Those who process membership applications for German parties currently have a lot to do: 1,110 people applied for Left membership online in January; around 335 applications per month are normal. The number only refers to online applications, but not entries or exits by other means. The trend is also affecting other parties: when asked by Stern, a party spokesman for the SPD said that membership applications had tripled compared to an average month. Especially in the second half of January, “a noticeably high number of people joining the party” was noted. The Greens are also happy to have a particularly large number of new members. “We Greens have been able to register over 2,600 people joining our party since the beginning of January,” explains Federal Managing Director Emily Büning to the news channel ntv at the end of January. Normally there are around 700 entries per month.

In response to a stern request, the FDP explains that it generally only publishes membership numbers annually; the CDU cannot yet provide any figures for January. When asked by Stern, its Bavarian sister party did not provide any figures, but explained that “the number of entries increased noticeably in the second week of January.” On January 10th, the media company “Correctiv” published their research into a right-wing extremist network meeting in Potsdam. After the revelation of the secret meeting, which was attended by right-wing extremists, members of the Union of Values ​​and high-ranking AfD politicians, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Germany against right-wing extremism. Is the party influx part of the Democrats’ rebellion against increasing right-wing extremism in Germany?

For Marcel Lewandowsky, there could be a connection between the mass protests and the applications for party membership: The democracy researcher teaches as a private lecturer at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Hamburg: “When right-wing populists have a strong following, the other parties win,” explains the political scientist. This also works across countries: “When Trump won the election in the USA, the SPD recorded more entries.” In Germany, democracy works primarily through parties – when people see democracy at risk, they get involved in the party that is politically closest to them. This also explains the popularity of the AfD: When asked by Stern, the party said that over 3,000 membership entries were received in January: This roughly corresponds to a doubling of previous months.

As absurd as it sounds, many AfD sympathizers see the demonstrations against right-wing extremism as an attack on democracy, according to party researcher Marcel Lewandowsky: “The demonstrations are perceived by many people who support the AfD as undemocratic and controlled by the government: As a another attempt to curtail freedom of expression.” The AfD is fueling this narrative by portraying itself in the role of victim: Björn Höcke compared the demos with Nazi marches on the day Hitler came to power: “They held flashlights, i.e. cell phone lights, into the sky. But it looked a bit like that like in 1933 during the Nazi torchlight marches.” The “Bild” newspaper first reported about it in mid-January. “The AfD supporters are concerned with saving what they believe to be democracy,” explains the expert. According to Lewandowsky, many of them are now taking the decision to join the AfD.

As a result, AfD sympathizers increasingly live in their own world, which is incompatible with the views of the other parties represented in the Bundestag. However, party researcher Lewandowsky does not see a polarization like in the USA, where Republicans and Democrats are irreconcilable: In Germany the two camps are not the same size. The other parties could protect democracy from the right-wing populist to right-wing extremist AfD – if they continue to consistently rule out cooperation with them. “However, this consistency is crumbling,” warns Marcel Lewandowsky: The Union is moving towards the AfD in terms of content and has not yet decided how it wants to work with the AfD at state level in East Germany. It is particularly important now that not only the political left, but also the bourgeois-conservative camp takes a clear position against the AfD.

Sources: “Correctiv”, ntv, “Zeit”, “Bild” newspaper, DPA news agency.