Berlin (Germany) 2011

Legislative elections were held in the German state of Berlin on September 18, 2011. All seats in Berlin’s state legislature, the Abgeordnetenhaus or House of Representatives were up for reelection. There are 78 members elected in single-member constituencies through what is called in Germany the ‘direct vote’ while the remaining are elected through party-list proportional representation with a 5% threshold for representation (this is called the ‘second vote’). If a party wins more constituency seats than its overall size of the vote, the size of the legislature increases from the minimum 130 because of these overhang mandates.

Berlin is and has traditionally been a left-wing stronghold. During the Weimar Republic, Berlin, the industrial and political centre of Germany, voted heavily for the Communists and SPD. West Berlin was governed by the SPD between 1957 and 1981. Today, Berlin’s economy is dominated by the service sector. The city has a diverse and vibrant cultural scene, it is ethnically diverse (27% have immigrant backgrounds) but also quite poor as it has the highest percentage of people living on social benefits in all 0f Germany. There remains a marked distinction both socially and politically between West Berlin and East Berlin. West Berlin is more affluent, while East Berlin remains largely poor and its skyline has a lot of East Germany’s stereotypical plattenbauten blocks (especially in Marzahn-Hellersdorf borough). Politically, West Berlin is still rather left-wing but the CDU is stronger, the Greens are stronger while Die Linke polls quite badly (though it won 11% in the 2009 federal elections, it polled only 4% in the last state elections). East Berlin is far more left-wing, and Die Linke is if not the first party then surely the second party. It has won direct seats in the Marzahn-Hellersdorf area (and beyond) in all federal elections since 1990 and won 34% of the vote in East Berlin in the 2009 federal elections. Between 1991 and 2001, the CDU was the largest party in the state legislature and the government was formed by a Grand Coalition led by the CDU’s Eberhard Diepgen. In 2001, a CDU scandal led to the collapse of the coalition and snap elections which saw a massive collapse of the CDU benefiting all other parties especially the SPD (29.7%) and the Left (22.6%). A rather rare red-red coalition of the SPD and Left was formed under the leadership of mayor Klaus Wowereit of the SPD. The coalition was reelected in 2006, with the SPD gaining marginally while the CDU collapsed to another low (21%). The Greens did well (13%) but the Left lost many votes (13.4%). Wowereit, who is gay, is a key figure in the national SPD and is generally seen as being on the party’s left. He is a potential candidate for the chancellorship in the next federal election.

Given Berlin’s left-wing nature and the Green surge of 2011 in all of Germany, Berlin’s election was expected to be a close battle between the SPD’s Wowereit and the Greens’ Renate Künast. Berlin is the strongest state for the Greens, who won 17% in the last federal election (and 11% federally). The Greens also hold their only direct seat in the Bundestag in Berlin, in the constituency taking in the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, a young, diverse and very hip district in downtown Berlin. Because the Greens polled up/are polling up to 18-20% in most polls, then it was normal to expect that they could be a very serious rival to Wowereit and be in good position to overtake the SPD for first place and form a green-red coalition (like that which won in Baden-Württemberg this spring). Polls between April and June showed the Greens either ahead, tied with or close behind the SPD in the race for first. However, Künast’s generally terrible campaign running to the right of the SPD did the Greens in and they gradually fell back from the highs of 27-31% to the low 20s and in the final days, down to 18-19%. In doing so, it collapsed into third place and generally at 2009 federal election levels – which is good, but considering that the Greens are not polling 11% federally but rather up to 20% is pretty poor for the Berlin Greens. Simply put, there is no excuse for the Greens to be placing third in Berlin when they’re on such an upswing everywhere. Final polling had the SPD comfortably ahead, with 30-32% while the CDU placed second with 21-22% and the Greens third with 18-20%. The Left polled poorly (11-12%) while the FDP, which won 7.6% in 2006, was barely registering – in line with the FDP’s total and utter pathetic collapse throughout Germany.

Turnout was 60%, marginally above 2006 levels (58%).

