The headlines were shocking, especially since the poll results had been suppressed by the government: 13 percent of West German voters have extreme rightist views reminiscent of the Nazis. And almost half of these people, 6 percent, approve of violence in the service of rightist extremist causes.
Some of the questions that led to this analysis are themselves questioned by critics, however, now that the survey has been made public after a leak in Der Spiegel magazine.
The doubtful questions include: concern about present "decadence" and "disintegration" of the German language, the highest cultural expression of the German people (Goethe might have said the same); disapproval of West Germany's being simultaneously "whipping boy" and "paymaster" of Europe (Social Democratic Chancellor Helmut Schmidt did say much the same as he lashed out at Margaret Thatcher in the European Community summit a few days ago); and pride in being German (none other than former Social Democratic Chancellor and Nazi-resister Willy Brandt kept urging this pride on his fellow countrymen).
Furthermore, the supposed 13 percent rightist proclivity doesn't show itself in votes. In last October's general election only 0.2 percent of the ballots went to the one rightist extremist party, the National Democratic Party.
Still, for West Germans, who are perhaps hypersensitive to the issue because of their history, the survey results were disturbing. However, a number of the questions and answers -- revealing paranoia, intolerance of democracy, and hatred of foreigners -- did show mindsets the West Germans thought they had disposed of with Hitler.
According to the poll, the 13 percent of rightist-prone voters exhibit five characteristics: (1) hatred of people who are different, such as young persons, foreign workers, sexual minorities, and "asocial" persons; (2) fear of infiltration of the German race by foreigners; (3) a striving for harmony to the point of "antipluralism," yearning for an authority figure as leader, and scorn for the West German parliament as an "incompetent debating club"; (4) a pathological overvaluation of "nation, fatherland, and family"; and (5) a "Siegfried complex," or image of an "upright German hero who is surrounded by sly, crafty enemies."
Thus, one respondent remarked, "80 percent of journalists should be locked up immediately." "Left intellectuals, Freemasons, Jews, and foreign countries" joined the list of enemies.
Germans who remember the Hitler era appear much more inclined to this type of thinking than the young. Voters in their 60s, who comprise 14 percent of the West German electorate, constitute 20 percent of rightist extremists as defined by this survey. And 18- to 21-year-olds who comprise 8 percent of the electorate, constitute only 4 percent of extremist voters. The report concludes , "In general it may be said that all age groups under 40 are resistant above the average to right extremist ideologies."
The researchers did not believe that the Nazi emblems of the punk and rock youth groups signified right-wing extremism. Rather, these are seen as "shock symbols" expressing protest against the establishment.
Men and women, Roman Catholics and Protestants, are equally liable to right extremism. More liable than other categories are farmers, the self-employed, and people without career training -- plus Bavarians and Hessians. Less liable are trade union members.
The researchers, while acknowledging that the overwhelming majority of West German voters reject any leadership cult, militarism, or overthrow of parliamentary democracy, still think that 37 percent of voters might respond positively to right extremist appeals to fight alienation and a sense of helplessness through promises of national identity and a "wholesome world" free of industrial conflict.