How are the Germans

What makes the Germans tick?

We know a lot about the political views of Germans

How do the Germans "tick"? Many people are asking themselves that at the moment, not just the Germans themselves. We know a lot about the political views of Germans; there are new election barometers every week. Much is also known about consumption because companies want to know who is buying their products.

Nevertheless, the past year has brought many surprising insights into our people that some would not have expected: for example, that many Germans show a great willingness to help people from other countries who are politically persecuted in their home country. But also that there is an astonishingly large number of people in the country who feel abandoned by politics and distrust the traditional media.

Surveys collect opinions, not feelings or fears

One reason for the surprise: Most opinion polls only ask for opinions, but not feelings, fears and sensitivities. In the book How we Germans tick Holger Geißler and I asked our compatriots questions that at first glance are apolitical, but say a lot about the situation of Germans in 2015.

The impetus for the book came from the survey agency YouGov, which in addition to the surveys commissioned by customers wanted to publish an entire collection with answers to questions that shed light on the lives of Germans from all possible angles. I got the offer to supervise the book as an author.

All questions were possible - any topic, without taboos - and all answers would be representative of the adult German population. I felt like I was holding a magic wand of knowledge that I just had to wave, and it answered every question - as long as it started with "What percentage of Germans ...?"

Brainstorm for the questionnaire

In order to compile the results for this book, around 1000 people were interviewed in more than 80 surveys between September 2014 and April 2015. YouGov conducts its surveys online; the test subjects are selected at random from a large panel in such a way that a small image of the German population aged 18 and over is created.

48.5 percent men and 51.5 percent women took part in each of these surveys, 40.7 percent of those surveyed were older than 54 years, 9.2 percent between 18 and 24 years of age. Each sample was representative of origin by federal state, family income, religious beliefs, voting behavior in the last federal election and other demographic parameters.

Before that, however, the questionnaire had to be created. It started with a major brainstorming session between the author, publisher and agency, then the list had to be thinned out and expanded. And how it is when people are allowed to ask without hesitation:

We have three double pages on the subject of "Sex", but we could easily have filled six with it. It was the same with other topics - we couldn't ask a large part of the questions because a book only offers limited space.

Typically German - that's just the others!

The result is a mixture that we were ultimately only able to sort alphabetically. Of course we thought in subject areas: culture, social issues, private matters, sports and so on. But we have not dealt with the lives of Germans in a strictly systematic way. The mix of topics and questions is highly subjective. But despite all subjectivity, the result is a book that is not only entertaining. It is almost a sociological approach to the Germans in 2015.

Can the question of how Germans tick today can be summed up in a nutshell? Of course not. But some things stand out. It is true that the respondents list those things as "typically German" that correspond to the cliché: According to this, Germans are punctual, conscientious and hardworking, but also stuffy and obedient to the authorities. On the other hand, if you ask them what properties they themselves have, the picture looks completely different, many want nothing to do with these clichés.

The surveys show that opinions on many questions have changed radically in recent years: 63 percent think that same-sex partnerships should be treated as equal in every respect to marriage between men and women - unthinkable ten years ago.

In the polls, Germans say they are enlightened, environmentally friendly and politically extremely "correct". On the other hand, there are attitudes that change only slowly: Two thirds of people over 55 claim that when they meet a German their age, they can tell immediately whether he is from the East or the West. Only a third of 18- to 24-year-olds believe this.

Some of the results are thought-provoking

And then there are results that make you think: If in the federal states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Thuringia only 33 percent say the current political order is the best we've ever had - what past order do the other two thirds have in mind? Here lies the potential from which Pegida draws and of which we have seen little in political surveys before.

Am I actually normal? Is what I think, feel, and do average or extraordinary? Are most of the others like me, or do I belong to a minority, an exclusive one perhaps?

People like to read opinion polls because they want to compare themselves, to determine their position in society. That's what makes our book so entertaining. But people can also be influenced by the opinions of others who read them in surveys. These surveys often herald social upheavals long before they reach politics.

Author: Christoph Drösser