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AfD: How Germany's far right won over young voters

June 10, 2024

For the first time, 16-year-olds in Germany were able to vote in the 2024 European Parliament elections. The far-right populist Alternative for Germany party's targeted social media campaign appears to have paid off.

AfD leaders partying
The AfD is jubilant after its good showing in the EU electionImage: Jörg Carstensen/dpa/picture alliance

The far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) made gains in almost all age groups in the 2024 European elections, but its biggest success was among young people. In the last EU election, in 2019, one in three voters younger than 24 chose the Green Party, and the far-right AfD garnered just 5% of the young vote.

In 2024, 16% of youths voted for the AfD, tripling the party's share in this demographic and putting it almost on par with the center-right alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU).

The AfD was skeptical about Germany's plans to lower the voting age to 16 for the EU election. In 2018, it even took the matter to court in the state of Thuringia. The AfD argued that the Left Party, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and environmentalist Greens only wanted to secure their power by lowering the age from 18 to 16 because a majority of young people would vote for them. The court dismissed the complaint.

AfD: The 'TikTok party'

Since then, the AfD has strategically targeted young people like no other German party — and this has paid off. Through targeted campaigns on social media — mainly TikTok and Instagram — the AfD has managed to strike a chord with young people: the messages are emotional and easy to understand. 

The controversial AfD top candidate Maximilian Krah regularly takes to TikTok with simple and direct messages. Here is one notorious example:

"One in three young men in Germany has never had a girlfriend. Are you one of them?" Krah asks and continues with advice: "Don't watch porn, don't vote green, go outside into the fresh air. Be confident. And above all don't believe you need to be nice and soft. Real men stand on the far right. Real men are patriots. That's the way to find a girlfriend!"

Maximilian Krah stands out on TikTok with his staid suits and pocket square, but he combines crisp punchlines and humor and has been hugely successful.

But Krah is more than just a TikTok political influencer. The AfD's lead candidate for the EU vote is suspected of taking money from Russian propaganda channels and employing a Chinese spy. Shortly before the election, he told an Italian newspaper that members of the German SS during the Second World War were not all bad. The SS was an organization that was responsible like no other for the industrial mass murder of European Jews during the National Socialist era from 1933 to 1945. Outrage at Krah's revisionism came from all over Europe and even from other far-right parties.

The AfD party leadership then banned Krah from making campaign appearances. But young voters were either not interested in the scandals or didn't even notice them.

Maximilian Krah is the AfD's TikTok starImage: Guido Schiefer/IMAGO

Democrats without a strategy

The AfD reaches as many young people in Germany on TikTok as all the other parties combined. Traditional parties in Germany have so far done little to counter the AfD and its modern social media strategy. 

When Chancellor Olaf Scholz made his first appearance on his newly created TikTok channel this year, it was to show his battered briefcase. A video that made the chancellor seem out of touch with the somewhat garish TikTok world. 

Five years ago, young voters' main topic of concern was fighting climate change. In 2024, this issue has faded into the background. According to a recent study by the Bertelsmann Foundation, they are primarily concerned about peace in Europe. The majority of 16 to 25-year-olds named "securing peace" as the most important issue. 

Again, the AfD's Maximilian Krah seems to have struck the right note in a TikTok video:

"The war in Ukraine is not your war. Zelenskyy is not your president," he says. "But this is costing you money and you are running the risk that Germany gets dragged into this war, otherwise you will have to go and fight on the eastern front where your grandfather's brothers and cousins lost their lives…"

This article was originally written in German.

Far-right AfD strong in eastern Germany, among young voters

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