German voters are going to the polls on Sunday amid predictions that the country’s far right will win seats in the Bundestag for the first time in half a century.

Surveys show the populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party comfortably taking third place in the election, with a noticeable upward trend continuing into the last week of the campaign.

Angela Merkel is expected to be easily returned as Chancellor for the third election straight with a predicted 34 per cent over the vote, with her main rivals – and current grand coalition partners – the centre-left SPD set to poll a dismal 21 per cent.

But the exact shape her government will take after the election is uncertain, with an array of coalition options involving the SPD, the centre-right liberal FPD, or even the Greens, who sometimes cooperate with Ms Merkel’s CDU party at the state level. The final week of campaigning has also seen volatile changes to all the parties’ vote shares, raising the possibility of a last-minute upset.

Ahead of the election an average of major polls showed the far-right AfD on 13 per cent of the vote, ahead of left-wing Die Linke (11 per cent), the FDP and the Greens (eight per cent). The results would leave the AfD, which currently has representatives in 13 out of the country’s 16 local state assemblies, with about 70 seats in the national parliament. 

There has been speculation the AfD could do even better than polls suggest because of Germans keeping their support for the party secret. One survey commissioned by the tabloid newspaper Bild suggested 40 per cent of Germans believe the party will do better than expected.

The party has won support despite a series of scandals during the election period. Alexander Gauland, the AfD’s deputy leader, caused anger after he suggested Germans should be proud of soldiers who fought in the Second World War – breaking a long-established political convention. 

He has also made racist comments about Angela Merkel’s minister for integration – suggesting that Aydan Özoguz, who has a Turkish family background, should be “disposed of” in Turkey.

The AfD was founded in 2013 as an anti-euro party, when it won 4.7 per cent of the vote in that year’s federal elections, narrowly missing the 5 per cent threshold for winning seats in the Bundestag. It has since taken a more explicitly anti-immigration and anti-Islam stance and seen its popularity grow – pledging to ban mosques, minarets and face veils. The party says it wants to take Angela Merkel to court for accepting refugees and campaigned under the explicit slogan “Islam is not a part of Germany”. Ahead of election day the party has covered Berlin and other cities in posters explicitly attacking Islam.

The party previously sat in the same European Parliament group as the British Conservative Party – the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) – but it was expelled after signing a cooperation agreement with the Austrian Freedom Party, a far right populist outfit. 

The closest the Bundestag has come to having far right MPs since the Second World War was the Deutsche Rechtspartei, or German Right Party, a hard right national conservative outfit that attracted former Nazis and won five seats in the 1949 federal election. It lost those seats at the next election. 

Other than the AfD, the most notorious contemporary German far right party is the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). The NPD has previously won scattered representation in local state parliaments but has failed to ever win any seats in the Bundestag. 

Earlier in the year the SPD’s vote share surged upon the appointment of its new leader Martin Schultz, but his honeymoon period faded quickly and the party is plumbing new depths of unpopularity.

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch, in the history of America,” John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, on July 3.

Just the day before, the resolution for American independence had passed a committee on which Adams served; he believed the committee vote should “be commemorated, as the day of deliverance” in which future Americans took part in “shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward evermore.”

It was thus that “games” and “sports” were forever intertwined with the very idea of America itself. And as much as fans of differing political ideologies try to keep sports and politics separate, they keep crashing into one another even 241 years after Adams’ declaration.

On Tuesday, host of ESPN’s “Sportscenter” Jemele Hill went on an extended Twitter tirade, accusing President Donald Trump of being a “white supremacist,” arguing Trump’s rise was the “direct result of white supremacy.” In responding to a commenter, Hill wrote that “Donald Trump is a bigot. Glad you could live with voting for him. I couldn’t, because I cared about more than just myself.”

Naturally, Hill’s tweets riled Trump supporters, who believed she was calling them white supremacists.

By Wednesday, even the president’s press secretary called Hill’s words a “firing offense.” (In fairness, pro-Trumpers, who are fond of mocking “snowflakes,” are quick to perform a theatrical Manu Ginobili-syle flop when challenged about their beliefs.) On Tuesday, ESPN issued a flaccid response merely saying Hill’s actions had been “inappropriate,” and on Wednesday night Hill issued a statement saying her comments “painted ESPN in an unfair light.”

Surely, Hill is perfectly within her rights to think whatever she wants. Many of the charges she made against Trump ring true; white supremacist groups appear to be gaining prominence, and the president has been woefully inadequate in condemning them. There’s no doubt that as a woman of color, her opinions reflect those of many African-Americans across the country; consequently, she has been hailed as “outspoken” and “authentic.”

Problem is, once anyone becomes a spokesperson for a company, he or she doesn’t get to demean and belittle that company’s potential customers. An employee doesn’t have the privilege of deciding who is fit to be a customer, especially when a company is struggling to keep the patrons it already has. If the woman who plays Snow White at Disney World spent her nights on Twitter complaining about all the snotty brats she had to deal with on a daily basis, not even Prince Charming could save her job at the park.

And for ESPN, the situation is dire.

Last year alone, the network lost nearly 3 million subscribers, so now seems like a bad time to have an employee try to drive half their remaining viewership away. In a time when young people are discontinuing their cable subscriptions in favor of streaming options, ESPN would be doing well to simply retain the viewers they have — but they’re now handing consumers an excuse to bail.

Perhaps the most pressing political issue for the network is the wild fluctuation in punishments meted out to their employees who do cross the line into politics. For instance, Hill was allowed to skate, while network legend Linda Cohn was reportedly punished for telling a pair of radio DJs that ESPN’s embrace of politics had hurt the network with its “core” viewers. (While it’s unclear whether Cohn was officially suspended, she was allegedly told to “take a day off” to “think about how her comments affected the network.”)

The message is obvious: Being “authentic” at the network is viewed differently based on ideological perspective. If a conservative “keeps it real,” they run the chance of being “real unemployed.”

And of course, there are the network’s disastrous forays into “wokeness.”

Last month, the network became a national laughingstock when it pulled announcer Robert Lee from a telecast in Charlottesville, Virginia, because he shared his name with the notable Confederate general. Conservatives rolled their eyes in 2015, when the ESPYs granted transgender Caitlyn Jenner a “courage” award over a teenage girl who had died of brain cancer, and earlier this year when espnW ran a poem dedicated to convicted cop-killer Assata Shakur. 

“I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense,” wrote famous polemicist H.L. Mencken. And it’s true — sports provides us the most exhilaration when we lock away our ability to think rationally.

But we can afford to be irrational about sports because ultimately, the results don’t matter all that much. Media organizations in need of eyeballs, however, can’t afford to lose their common sense, or the whole empire could go down.

Typically, insulting the very people a media outlet wants to keep buying its product has tended to be a sub-optimal business strategy — but a reader as smart and good-looking as you clearly already knew that.

Christian Schneider is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. 

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