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Majority of Germans consider racism a 'big problem,' poll finds


More than half of Germans surveyed in a monthly poll classify racism as a major social ill. At the same time, those polled say social issues are more important than asylum and refugee questions.

German society is still struggling with racism. That's one of the major conclusions from the Infratest-Dimap "Germany Trend" poll for August, which was released on Thursday evening.

When asked their opinion on the issue, 64 percent of people said that racism was either a "very big problem" (17 percent) or a "big problem" (47 percent). Some 35 percent of respondents said that racism was either a minor problem or not a problem at all.

That opinion prevailed across the political spectrum with the lone exception of supporters of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), only 37 percent of whom saw racism as a big or very big problem. Supporters of the Greens (77 percent), the center-left Social Democrats (77 percent) and the Left Party (73 percent) were more likely to rate racism as a serious social blight than those of the conservative CDU/CSU (59 percent) and the business-friendly Free Democrats (57 percent).

Interestingly, people with immigrant backgrounds were only slightly more likely (68 percent) to see racism as a major problem than those without immigrant backgrounds (63 percent).

And people from formerly communist eastern Germany were more prone (71 percent) to rate racism as serious than those from the west (62 percent).

The topic has gained considerable attention in recent weeks after star midfielder Mesut Özil accused the German football association of racism and relatives of the victims of a neo-Nazi murder spree expressed disappointment with what they called institutional bias in the German legal system.

Integration takes time

The results were perhaps less surprising when Germans of various political stripes were asked whether two classes of immigrants — those who arrived recently and those who have been in Germany for decades — had successfully integrated into mainstream society.

Overall, 62 percent of those asked thought that long-term integration had been "very successful" or "successful." AfD supporters were the only group in which a majority rejected that view, and even among the right-wing populists, 38 percent said that long-term integration had been a success.

By contrast, only 28 percent of respondents overall said the same thing about immigrants who had arrived in recent years, compared to 68 percent who said that integration for those people had been "unsuccessful" or "very unsuccessful."

There were some interesting anomalies. Some 40 percent of CDU/CSU supporters felt that new arrivals had been well integrated, compared to 33 percent of Left Party and only 30 percent of Social Democrat adherents.

That may reflect the fact that CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel is the one who decided that Germany would not turn away the hundreds of thousands of migrants who arrived at the country's borders starting in 2015.

Moreover, Social Democrat voters seem vastly more comfortable with older immigrants — 77 percent said integration had worked for that group — than with the new arrivals. Immigrants in the former category typically come from places like Turkey or Greece, while people in the latter group tend to have fled war-ravaged countries like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Social researchers say that Germany will need significant immigration to combat population aging

Social issues top the agenda

The Infratest-Dimap survey also confirmed the finding of other polls that, despite more intense media coverage given to the former, Germans are less concerned with asylum and refugee topics than with classic social questions.

When asked which issues were important to them, a whopping 97 percent of respondents said policies affecting health care and care for the elderly were "very important" or "important." This was followed by concerns about pensions and social benefits (95 percent) and protection from crime (90 percent).

Asylum and refugee policies came in second-to-last in the list of seven choices, with only 39 percent of respondents rating them "very important."

In the main Germans seem to be unhappy about the current government. On none of those seven issues did a majority of those asked say that they were satisfied with their leadership.

The latest edition of Merkel's government, her fourth since 2005, got particularly poor marks on the creation of affordable places to live, with 77 percent saying they were "unsatisfied" or "very unsatisfied." Some 16 percent said they were "satisfied," and zero percent chose "very satisfied" on this issue.

Current government without a majority

Given that data, it's not surprising that the grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats continues to struggle in the polls.

When asked which party they would vote for if elections were held on Sunday, only 29 percent chose the CDU/CSU, putting the conservatives below the psychologically significant 30 percent threshold. The Social Democrats held steady at a disappointing 18 percent. Together, that level of support suggests that the current grand coalition could fall short of a parliamentary majority.

The AfD seemingly continues to profit from conservative infighting over policy toward migrants, with support rising a point to 17 percent. The Greens continued their upward trend, also gaining a point to reach 15 percent. That's their best showing since 2013.

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