German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears poised to coast to victory once again in Sunday’s national elections.
Her Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union parties have maintained double-digit leads over their main rival, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), in opinion polling, with Merkel enjoying broad support among German voters. When the votes are tallied on Sunday, the CDU/CSU will likely snag some 37 percent of the vote to the SPD’s 20 percent, the latest polling from Infratest dimap suggests.
But with Germany's first female chancellor set to lock down a record fourth term at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy, observers say not to expect any major shifts in her policies or tone.
“Merkel didn’t run on a platform of change,” Karen Donfried, the president of the German Marshall Fund in Washington, told ABC News.
Donfried said Merkel touted herself as an experienced and reliable leader in an uncertain world during the campaign and didn’t promise voters radical shifts on important policy positions regarding trade, the economy or immigration. "Those areas will likely remain very similar to the way they are now, so we shouldn’t expect any major policy shifts when she starts her next term," Donfried added.
But a lot also depends on who Merkel's party teams up with to form a government, Sudha David-Wilp, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, told ABC News.
“That is likely to have the biggest impact on Germany’s political direction for the next four years and shape what Merkel can or can’t do politically,” David-Wilp added.
David-Wilp believes that while Merkel is likely to try and solidify her legacy during her next term, she will also take on domestic issues such as education reform, security, and immigration integration in addition to her ongoing work to unify Europe.
"Things are better now than they were a year ago, but we’re still in the post-Brexit era so a unified Europe is still paramount for Merkel," David-Wilp said.
One potential problem for Merkel: the rise of Germany's controversial, right-wing, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The AfD is likely to receive enough votes to come in third in national elections, guaranteeing it dozens of seats in parliament. Though the AfD is unlikely to be part of a coalition government with Merkel's party, it will almost certainly look to capitalize on its new position and seek to align itself with other conservative members of parliament.
“Merkel has moved to the right on a lot of AfD’s core issues during the campaign,” Gideon Botsch, a political scientist at the University of Potsdam, told ABC News. “But now that the AfD has gained some power in parliament, it will try to move the government even further to the right on issues like immigration and security, and that will be a challenge for Merkel and her party.”
When she announced last year that she would seek a fourth term, Merkel acknowledged that she would enter a race that would be tougher than any of her three previous campaigns.
“We will face opposition from all sides," Merkel said in a speech in Berlin when she announced her plans to run, citing both populist and left-wing opponents at home and abroad who “threaten our values and way of life in Germany.”
As for Merkel’s relationship with the U.S. and President Donald Trump, don’t expect any seismic shifts, Donfried said.
“Much like when President Trump was elected, Merkel will want to make clear that the U.S. has a partner in Germany,” she said. “So we shouldn’t expect any major changes in Germany’s relationship with the U.S.”
But the relationship with the U.S. has been strained at times with Merkel’s political opponents attacking her for what its leaders characterized as a failure to stand up to President Trump.
At a campaign event in May, Merkel made headlines when she said Europe can no longer completely rely on other countries. The remark underlined her frustrations with Trump following a meeting of world leaders at the annual G-7 Summit. Trump hinted then that he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord and followed through on that promise just a few weeks later.
“The times in which we could rely on others completely, they are partly past,” Merkel said. “I experienced this in recent days. So I can only say: we Europeans must truly take our destiny in our own hands.”