SPD 28.3% (-2.5%) winning 47 seats (-7)
CDU 23.4% (+2.1%) winning 39 seats (+2)
Greens 17.6% (+4.5%) winning 29 seats (+5)
Left 11.6% (-4.6%) winning 19 seats (-5)
Pirates 8.9% (+8.9%) winning 15 seats (+15)
NPD 2.1% (-0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDP 1.8% (-5.8%) winning 0 seats (-13)
Animals 1.5% (+0.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 4.7% (-5.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)

  • West Berlin: CDU 29.5% (+1.8%), SPD 28% (-3.4%), Greens 20.4% (+5.6%), Pirates 8.1%, Left 4.3% (+0.1%), FDP 2.3% (-7%), NDP 1.6% (-0.1%)
  • East Berlin: SPD 28.8% (-1%), Left 22.6% (-5.5%), CDU 14.2% (+2.8%), Greens 13.5% (+3%), Pirates 10.1%, NPD 2.9% (-1.1%), Animals 1.5% (+0.5%), PROD 1.4%, FDP 1.2% (-3.7%)

I am too lazy to make a map, but the offical site has some Java maps which freeze old computers, has maps down to the precinct level, Der Spiegel has its usual cool maps and there is a basic map of direct seat winners here and a good map of list votes by party here.

Wowereit’s SPD won the elections but did quite a bit worst than originally expected. This is Wowereit’s poorest result at the helm of the SPD in Berlin, and he himself lost his direct seat, though admittedly his direct seat is a right-leaning place. The overall discourse in the days leading up to the vote was that Wowereit’s SPD was basically undefeatable and that it was almost certain that whatever happened, he would remain mayor and the new coalition would be a left-leaning coalition though with the Greens replacing the Left. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the SPD ended up doing poorer than originally expected. There was little motivation for the SPD base to go out and vote given that the end result was basically a certainty. The SPD actually was defeated in West Berlin by the CDU, which scored minimal gains, which is nice for them but considering how low they were in 2006 and the FDP’s utter collapse is actually not all that impressive or surprising. In East Berlin, the SPD picked up six constituency seats from the Left, but otherwise they lost five to the Greens and six to the CDU.

The Greens did well when the result in set in a much broader perspective (it’s their best state election in Berlin ever, for example) but as aforementioned when you place their result in a narrower perspective and take in things such as the Green surge or the fantastic results won earlier this year in other state, their result is a bad result. They could have expected a much stronger result and at the very least second place. They did score five direct seat gains off of the SPD, the bulk of them in downtown West Berlin. They performed very well (30%) in their Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg stronghold (the CDU finished fifth there) and made gains across the board. But all things considered, it is a very disappointing result for them but one which they brought upon themselves with a poor campaign. They should, however, form a coalition with the SPD, a coalition which would have a tiny one-seat majority. It is unlikely that Wowereit will govern in a Grand Coalition and the incumbent red-red government has lost its majority.

The sensation here and the shot heard around the world was the shocking 9% for the Pirate Party. After the Pirate Party’s first shot in the 2009 EU elections in Sweden (7%), this is the second such Pirate victory in an election and the best result for a Pirate Party in any election. The Pirate’s strong showing was not entirely unexpected as some apparently think: the last polls had all shown strong support for them, with up to 9% depending on the poll. Their surge, however, was very late in the campaign. What caused the Pirates’ surge and who are “the Pirates” who voted for them?

Analysis of the Pirate Party's voters (source: ARD)

If one thing about the Pirates in Berlin is certain, it is that they are very much left-leaning and emphasized the ‘left’ part of their left-libertarian platform more (stuff such as free public transit). Another thing which is certain is that they are a youth party: 16% support from 18-24s, 17% support from first-time voters. The Pirates, to put it simply, did well because the Greens and the Left did poorly. The Greens’ poor campaign, attacking the SPD from the right, drove its young more left-wing and radical voters into the arms of the Pirates who are very much a young party – the average year of birth for their MPs in 1977, over ten years after the average year for the others. The Left, which in Berlin is still very much a neo-SED party rather than a New Left-type socialist alternative (most Left-voters in Berlin are old East Germans), was in a state of disrepair in Berlin this year and the Pirates became an attractive protest option. A vote transfer analysis from Infratest dimap gives us a good guess of who the Pirate voters actually are. Most of them (23,000, or a quarter of all) did not vote last time and nearly as many (22,000) voted for other parties in 2006 – most likely the WASG (now merged in the Left) or the far-right. The 55% or so of Pirate voters who voted for one of the big parties last time did so for the left: 17,000 voted Green, 14,000 voted SPD and 13,000 voted Left. Only 10% or so of all Pirate voters came from the right: 6,000 from the FDP and 4,000 from the CDU. It might surprise some to see the little overlap between the FDP and the Pirates because of the libertarian leanings of both (although one is right-libertarian, the other is left-libertarian, both rather strongly emphasizing the first part these days). But in terms of voter base, there is little overlap: FDP voters are predominantly affluent suburbanites and not young radicals or young libertarians. Of the FDP voters in 2006, according to the same exit polling, most either voted CDU this year (30,000) or did not vote (14,000).

