Election Preview: Germany 2009

Bavaria votes!

Bavaria votes!

Germany goes to the polls to elect its Federal Diet, the Bundestag, today in the big finale to a mad electoral year in Germany. The Bundestag has atleast 598 seats, though it currently has 611 members and had 614 following the 2005 election. Exactly half of its members, 299 of them, are elected in single-member constituencies (or direct seats) by FPTP. The remaining seats, atleast 299 each election, often more, are allocated to the parties that have received over 5% of the vote nationally or atleast 3 direct seats via the Sainte-Laguë method of proportional representation. These seats are allocated the following way: if a party wins 10% of the vote in a 100-seat legislature, it is entitled to, say, 10 seats. The party wins 7 direct seats, then it gets 3 list seats to ‘proportionalize’ the result. For this reason, German voters will have two votes tomorrow: one vote for their local, or direct, representative in Berlin; and the other for a party-list. Oftentimes there ends up being more than 598 members – there were 614 members elected in 2005. That is because of overhang seats, which are ‘extra’ seats a party has since it has elected more direct members than it is proportionally entitled to. For example, in my previously used example, imagine the party was entitled to 10 seats but won 13 direct seats, then it would receive 13 seats since all directly elected members must sit- though ‘overhang members’ are not replaced if they resign.

For a brief overview of parties contesting, the major players are the conservative [historically Catholic christian-democratic] Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and it’s Bavarian sister-party, the Christian Social Union (CSU); the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), one of Germany’s oldest party; the market liberal (neoliberal) Free Democratic Party (FDP); the centre-left Greens, one of Europe’s strongest green parties; and the Left, a new party formed by the West German WASG (left-wing dissidents of the SPD) and the East German post-communist PDS. Other parties which don’t currently hold seats include the Nazis (NPD), the far-right DVU and Republicans, and a bunch of minor joke parties. The Pirate Party has one member in the Bundestag, elected for the SPD in the last election.

The last election was held in 2005 and finally resulted in the formation of a so-called left-right Grand Coalition between the CDU-CSU and the SPD. Angela Merkel of the CDU became Chancellor, replacing Gerhard Schröder (SPD), who had been Chancellor since 1998 at the head of a SPD-Green coalition. The 2005 election result proved a disappointment for the CDU, who was widely expected to win a landslide victory and have the opportunity to form a coalition with its preferred coalition ally, the FDP. In the end, the election was one the closest elections in German history (the percentages are the results of the list vote):

SPD 34.2% (-4.3%) winning 222 seats (-29)
CDU 27.8% (-1.7%) winning 180 seats (-10)
FDP 9.8% (+2.5%) winning 61 seats (+14)
The Left.PDS 8.7% (+4.7%) winning 54 seats (+52)
Greens 8.1% (-0.5%) winning 51 seats (-2)
CSU 7.4% (-1.6%) winning 46 seats (-12)
NPD 1.6% (+1.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)

CDU-CSU Union 35.2% (-3.3%) winning 226 seats (-22)

I presented what I believe are the ‘notional’ district seat results in map format (there seems to have been some changes in borders in some states since 2005).

Germany 20052

Some little notes on the basic electoral geography of Germany in the present day. In the East, voting patterns are based less on sociological factors and more on personality factors (which explains the CDU’s above-average performances in Saxony). However, the West can be explained by more traditional sociological patterns: the survival of some Protestant vs. Catholic divide (once the main political divide) – which explains the strongly SPD areas in northern Hesse and much of eastern Lower Saxony – though these areas are also low-income and eastern Lower Saxony is also a bit industrial. Other SPD areas are located in the old coal-mining state of Saar, in the industrial-mining Ruhr basin, and in some urban (usually either less affluent or more trendy-lefty) areas. Bavaria, very clerical Catholic and conservative is the stronghold of the right and the CSU, the CDU’s sister-party. Even the Protestant Franconian areas are now CSU-dominated, and the remnants of a Protestant rural vote for the FDP (which is historically Protestant, though its modern patterns reflect almost quasi-exclusively affluence) are eliminated. However, the SPD won a few direct seats in Upper Franconia in 1998, and if they ever do win seats outside of Munich in Bavaria, it will be here. Schleswig-Holstein, a Protestant state, is normally more left-leaning with SPD support in rural Protestant areas, but the CDU broke through quite well in 2005 here. Needless to say, the CDU, albeit historically Catholic and even though the CDU’s best areas are usually strongly Catholic, the CDU has a much larger electoral base than the Centre Party of the Wilhelmine and Weimar eras – which was exclusively Catholic. It is now a cross-religious conservative party.

As mentioned above, the FDP’s patterns now quasi-exclusively reflect affluence except some parts in, I think, the Rhineland-Palatinate. Although they were originally a Protestant party – it won direct seats in the 1950s in northern Hesse and Upper Franconia (the Protestant area of devoutly Catholic Bavaria), it now polls relatively poorly in those areas, especially compared to the very affluent suburbs of Frankfurt, Munich or Stuttgart. As much as the FDP is a predominantly suburban party, since that’s where the cash is, the Greenies are a urban party. They poll double-digits, sometimes up in the 20% range, in Germany’s largest urban centres: Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart. Within those cities, the Greenies’ best areas aren’t really poorer industrial areas but rather middle-class areas which tend to be more ‘bohemian’ or the centre of New Left type voters. The Green’s only direct seat is Berlin-Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg-Prenzlauer Berg Ost, which has a large Turkish population (Turkish immigrants vote either Green or SPD, probably more Green this year since the Green co-chairman, Cem Özdemir, is a Turk) and is also a New Left/hippie area. The Greenies other top area is the ecologist town of Freiburg on the Rhine.

A Java map of the list vote results from 2005 is available here. Ditto for the direct vote.

