Monthly Archives: October 2013
Legislative elections were held in Luxembourg on October 20, 2013. All 60 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (D’Chamber or Chambre des Députés), elected by proportional representation in multi-member constituencies to serve five year terms (unless it is dissolved earlier, like this year).
The country is divided into four multi-member constituencies, each including two or more cantons and returning a variable number of deputies: Centre (21), Est (7), Nord (9) and Sud (23). Voters have as many votes as they are seats; they may choose to cast a single vote for a party list (and number additional candidates if the party’s list has less candidates than there are seats) or he/she may vote for individual candidates on one or more lists and give candidates up to two votes until he/she ‘runs out’ of votes. Seats are distributed proportionally to each party in the constituencies based on the total numbers of votes (list/candidate) each list received. The original allocation of seats is done using the Hagenbach-Bischoff method, with unfilled seats allocated according to the highest averages method.
Luxembourg, a small constitutional monarchy sandwiched between Belgium, Germany and France, is one of the world’s wealthiest countries and – unsurprisingly – has been a haven of remarkable political stability since 1919, only interrupted by the Second World War. At the core of this political stability is the hegemony of the country’s “natural governing party”, the Christian Social People’s Party (Chrëschtlech Sozial Vollekspartei, CSV). The CSV, founded in 1944, and prior to that its pre-war incarnation – the Party of the Right (PD) – has been the largest party in the Chamber in every election since 1919, the first ‘modern’ election with universal suffrage, proportional representation and a party system. The constitutional reforms of 1919 introducing universal suffrage marked the end of a political era dominated by a small clique of liberal-minded elites, replacing it with a modern party system.
The CSV or the PD have formed government (providing the Prime Minister) since 1919 with the exception of 1925-1926 and 1974-1979. However, to consider Luxembourg a “one-party dominant” system because of the Catholic right’s dominance is probably erroneous: they have consistently governed in coalition with other major parties, either the liberals or the socialists, since the war and the PD formed a single-party government only once, between 1921 and 1925 (when it held an absolute majority). As in Austria, there is a strong tradition of ‘Grand Coalition’-type governments in the country, although unlike in Austria this tradition predates 1945.
Ideologically, the CSV is a moderate, centre-right and very much pro-European Christian democratic party. On economic and social matters, the Catholic right has long been influenced by Christian social teachings and PD/CSV-led governments laid the bases of the country’s social security and welfare state systems beginning in the 1920s and continuing in the post-war years.
Luxembourg, despite its small size, has played an active role in European politics since the war. The country has long played a strategic role in European power politics and has always been closely tied to its neighbors. Until the First World War, Luxembourg maintained extremely close economic ties with Germany, who controlled a significant share of the country’s nascent industry and infrastructure. In the 1920s, Luxembourg formed an economic union with Belgium.
After the Second World War, Luxembourg gradually became one of the more influential powers in European diplomacy, despite its small size and population. The country was a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), a major step given that the creation of the ECSC placed steel – the main resource of the Grand Duchy – under supranational control. It was a founding member of the EEC and Euratom in 1957. Given the country’s small size, its leaders have been keen to promote their country’s interests and ensure their representation in supranational institutions, so that larger domineering powers did not come to overwhelm smaller member states such as Luxembourg. It has been remarkably successful in doing so; Luxembourg has gained a reputation as a trustworthy intermediaries in European negotiations and it is home to a number of EU institutions. Luxembourg, alongside Scandinavia, spends the most (as a % of its GDP) on international development aid, about 1% of the country’s GDP.
Luxembourgian politicians have also been at the forefront of EU politics. CSV Prime Minister Pierre Werner (1954-1974, 1979-1984) is considered the forefather of the Euro; two former Prime Ministers, including the CSV’s Jacques Santer (1984-1995) was President of the European Commission between 1995 and 1999. Liberal Prime Minister Gaston Thorn (1974-1979) had held this office between 1981 and 1985. Incumbent CSV Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, has played a major role on the European scene, as a former president of the Eurogroup and has championed greater social integration in the EU.
The CSV remains strongly pro-European. Unlike German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, the CSV supports Eurobonds and its 2013 platform talks of the need for ‘solidarity’ by wealthier member states, the need for structural reforms aimed at economic growth and minimum basic rights for European workers and criticized the United Kingdom’s attempts to “empty EU policies of their substance”.
