German Society Not As Polarized As You Think, Study Finds | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW

Much of the media – social media in particular – paints a black and white picture of Germany. On the one hand, there are supporters of Chancellor Angela Merkel. On the other hand, his opponents, including many voters and supporters of right-wing populists. Recent debates in the Bundestag, the German parliament, have reinforced this impression.

This is why a study presented in Berlin earlier this week seemed at first puzzling. He said the climate between migrants and non-migrants had not deteriorated significantly following the 2015/16 refugee crisis and was still positive. At first, critically-minded journalists shook their heads in doubt.

The daily life for two is decisive

The authors of the study, who are members of the Expert Council of the German Foundations for Integration and Migration, answered the question of how they can explain the gap between expectations and outcome by highlighting the particular approach to the study: their daily experience at work, at school or in their building.

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The study is also particular insofar as Germans with an immigrant background and Germans with no migratory origin were interviewed. Of the approximately 9,000 respondents, most – 6,000 – were of an immigrant background. They reported that not much had changed in their daily lives.

Fear of the stranger

Based on the results, it would be wrong to conclude that the migration debate has endangered long-term social cohesion, said Thomas Bauer, chairman of the Expert Council. The results indicate that the climate of integration is stable and positive, he said.

“It’s going pretty well in everyday life,” added study author Claudia Diehl.

But the authors also found that where there are few points of contact with migrants in daily life, the results appear worse. This is especially true for many parts of East Germany, where the percentage of migrants is single digits, unlike some western states, where one in three has a migration history.

The authors of the study are members of the Expert Council of the German Foundations for Integration and Migration

Germany cannot be compared to the United States

“The polarization is perceived in an exaggerated way,” said Renate Köcher, director of the renowned Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research. According to her, Germany is economically and politically “miles away” from the “sick” climate of the United States.

So everything is fine ? Not enough. In Berlin, Köcher presented an alarming study on the mood of 30-59 year olds. Despite the good economic situation in which Germany has found itself for many years, confidence in political stability has halved since 2015. Only 27% of around 1,000 respondents said they associated politics with a sense of stability. Politics has thus become a problematic child.

Real fears and worries

However, Köcher did not want to link this result to an explanation for the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. His institute currently measures a 15 percent approval rate for German right-wing populists.

On the one hand, the AfD is still thriving thanks to its “powerful drug”, the refugee issue, according to Köcher.

Read more: Service of general interest for refugees in Germany to promote integration?

On the other hand, the party has become a reservoir of dissatisfaction, which is evident in the critical relationship with the state and institutions, according to the expert.

But Köcher described something else as more relevant to the general mood: In Germany, the ideal of social cohesion dominates. Even the upper class, says Köcher, wants a strong welfare state and not a solidified lower class, which is why there is a strong will to redistribute.

She says the real concern is that there is a decline in social cohesion. Many respondents said they had noticed a decrease in compliance with the rules and an increase in “reservations against foreigners”. Only a third agreed with the statement: “We are living in happy times.” Germany is shaking in a cooler social climate, as Köcher described it.

The results of the two studies can be summarized as follows: Germans aspire to community, balance and coexistence in everyday life. They therefore do not like social polarization – and they consider it the duty of politicians to prevent it.

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James R. Rhodes