By Joseph Nasr
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens could not be further apart on issues like taxation, climate change and fiscal policy, but Sunday's election revealed one thing they do have in common: popularity among young voters.
An analysis of exit polls by Infratest dimap for broadcaster ARD showed that the Greens and FDP had won 23% each among first-time voters aged 18 to 22, compared with 15% and 10% for the Social Democrats (SPD) and conservatives respectively.
The results https://tmsnrt.rs/3B0xq8d reflect frustrations with Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling conservatives and their SPD coalition partners for slow progress on upgrading digital infrastructure and cutting emissions, and for closing schools while keeping factories open during the pandemic, researchers say.
"Young people have found more answers to issues they care about most, like climate change, with the Greens and FDP," said Laura Schieritz, deputy leader of the FDP's youth wing. "They have said loud and clear that they want real change."
While only about 14% of Germany's ageing population are voters under the age of 30, compared with close to 58% that are 50 or older, gains among them helped make the Greens and the FDP kingmakers in this year's election.
They won 14.8% and 11.5% of overall votes, up from 8.9% and 10.7% respectively in 2017. That puts them behind the SPD and the conservatives. Either one of the bigger parties will need to team up with both the FPD and Greens to secure a parliamentary majority for a coalition government https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/blending-chalk-cheese-assembling-government-germany-2021-09-28.
The Greens and the FDP are expected to start talks with each other on Wednesday to find areas of agreement before negotiating with the SPD or the conservatives.
Both the Greens and the FDP have a relatively young leadership that appeals to young voters disillusioned with a German political landscape long dominated by "white old men", said Simon Schnetzer, an independent researcher of young Germans' attitudes.
The FDP is led by Christian Lindner, a slick 42-year-old former business consultant and internet investor who wants to lower taxes on businesses and cut red tape to encourage entrepreneurship among young Germans.
The Greens are led by 40-year-old Annalena Baerbock, whose party is popular with young and highly educated female voters eager to make Europe's biggest economy carbon neutral.
LACK OF TRUST
Many young voters saw the FDP as a defender of their liberties and freedoms during the pandemic, Schnetzer said, when the government closed schools and universities, restaurants and fitness studios while keeping factories open to safeguard the economy.
School closures amounted to around 30 weeks since March last year compared to just 11 in France, U.N. data shows. The FDP was against blanket closures and wanted to give schools more power to decide if and when to close.
Young voters "believe their well-being and interests were low on the government's priorities list during the crisis", Schnetzer said.
They also backed the Greens to punish the coalition for what they see as foot-dragging on climate change, a hot topic for youths in Germany and elsewhere who have taken their demands for action to cut carbon emissions to the streets with the Fridays for Future protests.
The Greens want to raise taxes on the rich and take on new debt to finance investments in clean energy. The FDP want to cut taxes for companies to encourage private sector investments and aim to fight climate change by expanding emission trading schemes.
Plans by the FDP to reform Germany's pension system to ease the burden on young people as more baby boomers retire and birth rates remain low have also appealed to young voters, said Schieritz.
The SPD, led by 63-year-old Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, won the election by securing 25.7% of votes, narrowly beating the CDU/CSU conservative block led by Armin Laschet, 60, which posted its worst result after 16 years of Merkel.
"The bigger story is that young German voters don't trust the big-tent parties to represent their interests and to secure their future," Schnetzer said. "They see them as parties that take more care of the interests of older voters."
(Additional reporting by Emma Thomasson and Christian Ruettger; Editing by Alison Williams)