North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany) 2010

North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s industrial heartland, voted in a major regional electoral test for the federal government on Sunday, May 9. North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany’s most populous state, and is the heart of Germany’s old coal mining industry and other heavy industry, concentrated in the famous Ruhr region. While the state also includes some strongly Catholic or rural areas, the power of the Ruhr’s vote has made NRW a traditional stronghold of the SPD since the 1960s. The SPD held the office of Minister-President of the state between 1966 and 2005, and between 1980 and 1995, the SPD had enough votes to form a single-party majority government, and held power with the smaller Greens between 1995 and 2005. The SPD was unexpectedly defeated in the 2005 state election, due in part to the unpopularity of the Schröder government. In 2005, the SPD won 37.1% of the vote against a strong 44.8% for the CDU, with the Greens and FDP each taking 6.2% of the vote. The SPD’s defeat in NRW led to a snap federal election in 2005, which the SPD narrowly lost. Jürgen Rüttgers became Minister-President with a CDU-FDP coalition.

It should be noted, however, that prior to the 60s, the state, which is heavily Catholic overall (especially the former Rhine Province) used to be a CDU stronghold, remnants of the Zentrum’s strength in the region during the Weimar era. The KPD was also very strong in the region during the Weimar era, oftentimes stronger than the SPD, and the KPD polled 14% in 1947 (and Zentrum’s remnants polled 9.8% in 1947 as well). The decline of religious power, and the emergence of the NRW SPD as a strong party of social justice and of opposition to the CDU-FDP did the CDU in, especially during the 1980s, the peak of the SPD’s strength in NRW.

In the 2009 federal election, the CDU won 33.1% of the vote against 28.5% for the SPD, 14.9% for the FDP, 10.1% for the Greens and 8.4% for the Left.

2005 was a test for the SPD, 2010 was a test for the CDU-FDP coalition federally led by Angela Merkel; NRW is indeed always a major electoral test for the government in Berlin. This time, the CDU suffered some backlash from the unpopularity of the bailout to Greece, while the FDP has been struggling a lot in polls after their historic high in 2009 due to the perceived incompetence of their ministers. Here are the results (second vote, of course):

CDU 34.6% (-10.3%) winning 67 seats (-22)
SPD 34.5% (-2.6%) winning 67 seats (-7)
Greens 12.1% (+5.9%) winning 23 seats (+11)
FDP 6.7% (+0.6%) winning 13 seats (+1)
Left 5.6% (+4.7%) winning 11 seats (+11)
Pirates 1.5% (+1.5%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ProNRW 1.4% (+1.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 3.6% (-1.2%) winning 0 seats
Turnout 59.3% (-3.7%)

In 2005, the SPD had managed to hold on to but a few seats almost entirely in the Ruhr and a few seats in Cologne and eastern Westphalia. This year, the SPD gained considerable ground in terms of direct seats, clearly dominating in the quasi-entirety of the Ruhr and returning to its traditional positions in Aachen, Cologne and Westphalia although the CDU held on to all three seats in Dusseldorf, where a high Green vote likely explains a lot. The SPD has basically return to its traditional bases out in eastern Westphalia, around the Lippe and Herford, Protestant areas with strong smaller industries and an area of old Protestant votes, even rural, for the SPD. The CDU, even with a quick glance at the map of majorities, narrowly held on to a lot of seats, including two (or three, not sure) seats in Cologne largely thanks to a high Green vote there, Cologne being one of the NRW Greens’ stronghold. The CDU is very strong in the very rural Catholic areas around Paderborn, but also in the agricultural north. It is weaker though important in the southeast, which is more urbanized (and suburbanized in parts, leading to a high FDP vote there). For more results, the state’s mapping applet is lots of fun, but it only works, seemingly, on IE and not on Chrome :(.

Analysis of voter movement to the Greens (source: Tagesschau or ARD)

The SPD’s victory kind of blurs the fact that they did indeed lose votes overall, making this electoral test for the SPD not entirely a success and a sign that they haven’t coalesced the opposition or the left-wing vote around them since their awful 2009 result. The last time the SPD was this low was in 1954. The SPD did gain votes in rural areas, but in urban areas, lost out to the Greens and Left. The real victors are the Greens, who have won their best result ever in the state, and goes well with the national trend of a slowly increasing Green vote in federal polls. The Left, which in NRW is actually formed largely by the old WASG – a group of left-wing dissidents from the SPD (Lafontaine was a member of the old WASG, of course), did rather poorly in NRW, which could be a fertile ground for them (and they did get 8% there in 2009). The Left did win around 17% of unemployed voters, but only 9% of ‘workers’; according to exit polls.  The FDP, while technically slightly better than in 2005, is, with the CDU, the major loser of this vote, because the FDP’s vote is much under their 2009 level, which could be a better comparison than 2005 if the SPD didn’t traditionally perform better at the state level than federal or local level.

The SPD-Greens had hoped to win an overall majority, but it falls one vote short of the 91 majority. The most likely options are thus SPD-Green-Left, with 101 seats and SPD-Green-FDP with 103 seats. The unlikely grand coalition has a wide majority, 134 seats. The SPD-Green-Left outcome seems most likely, even though there is some bad blood between the SPD and the Left, which, as said above, is largely ex-SPD in NRW. A red-red-green outcome would be the first such in western Germany excluding the unsuccessful coalition in 2008 in Hesse. Obviously, an Hamburg-like CDU-Green coalition is impossible and the Greens refuse a CDU-Green-FDP coalition. In any case, this all means that Hannelore Kraft, the SPD’s leader, will be the new Minister-President of NRW. The CDU-FDP’s defeat in NRW also means the end of the CDU-FDP’s majority in the Bundesrat, or upper house, where the state has 6 seats. The votes in the Bundesrat are cast not by individuals but by state as blocks, and the delegates of the respective states are nominated by the coalition – meaning that a red-red-green coalition would obviously appoint Social Democrats, Greens or Lefties to the Bundesrat, removing the CDU-FDP’s narrow majority in the Bundesrat.

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Posted on May 12, 2010, in Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia, Regional and local elections. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Where do you get the data to make those maps?

  2. In this particular case, the state election office and likewise for all other German elections. In general, your best bet are official electoral sites in the respective countries, and some countries have non-official sites with results which are quite good (in Canada, PunditsGuide.ca is far better than Elections Canada, for example).

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