Jean-Claude Juncker (CSV) has served as Prime Minister since 1995, which makes him the longest-serving head of government in EU and one of the longest-serving in the world as a whole (and, arguably, the longest-serving democratically-elected head of government in the world). Juncker was forced to resign and call for snap elections, a year ahead of schedule, in July 2013 after a scandal in the State Intelligence Service (SREL).
An investigation revealed that the SREL had engaged in irregular and illegal activities including illegal wiretaps, bugging politicians, extrajudicial operations and maintaining files on citizens and politicians. In November 2012, the media published details of a conversation between Juncker and the former director of the SREL which had taken place in 2007. The former director mentioned the existence of 300,000 individual files on citizens and politicians and even alleged links between Grand Duke Henri and the MI6. Juncker, as the person responsible for the SREL’s actions, was accused of failing to notice and report on illegal activities and deficiencies within the SREL. In July 2013, the CSV’s coalition partner, the social democrats (LSAP) withdrew their support and tabled a motion of no confidence. Juncker resigned and asked the Grand Duke to dissolve parliament before the motion could be voted on.
The CSV’s campaign emphasized the government’s record on fields such as family policy, pension reform, healthcare, wages (the minimum wage was increased in 2011 and 2013) and fiscal policy (reducing the deficit, which is less than 1% of GDP; the party wants to balance the budget by 2017). Its other priorities included increasing benefits for low-income individuals, a more active social housing policy, investments in post-secondary education and R&D, primary education in French and reducing youth unemployment by pushing the youths to ‘assume responsibility’ and compel them to accept job offers (even below their skill levels). Another of the CSV’s main objectives in this campaign was a major proposal to reduce the number of communes in the country by organizing a national referendum on the subject in 2017, and reviewing the division of responsibilities between the levels of government.
The CSV has a strong Catholic tradition and still favours a strong role for the Church in public life and religious classes in schools, but it is no longer conservative on moral/societal questions: the party supports same-sex marriage and voted in favour of legalizing euthanasia in 2008.
The Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party (Lëtzebuerger Sozialistesch Aarbechterpartei, LSAP) has almost always been Luxembourg’s second strongest party, behind the PD/CSV. The country’s socialist party was founded in 1905 and refounded as the LSAP, on the model of Britain’s Labour Party, in 1945. The party has always been moderate and pragmatic: it formed an anti-clerical alliance with the liberals in 1908, and it has almost always been represented in government since 1937. The LSAP found itself outside the governing coalition only a handful of times since 1945: between 1969 and 1974, between 1979 and 1984 and between 1999 and 2004. It has governed in coalition with Juncker’s CSV since 2004, with LSAP leader Jean Asselborn as Deputy Prime Minister and foreign minister.
The LSAP, which won in the mid-to-high 30s in the 1950s and 1960s, has seen its support declined gradually, winning only 21.6% of the vote in the last election in 2009. The party’s support is very much concentrated in the Sud constituency, which covers the Red Lands region – the heart of the country’s old iron ore and steel industry.
The LSAP’s top candidate in this election was Étienne Schneider. Although the CSV accused the LSAP of treason for withdrawing their support from the government, the LSAP downplayed and denied such claims, blaming Juncker’s behaviour for his own downfall and the snap elections. Besides, the party’s campaign focused on other issues, notably economic or political issues. The LSAP took credit for most of the government’s reforms and said it was the “driving force” in the coalition with the CSV, having spearheaded major reforms in secondary education, healthcare and pensions.
Its platform called for tax reform (a new 45% income tax bracket for couples whose income is over €400,000 or singles whose income is over €200,000), lowering the voting age to 16, more referenda, separation of church and state, gender parity on electoral lists, primary education in French, capping rent increases and all-day schooling.
Above all, the question of ‘the index’ – the indexation of wages to the cost of living/inflation – was a major issue in this election. A recent reform means that the index will be modified only once a year (in October) until 2014, instead of twice a year before. The CSV supports capping the index and one increase per year (and removing tobacco, alcohol and oil from the calculation of the index); the LSAP took an offensive stance, claiming responsibility for the survival of the wage index, and proposing to return to the normal system of indexation once the crisis is over.
