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FDP Surprise Winner in State Election Debate

Researchers evaluate results of TV debate ahead of elections in the German state of Saarland

Freiburg, Mar 20, 2017

FDP Surprise Winner in State Election Debate

Plus and minus: Almost 60 veiwers evaluated Saarland’s leading candidates live and in real time during a televised debate. Source: Debat-o-meter, University of Freiburg

The top candidate of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), Oliver Luksic, emerged triumphant from the political debate, followed by Saarland's political "grand old man" Oskar Lafontaine of the Left Party in second place. At the same time, the current head of the state government, the conservative CDU candidate Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer slipped down into fifth place, with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) front man Rudolf Müller bringing up the rear. A team of researchers from the University of Freiburg tallied these results based on real-time viewer evaluations of a televised debate last Thursday between the six leading candidates in state parliamentary elections to be held on March 26. The data was gathered using the "debat-o-meter" – an app developed at the University of Freiburg for smartphones, tablets and computers. Almost 60 viewers used it to rank the candidates live during the televised showdown. They were asked which arguments they found most convincing and which statement put them off. The group working with political science professor Dr. Uwe Wagschal and information technology professor Dr. Bernd Becker regularly analyze German and foreign debates among politicians.

The viewers said that for them, the most important issues in the debate were: education (37 percent of the respondents), the economy and jobs (24.1 percent) and social justice (20.4 percent). The performance of State Premier Kramp-Karrenbauer was relatively poor. In a survey conducted ahead of the televised clash, the incumbent emerged the desired head of state government ahead of the other candidates. After the debate, she had clearly lost ground. The researchers say this was perhaps attributable to her statement that she could not stop electromobility. Furthermore, she also spoke of a "witch hunt" against diesel powered vehicles. But the debate's real loser was the AfD's candidate, Müller, who tried to link many issues with the topic of refugees. He received sharp rebuttals about this from the state premier as well as the SPD's leading candidate, Anke Rehlinger.

According to the study participants, the FDP candidate, Luksic, won the debate. They said that while all the other candidates spoke out in favor of more spending, Luksic supported relying on the market and individual responsibility. This approach appealed to people who were followers of the FDP and some CDU voters, who gave him high marks as well during the debate. One of Saarland's most seasoned, veteran politicians, Oskar Lafontaine, also convinced the viewers. After making a plea for social justice he spoke out against building new wind turbines. The Green party politician Herbert Ulrich defended wind power, yet the survey respondents gave him lower than average overall scores. The challenger from the SPD, Rehlinger, received high marks for her statements on educational policy, in which she promised clear spending increases. Also well received was what she had to say about the economy and jobs. One of her main messages was, "Steel has a future in Saarland."

The "debat-o-meter" is capable of summarizing the evaluations of all the participating viewers. If party supporters are excluded from the assessment, the results were as follows: (1) Luksic (FDP), (2) Lafontaine (The Left Party), (3) Rehlinger (SPD), (4) Ulrich (Greens), (5) Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) and (6) Müller (AfD). If all the respondents are taken into consideration, including those supporting a specific party, Luksic still finished first, followed by Rehlinger and Kramp-Karrenbauer.



Prof. Dr. Uwe Wagschal

Department of Political Science

Tel.: 0761/203-9361