We’re tracking the top myths about the German federal elections — and the websites spreading them.
Introducing NewsGuard’s German Election Misinformation Tracker
By Marie Richter, Florian Meißner, Roberta Schmid and Katharina Stahlhofen | Last updated on September 28, 2021
In September 2021, Germany will elect a new Bundestag. Its members in turn elect a new chancellor and thus — for the first time in 16 years — a new head of government. As became apparent during and in the wake of the US presidential elections in November 2020, national elections are a fertile growing ground for misinformation. Whether this misinformation targets candidates or the election process itself, misinformation can erode trust in government and democratic processes. As a result, voters may come to believe that their votes don’t count, or that they can’t believe anything they read or see, even if the source is reliable.
In Germany, the Green party has so far been targeted the most by misinformation campaigns in the leadup to the 2021 Bundestagswahl, a NewsGuard review found. At the same time, longstanding myths have resurfaced. For example, conspiracy-oriented sites are again promoting the claim that mail-in ballots will lead to election fraud — a discredited claim that far-right parties in Germany have warned about for years, and that received new fuel during the US election.
On this page, NewsGuard’s team of journalists is tracking the top myths related to the Bundestagswahl 2021 that have appeared on websites rated by NewsGuard and cataloguing the number of websites spreading those myths.
As of our latest update, NewsGuard has identified 21 websites publishing misinformation about the Bundestagswahl 2021 in Germany. Researchers, platforms, advertisers, governmental bodies, and health institutions interested in licensing the list can contact us for licensing information.
In addition to the claims listed below, which have appeared on our rated websites, NewsGuard has also cataloged an additional list of false claims that have appeared on social media — bringing the total number of false claims about the Bundestagswahl to 76. Access to this list that includes false claims on social media can be requested as well.
The German Election Misinformation Tracker is a work in progress. If you have come across a false story about the election, please report it here or contact us via our misinformation hotline.
Websites Identified Publishing False Election Information: 21
Overview of false claims that have appeared on websites rated by NewsGuard:
- FALSE CLAIM: Postal voting will lead to election manipulation.
- FALSE CLAIM: Angela Merkel wants to postpone the election “indefinitely” to stay in power.
- FALSE CLAIM: Great Reset Theory: “global financial elites” and world leaders planned the COVID-19 pandemic to take global political and economic control in a New World Order, or take control over the Bundestagswahl 2021 elections. In this context, Germany’s Infection Protection Act is often described as “Enabling law” paving the way to a dictatorship.
- FALSE CLAIM: Election fraud occurred at the state elections in Sachsen-Anhalt, possibly due to the increased postal voting during the election, much like during the US elections.
- FALSE CLAIM: Election fraud at the state elections in Rheinland-Pfalz and Baden-Württemberg caused the AfD to lose votes.
- FALSE CLAIM: The Green party/Annalena Baerbock is a puppet of Klaus Schwab/George Soros/“the financial elite”.
- FALSE CLAIM: Annalena Baerbock doesn’t have a real college degree/bought her degrees.
- FALSE CLAIM: Angela Merkel doesn’t want to receive AstraZeneca vaccine.
- FALSE CLAIM: Angela Merkel and Jens Spahn don’t want to get vaccinated, because of the vaccines’ risk.
- FALSE CLAIM: Jens Spahn admitted in an interview that the infection numbers used to justify with COVID-19 measures are fake.
- FALSE CLAIM: Floods in Germany were deliberately created to influence poll ratings ahead of the election.
- FALSE CLAIM: Starting this fall, the German federal government is planning to make shopping in supermarkets only possible for people with proof of vaccination.
- FALSE CLAIM: Police killed a Querdenker protester who was a founding member of the party “dieBasis.”
- FALSE CLAIM: The federal government’s aid to those affected by the flood is “so small” because in 2014 the government decided to divert money from the flood relief fund to refugees.
- FALSE CLAIM: There is no valid electoral law in Germany.
- FALSE CLAIM: No public institution has the right to distribute election notices or hold elections.
- FALSE CLAIM: Hundreds of criminals were brought to Germany from Afghanistan.
