Saarland (Germany) 2012

State elections were held in the German state of Saarland on March 25, 2012. All 51 seats in Saarland’s state parliament, the Landtag were up for reelection. The state is divided into three electoral districts (Saarbrücken, Neunkirchen and Saarlouis) and there is a 5% threshold for representation.

The heavily industrialized and largely Catholic working-class Saarland has usually been fought over by the CDU and SPD. The SPD, led by Oskar Lafontaine, governed the state between 1985 and 1999 until Lafontaine’s successor was defeated in 1999 by the CDU’s Peter Müller who governed without coalition allies between 1999 and 2009. In 2009, in state elections held a bit more than a month before the federal elections, Peter Müller’s CDU lost 13% support and ended up with 34.5% and 19 seats. At the same time, the SPD, which was in dire straits throughout Germany in 2009, won its worst result since 1955 in the state with only 24.5% (down 6% on an already terrible result in 2004). The SPD suffered a lot from the emergence of the post-communist socialist Left Party (Die Linke) in the home-state of one of its top leaders, Oskar Lafontaine. Lafontaine led the party to a dramatic result for the heavily GDR-based party in the western state: the Left took 21% of the vote. The FDP also did well, taking 9% of the vote. While a left-wing red-red-green coalition could have been formed with the SPD, Left and Greens, the usual problems with such a coalition combined by bad blood between the two main left-wing parties prevented the formation of a left-wing government. Ultimately, Peter Müller formed an historic ‘Jamaica’ coalition uniting the CDU, FDP and the Greens.

Müller resigned in August 2011 and was replaced by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. The coalition collapsed in January 2012 following internal wranglings in the FDP. Following the failure of talks with the SPD to form a Grand Coalition, snap regional elections were called. The results were:

CDU 35.2% (+0.7%) winning 19 seats (nc)
SPD 30.6% (+6%) winning 17 seats (+4)
Left 16.1% (-5.1%) winning 9 seats (-2)
Pirates 7.4% (+7.4%) winning 4 seats (+4)
Greens 5% (-0.9%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Familie 1.7% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDP 1.2% (-8%) winning 0 seats (-5)
NPD 1.2% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FW 0.9% (+0.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)

The CDU ended up winning by a fairly comfortable margin, while the SPD underpolled quite a bit compared to pre-electoral expectations – the party was tied or ahead of the CDU in most of the last polls with roughly 34% support. According to the ARD’s vote transfer analysis for the SPD, while the party gained 7000 voters from the CDU and Left (and 8000 from the FDP and 6000 from the Greens) it lost 7000 voters to abstention – turnout fell by a full 6% since 2009 – and 3000 votes to the Pirates.

The Pirate Party had been the sensation of the state elections in Berlin last year, where they emerged as the fifth largest party with nearly 9% of the vote and 15 seats in the state parliament of Germany’s particularly left-wing capital. Berlin was a perfect territory for the Pirates, made all the more appealing by a terrible Green campaign. They took most of their support from young males who had not voted in previous elections or young left-wing voters who had voted for the Greens, Left or SPD in past elections. I ended up being wrong on the assumption that the Pirate Party’s success in Berlin would prove a fad and peter out quickly. The Pirate success in Berlin has had repercussions across Germany, with the party polling over the 5% threshold for seats in the Bundestag and registering support in a good number of other states.

The main reason for the Pirate Party’s success in expanding beyond their original base in Berlin seems to be the state of the German left. Pathetic would be a fair descriptor, as would divided. The Greens have fallen back considerably from their monumental surge(s) last year, as they lose some more left-wing young voters eager for a more radical and hip alternative to the Pirates. The Left is polling much lower than what it won in 2009, the SPD’s gains from 2009 probably coming largely on the back of the Left’s loses. Fortunately for the left, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner – the liberal FDP – is in a state which is best summarized as ‘lol FDP’. The party has been averaging 1-2% at most!

In Saarland, the Pirates probably benefited from a local factor: left-wing Green voters punished the Greens for their unwise choice of entering a coalition with the right – a proven recipe for disaster for the Greens.

Exit polls are always interesting to analyse the Pirate phenomenon. The Pirates won 23% of first-time voters (27% of male first-time voters), and obviously did best (22%) with the youngest cohort (aged 18 to 24) and worse with the oldest cohort (2% with those over 60). As in Berlin, the Pirates also appealed to a not-so-artsy left-wing electorate (which are not Green voters): unemployed voters and working-class voters. The Pirates won 9% with the unemployed (against 30% for the SPD and 26% for the left), and 11% with ‘workers’. The Pirates, in this respect, have a wider potential base than the Greens, given that they carry an appeal to unemployed or low-income youths which the Greens certainly do not have.

The German tradition of vote transfer analyses is also quite instructive, as in Berlin. The party gained 8,000 votes from non-voters and 7,000 voters from 2009 Left Party voters. It took 4000 votes apiece from the CDU and FDP, and 3000 votes apiece from the Greens, SPD and other parties. The Greens had not done very well in the state in 2009, which might explain why their loses to the Pirates were less pronounced. The FDP, obviously, gained no voters, but lost a full 12,000 votes to the CDU and an additional 9,000 to abstention. The CDU’s gains from FDP voters compensated the CDU’s loses to abstention and other parties.

A grand coalition, CDU-SPD, seems to be the most likely option.

Posted on March 25, 2012, in Germany, Regional and local elections, Saarland. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. You mention the “bad blood” between the two main left-wing parties, SPD and Linke.
    This is of course a particular factor in Saarland where the Linke is led by Oskar Lafotaine, who was governor of Saarland when he was still with the SPD and who later ran for federal chancellor for the SPD. The bad blood was casued when Oskar Lafontaine was minister for finance under chancellor Gerhard Schröder when one day – to everyone’s surprise – he quit his job in a very public and somewhat childish manner.
    After a while he missed politics and joined the Linke which he has led to electoral successes (by West-German) standards in Saarland where many people still remember him fondly from his time as governor. He is also admittedly not a bad speaker.

  2. You mention that Peter Müller (CDU) resigned from the governor’s post in 2001.
    I think it should be added why he did so: he became a judge with the Federal Supreme Court.

  3. You may take comfort in knowing that you are by far not the only one to have underestimated the Pirates’ stamina (or Germans’ willingness to vote for a party without a platform).

  4. Do you know how this “vote transfer analysis” works? Because I don’t and I always find it quite dubious.

  5. Nightstallion

    ”… Germans’ willingness to vote for a party without a platform“

    I call bullshit.

    Certainly more of a program than the FDP currently has … ;p

  6. The “Pirates” also absorb NDP-voters and even -members. Germany’s “transfer vote analyses” are probably not much more serious than Austria’s.

  7. Opinion polls (collected for example at have shown that “The Pirates” remain alive, 2013 perhaps attracting also those opposing the right goverment but supporting Chancellor Merkel.

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