The Democratic Party (Demokratesch Partei, DP) is Luxembourg’s liberal party, which has traditionally placed third behind the CSV and LSAP. The DP was founded in 1955, a descendant of the Liberal League (founded in 1904, dissolved in 1925) and the post-war Patriotic and Democratic Group. The DP is not the CSV’s preferred coalition partners, so it has not been in government as often as the LSAP, but it was nevertheless in coalition with the CSV between 1959 and 1964, 1969 and 1974, 1979 and 1984 and 1999 and 2004.
Following the 1974 elections, in which the DP won a record high 22% of the vote, the DP’s Gaston Thorn formed a coalition with the LSAP, excluding the CSV – the only post-war government which excluded the CSV, to date. Thorn’s government coincided with the steel crisis of the 1970s, which badly hurt Luxembourg’s main secondary industry; but his government nevertheless passed a number of major societal reforms (abolishing the death penalty, no-fault divorce, abortion) and economic reforms which allowed for a less traumatic deindustrialization and transition to a tertiary (finance-driven) economy. However, the LSAP suffered loses in the 1979 election and the DP was unable to form another coalition with them, forcing them into a coalition under the CSV’s Pierre Werner until 1984. After major gains in the 1999 election (22%), the DP formed a government with the CSV’s Juncker.
The DP suffered significant loses in the last two elections, and won only 9 seats in the 2009 election and 15% of the vote, its lowest vote share since 1964. The DP is traditionally strong in urban and suburban areas, where it attracts middle-class and upper middle-class voters. As such, the DP often tailors its platform to the ‘middle-classes’.
The DP’s top candidate in this election was Xavier Bettel, the young (40) and openly gay mayor of Luxembourg City since 2011 (the DP has governed the country’s capital since 1970, it currently rules in coalition with the Greens).
The DP is the keenest supporter of liberal market economics in the country, although in practice it has been only moderately liberal and is probably to the left of the German FDP. The party’s catchphrase in this election was “spending less and offering more” – reviewing and rationalizing government spending, notably proposing to eliminate “gifts” made by the state. The DP used to support abolishing indexation, but it has backtracked on that unpopular decision. Instead, the liberals want to continue the current ‘extraordinary’ yearly indexation beyond 2014.
The party’s platform was strongly critical of the CSV-LSAP government’s record, particularly on fiscal matters. It decried the increase in the public debt (from 15% to 23% of GDP since 2009) and in unemployment (from 5.5% to 7%), saying that the country’s AAA credit rating could find itself threatened.
The Greens (Déi Gréng) were founded in 1983 as the Green Alternative Party, which won 2 seats in the 1984 election. The green movement split in 1985 and competed separately in the 1989 elections, before coming together to run a single list in the 1994 elections (10%). The Luxembourgian Greens are one of the consistently strongest green parties in Europe, winning 11.7% in 2009 and 16.8% in the European elections held alongside the 2009 legislative elections. The Greens have yet to participate in government nationally, but as aforementioned they are the DP’s junior partner at the local level in Luxembourg City – where they won over 18% of the vote in the 2011 local elections.
The Greens’ platform focused on traditional green issues (environment, energy etc) but also placed strong emphasis on ethics and democratic reform. The party proposed to create a two successive term limit for ministers, lowering the voting age to 16, voting rights for foreigners in legislative elections, greater governmental accountability to the legislature and a strong ethics charter for politicians and public officials. On other issues, the Greens’ proposals included separation of church of state, returning to the automatic indexation of salaries to inflation, promoting the Luxembourgish language and free public daycare.
The Alternative Democratic Reform Party (Alternativ Demokratesch Reformpartei, ADR) is a conservative party which finds its roots in a pensioners movement founded in 1987. The ADR was founded as a different names by activists who demanded the equality of state pensions between public servants and the general public (public servants earned 5/6th of their final salary as their pension, everyone else only had a basic state pension). This demand formed the core of the ADR’s platform until 1998, when a law was passed equalizing pensions. Afterwards, the ADR has sought to diversify its political agenda and has reincarnated itself as a conservative and Eurosceptic party, without losing its disproportionately elderly electorate or interest in pensioners’ issues. The ADR adopted its current name in 2006, dropping all references to pension reform from its name.