- FALSE CLAIM: Minister President Markus Söder is deliberately obstructing access to an upcoming referendum by making COVID-19 tests paid (they were previously free of charge) on the day of the referendum.
- FALSE CLAIM: Saskia Esken, co-leader of the SPD, said in an interview: “It’s time for Germans to learn sacrifice.”
- FALSE CLAIM: A study proves that election fraud in Germany is not the exception, but the rule.
- FALSE CLAIM: Results of the Bundestag election had already been determined before Election Day, as proven by a ticker tape with projections, which was shown during a quiz-show on the German public broadcaster ARD.
- FALSE CLAIM: The SPD and the Green party are trying “behind-the-scenes” to install Saskia Esken instead of Olaf Scholz as chancellor.
FALSE CLAIM: Postal voting will lead to election manipulation.
There is no evidence that postal voting in Germany will or has led to large-scale election fraud. Independent international election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have not found any evidence of manipulation or fraud since they began monitoring elections in Germany in the 1990s.
Postal voting is quite common in Germany: During the 2017 Bundestag election, the share of mail-in ballots was 28.6 percent, elections officials reported. While some fraud does occur, they are isolated cases and are not evidence of a systemic problem. In fact, the cases of fraud that are uncovered demonstrate that the election regulatory system is working and has been strengthened over recent years. For example, when a local CDU politician forged proxy authorizations in 2014 in a local election in Stendal, to give votes to himself and his colleagues, the incident was quickly uncovered and corrected. The regulations for using proxy authorizations were subsequently tightened nationwide.
FALSE CLAIM: Angela Merkel wants to postpone the election “indefinitely” to stay in power.
Although it is true that in times of natural disasters or war, the constitution allows for the postponement of national elections, this was never announced or planned by the government for the 2021 elections. German Chancellor Angela Merel never asked for the election to be postponed. Germany’s Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier set the date for the Bundestagswahl in early December 2020, which is binding. Federal elections will be held according to the regular schedule and in line with regulations on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021.
FALSE CLAIM: Great Reset Theory: “global financial elites” and world leaders planned the COVID-19 pandemic to take global political and economic control in a New World Order, or take control over the Bundestagswahl 2021 elections. In this context, Germany’s Infection Protection Act is often described as “Enabling law” paving the way to a dictatorship.
There is no evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic was “planned” by a global elite or cabal. The Great Reset is a June 2020 plan developed by the World Economic Forum that proposes how countries might recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and address increasing income inequality, as the organization explains on its own site and many media organizations, including fact checks from Reuters and BR, have reported.
FALSE CLAIM: Election fraud occurred at the state elections in Sachsen-Anhalt, possibly due to the increased postal voting during the election, much like during the US elections.
There is no evidence of election fraud at the state elections in Sachsen-Anhalt, or that election observers were not allowed into the polling stations at any point. The state election supervisor office (Landeswahlleitung) told the investigative nonprofit newsroom Correctiv that authorities found no evidence of irregularities during the election. On social media, many people shared a photo of a tweet by an election worker, who had announced that he would invalidate votes for the AfD and included a photo of the vote counting. However, Correctiv and BR reported that the photo actually shows vote counting during the 2020 US presidential election.
FALSE CLAIM: Election fraud at the state elections in Rheinland-Pfalz and Baden-Württemberg caused the AfD to lose votes.
There is no evidence of election fraud at the state elections in Rheinland-Pfalz and Baden-Württemberg. Claims that the AfD’s low results — which were much lower than predicted prior to the election — derived from miscounted or discarded votes at polling stations, including by supposedly leftist election workers, are not based on evidence. In fact, it is not permissible for only representatives of one party to count ballots. In Germany, municipalities and counties appoint volunteer election workers, and according to the federal election regulations, the parties themselves also appoint election workers.
FALSE CLAIM: The Green party/Annalena Baerbock is a puppet of Klaus Schwab/George Soros/“the financial elite”.
