BERLIN — Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats are poised to win a state election in the northern region of Lower Saxony giving the party a key boost as it grapples with a national energy crisis, according to preliminary results announced after voting closed on Sunday.
The projection is based on early counting and is subject to change, but as it stands the SPD is projected to come in first with 33.1 percent of the vote, with the center-right Christian Democrats in second place with 27.9 percent and the Greens in third with 14.1 percent, according to the results as of 6:55 p.m.
“We fought and we have won tonight,” said Stephan Weil, the SPD’s regional leader and current state prime minister, after the early results were announced.
The Free Democrats, which govern with the SPD and the Greens at the federal level, are expected to have only just passed the critical 5 percent threshold for entering the regional parliament in Hannover.
A clear SPD victory in the swing state, which it has governed as the biggest party since 2013, is important because it is trailing in federal polling as Germany faces an energy crisis and rapidly rising inflation.
The projection also reports that the right-wing Alternative for Germany party sharply increased its vote share to 11.8 percent in Lower Saxony.
Turnout in the election was expected to be lower than the previous two regional ballots in 2012 and 2017. The vote determines who runs the state of 8 million, home to major manufacturing sites and industrial giants like Volkswagen.
Energy policy played a major role in the campaign, with utility rates soaring and the region set to host Germany’s first liquefied natural gas terminals at ports in Wilhelmshaven and Stade aimed at easing supply problems.
Both the SPD’s current regional leader, Weil, and his CDU counterpart, Bernd Althusmann, had agreed that measures were needed to reduce dependence on Russian gas, but they disagreed over the federal government’s decision to close a nuclear power plant at Emsland in the far northwest of the state.
It remains to be seen whether the SPD and Greens will hold enough seats to build their preferred coalition locally, booting the CDU out of the state government.