State elections

This Weekend, a Test for Germany's Social Democrats

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    A state election on Sunday May 14 will be a referendum not only on the social democrat state premier’s policies, but could be a bellwether of the SPD’s performance in federal elections later this year.

  • Facts


    • Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, will hold an election on Sunday May 14. The Social Democrats, led by Governor Hannelore Kraft, are expected to win with about 35 percent of the vote.
    • North Rhine-Westphalia’s economy has lagged behind other German states, and it invests less in its children than all other states. In 2015, more than half a million children under the age of 18 depended on state support.
    • In 2016, economic growth in the state improved to 1.8 percent, slightly below the national average.
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Hannelore Kraft (SPD) im NRW-Landtagswahlkampf
North Rhine-Westphalia's state premier has been at the helm for the past seven years but will she remain there? Source: Federico Gambarini/DPA

Hannalore Kraft has been on the go for weeks, travelling nearly non-stop across her state, North Rhine-Westphalia, talking with voters and pushing hard to drum up support for her Social Democratic Party (SPD) ahead of Sunday’s election.

On Saturday, she is attending a family festival in Düsseldorf, the state’s capital, after paying a visit to the neighboring industrial city of Duisburg on Friday. Thursday was packed, with stops at the “Klatsch” cafe for needy people in Oberhausen, the public market in Bottrop, a public-service volunteers’ gathering in Lünen and a walk through the streets of Sonst.

A lot is at stake for Ms. Kraft in North Rhine-Westphalia, or NRW, and for her party’s chancellor candidate, Martin Schulz. The SPD needs to win in NRW if Mr. Schulz is to mount a serious challenge to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It’s a neck-and-neck race. After leading in the polls for months, the SPD has seen its main rival, Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, slowly catch up. A survey conducted by the public broadcaster ZDF now shows the CDU at 32 percent, slightly ahead of the SPD at 31 percent for the first time in the polls.

Ms. Kraft has failed to deliver on issues of importance to her, like children and education. She likes kids and has an ear for their needs. In fact, “no child left behind” has been a mantra during her tenure in Germany’s most populous state.

Yet when it comes to investing in children and their education, no German state pays less per child than Ms. Kraft’s. More than half a million children under the age of 18 in NRW were dependent on state support in 2015, a figure that exceeded the national average.

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