party.

Both parties tried to appeal to their working- and middle-class constituents in elections this year and both lost precisely because of this indecision.

Campaigning on liberal immigration laws, social justice and international engagement alienates blue-collar voters.

Campaigning on border controls and deemphasizing identity politics turns away college graduates.

Do both at the same time and you end up with with no supporters at all.

Make a choice

Social democrats who pick sides do better. Denmark’s and Sweden’s have stemmed defections to the nativist right by taking a hard line on law and order and defending the welfare state. Italy’s Matteo Renzi and France’s Emmanuel Macron sided with the liberal middle class and also won.

Germany’s Social Democrats need to make a similar choice: go after voters of the far-right Alternative and far-left Die Linke, especially in the former East Germany, who feel left behind, or pry moderate and progressive voters away from the Christian Democrats and Greens. It can’t do both.