The ADR enjoyed early electoral success, winning 8% in 1989, 9% in 1994 and a record high of 11% in 1999. Its support has fallen back from that high water mark, to 8% in 2009.
The ADR is a conservative, populist and Eurosceptic parties. It opposed the 2005 European Constitution, which Luxembourgian voters approved in a referendum, and the Lisbon Treaty; the ADR stands out from other parties in the country, who, with the exception of the far-left, are all pro-EU. Its platform emphasized transparency, direct democracy (calling for more referenda), less bureaucracy and defense of the pension system. The party opposes any increase in the VAT, capping indexation and voting rights for foreigners.
The ADR campaigned rather heavily on the last issue, which is a major issue in a country where about 45% of the population are foreigners without Luxembourgian citizenship. A land of emigration when it was a poor, rural, agrarian backwater in the nineteenth century, Luxembourg has been a land of immigration since the 1890s with industrialization. Southern Luxembourg’s heavy industries attracted a large foreign workforce, notably from Italy or Portugal. Immigration increased during the 1960s and 1970s, a period of solid economic growth which coincided with a domestic labour shortage and a low fertility rate. The country welcomed a very large Portuguese population; Portuguese citizens make up about 16.4% of the country’s total population. The presence of major EU institutions in the country has also attracted a large foreign population working in EU institutions. Dual citizenship was allowed in 2009; residents having lived in the country for 7 years, passed an evaluation of Luxembourgish language skills and taken civic classes. The CSV and ADR both oppose extending voting rights for foreigners to in legislative elections (since 2003, all foreigners regardless of duration of residence and nationality may vote in local elections); the CSV supports reducing the residency requirement for citizenship from 7 to 5 years, something which the ADR also opposes.
The far-left is divided between The Left (Déi Lénk) and the Communist Party of Luxembourg (Kommunistesch Partei Lëtzebuerg, KPL). The former, which held one seat in the outgoing legislature, was founded in 1999 with the support of the KPL, LSAP dissidents and assorted leftists; it won 3% and 1 seat in the 1999 elections. However, the KPL split from The Left ahead of the 2004 election, which meant that The Left lost its seat while the KPL failed to gain a seat of its own. The Left regained its seat in 2009. The KPL was founded in 1921 by a split in the LSAP, and was fairly powerful electorally. It won over 10% of the vote in the first years after the war and in the mid-1960s, and lost its last seat in Parliament only in 1994.
The Left emphasizes redistribution of wealth by increasing the taxation of capital income, a more steeply progressive income tax and an increase in the minimum wage. The party’s platform also proposed reducing working hours, separation of church and state, a ‘social and regional’ Europe abolishing the monarchy. The KPL’s platform is broadly similar, emphasizing the defense of workers’ social rights. The KPL wants to nationalize major industries and some banks.
Two new parties appeared on the scene this year. The local Pirate Party (Piratepartei) is broadly similar to other Pirate parties in Europe, notably the German Pirates with which it has close ties. The party’s major themes include protection of personal data (including keeping banking secrecy, which is scheduled to be abolished), a basic income of 800€ per month, same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana, abolition of mandatory voting, lowering the voting age to 16, granting foreigner residents the right to vote, and the promotion of Luxembourgish and its enshrinement in the constitution. The Pirates found themselves in hot water when they were forced to remove one of their candidates who had led a far-right party in the 1980s.
The Party for Integral Democracy (Partei fir Integral Demokratie, PIR) is another new party, founded by Jean Colombera, a ADR deputy who resigned from the party in 2012. Colombera, along with another ARD deputy who also left the party last year (Jacques-Yves Henckes) had criticized the ADR’s socially conservative and hard-right leadership; Colombera, a physician who practices homeopathic medicine, supports same-sex marriage and is under investigation for prescribing medical marijuana (he supports the legalization of cannabis). Colombera’s platform of platitudes is heavily influenced by holistic medicine. What can be drawn from the PID’s platform is that it is populist and anti-political; it supports direct democracy, some kind of Swiss consociationalism or Austrian Proporz (although it also seems to favour doing away with political parties) and has anti-bureaucracy rhetoric.
Turnout was 91.15%, voting is mandatory in Luxembourg.
