Authoritarian Populism Index.

The Authoritarian Populism Index is developed by Timbro.

Timbro is the leading free market think tank in the Nordic countries. Our mission is to promote and disseminate ideas supporting the principles of free markets, free enterprise, individual liberty and a free society. Timbro was founded in 1978 by Sture Eskilsson and the Swedish Employers’ Association, a precursor to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.  Since 2003, Timbro is financed by the Swedish Free Enterprise Foundation.


International outreach and translation supported by Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Atlas Network.


Populism Rank: 24


Voter support for radical left in last elections (2021): -4.4%.
Voter support for radical right in last elections (2021): +2.6%.
Populist or authoritarian parties in government (March 2024): none
Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 18/96

01 Speakers

During the post-war era, extremist political parties have been effectively marginalized in Germany. It took a significant amount of time before a right-wing populist party emerged in parliament, and even in the 2020s, both the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the left-wing populist The Left (Die Linke) still faces a cordon sanitaire, excluding them from government cooperation.

In the inaugural elections to the West German Bundestag in 1949, the German Communist Party (KPD) secured parliamentary representation for the only time in the post-war period, receiving just over five percent of the vote. By the 1953 election, support for the KPD had dwindled by half. Since then, neither the KPD nor any other communist party has managed to secure electoral success.


Additionally, a fascist party, the German Right Party (DRP), also obtained seats in the first democratic elections following the war. As no percentage threshold had been established, the DRP secured five mandates with a mere 1.8 percent of the vote. Nonetheless, akin to the KPD, the DRP was unable to maintain its parliamentary presence in subsequent elections, never making a return to the political arena.


In the 1950s, two non-fascist parties emerged to the right of the Christian Democratic parties CDU and CSU, experiencing some level of success. The national conservative German Party (DP) became part of Konrad Adenauer’s coalition government alongside the CDU and Liberals. Following the 1953 election, they were joined by the All German Bloc/League of Expellees and Deprived of Rights, which held parliamentary seats for one term. However, after the 1957 election, the CDU/CSU governed alone, and post-1960, there was no party to the right of them remaining in parliament.


Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, anti-establishment parties faced minimal success in West Germany. The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) emerged in 1964 and achieved some regional success. They secured representation in seven state parliaments during the 1966-68 elections. At the federal level, the NPD nearly met the threshold in the 1969 election, benefiting from dissatisfaction with the grand coalition and the aftermath of the student revolts of the 1960s.


Support for the NPD declined rapidly in the 1970s. In the 1980s, new radical right parties emerged, including the Republicans (REP) in 1983 and the National People’s Union (DVU) in 1987. The REP, initially formed by defectors from the Bavarian CSU, experienced tensions between national conservative and more radical elements. Conversely, the DVU, led by founder Gerhard Frey, tightly controlled the party from the top.


In 1987, DVU secured a seat in the state election in Bremen and achieved moderate success in the north for the next decade, also gaining a mandate in the state parliament of Schleswig-Holstein. The REP, predominantly based in southern Germany, experienced its peak success in the 1989 EP election, garnering seven percent of the vote and gaining two MEPs. However, internal contradictions hindered the REP’s momentum in the 1990s, including conflicts between national conservatives and right-wing extremists.

Konrad Adenauer in 1949.

By the late 1990s, both the NPD and DVU experienced regional successes again. In 1998, DVU won nearly thirteen percent of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt, followed by entry into the state parliament in Brandenburg the next year. However, internal divisions arose, while the NPD secured representation in Saxony (2004) and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (2006). Both parties began cooperation, culminating in a merger in 2011. 


Meanwhile, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), successors to the East German Communist Party, entered the Bundestag in 1990. The PDS struggled to gain traction in western Germany, but were increasingly successful in the East, ending up as the second largest party in most elections in the eastern states. The party was isolated at most levels, and faced internal strife.


In 2005, the Labour and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative (WASG) party was established by dissidents from the SPD who opposed Gerhard Schröder’s liberal economic policies, in particular labour market reforms. WASG collaborated with the PDS in the 2005 election, leading to a complete merger in 2007 under the name The Left (Die Linke). Throughout the late 2000s, Die Linke consistently set new records in state elections, capitalising on the broader leftward shift in Europe following the 2008 financial crisis. The 2009 elections were also successful for the party. However, at the federal level, Die Linke remained politically isolated. Nonetheless, at the state level, Die Linke managed to break through, participating in several regional governments. In 2014, the party secured its first ministerial post after a successful election in Thuringia. However, their wave of success eventually waned, experiencing setbacks in various elections during the latter half of the 2010s and early 2020s.


The classification of The Left is disputed. The authors of the PopuList classify them as “borderline populist, borderline far left”. To some extent, Die Linke is a big tent organisation with various formalised factions, including the Communist Platform (which cooperates with the KPD). 


