Above-average number of potential far-Right voters among union members

Trade union membership does not automatically prevent people from voting for a political party on the extreme Right. On the contrary, according to a study published in August 1998, about 11% of German trade union members could imagine voting for a far-Right or fascist organisation, in comparison with 7% of non-union members.

August 1998 saw the publication of a new study of "the potential voters for extreme right-wing parties among trade union members in Germany", conducted by the election poll institute Infratest dimap on behalf of the television and radio station Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) ("Das rechtsextreme Wählerpotential bei Gewerkschaftsmitgliedern, Eine Untersuchung von Infratest dimap im Auftrag von WDR 22, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Köln, August 1998).

According to the study's findings, about 11% of all trade union members could imagine voting for a political party of the extreme Right at the September 1998 general election, in comparison with 7% of all persons entitled to vote. The percentage of potential voters for the extreme Right is particularly high among young trade unionists aged between 18 and 24 years (32%), unemployed union members (20%) and union members who have only a basic "public" school education (15%). All in all, the number of potential extreme-right voters among union members is much above the average among all persons entitled to vote - as table 1 below illustrates.

Table 1. Potential voters for parties on the extreme Right in Germany
All persons entitled to vote Trade union members only
All voters 8% 11%
Western Germany Eastern Germany 7% 9% 11% 10%
Men Women 9% 6% 11% 10%
18-24 years 22-44 years 45-59 years 60 years and over 17% 9% 7% 4% 32% 11% 7% 3%
Public school Intermediate high school High school 10% 9% 3% 15% 11% 5%
Employed Unemployed 9% 14% 10% 20%
Blue-collar workers White-collar workers 14% 7% 11% 10%

Source: Infratest dimap.

The potential readiness to vote for a political party on the extreme Right expresses a certain political attitude of the voter, but should be confused with the actual vote for such a party. In order to discover more about the voting of union members, the study also analysed some of the more recent elections in the federal states (Länder) of Hamburg, Lower-Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt. The study showed that the level of votes among trade unionists for the extreme-right parties - the "German Peoples Union" (Deutsche Volksunion, DVU), the "National Democratic Party of Germany" (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, NPD) or the "Republicans" (Die Republikaner) - was much above the average in the western states (Hamburg and Lower-Saxony) but below the average in the East (Saxony-Anhalt). However, about 35% of all young union members aged 18-24 had voted for the DVU in the latest election in Saxony-Anhalt. Table 2 below provides more details.

Table 2: Actual voters for parties on the extreme Right in Germany.
Election All persons entitled to vote Trade union members only
Hamburg (21 September 1997) 6.8% 9%
Lower-Saxony (1 March 1998) 2.8% 4%
Saxony-Anhalt (27 April 1998) 12.9% 11%

Source: Infratest dimap

To sum up, the study shows that trade union membership does not prevent people from voting for an extreme-right or fascist organisation. In a comment, the president of the German Federation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB), Dieter Schulte, said that the study contained "very terrible" findings which express a certain political culture regarding foreign workers and migration in Germany. However, the study also made him think about the failures and insufficiencies in trade union policy in political fields such as youth policy or anti-racism and migration policy.

According to the study, the main motivations for trade unionists to vote for a political party on the extreme Right are a general dissatisfaction with the economic situation, a strong pessimism about further social and economic improvements and a lack of trust that the established political parties (in particular in the Social Democratic Party) would solve the problems. The relatively high number of trade unionists as potential voters for the extreme Right arises, therefore, for strong social and economic reasons, since these parties try to sell themselves as representing socially excluded groups.

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