CSV 33.68% (-4.36%) winning 23 seats (-3)
LSAP 20.28% (-1.28%) winning 13 seats (nc)
DP 18.25% (+3.27%) winning 13 seats (+4)
Greens 10.13% (-1.58%) winning 6 seats (-1)
ADR 6.64% (-1.49%) winning 3 seats (-1)
The Left 4.94% (+1.65%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Pirates 2.94% (+2.94%) winning 0 seats (nc)
KPL 1.64% (+0.17%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PID 1.5% (+1.5%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Results by constituency
The CSV, as usual, polled (by far) the most votes although Prime Minister Juncker’s party suffered major loses. The CSV seems to have been hurt by the SREL scandal, which eroded the public’s trust not only in Juncker/the CSV but also in their politicians and institutions; but it was also hurt by the country’s weaker economy, with rising unemployment (7%), concerns about the affordability of public housing, social tensions over the indexation issue and the major growth in the country’s public debt. The LSAP, the CSV’s junior partner since 2004, also suffered smaller loses, reducing the party to a paltry 20.3%, its worst result in its history. The LSAP’s campaign, which consisted of criticizing the CSV while claiming credit for the achievements of the governing coalition since 2009, evidently had little popular appeal.
The main winner, meanwhile, was Xavier Bettel’s DP. The party likely benefited from its campaign, heavily critical of the CSV’s record in government, but it also benefited from its top candidate, Bettel, a popular mayor who received high ratings in leadership polls (although most voters preferred Juncker as PM, by a mile).
The Greens and ARD suffered small loses, each losing one seat. I’m not quite sure why the Greens saw their support decrease; it may have seen some of its 2009 voters vote for the DP this year. The ARD was destabilized in 2012 by the resignation of two deputies critical of the leader’s hard-right agenda, and later by the resignation of the embattled party president, who was recently revealed to have been a double agent during the Cold War. The ADR’s vice president was investigated in relation to the fraudulent sale of Hooters’ franchises in Germany.
Smaller parties, however, made gains. The Left was able to win a second seat, although this falls short of its hopes to win between 3 and 5 seats. The KPL also made some very minor gains.
The Pirate Party had a fairly strong showing for its first electoral participation. They might have benefited from the SREL scandal and growing disillusion/dissatisfaction with the political leadership.
The CSV won 109 of the Grand Duchy’s 116 communes, three fewer than in 2009. Unlike in 2009, the DP won communes – four in total.
The CSV, as your typical Benelux Catholic party, performs best in small, rural municipalities – notably in eastern and parts of northern Luxembourg. The party is weaker in larger urban centres, often polling below its national average, although one of the CSV’s main advantages in electoral terms is the relative homogeneity of its vote share across Luxembourg. The party’s weakest result seems to have been about 26% of the vote, in the industrial southern town of Dudelange.
On the other hand, the LSAP’s weakness is that its support tends to be more regionally concentrated than the CSV but also the other parties (DP, Greens). It draws a disproportionate amount of its vote from the Sud constituency, where it won – by far – its best result with 28.2%, not far behind the CSV. The Sud constituency is the most populous constituency in the country, so we should expect it to contribute a large share of each party’s vote; but in the LSAP’s case, no less than 63% of its votes came from that one single constituency – for comparison, about 51% of all votes cast in the country were cast in the south.
Southern Luxembourg is the most heavily industrialized region of the country, covering the iron-rich Red Lands, and was at the heart of the Grand Duchy’s economy until the 1970s. The region’s economy was driven by iron ore mining, metallurgy and iron working. Hit hard by the steel crisis in the 1970s, industry has markedly declined and most mines or steel mills have shut down, although ArcelorMittal still operates factories in Differdange, Rodange and Schifflange. The south is now poorer, less educated and more blue-collar than the rest of the country, but deindustrialization has seemingly been less traumatic than in neighboring France.
