Merkel, meanwhile, has promised voters more of the same. Unemployment has dropped from 11.3 percent when she took office in 2005 to 5.3 percent today, declining even through the global economic crisis in 2008. The economy is growing.
“We have to ask ourselves: How can we make sure that this will continue in Germany? At present we have got more people in jobs than we’ve ever had. But this can also quickly be destroyed,” Merkel said at a rally in Munich on Friday, adding that Germany should not engage in any “experiments.”
“She is very popular, a different type of politician, a politician whose rhetoric isn’t so great but who gives arguments, who tries to win by persuasion,” said Jürgen Falter, a professor of political science at the University of Mainz.
Steinbrück, by contrast, “is a totally different type of person,” Falter said. “He describes himself as a clear-cut, outspoken politician who doesn’t hide anything. His tongue is sometimes faster than his thinking.”
The wild card in the election is the new, anti-euro Alternative for Germany party, which has been polling just below the 5 percent threshold necessary for it to enter Parliament. Until now, Germany has not had a right-wing, nationalist party in the mainstream, unlike many of its European neighbors. The group also favors immigration restrictions and says it wants to lure only skilled labor to Germany, although it takes pains to distance itself from the nationalist parties in other countries whose policies verge on racist.
If the new party makes the cut, analysts say, there will be a focus on the views of the sizable minority of Germans who think the euro has not had a positive effect on their country.
“They will be able to express their political positions more than before, because they’d get some media exposure,” said Oskar Niedermayer, a professor of political science at the Free University of Berlin. “But they will not have any real influence on government.”