Polls suggest German Chancellor Angela Merkel was victorious in her first TV debate with political rival Martin Schulz. Photo by Maya Vidon-White/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 4 (UPI) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel bested her election rival, Martin Schulz, in the pair's first television debate, according to polled viewers.
A majority of surveyed viewers, 55 percent, believed Merkel outperformed Schulz during the debate. Some 49 percent of those polled by German broadcaster ARD said they viewed Merkel as the more credible and capable candidate during the debate. Only 29 percent of viewers preferred Social Democrat candidate Schulz.
Merkel and her coalition of conservatives enjoy a sizable lead in the polls, and according to the latest surveys, Schulz and his debate performance failed to close the 14 percent gap.
The center-left challenger attempted to press Merkel on her handling of the refugee crisis, criticizing her willingness to open Germany's borders. Schulz also criticized the chancellor's handling of relations with Turkey. Tensions between Germany and Turkey are high in the wake of the arrest of a dozen German citizens.
But commentators felt the chancellor handled the criticism adeptly, and polls agreed. In the wake of the debate, pundits criticized Schulz for failing to focus his attention on domestic problems like infrastructure, education and defense spending.
"This was Mr. Schulz's one big chance to change the direction and narrative of the election campaign, and he blew it," the op-ed staff at The Economist wrote.
Last year, Merkel's popularity was in the decline as criticism of her handling of Europe's refugee and immigration crisis grew. More recently, her support among the German public has stabilized. Many experts believe the election of Donald Trump and the turmoil in the wake of the Brexit decision have buoyed her popularity.
Some of the chancellor's aids claim her rebounding numbers are thanks to "the Trump factor."
While Merkel looks certain to remain the leader of Germany, her party will not have enough seats to rule by majority. Merkel and her right-leaning Christian Democratic Union will once again have to partner with other parties to form a coalition government.