Early on, one of the prominent figures in the party, Oskar Lafontaine, faced criticism for his use of the term “fremdarbeiter,” associated with Nazism, which was seen as anti-immigrant language reminiscent of a problematic populist worldview .And in the wake of the European refugee crisis of 2015, a faction within the party argued for a larger focus on limiting immigration.

Oskar Lafontaine.

In the 2021 election, Die Linke was halved and achieved its worst election result since 2002 with 4.9 percent. However, it retained proportional representation in the Bundestag thanks to the electoral system. Die Linke is believed to have suffered from the CDU’s negative campaign against its potential inclusion in the government. In 2022, a faction led by long-time party figure Sahra Wagenknecht opposed sanctions against Russia, contrary to the stance of the majority of Die Linke. This disagreement led to a prolonged period of internal strife within the party. Eventually, in October 2023, Wagenknecht and her allies decided to leave Die Linke. Subsequently, in January 2024, Wagenknecht founded the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance (BSW), with the intention of contesting the European elections. Although the BSW has yet to participate in an election, it has been polling significantly above the five percent threshold.

Beatrix von Storch

To the right, in the spring of 2013, Alternative for Germany (AfD) emerged, founded by former CDU politicians, business leaders, and economists. The party garnered attention for its notable presence of academics, earning them the early nickname “the professors’ party.” Their central message was that Germany should exit the Eurozone. Although narrowly missing entry into the German parliament in the fall of 2013, the following year saw success in the European Parliament elections as well as in most subsequent state elections.


Initially, AfD was eurosceptic but economically liberal. Gradually, the party became more anti-immigrant and nationalist, especially after Frauke Petry was elected as spokesperson in the summer of 2015. This shift also had consequences at the European level, as AfD, which had previously cooperated with the British Tories in the ECR group, moved towards the Austrian FPÖ. After the refugee crisis in the autumn/winter of 2015-16, AfD had significant successes in the state elections in the spring of 2016. The party then adopted a strong anti-Islam agenda, asserting that Islam did not belong in Germany. At the same time, they demanded the lifting of sanctions against Russia.


In the 2017 election, AfD finally won seats at the federal level with almost 13 percent of the vote. After the election, Petry left to form a new party (which failed), which resulted in another shift towards a more radical direction.


Leading representatives of AfD have made a series of drastic statements. Beatrix von Storch, the deputy leader (and granddaughter of Hitler’s finance minister), for example, advocated for the police to shoot at women and children trying to cross the border into Germany (although she later claimed that her computer mouse had slipped. Von Storch also criticized the police in Cologne, who had tweeted a New Year’s greeting in Arabic, accusing them of appeasing ‘barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes of men’. Parliamentarian Alice Weidel defended von Storch, stating that the German authorities ‘submit to imported, marauding, groping, beating, knifing migrant mob’.


In the election in September 2021, AfD lost 2.3 percentage points, remaining at its second-best election result ever: 10.6 percent. Additionally, the fascist NPD had its worst election ever, receiving only 0.1 percent of the vote. Shortly after the election, AfD began to grow again in the polls. The party now consists of a national-conservative faction and a more identitarian and radically anti-immigration one. Björn Höcke, seen as one of the leading representatives of this identitarian faction, has criticised and ridiculed the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin: “Germans are the only people in the world who plant a monument of shame in the heart of the capital”, “laughable policy of coming to terms with the past”.


In June 2023, Robert Sesselmann was elected mayor of Sonneberg in Thuringia, a smaller city with 57,000 inhabitants. It was the first time an AfD candidate won a local election. Sesselmann won in the first round, with low voter turnout. In the second round, all other parties united against him, voter turnout increased, but Sesselmann won with even greater support. This sparked a debate in Germany about the strategy of isolating versus cooperating with the party. In July, Friedrich Merz, the new leader of the CDU, opened up to the idea of ​​cooperating with the party locally, triggering strong reactions within the party.


AfD’s lead candidate in the EP election in 2024, Maximilian Krah, hails from the party’s right-wing faction and has gained notoriety for his posts on TikTok, where he suffered a ban after spreading conspiracy spread conspiracy theories about population replacement. He has also asserted that “multicultural means multicriminal” and criticized Pride flags.

EP elections

Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 18/96


The Republicans won 6 MEPs in 1989 and joined the far-right group with Le Pen’s National Front. However, they only remained in the EP for one five-year period. The PDS was first elected in 1999, joining the GUE group. Since then, the PDS and its successor party Die Linke have been represented in all parliaments, always within the GUE group. AfD won representation in 2014 and again in 2019. They are currently a member of the ID group. In 2014, Germany abolished its threshold for European elections, leading to several small parties gaining seats. The NPD obtained 1 percent of the vote, which was enough for an MEP. However, they lost representation in 2019.

DIE LINKE summary

Economics: LEFT
Social issues: MODERATE
Democratic credibility: HIGH

BSW summary

Economics: LEFT
Social issues: MODERATE
Democratic credibility: MEDIUM

AFD summary

Economics: RIGHT
Social issues: CONSERVATIVE
Democratic credibility: LOW