The Alternative for Germany nonetheless vowed to shake the consensus politics of Germany. Alexander Gauland, one of AfD’s leaders, told party supporters after the results that in parliament: “We will go after them. We will claim back our country.”
To cheers, he said: “We did it. We are in the German parliament and we will change Germany.”
While both Ms. Merkel and the Social Democrats lost significant voter support from 2013, her victory vaults her into the ranks of Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl, the only post-war chancellors to win four national elections.
Now 63, the election is a remarkable capstone for her, the first East German and the first woman to become chancellor.
It also represents a vindication of her pragmatic leadership and confidence in her stewardship of Europe’s largest economy and of the European Union itself in the face of populist revolts, challenges from Russia and China and uncertainty created by the unpredictable policies of President Trump.
Ms. Merkel’s conservative bloc won 32.5 percent of the vote, according to the ARD exit poll — sharply down from 41.5 percent in 2013.
The Social Democrats slumped to 20.0 percent, a new post-war low, according to the exit poll, down from 25.7 percent four years ago.
If the Social Democrats hold to their intention to go into opposition, Ms. Merkel will be faced with an unusually difficult task to form a working coalition.
Given the numbers, it would seem that she will have to cobble together her own Christian Democrat-Christian Social Union bloc together with two other parties.
The new partners inhabit virtually opposite poles on the political spectrum — the pro-business Free Democrats, who won some 10.5 percent of the vote, and the left-leaning pro-environment Greens, who won 9.5 percent, again according to the ARD…