BERLIN — Germans in three states are voting on Sunday in regional elections widely viewed as a test of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming policy toward refugees, amid growing discontent that has helped strengthen an upstart far-right party campaigning on an anti-immigrant platform.
Ms. Merkel, in power since 2005 and for years considered the European Union’s de facto leader, spent much of the past few weeks in town halls and community centers across the states — Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in the west, and Saxony-Anhalt in the east — backing local candidates for her conservative Christian Democratic Union.
Polls heading into the vote have indicated that the chancellor’s conservatives could struggle to maintain their control of the government in Saxony-Anhalt, and have difficulty ousting the governors of the two western states.
The biggest threat to Ms. Merkel’s party in Saxony-Anhalt is the Alternative for Germany, a protest party founded in 2013 in response to disillusionment with traditional parties’ handling of the sovereign debt crisis. The Alternative for Germany has since transformed into an anti-immigrant party, whose leader has said border guards might turn guns on anyone entering the country illegally.
Although all of the traditional parties have refused to even consider forming a government with the Alternative for Germany, the party was polling as high as 19 percent in Saxony-Anhalt and is expected to upset the traditional balance of coalition-building partners.
The Alternative for Germany is also poised to enter into the legislatures of both of the western states, a development that would raise its presence at the regional level to representation in half of the country’s 16 states.
In Baden-Württemberg, controlled for decades by Ms. Merkel’s center-right party, polls have indicated that voters are likely to seek consistency by supporting the left-leaning Greens, whose incumbent governor, Winfried Kretschmann, was swept into power five years ago over worries about nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
In Rhineland-Palatinate, the chancellor’s party is in a neck-and-neck race with its partners in the national government, the center-left Social Democrats, who appear poised for significant losses in the other two states
Such splintering of loyalties in a political system steeped in longstanding party alliances reflects the level of uncertainty many Germans feel as their country adjusts to accommodating and integrating several hundred thousand of the more than one million migrants who arrived last year seeking refuge from wars, or simply a better life.
Ms. Merkel’s open-door statements have also created rifts within Europe, where many traditional allies felt overrun by what they viewed as a one-sided decision. She struggled at a summit meeting in Brussels last week to galvanize support for a deal with Turkey aimed at preventing migrants from reaching the European Union’s outer borders.
That deal is to be sealed at an upcoming meeting on Thursday and Friday, and a poor showing in the elections at home risks leaving Ms. Merkel weakened heading into those negotiations.