Eight percent of the German population have a far-right extremist view, rising considerably from just under 2-3% in previous years, according to a study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES).
The study was also presented in German on September 21. FES is affiliated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany, part of the current governing coalition. The researchers said the consequences of the Russo-Ukrainian War, skyrocketing energy prices, and high inflation are challenging centrist democratic parties and strengthening far-right parties. The less money people earned, the more widespread their right-wing extremist attitude, the study claims.
The 400-page study, conducted by researchers at Bielefeld University, surveyed 2,000 people who will be between 18 and 90 years old at the beginning of 2023, representing a cross-section of the population. The study on German society has been conducted every two years since its launch in 2002. In the previous study, 2020/2021, less than 2% of the respondents had clearly expressed support for right-wing extremist views.
- Right-wing extremist attitudes have risen sharply and moved further into the center of Germany
More than 6% now favor a dictatorship with a single strong party and a single leader for Germany (previous study 2014-2021: 2-4%). More than 16% affirm Germany’s national superiority, calling for the courage to establish a strong national identity and for policies whose primary goal should be to give the country the power and authority it deserves (2014-2021: 9-13%). In addition, nearly 6% of respondents increasingly hold Social Darwinist views, agreeing, for example, with the statement “There is valuable and unvaluable life.” (2014-2021: 2-3 %). The gray area between rejection and approval of far-right attitudes has also grown significantly in each case. The political self-identification of respondents to the right of the center has also increased significantly from just under 10% previously to 15.5%.
- A part of the center distances itself from democracy, a part radicalizes itself
Trust in institutions and the functioning of democracy drops to below 60%. A significant proportion of respondents believe conspiracy theories (38%), hold populist views (33%), and popular-authoritarian-rebellious positions (völkisch) (29%). Compared to the survey during the 2020/21 COVID-19 pandemic, this is an increase of about one-third, and the share of potentially democracy-threatening positions has also increased compared to 2018/19. For example, 32% now believe that the media and politicians are in cahoots (2020/21: 24%). In addition, in the current survey, 30%, almost twice as many respondents as two years ago, agree with the statement: “The governing parties are deceiving the people,” and one-fifth think: “Our country is now more like a dictatorship than a democracy.” (2020/21: 16% each). Approval of and justification for political violence have also increased significantly. 13% believe that some politicians deserve it when “anger against them” turns to violence (2020/21: 5%).
- Misanthropic attitudes are again at a high level
34% of respondents believe refugees come to Germany only to exploit the welfare system. 16.5% accuse Jewish people of wanting to take advantage of the Nazi past today. Another 19% partially agree with this accusation – these ambivalent and ambiguous attitudes toward anti-Semitic positions and other forms of devaluation and prejudice are on the rise. 17% devalue the identity of trans* people, and about 11% call for women to return to their roles as wives and mothers. Classism as a devaluation based on people’s social status is also widespread. Just over a third, for example, share the view that the long-term unemployed make a comfortable life for themselves at the expense of society (35%). Overall, the tendency toward group-based misanthropy in the current Mitte study exceeds the high pre-Corona level of 2018/19: one in ten respondents has a fundamentally hostile and discriminatory attitude toward various minorities in society.
- A national orientation of crisis management goes hand in hand with attitudes that endanger democracy.
Given the many recent crises, such as the pandemic, the Ukraine war, inflation, climate change, and other unsolved problems, around 42% of respondents express uncertainty. However, the population is ambivalent on how society should counter the multiple crises: 53% favor a return to the national, call for isolation from the outside world, and consider supposedly German values, virtues, and duties essential for coping with the crises. This is accompanied by a higher approval of attitudes that endanger democracy. In contrast, around three-quarters of respondents support an open society and say that what matters most now is cohesion (79%), solidarity with the weakest (68.5%), and listening to science and experts (62%). These respondents are significantly less likely to have attitudes that endanger democracy and more likely to have attitudes that preserve democracy.
- The majority of the population sees climate change as a major threat and has a progressive stance on climate policy.
Just under a third show understanding of the protests and blockades by climate activists, and a further 23% find them at least partially understandable. However, concerns about the consequences of the war in Ukraine include rising energy prices, dampened support for the energy transition, and climate protection. At 26.5% of all respondents, around one in four even say: “We should come to an agreement with Russia and buy more gas and oil from there again. Those who also take the position that Russia is defending itself against a “threat from the West” (22.5%) also tend to argue against the energy transition and climate protection in other respects. This section of the population, in turn, tends much more frequently toward distrust of democracy, populism, and right-wing extremist attitudes. Conversely, those who have confidence in democracy and reject populism have a more progressive attitude toward climate policy. However, 65% of respondents believe more citizen participation in the energy transition is necessary. Democratic culture can build on this.
- Loneliness and social inequality weaken social participation and democracy.
13% of respondents report experiencing loneliness more often or frequently. At the same time, they feel increasingly uncomfortable at home (28%), at work (36%), and especially in public spaces (46%). People who think they are excluded and isolated and feel they lack company are less resilient to crises, participate less politically, and are more prone to misanthropic and anti-democratic attitudes than people who experience loneliness less frequently. At the same time, socioeconomic status has an equal impact on how people experience and think about politics and society. Respondents with lower incomes, lower school-leaving qualifications, and those who say they are more likely to be “at the bottom” of society are more likely to express prejudices against groups marked as “foreign.” But it is precisely those respondents from the socioeconomic middle who are increasingly distancing themselves dangerously from democratic norms and values of the equality of all people. Disaffirmation also has a decisive influence here.
The study was published under the title “The distanced center” ((Die distanzierte Mitte) by a trio of researchers led by Andreas Zick, director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at Bielefeld University. By “center,” the researchers mean not only the political middle but all segments of the population that can theoretically be a mediating and stabilizing force in democracy. The study examines a “middle” that is constituted by civil society, middle-class milieus, and alternative, diverse social and cultural groups, but for which democratic norms are the overarching orientation.
It should be noted that the Andreas Zick group defines right-wing extremism as an ideology of inequality and violence or the endorsement of violence to enforce the ideology. Right-wing extremism as a belief system includes six sub-dimensions: advocacy of a right-wing dictatorship, national chauvinism, trivialization of Nazism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and social Darwinism. The first three dimensions relate to the National Socialist history and political ideology of right-wing extremism in Germany, while the last three dimensions depict its common (völkisch) character.
The term “far-right” has also been used as a collective term to differentiate between “right-wing populist” (anti-pluralist and radical right), “far-right extreme” (violent, anti-constitutional, and anti-democratic), and “new right” (as distinct from National Socialism/fascism) as descriptions of patterns of attitudes and individual manifestations. In contrast, the “radical right” tends to be nationalistic, violent, and authoritarian but not necessarily anti-democratic in the sense that it wants to abolish democracy.
authoritarian but not necessarily anti-democratic in the sense that it wants to abolish democracy.