Will Merkel's low-key, serious style win her a fourth term as chancellor of Germany?

A head-to-head televised debate on Sunday night could be the last chance for her main opponent Martin Schulz to open up the contest

(COMBO) This combination created on September 1, 2017 of file pictures shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party (L, on August 29, 2017 in Berlin) and Martin Schulz, leader of Germany's social democratic SPD party and candidate for Chancellor (June 27, 2017 in Berlin).
Angela Merkel, Germany's cool and collected chancellor, will go head-to-head Sunday, September 3, 2017, with her fiery challenger Martin Schulz in their only television debate before this month's general elections, in a crucial match that could sway millions of voters. / AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ

If the polls hold true, Angela Merkel is tantalisingly close to securing a fourth term victory when Germans vote in a general election later this month.

A head-to-head televised debate with the main opposition challenger on Sunday night is already being portrayed as the last chance for Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate and her main opponent, to open up the contest.

The latest poll published on Friday gave Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led block 39 per cent, 17 points ahead of the SPD. The centrist Free Democrats were on 10 per cent, meaning Mrs Merkel could form a coalition with the pro-business liberals.

Mr Schulz is not throwing in the towel and has pinned his hopes on floating voters being won over by his more rambunctious personality.  “Some 46 per cent of the voters remain undecided. I think we can still turn the tide,” he declared.

Known to Germans as the "television duel,” the Sunday show is an established feature of the quadrennial election. It is expected to draw almost 30 million viewers — or around half of the electorate, according to a poll by research firm Forsa. One in five of those polled said the debate could swing their vote.

The two candidates speak separately in question and answer sessions hosted by TV news anchors. Mrs Merkel threatened to stay away after the broadcasters proposed a more adversarial format, leading to accusations that she was afraid of confrontation."If an election campaign is defined as good only when people insult each other, then that's not my idea of what an election campaign is about," she retorted.

The long-serving chancellor is seeking to defy recent political history with her anti-campaign tactics. Virtually all the campaign stops are in constituencies won by her party in 2013. The danger is that she misses connecting with the voters, a flaw that has cost other campaigners dearly.

Theresa May was dubbed the Maybot for robotic sloganeering that fell flat in the British general election in June. Hillary Clinton exuded an almost pathological dislike of campaigning up close to the voters, which cost her key states like Wisconsin in November’s presidential election.

But Mrs Merkel’s defenders in the press believe she can prosper from a low-key approach.

“For Merkel this is the starting point, the longer she reigns, the more of the experience is credited to her, which Schulz does not have  and cannot have. Merkel exudes this fact through unrestrained calm. This has nothing to do with lulling the electorate or "asymmetrical demobilisation", especially nothing with "de-politicisation". This is politics without a circus,” political commentator Jasper von Altenbockum wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine.

Mr Schulz has warned that the chancellor is depriving the country of the opportunity to debate its future direction.

"The CDU has a concept, and that's Angela Merkel. That's supposedly enough for you all. We have a concept for the future of the next generation in this country," Mr Schulz said.

Pollsters believe there is an opportunity for Schulz to win on Sunday night. "The TV duel format, like spontaneity and eloquence, is not quite Merkel's strength," Forsa head Manfred Guellner said. "Schulz can benefit.”

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