The anonymously run Twitter account “Markus Klarname” posted in April 2021 on Twitter that said “I congratulate George Soros on his candidacy for chancellor” — with a picture of Baerbock and the American investor and philanthropist George Soros at the Security Conference in Munich in February 2019, which Baerbock had posted herself on Instagram at the time. The post was also shared by AfD parliamentary member Martin Siechert on Facebook in April 2021.
As Tagesschau reported, Baerbock said after the conference that she had spoken with multiple politicians and financial leaders, including Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Soros, about “the upcoming European elections, Brexit and the ecological-social restructuring of our industry and economy.”
The photo does not provide any evidence, and there is no evidence otherwise either, that Annalena Baerbock or the party itself are under direct control of Klaus Schwab, the founder and head of the World Economic Forum, or George Soros.
FALSE CLAIM: Annalena Baerbock doesn’t have a real college degree/bought her degrees.
Although the wording of Baerbock degrees in her resume was changed several times on the website of the Green party, there is no evidence that she “bought” her degrees, or did not actually study at the universities named in her resume — University of Hamburg (undergraduate degree in political science) and London School of Economics (Master of Laws in Public International Law).
“In Hamburg, she studied Political Science with a minor in Public Law/European Law. Since Bachelor+Master degrees had not yet been introduced across the board in Germany at that time, the Vordiplom was the basis for admission to Master’s programs abroad,” said Green Party spokesman Andreas Kappler in May 2021 on Twitter. Correctiv confirmed that both universities list her as a graduate, as did other fact checkers and media organizations, such as Tagesspiegel and Volksverpetzer.
FALSE CLAIM: Angela Merkel doesn’t want to receive AstraZeneca vaccine.
At the time of the article on Reitschuster.de, Angela Merkel had in fact said that she would receive the vaccine as soon as it was possible for her to do so, expressing no preference for a particular vaccine. AstraZeneca, however, was at the time not recommended for her age group. In April 2021, Merkel received her first AstraZeneca vaccine shot in Berlin.
FALSE CLAIM: Angela Merkel and Jens Spahn don’t want to get vaccinated, because of the vaccines’ risk.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Health Minister Jens Spahn never said that they do not want to get vaccinated, much less due to the vaccines’ risk. In February 2021, Merkel said that she would get vaccinated “when it’s my turn” in accordance with Germany’s vaccine prioritization. In April 2021, Merkel received her first AstraZeneca vaccine shot in Berlin. Spahn received his first vaccine, also AstraZeneca, in May 2021. (Both are now fully vaccinated. Merkel received her second vaccine shot with Moderna in June 2021, and Spahn only needed one shot, as he previously had been infected with COVID-19.)
FALSE CLAIM: Jens Spahn admitted in an interview that the infection numbers used to justify with COVID-19 measures are fake.
Although it is true that Spahn had talked about a large number of false-positive test results on the Anne Will talk show, he did so in reference to antigen swab tests, and not PCR tests. PCR tests, which are sent to a lab, are the kind used to calculate incidence rates and determine COVID-19 measures in Germany, AFP Factcheck reported.
FALSE CLAIM: Floods in Germany were deliberately created to influence poll ratings ahead of the election.
There is no evidence for the claim that the floods in July 2021 in Germany had been orchestrated for political reasons. Scientists have attributed the flooding to high rainfall possibly caused or accelerated by climate change: “With climate change we do expect all hydro-meteorological extremes to become more extreme. What we have seen in Germany is broadly consistent with this trend,” Carlo Buontempo, the director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, told The Guardian. Johannes Quaas, a meteorologist at Leipzig University in eastern Germany told Deutsche Welle that climate change is “changing the definition of normal weather. We are slowly approaching a new normal that includes different rainfall patterns.” Quaas explained that “As an industrial country, Germany is heating up twice as fast as the global warming rate. That means the chances of heavy rainfall are 20 percent higher compared to the 19th century.”
FALSE CLAIM: Starting this fall, the German federal government is planning to make shopping in supermarkets only possible for people with proof of vaccination.