In terms of electoral geography, the Pirates do not necessarily have the electoral geography we might assume for such a left-libertarian party. Whereas we might think they would be entirely an inner-city party in the trendy, bohemian, young and artsy neighborhoods; they have a more diverse base of support beyond that base (the same thing can be seen in Sweden 2009, though the Pirate vote was remarkably homogeneous nationally between 5-8%). In fact, in Berlin, the Pirates performed best in the East than in the West (10 vs. 8%). In both cases, they performed better in the inner-city areas of east and west (12.6 vs. 11.1%) than in the suburbs (7.9% in all Berlin suburbs, east or west). Generally, their support is tightly correlated with Green support (performing best with 14.7% in the Green stronghold of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg). In the eastern boroughs of Lichtenberg and Marzahn-Hellersdorf (edit: and Spandau, which is in the west), however, the Pirate vote has little correlation with the Green vote. While the Pirate voters can be stereotyped as young, left-wing, radical and artsy-bohemian types, some of their votes – especially in the East – are poorer unemployed youths who voted for the Pirates as a trendy, radical anti-system protest party. This type of protest voting from poorer, not too artsy youths is very similar to the broader European phenomenon of strong far-right support from younger voters. Exit polls show that 12% of the unemployed vote Pirate, as did 11% of those receiving many Hartz-IV social benefits (only 6.8% of those not receiving those benefits voted Pirate).

The Pirate phenomenon in Sweden proved to be a one-time fad (less than 1% in the 2010 elections), hardly surprising given that the 2009 EU elections took place right after the Pirate Bay website was shut down by the state. There is no such event this year, but it is hard to see the Pirates be able to become a parliamentary force outside Berlin. They might have a chance if the Greens weaken or lose some of their young, radical base by entering government federally; but for now it is hard to see them as anything else than a one-time fad or at best a protest party with a more stable base but not a true political force.

This election marks the end of a superwahljahr in Germany, which saw six state elections. The winner of these elections is the left, which is in good position to form a left-wing government excluding the CDU after the 2013 federal elections. The SPD governs five of the seven states which voted this year and is a member of the governing coalition in all seven state. Overall, in these seven elections, the SPD won 35.5% against 32.5% for the CDU. The SPD’s biggest success was the February 20 elections in Hamburg, where the SPD won an overall majority on its own and increased its vote share by 14% to win 48% in a left-wing stronghold that had been governed by the right since 2001. Results in both Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate weren’t as good: the party lost nearly 10% in the latter (that being said, it had performed abnormally well in 2006) and 2% in the former. Bremen and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania saw good results for the SPD, especially the latter where the party’s vote increased by over 5%.

The big winner, though, was the Green Party. Overall they won 18.7% in the seven states. They entered the legislatures of Saxony-Anhalt, Rhineland-Palatinate and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. In all but Hamburg, they won their best results ever. In Bremen and Baden-Württemberg, they are now the second largest party ahead of either the CDU or SPD. In Hessian local elections also held this year, they became the largest party in Darmstadt. Baden-Württemberg was an historic election for the German Greens, Germany and the whole global green movement. With 24%, it was probably the best green result in any national or regional election anywhere in Europe/the world, and for the first time in Germany (and one of the first times in the world) the Greens took control of government. The performance of the historic green-red coalition in the state will be very important for the German Greens. Only Hamburg and Berlin are the disappointing results for the Greens this year.

The biggest loser was the FDP. Calling them “the losers” probably is an understatement. They took a massive thumping. They were dumped or kept out of the legislatures in all seven states but Hamburg and Baden-Württemberg. Only in Hamburg did they gain votes (+1.9%), enough to enter the legislature, but that was a byproduct of local circumstances and a CDU collapse (-20.7%). In all other states, they lost between 2.8% and 7% support. Federally, the FDP has been oscillating around the 5% threshold for representation in all polls for a year now. Their ability to win seats in a federal election if it was held soon is low at best after their thumpings. The FDP’s leadership is in perilous position. They won 5.04% in all seven states.

