Overall it's good news. Since 2002 the German population has grown more resistant to the nationalist far right. Furthermore, xenophobia as well as anti-democratic tendencies have weakened.
That's the conclusion of a new study presented on Thursday by researchers from Leipzig University, who have conducted a long-term study with support from the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung. On the occasion of their fourth interim report since 2002, the researchers feel confident in saying that German "far-right tendencies have declined overall."
They've conducted polls every two years to test "chauvinism," "xenophobia," "anti-Semitism" and general consent for authoritarian government in each of Germany's states (except the city of Bremen, which was judged too small for useful results). "Chauvinism" includes German nationalism, but also pride in one federal state against the others.
The final report, called "Movement in the Middle," found a decline in all categories overall -- with some alarming exceptions.
In "hostility to foreigners" the leading states were Saxony-Anhalt (39.3 percent), Bavaria (39.1 percent) and Brandenburg (34.6 percent). Those states also happened to lead in "chauvinism" (Bavaria 30.4 percent, Brandenburg 24.5 percent), but it was Bavaria that distinguished itself in the "anti-Semitism" category, with 16.6 percent, above Thüringia and Baden-Württemberg (12.9 and 13.3 percent respectively).
The percentages reflected the number of people, out of 2,500, who answered questions in a way that suggested general support for the attitudes under investigation.
For example, in the anti-Semitism category, one statement -- which respondents could affirm or reject -- was, "Jews still have too much influence." The chauvinism category included, "We should have the courage again to feel strong national pride," and, "the highest goal of German politics should be to win the prestige and power that Germany deserves."
Respondents could weigh their answers in five degrees, ranging from "I fully agree" to "I fully disagree."
East vs. West
The study also broke its results into "East" and "West," to measure attitudes in the former East and West Germany. These results registered a rise in the east in all three categories. The fraction of respondents tending toward anti-Semitism in the east, for example, rose from 4.8 percent in 2002 to 7.9 percent in 2008. The average for all of Germany declined slightly over the same period, from 9.3 percent to 9.0.
The results are mixed, but researchers say the overall decline suggests a weakening far right. They pointed to a clear slump in answers showing "support for a dictatorship." The average for all of Germany agreeing with statements like, "we need a leader who will rule Germany with a strong hand for the good of all," has declined steadily over six years, from 7.7 percent to 3.7 percent. In eastern states there was also a steady downward trend, from 8.9 percent to 5.6.
The researchers warn against oversimplifying the results into an easy contrast between east and west. "In spite of a decline in far-right attitudes, western Germany is not an island of happy tolerance," they point out. But Germany as a whole is not about to topple into neo-Nazi dictatorship anytime soon. German society enjoys "a stable democracy and a healthy vigilance against far-right extremism," the researchers conclude.
With reporting by Phillipp Wittrock