The reporting refers to an initial draft from Aug. 2 by the federal Health Ministry on tightening Corona measures starting in fall of 2021. This draft does not speak of an exclusive right only for vaccinated people to shop in supermarkets. The draft also calls for Germany to rely on vaccination, testing, and recovery records instead of a hard lockdown as the number of confirmed COVID-19-cases rise. According to the Ministry of Health, from early/mid-September, “regardless of the infection rates,” participation in certain events and activities in Germany should only be allowed for those vaccinated, recovered and tested (“3G”). Thus, unvaccinated individuals may also participate in these events by presenting a negative Corona test result. However, above certain thresholds, “contact restrictions and limitation of participation or exclusion of participation of unvaccinated people at events and in restaurants (“2G rather than 3G”) may also be necessary.”
There is no reason to believe that the German government plans to exclude unvaccinated people from shopping in supermarkets, and such a proposal is not in the Federal Ministry’s draft. Even the decisions of the federal and state governments taken later (after the date of publication of the articles on the above-mentioned websites) do not include this.
FALSE CLAIM: Police killed a Querdenker protester who was a founding member of the party “dieBasis.”
The Berliner Zeitung reported that a 49-year-old man from North Rhine-Westphalia died on Aug. 1, 2021, in police custody after being arrested. He was a founding member of the party “dieBasis“, which is also running in the federal elections. The man had been arrested during the “Querdenker” protests in Berlin after allegedly breaking through a police cordon and knocking over and injuring a police officer. He collapsed in the presence of police officers and rescue workers and later died at the Charité hospital. The spokesman of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Martin Steltner, stated that “there are no indications of external force causing death in the context of the arrest.” The preliminary result of the autopsy lists a heart attack as the cause of death. It is therefore misleading to say the man was “killed” because there is no evidence so far of a causal link between the police arrest and the man’s death.
FALSE CLAIM: The federal government’s aid to those affected by the flood is “so small” because in 2014 the government decided to divert money from the flood relief fund to refugees.
Correctiv.org assessed this statement in August 2021 as largely false, because the reconstruction fund after the 2013 floods had nothing to do with the current flood aid, and the federal government had not decided in 2014 to spend money from the fund for refugees at that time. According to media reports, there were plans in 2014 to give unused funds to the states for housing asylum seekers, but that was never implemented. Instead, the unused €1.8 billion flowed back into the federal budget in 2015 and 2016. Such unused funds are then no longer earmarked.
FALSE CLAIM: There is no valid electoral law in Germany.
Although it is true that in 2008, the German Constitutional Court announced that the Federal Election Act would have to be reformed within three years, as it violated the constitution in certain points, the president of the court never said that all elections since 1956 had been invalid or that the upcoming elections would be invalid. At the time, the German Bundestag routinely exceeded the intended number of party mandates, because of an issue called “negative voting weight,” which occurs when a party wins more direct mandates than it is entitled to according to the second votes. (These additional seats are called overhang mandates, or Überhangmandate.)
Consequently, in September 2011, a coalition of the CDU and FDP passed a new electoral law, which was again overturned by the Constitutional Court in June 2012, until it was reworked and a final electoral law approved in 2013. (The new law allows for overhang mandates to be counterbalanced by compensatory mandates, or Ausgleichsmandate.)
The false claim in the article is based on a July 2012 Tagesschau report, in which a reporter said that “The president of the court has stressed that we do not have a valid electoral law at the moment” — referring to the decision of the court to overturn the CDU and FDP electoral law in summer 2012. There is no evidence that past elections were held invalidly or that that’s the case for the September 2021 election.
FALSE CLAIM: No public institution has the right to distribute election notices or hold elections.
This false claim is based on the prior false claim that there is no valid electoral law in Germany, thus concluding that all elections since 1956 have been invalid and all elected politicians and other government officials were voted into their positions illegitimately and are not authorized to enact new laws.
Election notifications are sent out by the municipalities, which are part of the administrative structure of the political system in Germany. They are not companies, but public institutions. They have territorial sovereignty and are thus authorised to carry out public administration activities, including the sending out of election notifications and conducting elections.
FALSE CLAIM: Hundreds of criminals were brought to Germany from Afghanistan.