The Left won 7.45% overall. The results are mediocre. They held their ground (or lost or gained a tad) in Hamburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. They lost more significantly in Bremen and Berlin. This isn’t all that bad when you consider the Left now polls 8% federally rather than 11.9% in the 2009 elections. It is still quite a break from the Left’s 2007-2009 winning streak when the ex-East German communists “invaded” the west by entering the legislatures of Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Hesse, Schleswig-Holstein, Saarland and North Rhine-Westphalia (in 2010). They failed to enter any new western legislature this year.

If there are no snap federal elections in 2012 or any other early state elections, the only 2012 election in Germany will be a May state election in Schleswig-Holstein. Schleswig-Holstein voted on election day 2009, and thanks to CDU domination of constituency seats there was massive overhang (26 seats) in the CDU’s favour (despite it losing 8.6% support, it gained 4 seats). This overhang gave the CDU-FDP a tiny majority, 48/95, despite having lost the popular vote to the SPD/Greens/Left/SSW coalition. The Greens and SSW took the matter to court, which decided in favour of the plaintiffs and ordered new elections in 2012 with a new electoral law (cutting the direct seats from 40 to 35). The likely result seems to be SPD/Green/SSW majority with the Left hovering slightly below the threshold. The FDP, which won 15% in 2009, is polling at 4% and should probably receive another slap from voters. That should very well do in the CDU government.

It is a very, very dire time for the German right: current polls show that, in theory, left-wing coalitions including the SPD, Greens and Left would have enough support to form government in every state but Saxony and Bavaria if state elections were somehow held today. Even in Bavaria, the last poll shows that SPD/Green/FW could form a government!


Posted on September 20, 2011, in Berlin, Germany, Regional and local elections. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Hi, good post as always.

    One thing that struck me about the geography of these elections was on a micro-scale. You wrote that “Generally, their support [of the Pirates] is tightly correlated with Green support (performing best with 14.7% in the Green stronghold of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg).” But I found interesting that, while F’hain-Kreuzberg is the best city district for both parties, they have clearly defined separate bulwarks within the district, at opposite ends of it.

    The Greens’ top precinct-level results are all at the western end of Kreuzberg – the relatively most well-of part of the neighbourhood, I’m guessing. The Greens did very well in central and eastern Kreuzberg too, but the many immigrant-origin residents there might be more divided between SPD and Greens and maybe BIG. For the Pirates, meanwhile, no less than eight of its best 10 precincts were at the other end of the district in Friedrichshain, in former East-Berlin, at the heart of the ‘kiez’ there.

    I was going to just comment about that here, but then I started making maps with the top precincts for all the main parties, and for a couple of the smaller ones, and then I was writing it all up, and then I was looking up info about the vote in West- and East-Berlin respectively going back to 1990, so in the end I decided to just make it into a blog post and revive an old group blog I used to write with for that. I see that the blog already auto-posted a trackback here (the Observationalism link above).

    Anyway, back to the Kreuzberg vs F’hain thing, it’s been a decade since I lived in Berlin for a bit, but from what I remember about those similar-yet-different neighbourhoods I’m guessing that it denotes a subtle difference between the voters of the two parties. You already pointed some of that out: Pirate voters are younger, of course, lower income, more often in East-Berlin than Green voters, but also whiter. Breaking the F’hain vs K’berg contrast down into stereo- or prototypical voters, I’d guess, you’d have the ultimate Pirate voter be a white, 20-something, low-income alternative kid; while the Green one might sooner be a 30- or 40-something, middle or upper-middle-income, free-thinking parent. OK, that’s stereotypes, but sometimes those make for a nice illustration – or maybe I should stick with the tables and maps.

  2. I can’t believe in this day and age that there are still pirates on our seas. Surely someone out there can sort this problem out.

  3. Pirates are particularly present in places like Burma and surrounding the seas of Somalia, anyone with any common sense will no to stay well clear!

  1. Pingback: | Observationalism

  2. Pingback: Saarland (Germany) 2012 « World Elections

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