Handelsblatt Excuslive Forsa Pollster: SPD Candidate Schulz Shouldn’t Focus on Social Justice

Manfred Güllner, the head of Forsa, said most Germans support social welfare and labor market reforms. He also warned that support for the SPD could collapse when voters realize Martin Schulz is part of the Brussels establishment.
Pollster questions the SPD candidate's focus on social welfare issues. Picture source: DPA Picture Alliance, Michael Kappeler

The Social Democratic Party’s chancellor candidate, Martin Schulz, will not win back voters by focusing on social justice issues, the head of the influential pollster Forsa told Handelsblatt.

Manfred Güllner, Forsa’s director, warned Mr. Schulz against abandoning the Agenda 2010 social welfare and labor market reforms that were passed by Social Democratic chancellor Gerhard Schröder, but have been criticized by the party’s left wing.

“Schulz won’t win back the 10 million voters that the SPD lost between 1998 and 2009 by walking away from Agenda 2010,” Mr. Güllner said. “The majority of Germans view the reforms as right.”

Mr. Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, has electrified the German election campaign, catapulting the Social Democrats ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union in the polls after years in the doldrums.

Mr. Schulz has campaigned on a platform that takes aim at economic inequality and the rise of right-wing populists such as U.S. President Donald Trump and the Alternative for Germany party (AfD).

But Mr. Güllner said it would be a “mistake” to focus on social justice issues. German society isn’t divided and the Social Democrats haven’t lost their authority on the subject, he said. Instead of focusing on past controversies like Agenda 2010, the party should focus on developing a future vision.

“The SPD was always successful when it developed a vision for the future, like Willy Brandt or Gerhard Schröder,” Mr. Güllner said.

The pollster also warned that Mr. Schulz's long tenure as a European parliamentarian in Brussels could hurt his chances: “When the voters realize that Mr. Schulz is part of the establishment in Brussels, his good poll numbers could quickly collapse,” Mr. Güllner said.