Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The Art of Spin - Or, Misleading Story Headlines

Schröder's Popularity Dives Amid Harsh Spending Cuts screams the headline of this Independent story, and one might take that to mean that Herr Schröder was making spending cuts the public at large found deeply unpopular; but what do we learn on reading further into the story?

New poll results show a fall in the popularity of the ruling Social Democrats at the expense of record gains for the opposition conservatives, jeopardising Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's attempts to reform Germany's ailing economy.

The poll, by the Forsa research group, showed support for Mr Schröder's party down two points to 26 percent while the popularity of the opposition Christian Democrats has risen to 50 per cent.

The result, which implied that in the event of a snap general election the conservatives could obtain an absolute majority in parliament, was published against the backdrop of an ongoing dispute within the Social Democrats over the government's reform programme.

Left-wingers in the party complained bitterly yesterday that Mr Schröder's attempts to reform the economy with a series of cuts to Germany's generous social welfare, pension and employees' rights provisions had led to an "erosion at the base of the party" with thousands of members handing in their party cards.

Attempts to reach an agreement between the warring factions of the SPD were said to have failed following angry exchanges at a closed party leadership meeting, where one senior party figure was quoted as describing rebel left-wingers as a "cancerous growth".

"It was the most horrible session I have ever experienced in ten years on the committee," Andrea Nahles, spokeswoman for the party's left wing, told Der Tagesspiegel newspaper. "Mr Schröder and other cabinet members just subjected the left to personal attacks. It was a hammerblow." (emphasis added)

Now, I realize that the terms "left" and "right" as applied to Continental Europe don't carry the exact same connotations they do in Britain and America, but the terms aren't so meaningless that one cannot draw certain conclusions from the polling data highlighted above. The CDU and the CSU are, if anything, in favor of deeper spending cuts than those proposed by Schröder, so why would they be virtually twice as popular with the electorate, if the chancellor's spending proposals really were at the root of the SPD's popularity problems?

The truth is that the reining-in of public expenditure is only deeply unpopular with the far left wing dinosaurs within Schröder's own party, and the timidity of Schröder's "reforms" (if they can even be called that) has everything to do with his government's low standing in the polls. For the Independent, however, to admit to anything so straightforward would be a sin against the stridently left-wing orthodoxy that constitutes the paper's stance on all issues. Far better to conflate "spending cuts" with the SPD's unpopularity, rather than admit what the polls show - that the German populace is fed up with left-wing rhetoric that does nothing to provide jobs or economic growth, and that they cannot permanently be distracted from their stagnant situation by anti-American posturing of the sort indulged in so fruitfully to date by Schröder and Chirac, another politician who has milked confrontation on the international stage to distract from his woes at home.