Word of the Week: Sonntagsfrage

Sep 6, 2013

Every Friday, Germany.info and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.


© dpa - Report Enlarge image (© dpa - Report) As Germany’s federal election quickly approaches, the Sonntagsfrage (Sunday question) has progressed to the center of heated debate as the country relies on the popular questionnaire to gain insight into the election’s turnout. While at the peak of its popularity, the Sonntagsfrage provides a prognostic glimpse into each party’s projected status in the weeks leading up to the Bundestagswahl (Bundestag election). The Federal Election Law of Germany requires the vote to be held on a Sunday or a public holiday – which is why the popular poll question is named after most workers’ day of rest.

Wenn am nächsten Sonntag tatsächlich Bundestagswahl wäre, welche der folgenden Parteien würden Sie dann wählen?” (“If the Bundestag election were next Sunday, for which party would you vote?”) asks a typical Sonntagsfrage poll question, asking citizens to envision how they would cast their ballots if the election crept up on them unexpectedly.

Numerous companies and academic institutes have routinely asked this question, which has often been used to predict the outcome of the federal election. The Sonntagsfrage originated in 1949 – the year that the Federal Republic of Germany was established, and has gradually become a part of German culture, reemerging with every parliamentary election. © dpa - Report Enlarge image (© dpa - Report)

One of the most recent Sonntagsfrage results, published by Allensbach Institute on Sept. 4, found that 40 percent of voters favored a CDU/CSU union, 25 percent would vote for the SPD, 12.5 percent would vote for Die Grünen (the Green Party), and 7.5 percent would choose the Linke (the Left). The FDP garnered 6 percent of the vote, the AfD received 3 percent, and the Pirate Party received a meager 2.5 percent of the Sonntagsfrage vote. These numbers vary slightly depending on the institute conducting the poll and the time it was administered. After last weekend’s televised debate between Chancellor Angela Merkel and SPD candidate Peer Steinbrück – which, according to polls, had no clear winner – the SPD experienced a slight increase in favorability. Political parties in Germany are required to receive at least 5 percent of the vote to gain representation in the Bundestag.

But the Sonntagsfrage does not always provide an accurate forecast of the election results: in 2005, the Sonntagsfragen, which had a 2 to 3 percent margin of error, predicted that the CDU/CSU would win 40 to 41 percent of the vote on Election Day. In reality, the union narrowly beat the SPD by just one percent: the CDU/CSU won 35 percent of the vote, while the SPD garnered 34 percent © dpa - Report Enlarge image (© dpa - Report)

In 1998, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who is affiliated with the CDU, said that “Andere gewinnen die Umfragen, wir gewinnen die Wahlen” (“Others win the polls, we win the election.”) Although Kohl lost that election to SPD candidate Gerhard Schröder, his quote mirrors the outlook repeatedly expressed regarding the potential inaccuracy of the Sonntagsfragen – especially among those that the polls predict to be on the losing end.

Still, the Sonntagsfrage remains a crucial aspect of the culture of German politics as each of the parties fight for the greatest possible seats in the Bundestag. Although they do not always predict the accurate proportion of seats won by each of the ruling parties, they do express public sentiment in the heat of the campaigns.

Which begs the question: How would you vote if an election in your country abruptly occurred this Sunday?

© Germany.info

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