Germany’s Populist AfD Party Recognizes It Has an Image Problem

The Alternative for Germany party is concerned that its support base is overwhelmingly male and its image extreme, prompting its leadership to consider a last-minute drive to appeal to women voters in the run-up to the Sept. 24 election.

Photographer: Rolf Schulten/Bloomberg

While projected to win its first seats in the Bundestag on a platform of clamping down on immigration and breaking up the euro area, the AfD still risks scaring away mainstream voters, according to Alice Weidel, one of the party’s two leading election candidates. Many party officials just don’t realize that their rhetoric sounds extreme to potential supporters, she said in an interview Berlin on Tuesday.

In particular, the AfD faces a “real problem” in appealing to women, Weidel said. Women constitute barely a fifth of the AfD’s voter base, despite she and party co-leader Frauke Petry occupying top posts, Weidel said.

“We don’t reach women,” said Weidel. “We don’t explain how urbanized women who want to work or have to work can combine work and family,” she said. “Since we have nothing to offer here, the AfD is mistakenly perceived as a party which pays too little attention to the needs of women and we’ve recognized this problem.”

Less than four weeks before the election, the AfD is poised to shock Germany by becoming the first far-right party since the war to take seats in the federal parliament. While struggling to hold on to the No. 3 spot in polls that it occupied during the height of the refugee crisis until earlier this year, a strong showing by the AfD could still limit the coalition options for Chancellor Angela Merkel and compound the woes of her Social Democratic Party challenger, Martin Schulz.

German Coalition Fatigue Limits Options for Merkel and Schulz

What’s more, Merkel would have the most to lose from a successful AfD push for women voters, since her Christian Democratic Union skewed the most toward female voters in 2013. At the same time, Weidel’s comments show the AfD still has a long way before becoming a mainstream party able to pick up swathes of voters turned off by Merkel’s liberalism.

In a Bloomberg Television interview, Weidel described the party, which calls Germany’s Muslim population “a great danger to our state” and advocates shutting the borders to refugees, “a new liberal-conservative force” that is “clearly to the right” of Merkel’s CDU-led bloc.

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