Why the SPD is probably chasing an illusion

And the two candidates have one more thing in common: the greater attention that they should be sure of in the federal party – provided Wüst wins. Although this has an advantage due to its larger federal state and the larger state association – “that means more power in the federal government”. But Wüst is also popular in his office: In polls, the prime minister has higher approval ratings than the Social Democrats’ opponent, Thomas Kutschaty.

(Source: Friederike von Heyden/Bergische University of Wuppertal)

dr Detlef Sack is a professor at the University of Wuppertal. His focus is on democratic theory and research on systems of government. Previously he worked at the University of Bielefeld. Sack studied political science, medieval and modern history as well as German and received his doctorate in 2002 from the University of Kassel.

That could also be due to the federal government around Chancellor Olaf Scholz, says political scientist Sack. “The SPD currently has little tailwind from the federal government.” It will probably be federal issues that decide the election, he says – “in their state political translation”. Because in addition to the classic national issues of education and security, the Ukraine war dominates the substantive debate. Energy policy, in which at least part of the competence lies with the federal states, is moving into focus.


“What happens to the coalfields, what happens to the renewable energies?” Sack lists the questions that are currently on the agenda. “Will the state government manage to give large industrial companies like Thyssen or Bayer, which are dependent on the gas supply, good support in converting to renewable energies?”

What to do with the coal phase-out?

Both top candidates want that – climate neutrality is the goal, shows the t-online candidate check. Both are also sticking to the coal phase-out in 2030. Until a few months ago, this was accepted. “It was painful for those who worked there,” analyzes the political scientist. The acceptance also came about thanks to the good accompaniment by the country.

But the political scientist Detlef Sack suspects that the discussion could be postponed again in the current situation. “I can imagine that many people are now feeling that the coal phase-out is actually rubbish.” However, there is no party that voters could address with it. “The voters don’t really know what to do with the issue.”

“The SPD strongholds only exist in the imagination of the party”

The coalfields of the Ruhr area were once the strongholds of the SPD. Lead candidate Kutschaty likes to emphasize that he comes from a family of railway workers in Essen – a classic working-class milieu. But scientist Sack says: “Actually, the SPD strongholds only exist in the imagination of the party.” In the federal elections, it was possible to mobilize more voters for the SPD. The party must now also do this in the state elections. Because not only has the number of votes for the Social Democrats dropped recently, but also the turnout, reports Sack. “That means former SPD voters haven’t found a new home yet.”

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