Surveys of the recent elections have shown that the AfD drew its voters from all others parties, mainly from the Christian Democrats but also from the Social Democrats and, to some extent from the Left Party.
This points to the fact that a significant segment of the followers of these parties also hold nationalist, nativist and authoritarian attitudes. Also, a relevant chunk of the AfD’s voters belongs to a group that has abstained from elections for some time.
The social composition of those voting for the AfD is not exactly clear at the moment. According to the German Institute for Economic Research, the party has successfully won a core electoral constituency between 2014 and 2016 and is characterised by an increasing number of workers and unemployed and by growing numbers of young people. Also, former voters of right-wing populist and extreme right-wing parties gained in size.
A more recent study by the German Trades Union Federation’s research institute came to the conclusion that voting AfD is not related to a precarious financial situation in the first instance.
Support for the AfD correlates strongly with work situations shaped by temporary job contracts or working in small businesses without collective bargaining coverage. Both result in a feeling of not controlling one’s own life and being at the mercy of others.
Many who support the AfD belong to the lower middle classes worried about how their future now looks. Worries revolve around losing employment, criminality in the neighbourhood and decreasing trust in the national government.
Recent research, by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, on voting behaviour in the state election in North Rhine Westphalia indicates that 43 % of those voting AfD are white-collar staff while 32% are manual workers.
Support for the AfD was especially high in areas with a high rate of unemployment but, at the same time, it was elected, in particular, by voters with intermediate school-leaving certificates.
The party portrays itself as a “people’s party” drawing from all segments of the society. In fact, it tries to reach out to working class people in some areas like the Ruhr. Due to a conflict about the accommodation of refugees in the northern parts of Essen, several members of the Social Democrats turned to the AfD.
Most prominent amongst them is Guido Reil, a former miner. Well known in the city, he campaigned for the AfD as the “voice of the workers” arguing that the Social Democrats care less about average people living in the place for decades than they do about the refugees. He failed to get elected.
The party is also systematically approaching German-Russians of which some two million live in Germany today. A sizeable section of this group has traditionally voted for the Christian Democrats but is increasingly irritated by political decisions such as the recent decision by the German national parliament in favour of same-sex marriage. The AfD distributes Russian-language leaflets and tries to exploit the traditional family values and scepticism against non-European immigration held by many German-Russians.
In July 2017, the AfD also built a special branch for this group, headed by Waldemar Birkle who was born in Kazakhstan and now runs for the AfD in Pforzheim. The AfD faction in the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt also organised a pro-Russian conference in summer 2017 demanding closer relations with Putin’s Russia.