By Michael Saunders, CNN • Updated 28th April 2016
Voting ends in Germany this weekend in a tight election that could shape its relationship with Russia for the coming years and challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership.
The race is between Merkel’s conservatives and the party that’s her main challenger, the Social Democrats.
Polls show a dead heat between the two parties, with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union just ahead of the Social Democrats, which are traditionally associated with a working-class background and labor unions.
According to Germany’s opinion polls, a new poll taken April 24-26 by Emnid for RTL shows Merkel’s CDU is on 32% and the Social Democrats are on 31%.
The CDU has been in power for almost 16 years.
Rasmus Habermann, a political scientist at the University of Bonn, told CNN there’s still a 50-50 chance of a coalition between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the SPD, for whom Martin Schulz is leading the campaign.
Schulz is a former European Parliament president who became the Social Democrats’ leader in December.
“We still see a tricky path with Social Democrats,” Habermann said. “Even though they have a big party leadership role, they are not elected party leaders and they won’t have a decision for three weeks.”
In this Sunday’s election, a coalition of the SPD, the Greens and Die Linke is the preferred coalition in Germany’s strongest state, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Habermann said.
Why is it so close?
Habermann said there’s a “two-horse race” between the CDU and the SPD and the debate over social issues may sway voters.
Social welfare for low-income families, tax reform for the low- and middle-classes and immigration policies are among topics in the election campaign.
The concern here is that minority issues may turn against Merkel’s party, he said.
Ahead of the election, Merkel has made immigration an issue.
She’s pushed back against policies aimed at curbing German-generated immigration from Muslim countries — primarily Turkey, which is seeking membership in the European Union.