The poll conducted this week by independent opinion research institute Forsa showed Schroeder’s Social Democrats (SPD) with 34 pct — up three points from last week with just 11 days to go until the Sept 18 general election.

The Greens, junior partner in the ruling coalition, were unchanged at seven percent.

The telegenic chancellor’s strong showing in the debate Sunday appeared to have shaved one point off the score for Merkel’s conservative Christian Union alliance (CDU/CSU), now at 42 percent.

Merkel’s favoured coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats, also lost a point and fell to six percent, meaning that for the first time in several weeks her preferred coalition would fail to garner a governing majority.

Analysts say the most likely alternative to a coalition of the CDU/CSU and the FDP would be a so-called grand coalition of the conservatives and the SPD under Merkel as chancellor. ~Forbes

Just as I warned three months ago when she was named as the Union’s candidate for Chancellor, Ms. Merkel’s weakness as a candidate, her lacklustre party leadership skills, and her lack of experience in contesting elections, presumably not helped by her idiosyncratic position on the Iraq war, are all making the prospects of limited Union victory or possibly even defeat far more likely. Considering how pathetically Mr. Schroeder has governed Germany, especially during his last term, it is difficult to understand how the Christian Democrats have put themselves in this position. More importantly, why did they ever choose Merkel? Merkel’s selection was a classic example of giving a politician the lead slot on a ticket because it was “his turn.” If trends continue as they have been, Germany will have a useless, unproductive “grand coalition” government split between a CDU/CSU leadership with no mandate and the defunct Socialists that have already been roundly rejected by most regions of the country. In the future, all attempts at ‘reform’ of the bloated welfare state will be even more deadlocked than the last parliament.

In a normal country, that would create the space for an anti-consensus populist movement. However, the parties perhaps most likely to lead such a movement, whether Deutsches Volksunion or Die Republikaner, are routinely and effectively marginalised as extreme, and this in a country whose public discourse is least tolerant of any sign of deviation from a sharply controlled middle ground, outside of which there is no legitimate opinion. Ineffective consensus government might call back Hamburg’s Judge Schill and his faltering Law and Order Party to the national stage, but the effective barriers in society and especially in the media to such ‘outsider’ politics are higher in Germany than almost anywhere else in the Western world.