It is a defeat that was announced. The SPD remains at a low level and is far from regaining its former strength. What’s more: According to initial projections, the Chancellor’s party has fallen to a new record low, even undercutting its historically poor result in the last European elections in 2019. They did not even achieve half as many percentage points as the CDU/CSU, against whom they were particularly fierce in this election campaign.

On election night, SPD leader Saskia Esken spoke of a “bitter result”. The Chancellor nevertheless has the SPD’s full confidence. Now it will be a question of how the SPD can make its messages clearer. In the traffic light coalition, it is necessary to find a “new type of cooperation”.

Katarina Barley, the SPD’s top candidate for Europe, was also disappointed – and a little surprised – by her party’s dramatic result. The experience of the election campaign was different, she said with concern in the evening at the Willy Brandt House. However, none of the democratic parties had benefited from the “democracy movement” that took place at the beginning of the year, Barley said. By this she was apparently referring to the protests against right-wing extremism that took place in Germany in January and February.

SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert announced that his party would now “search for errors” within itself. Despite the desolate situation of the Social Democrats, Kühnert was combative: “But we will not go into sackcloth and ashes,” he said. The promise is rather: “We will fight our way out of this.” The General Secretary did not explain how this could be achieved, however.

In any case, the SPD’s concept has not worked at all. During the election campaign, Kühnert described the statement by EU Commission President and EPP lead candidate Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) that she would also cooperate with parties of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) – that is, the group in the European Parliament that is considered in parts to be right-wing populist and critical of the EU – as “flirting with right-wing radicals”.

Barley also never missed an opportunity in her campaign appearances to express her rejection of right-wing extremism. But it didn’t help the SPD. In the projections, it is well behind the AfD and thus in third place, despite all the scandals that have shaken the far-right party.

The SPD has certainly taken some of the public’s moods into account. The fact that the Social Democrats have promoted their peace agenda so strongly has something to do with not only their party-political identity, but also with polls. For example, a clear majority of the German population, like Chancellor Scholz, was against the delivery of the Taurus cruise missile to Ukraine; and overall, fears of an expansion of the war have grown among citizens. Whether you think this is politically right or not, it was not a wrong decision, at least from an electoral perspective, to emphasize peace so much in this election campaign.

One reaction to current debates is likely to be the tightening of migration policy, which is being clearly pushed forward by the SPD. In the final stages before the European elections, Scholz once again struck a clear tone in his government statement and called for consistent deportations of criminals, even if they come from Afghanistan and Syria.

But no matter how hard the SPD tries to occupy new ground, its biggest problem has not been solved. It has lost its core clientele and is still unable to present itself as a credible representative of employees and the hard-working middle class, in whose name it claims to speak. The result of the European elections is the price to pay for a series of decisions made in recent years, through which the SPD has become increasingly distant from the “ordinary people” whose rights and interests it once wanted to stand up for.

At the same time, the Social Democrats have adopted a characteristic of their Chancellor – not to their advantage at all: criticism and doubts about their course roll off them like a Teflon pan. And so many comrades have recently been practicing expedient optimism. Things probably won’t be quite that bad, was often heard in the days before the election.

Now, however, the criteria of what is considered “bad” from a social democratic perspective have shifted dramatically. The exception has become the rule, and the traumatic record low has become the norm. Five years ago, the dramatic outcome of the European elections, when the SPD lost 11.5 percentage points and slipped to 15.8 percent, led to a collective shock in the party. In theory, the SPD now wants more, but would have been satisfied if the party at least did not do worse than last time. In vain: Even the last shred of hope of the battered social democrats has not been confirmed.

However, their strategy of mobilizing everything that could attract voters just before the end did not work. This may also be linked to the completely unsuccessful election campaign, which made the SPD stand out in an unpleasant way. Nothing was right here – neither the crooked photo collages in which Scholz and Barley were photographed offset, nor the too brief messages that caused misunderstandings with the term “middle”, for example. The last election ad was intended to convince with a choir that deliberately sang off-key to illustrate the relevance of their own voice.

This was only surpassed by the posts on Instagram, which most recently showed a traditional family at the dinner table from the 1950s and next to it a multicultural-looking family from the present, captioned with the question: “In which Europe do you want to wake up tomorrow?”

It was not the first time that the SPD went way off the mark in its campaign, which is headed by Kevin Kühnert. After the xenophobic scandal on Sylt, when a group of visitors in a bar happily sang “Germany for the Germans, foreigners out”, the SPD published posts on its Instagram account that read, among other things, “Germany for the Germans who defend our democracy”. The shitstorm was not long in coming, and shortly afterwards the party deleted the post and apologized.

The failed appearance on social media is part of a chain of misjudgments that not only gave the SPD a miserable performance in the election campaign. It also unintentionally reflects the deep crisis of social democracy, which, despite all efforts to address new issues and to present a largely united front, has failed to clearly convey to citizens what it is actually there for.