The LSAP topped the polls in two towns in the Red Lands, on the French border: Dudelange (36%) and Rumelange (36%). The party did not top the poll in Kayl, as it had done in 2009, but won a strong 29.6%. In Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg’s second largest city and a former steel town, the LSAP won 25.5%, about 5% behind the CSV. The LSAP performed relatively well in other major industrial towns in the Red Lands including Differdange (21.6%), Pétange/Rodange (22%), Käerjeng (25%), Schifflange (27.8%) and Sanem (26%). Outside the Red Lands, the LSAP did well in middle-sized towns, likely with some sort of industry. In the north, the LSAP topped the poll in Wiltz (36%), a fairly large industrial town (floorcovering, copper, tanneries until the 1960) and a centre of anti-Nazi resistance in 1942. On the other hand, the LSAP performed poorly in white-collar urban centres such as Luxembourg City (14%) and many rural areas. It won less than 15% of the vote in the Centre and Est constituencies and a bit over 17% in the Nord.
The DP’s support is slightly more balanced than the LSAP’s very southern support, although it still has distinctive weak spots and strongholds. The DP polled best, with 25% in the Centre constituency, the country’s most educated and white-collar constituency (it includes Luxembourg City). It also did well, however, in the Nord with 23.7%. It did very poorly, however, in the Red Lands, with only 12.7% in the Sud. Luxembourg City is one of the DP’s traditional strongholds, it won 27% of the vote this year in the capital (34% for the CSV), and it also polls strongly in some adjacent suburbs – Bertrange (28.7%) and Strassen (29.5%). The largest city with a strong DP vote was the affluent spa town of Mondorf-les-Bains, where it placed first with 33% of the vote (a 2-point lead on the CSV).
Surprisingly, the Greens’ vote is not distinctively urban. In fact, it polls best in smaller towns, not far from major urban cores (Luxembourg City) but who have a fairly small population. The Greens won 10.1% in Luxembourg City, a lower result than one might expect from a green party in an educated and white-collar capital city. It did best in towns not too distant from there – its best result was 24% in Beckerich, a town which apparently produces most of its energy needs from alternative sources. The Pirates’ map was also fairly balanced, not doing distinctively better in urban areas – and unlike the Greens, they also did well in more remote northern areas.
The ADR did best in rural areas isolated from major urban areas (although it did well in the post-industrial towns in the south), polling poorly in Luxembourg City (4.4%) and its periphery, but quite strongly (8-10%) in rural towns in the Est constituency.
The Left and the KPL found most of their support in the south. The Left won 5.7% in the Sud constituency, the KPL won 2.8% in the Sud constituency and polled crumbs elsewhere. The Left and the KPL both attracted discontent LSAP voters in the LSAP’s southern strongholds; The Left won 9.7% in Esch-sur-Alzette and did well (5-6%) in Dudelange, Rumelange, Sanem and Differdange. The KPL won over 4% of the vote in Esch-sur-Alzette, Differdange and Rumelange. The Left did, however, do well in the Centre as well (4.8%) and won 5.9% in Luxembourg City.
Jean Colombera’s PID did best, by far, in Colombera’s Nord constituency (3.3%). The Nord cast only 9.7% of the overall votes, but no less than 21% of the PID’s vote came from there. It did best, with 11.2%, in Vichten, Colombera’s hometown.
The statistics on the number of list vs. personal votes is quite instructive. Overall, 60% of voters cast a list vote. List voting was far more common for the smaller parties, whose leaders are less prominent or well-known. Most votes cast for The Left (69.9%), the ADR (72.6%), the KPL (66.4%), the Pirates (72.3%) and the PID (66.7%) were list votes; in contrast, 54.3% of the LSAP’s votes were list votes, as were 58.9% of CSV votes, 59% of DP votes and 57% of Green votes. Personal voting seems more common in the Nord, a majority of DP, Green, LSAP and PID votes in that constituency were personal votes, and a smaller percentage of The Left, the CSV and the ADR’s votes were list votes.
DP leader Xavier Bettel won 32,064 personal votes in the Centre constituency, considerably more than he had won in 2009 (around 19.7k) and more than what LSAP leader Étienne Schneider won in the same constituency (19,682; the LSAP’s 2009 top candidate in the constituency won 25.6k). Bettel also won more personal votes than Luc Frieden, the CSV minister of finance and Juncker’s potential successor.
Juncker, running in the Sud, won 55,968 personal votes (67.1k in 2009). LSAP Deputy Prime Minister Jean Asselborn won 38,257 personal votes in the same constituency. In the Nord, DP lead candidate Charles Goerens, a former cabinet minister and incumbent MEP won 17,523 votes on his name, more than the CSV and LSAP local top candidates.
