Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate (Germany) 2011

The state elections we were all waiting for in Germany were held on March 27 in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Baden-Württemberg made history by electing the first Green head of government in Germany.


The southern German state of Baden-Württemberg is a traditional stronghold of the centre-right: the CDU has always been the strongest party, was held under 40% in only five elections, has held the top office in the state since 1953 and has governed in a traditional black-yellow coalition with the liberal FDP since 1996. The FDP has traditionally been quite strong in Baden-Württemberg, taking nearly 19% in the 2008 federal election and nearly 11% in the 2006 state election. It used to be much stronger at the state level in the 50s and 60s (when the party had a strong Protestant base). On the left, the SPD is generally weak but the Greenies have been quite strong in Baden-Württemberg, taking 14% in the 2008 federal election and 12% in the 2006 state election. The university and green city of Freiburg has been one of the Greens’ strongest spots anywhere in Germany.

Incumbent CDU Minister-President Stefan Mappus has been rather unpopular. The Stuttgart 21 project which aims to completely revamp Stuttgart’s central railway station through demolition of some old buildings has been very controversial and the Green’s opposition to it has helped them significantly. In late 2010, the Greens were polling extremely high (peaking at 36%) but their votes came down and risked falling back to third behind the SPD. But as the Greens were fading away and risked falling back into third, their second boost came from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Nuclear power is very controversial in Germany and a major issue particularly in Baden-Württemberg which has a number of nuclear power plants. Exploiting the issue, the Greens shot back ahead of the SPD. The federal government’s attempt to open the nuclear debate was seen as an electoral ploy and FDP Economics Minister Rainer Brüderle was dumb enough to admit it in public. Green-SPD relations are very good in Baden-Württemberg, and the SPD had already agreed to an unprecedented Green-Red coalition if the Greenies pipped them for second (the CDU was taking first in all polls). And they did, and broke all records. Turnout was 66%, up from 53% in 2006.

CDU 39% (-5.2%) winning 60 seats (-9)
Greens 24.2% (+12.5%) winning 36 seats (+19)
SPD 23.1% (-2.1%) winning 35 seats (-3)
FDP 5.3% (-5.4%) winning 7 seats (-8)
Linke 2.8% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 2.1% (+2.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 3.5% (-1.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)

With 24.2%, the Greens won their best result in any German state election and probably one of their best if not their best in any regional or national election anywhere in the world (I believe the previous record was 22% or so for the Flemish Groen! in 1999). In doing so, they became the second largest party and because the left took 71 seats to the right’s 67, it will be able to form the first green-red coalition in Germany with Green leader Winfried Kretschmann as Minister-President. This isn’t the first Green head of regional government, the French Greens, for example, held that spot in Nord-Pas-de-Calais between 1992 and 1998; but it is probably the first Green head of government who has won that office by being the biggest party on the left or overall (the Green presidency in 1992 in NPDC was a compromise between left and right to solve a deadlocked legislature).

The Greens took nine direct seats. It won three seats in Stuttgart, two in Freiburg and one in Mannheim, Heidelberg, Konstanz and Tübingen. All of these places have universities of some kind. The SPD won one seat in Mannheim, seemingly in the most working-class part of the city.

A victory for the left is a major setback for both the local and national CDU and the black-yellow CDU-FDP federal coalition led by Angela Merkel. The FDP won its worst result ever (as did the SPD). The Left might have been a victim of the Green surge, as it failed to make any impact.


The vote in Rhineland-Palatinate wasn’t as much of a big deal. The SPD has been in office in 1991, and has governed alone since 2006 under Kurt Beck who has been holding the top spot since 1994. The state CDU seems particularly inept despite the state’s traditional conservatism. Kurt Beck is popular and is a potential contender for the federal Chancellorship in the next federal election.

SPD 35.7% (-9.9%) winning 42 seats (-11)
CDU 35.2% (+2.4%) winning 41 seats (+3)
Greens 15.4% (+10.8%) winning 18 seats (+18)
FDP 4.2% (-3.8%) winning 0 seats (-8)
Linke 3% (+0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FW 2.3% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 4.1% (-0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)

The Green surge even touched down big in Rhineland-Palatinate, where the Greens have always been weak. They broke through to win 15%, their best ever in the state (obviously) but also up there with the best Green performances anywhere in Germany. Aside from them being the clear winners, the CDU got a positive record out of this one but the SPD and especially the FDP are the clear loses. Kurt Beck, however, will still have a comfortable majority with a red-green coalition.

Religion seems to be an important divide on the map here. The Catholic areas went for the CDU, while the Protestant areas (and urban areas) went for the SPD.

Next stop is Bremen, the previous record holder for best Green state election performance in 2007. It votes on May 22.


Posted on March 28, 2011, in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Regional and local elections, Rhineland-Palatinate. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Should be said, also, that BW Greenies seem to be particularly conservative in their general outlook. They’re not the 19-year old tree-hugging pot-smoking hippies they might be portrayed as.

  2. “I believe the previous record was 22% or so for the Flemish Groen! in 1999”

    I don’t know if it was a worlwide record then, but the highest core for Agalev (the flemish green party as it was named then) was 11-12% in 1999 (depending on the chosen baloot – there were four simultaneous elections).

  3. Do you know where I can find the evolution of polling in BW ? I’m curious to see how the dynamics of the race worked.

  4. @ Bancki: Here I am, looking like an idiot. I meant Ecolo, which won 22.7% in the 1999 EU elections in the French-electoral college. I think that’s the previous record, with some previous highs in the 18-20% in Belgium and France.

    @Antonio: Here’s the chart of polling:

    Seems like you had a late 2010 Green surge, a February-March 2011 decline below the SPD, and a post-Japan Green surge again. Also shows how the Linke underperformed big time.

  5. Thank you ! Very interesting election, in any case. Let’s hope to see other races like this in Bremen, Berlin and Mecklenburg.

    BTW, the new Bundesrat will have a left-wing plurality with 30 seats, against 25 to the right and and 14 to great coalitions. Things should get quite harsher for the government.

  6. And how do I look like admitting to have forgotten to check the score of the green party on the other side of our language border?

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