This election was also supposed to be slam dunk for the CDU-CSU/FDP coalition which everybody knew was the CDU’s preferred outcome. Merkel’s CDU has been the main benefactor of the government’s relative popularity, while the SPD’s participation has benefited the Left and the Greens. In addition, some economically right-wing CDU voters have switched to the FDP, which has resulted in a string of impressive electoral showings for the FDP in 2009 and the federal election might just be the FDP’s highest point since 1949! However, the decline of voting intentions for the CDU seems inevitable in Germany, and, as in 2005, the trend has continued. The CDU has slid back approximately to levels equal or below its 2005 level, while the SPD has come back from polling 20% (a real low point for them) as in the June Euros, and back to slightly better 25-26% levels. Only the Left, FDP and Greens can be certain of polling better than in 2005. It’s very likely all three will poll over 10%. To make matters worse for the CDU, the party usually overpolls by 2-4%: in the 2009 Hessian state elections it polled 37% while polls gave it 41%.

Forsa, which has a CDU bias in its polling, predicts the following… CDU supporters must not be very happy about their prospects. For fun, I ran the numbers through a seat calculator.

CDU-CSU 33% winning 210 seats (-16)
SPD 25% winning 159 seats (-63)
FDP 14% winning 89 seats (+28)
Left 12% winning 76 seats (+22)
Greens 10% winning 64 seats (+13)
Others (Pirates, Nazis) 6%

Election.de predicts the CDU-CSU will win 195 direct seats, the SPD 99, the Left 4 and the Greens 1.  In addition, an interesting factor in this election might be the Pirate Party, which seems to have a promising future in Germany. The party could gain votes from Greens who are unhappy about the party’s recent shenanigans over state coalitions in Saar and Thuringia. While I don’t see them breaking 5%, they could steal some votes from the Greenies and reduce the number of Green seats. The Pirate Party has also had a major membership boost since the European elections.

WorldElections predicts:

CDU-CSU 31% winning 197 seats (-29)
SPD 26% winning 166 seats (-56)
FDP 15% winning 95 seats (+34)
Left 12% winning 76 seats (+22)
Greens 10% winning 64 seats (+13)
Others 6%

My numbers give the CDU-FDP 46% against 48% for SPD-Left-Greens. While the SPD’s candidate for Chancellor, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has excluded a coalition with the Left, many see that he could renege on his commitment if the prospect of government looms. On my numbers, coalitions with a majority include: CDU-CSU-SPD (363), Jamaica [CDU-FDP-Greens] (356), Traffic Light [SPD-Greens-FDP] (325), and of course SPD-Left-Greens (306). CDU-FDP would lack a majority (292). I see a Grand Coalition as most likely, followed by SPD-Left-Greens. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a Traffic Light involving the FDP, especially under its current right-wing leader, Guido Westerwelle, and the FDP ruled that out in 2005. A Jamaica is unlikely, given the relationship between the FDP and Green parties and also considering the electoral effect on the Greens of the CDU-Green coalition in Hamburg.

Of course, there is the chance that the CDU could do better than predicted thanks to overhang seats, which are hard to predict, but there is little talk of a massive CDU overhang advantage like there was during the summer.

Also being held tomorrow are two state elections: one in Brandenburg (the vast state all around Berlin, including Potsdam and Frankfurt-on-the-Oder) and Schleswig-Holstein (Germany’s northernmost state, including Kiel and its canal).

Brandenburg 2004

SPD 31.9% (-7.4%) winning 33 seats (-4)
Left 28% (+4.7%) winning 29 seats (+7)
CDU 19.4% (-7.1%) winning 20 seats (-5)
DVU 6.1% (+0.8%) winning 6 seats (+1)
Greens 3.6% (+1.7%)
FDP 3.3% (+1.4%)

The SPD has been dominant since reunification in the poor state of Brandenburg, and even won an absolute majority alone in 1994. The Left’s gains have hurt the party, though the CDU remains very weak in the state. The government is formed by the SPD and CDU.

The latest poll gives the SPD 32%, the Left 27%, the CDU 22%, the FDP 7% and the Greens 5%. The DVU is polling crap and should lose all its seats. The SPD-CDU government would keep its majority, but a SPD-Left government would also have a majority.

Schleswig-Holstein 2005

CDU 40.2% (+5.0%) winning 30 seats (-3)
SPD 38.7% (-4.4%) winning 29 seats (-12)
FDP 6.6% (-1.0%) winning 4 seats (-3)
Greens 6.2% (nc) winning 4 seats (-1)
SSW 3.6% (-0.5%) winning 2 seats (-1)

The SSW represents the Danish and Frisian minorities in South Schleswig and is therefore excluded from the 5% threshold requirement. The CDU won back control of Schleswig-Holstein, a left-leaning ‘swing state’ from the SPD-Greens in 2005 after losing it in 1988. This election is a snap election after the CDU-SPD government broke down. In recent days, the CDU’s numbers descended rapidly and a SPD-Green-Left-SSW government looked possible until the SSW, which will likely win 2 or 3 seats, ruled out a coalition with the Left.

The current poll numbers give the CDU 31%, the SPD 28%, the FDP 14%, the Greens 13%, the Left 6% and the SSW 4%. Coalition options include CDU-SPD (again?) or CDU-FDP-Green.

Breaking: Early information reports low turnout, lower than in 2005, something which benefits the CDU… Maybe CDU-FDP isn’t only a wet dream now for rightists… There are also rumours of a late SPD-to-Left swing, but election day rumours are fail. Exit polls will be released at noon EST.

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Posted on September 27, 2009, in Brandenburg, Election Preview, Germany, Regional and local elections, Schleswig-Holstein. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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