This election seems likely to usher in dramatic change to Luxembourgian politics – although it doesn’t seem like that from the result. While a CSV-LSAP or CSV-DP coalition, both of which have governed Luxembourg in the last 10 years, would both hold 36 seats. However, during the campaign, the leaders of the LSAP, DP and Greens announced numerous times their desire to oust Juncker from office and did not rule out a three-party anti-CSV coalition, known as a ‘Gambia coalition’ because the three parties’ colours (red, blue, green) are the colours of the Gambian flag.
The leaders of three parties met last weeks and quickly agreed to form a Gambian coalition, led by DP leader Xavier Bettel. Although the DP won less votes than the LSAP, it was the only one of the three parties which gained votes and seats in the election and Bettel was clearly preferred by Luxembourgian voters to his LSAP counterpart, Étienne Schneider. It is a major blow for Étienne Schneider, who had repeatedly said during his campaign that he would be Prime Minister. Now, he will give that job to Bettel, who for his part had downplayed talk of him becoming Prime Minister and only a few months ago stated that he preferred staying on as mayor.
Grand Duke Henri named an informateur on October 23, a non-political person in charge of consulting parties to identify the contending forces and potential governing parties. On October 25, the Grand Duke named Xavier Bettel as formateur, in charge of negotiating a coalition agreement and forming a government. Juncker was not called upon to form a government and the CSV seems resigned to its fate, becoming an opposition party for the first time in decades (the last non-CSV government was 1974-1979). The CSV, however, has decried the Gambian coalition – they feel that as the largest party (by a mile) they should have gotten first dibs at coalition-making and CSV leaders have almost all stated that the Gambian coalition is betrayal of voters’ verdict and trust (voters did not know what they were getting into, the CSV says).
The DP, LSAP and Greens agree on several issues (to be fair, there are no huge ideological gaps between the main parties in Luxembourg on major issues) but also disagree on other fairly important issue. The DP supports liberal economic and fiscal policies, reducing government spending and opposing tax hikes, while the LSAP supports tax increases for the wealthiest and disagrees with the DP when it comes to indexation (as do the Greens, who, however, also oppose tax hikes on the wealthiest). In a way, I figure the Gambian coalition might have something in common with Fine Gael-Labour coalitions in Ireland – not seeing eye to eye on every issue, but sharing a common opposition and distaste for the natural governing party (FF in Ireland, CSV in Luxembourg).
It remains to be seen how stable this arrangement will be, given that it seems to be motivated more by shared opposition to PM-for-life Juncker/the CSV than close ideological affinities. Charles Goerens, the DP MEP elected in the Nord, has already resigned his parliamentary seat, disagreeing with the way talks were conducted (he felt the DP should have talked to the CSV). The coalition might also reflect poorly on LSAP leader Étienne Schneider, who will be neither PM nor Deputy PM after all. Furthermore, it remains to be seen how voters will react to such a coalition.
Nova Scotia (Canada) 2013
Provincial elections were held in Nova Scotia (Canada) on October 7, 2013. All 51 members of the unicameral provincial legislature, the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, elected by FPTP in single-member districts, were up for reelection.
The electoral map was significantly redistributed last year, resulting in the net loss of one district: rural Nova Scotia lost three seats, while the Halifax Metro gained two seats. The abolition of four specially designated ‘minority’ ridings – three Acadian seats and one black seat (all of which had smaller populations than the provincial average) – caused a small uproar. The net political effect of the new map favoured the governing New Democrats (NDP), who would have won won two more seats than they actually did in the last election, while the Liberals would have won two fewer seats and the Progressive Conservative (PCs) would have won one seat fewer.
Nova Scotia is Canada’s seventh most populous province, with a population just under one million (921,727) in 2011, and is the most populous province out of the four Atlantic provinces. In economic terms, Nova Scotia has the highest GDP of all four Atlantic provinces, although it only accounts for 2.1% of the country’s GDP.