It is true — as reported by Deutschlandfunk — that due to the emergency situation in Afghanistan, it was not possible to carry out security checks on all evacuees. As a result, approximately 20 people known to the security authorities for previous criminal offences were brought into Germany and are in custody of the authorities. However, there is no evidence for the claim that hundreds of criminals were intentionally or unintentionally brought to Germany.
FALSE CLAIM: Minister President Markus Söder is deliberately obstructing access to an upcoming referendum by making COVID-19 tests paid (they were previously free of charge) on the day of the referendum.
Although it is true that as of Oct. 11, 2021, COVID-19 tests will no longer be available free of charge in Germany, the new regulations do not require a negative test to attend the referendum. The Bavarian state government, the city of Munich, and the initiators of the referendum confirmed to AFP that no COVID-19 tests were required to vote in the referendum. Only infection control measures such as wearing masks apply to the voting locations. Furthermore, the new COVID-19 regulations were not decided by Söder alone, but by all federal and state governments together.
FALSE CLAIM: Saskia Esken, co-leader of the SPD, said in an interview: “It’s time for Germans to learn sacrifice.”
As Correctiv and AFP reported, Saskia Esken did not say that Germans must learn renunciation. A photo circulating on Facebook shows a false quote from Esken citing a February 2021 interview with Zeit Online as the source. However, the interview in question — during which Esken spoke about the benefits of voluntarily cutting back on certain activities such as flying — does not include this quote. Philipp Geier, spokesperson for the SPD party executive, also told AFP: “I can confirm that Ms. Esken never said this sentence.” The made-up quote appears to be a distorted interpretation of Esken’s statement in the interview, “We have to think about how we can have less of some things without losing quality of life, and sometimes even gain some. That applies to driving, to flying and also to meat.”
FALSE CLAIM: A study proves that election fraud in Germany is not the exception, but the rule.
As Correctiv reported, it is not true that the mathematical analysis by Goerres and Breuninger from 2011 proves that systematic electoral fraud occurred in past federal elections. The results of this study have been misinterpreted. It is true that in the study, the two authors examined possible irregularities in the federal elections between 1990 and 2005 in the Federal Republic. For the investigation, they used a mathematical law (Benford’s law), with which irregularities in statistics can be discovered. According to a 2013 summary of the study, written by Goerres, overall the results give “little cause for concern,” and that one can only speculate about the reasons for the deviations from Benford’s law, for example human errors in the counting of votes or regional dominance of individual parties. Goerres further clarified, given that the electoral process in Germany is complex and multi-layered, there have been surprisingly few violations of Benford’s law. The analysis is therefore no “reason to doubt the legitimacy of the election count,” he said.
FALSE CLAIM: Results of the Bundestag election had already been determined before Election Day, as proven by a ticker tape with projections, which was shown during a quiz-show on the German public broadcaster ARD.
On Friday, September 24, two days before the 2021 federal election, projections for the election were shown for a few seconds in a quiz show on ARD. However, ARD explained that it was a test graphic that had been broadcast by mistake. As fact checks by Correctiv and AFP report, these ARD figures were a test and did not show a true election projection. “Das Erste” carried out tests in preparation for the elections, which were only supposed to be shown in the inactive broadcasting area. The actual results of the Bundestag election also differed from what was shown.
FALSE CLAIM: The SPD and the Green party are trying “behind-the-scenes” to install Saskia Esken instead of Olaf Scholz as chancellor.
Correctiv reported in September that this claim, which was also shared hundreds of times on Facebook, was fictitious. The origin of this claim can be traced to a September 2021 Focus article about three scenarios after the election, which also noted that according to the German constitution, it is still possible for other German politicians to become chancellor under specific circumstances. While Focus makes it clear that the scenarios described are merely possible scenarios, Deutschland-Kurier adopted the statements as factual assertions. An SPD spokeswoman told Correctiv that it was “nonsense” that the party plans on appointing Saskia Esken as chancellor and that “The entire SPD has been fighting unitedly for weeks and months for Olaf Scholz to become the next chancellor for Germany.”