The SPD won 25.7% of the vote, while the ruling conservative CDU/CSU bloc won 24.1%. The Greens achieved the best result in their party’s history, coming in third with 14.8% of the ballot.
According to Euronews, an exit poll for ARD public television put voters’ support at 25% each for the Social Democrats and Merkel’s center-right bloc under the likely successor Armin Laschet.
Another exit poll for ZDF public television put the Social Democrats ahead by 26% to 24%. Both put the environmentalist Greens in third place with about 15% support.
The far-right AfD, which entered the Bundestag for the first time four years ago, is expected to confirm its parliamentary foothold with around 10% but remains excluded from any possible coalition. The Left will also enter Parliament.
The biggest number of parties since the reunification of Germany, 47, took part in the federal elections. A record number of candidates, 6,211 struggled for the seats in the Bundestag, including 2,024 female candidates.