Germany has two remarkable years behind it. Two years of unease and disquiet, two years in which politics overheated to a degree never seen before, both internationally and back home in Germany: Russia's annexation of Crimea, Brexit, Donald Trump's upset election victory. In Germany, Merkel's decision to allow refugees into the country, the mass sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year's Eve, burning asylum shelters, several Islamist terror attacks and the breathtaking electoral successes of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party.
The world, it was said, had become unhinged – and even Germany, a centrist pillar, suddenly seemed unsure of itself. People became apprehensive, almost frenzied. Anger and aggression grew, as did skepticism of institutions, of the so-called elite, of the country's ability to integrate the huge numbers of refugees and migrants that had arrived in the country. Worse yet, people began to doubt whether the country could maintain its balance in the face of the external pressures.
And now, two years later, on the eve of parliamentary elections? What does the country's political and emotional state look like?
To find out, the Bonn-based infas Institute for Applied Social Science conducted a representative survey involving 1,501 respondents on behalf of DIE ZEIT. Not to put too fine a point on it, the results are astounding. They paint an image of a country that has been left largely unchanged by the crises it has faced. There is no evidence of internal divisions, of rampant xenophobia or of massive self-doubt. On the contrary, the information gathered by infas shows a society that is largely cosmopolitan, tolerant and liberal.
That first becomes clear when the question is posed as to whether there is something like a feeling of togetherness in the country, an awareness of closeness, solidarity and community. A significant majority of those questioned, 56 percent, consider such a feeling important while even more, 65 percent, would like to see that feeling of togetherness become more important in the future. In other words, people in Germany don't want to live in isolation, they see themselves as social beings.
This "togetherness," the results show, is primarily the product of spatial and personal proximity (graphic 1): When we speak of "We," the reference is primarily to one's own family (92 percent) and one's circle of friends and acquaintances (91 percent). But "my homeland Germany" isn't far behind, at 78 percent, while 76 percent of the respondents chose "my town of residence" when asked who belongs to "We." Seventy-two percent chose "my neighborhood," 68 percent "my state" and an equal share chose "Europe."
Given the debates that have been raging in recent months, answers to the question as to which groups of people don't belong to "We" were quite surprising. How inclusive is the German "We" in late-summer 2017? Or, more precisely, who doesn't belong to "We"? (Graphic 2)