Canada’s Atlantic provinces have tended to be significantly poorer and more economically depressed than the rest of Canada, and all of them were known as ‘have-not’ provinces until recently. Although Nova Scotia is by no means wealthy compared to the rest of Canada, it has historically been better off than other Atlantic provinces, although recent oil-fueled prosperity and growth in Newfoundland has very much altered that. For example, Nova Scotia’s unemployment rate (8.6%) is high compared to the rest of Canada, but it is still the lowest of the four Atlantic provinces. However, Nova Scotia’s GDP per capita is the second lowest of all provinces, and 17.4% of the population were low income after-tax (compared to 14.9% across Canada).
Nova Scotia’s economy is in good part reliant on federal equalization payments, to the amount of $1.458 billion in 2013-14.
The province’s contemporary economy is largely driven by the tertiary sector. The largest industries (NAICS classifications) in 2011 were retail trade (12.6% of the labour force), health care and social assistance (12.3%), public administration (9.7%), education (8%), manufacturing (7%) and construction (6.7%). Traditional industries such as agriculture, fishing and forestry employed only 3.8% of the labour force and mining an infinitely small share (0.8%).
Nova Scotia’s traditional primary and secondary sectors have declined in the last decades. Fisheries once formed an integral part of the provincial economy, due to the proximity of rich offshore (and inshore) stocks, but overfishing in the late 20th century led to the collapse of cod stocks and resulted in major jobs loses and drastic federal quotas on catches. Mining (largely coal) also played a considerable role in the province’s economy, especially on Cape Breton Island (Sydney) although there were fields in Pictou and Cumberland counties on the mainland. Mine closures, in addition to the loss of other major industries (a large steel mill in Sydney) have left Cape Breton Island significantly economically deprived.
Manufacturing and other industries include or have included steel (Sydney – closed down, Trenton), pulp and paper (Liverpool/Brooklyn – closed in 2012, Port Hawkesbury etc), frozen food/fish and agricultural processing (Lunenburg, Oxford, Canso), petroleum refining (Dartmouth), Michelin tires (Bridgewater, Granton, Cambridge) and power generation (Dartmouth, Trenton, Industrial Cape Breton). Shipbuilding in towns such as Pictou or Shelburne used to be major industries (the famous Bluenose schooner, which appears on the Canadian dime, was built in Lunenburg in the 1920s, but declined after the advent of steam and steel.
The Halifax metro has performed better than the rest of the province, benefiting from the concentration of more stable employment in the public sector (including defence – Halifax is home to the large HQs of the CF’s Maritime Command), finance, services, healthcare and education. Halifax’s unemployment rate in September 2013 was 6%, significantly below the provincial but also national average. Halifax is a ‘college town’ home to Dalhousie University, St. Mary’s and the University of King’s College. Antigonish (St. FX) and Wolfville (Acadia) are also major college towns.
Halifax saw the highest population growth between 2006 and 2011 (+4.7%), most other counties lost population. Cape Breton Island has been particularly afflicted by depopulation, having regularly lost population in almost all recent censuses.
Nova Scotia is more ethnically diverse than other Atlantic provinces, although by national standards it is heavily white and native-born. 95% of the population is white, three-quarters of the population was born in the province and 91.8% have English as their mother tongue (French: 3.4%). These statistics hide some interesting tidbits and greater ethnic diversity within the ‘white Anglo’ population.
Blacks constitute 2.3% (about 20,000 people) of the provincial population and form, by far, the largest visible minority in the province. While most black Canadians immigrated to Canada in the more recent past, Nova Scotia’s substantial black population has far deeper roots. Most came as free ‘black Loyalists’ after the American Revolution or as ‘black refugees’ during the War of 1812, and settled in the Halifax area. Many black Nova Scotians faced racism and discrimination, and lived in deplorable conditions. The town of Preston, outside Dartmouth, has a large black majority (69%).
39% of the population reported their ancestry (multiple response) as ‘Canadian’, a term which seems to indicate a long-time, settled Anglo-Protestant population which has lived in Canada for hundreds of years. Some 73% reported European ancestries, the largest being Scottish (31.2%), English (30.8%), Irish (22.3%), French (17%) and German (10.8%). This gives Nova Scotia the second highest proportion of persons claiming Scottish and Irish ancestries and the third highest proportion claiming English ancestry of all provinces or territories.
Like in New Brunswick, many English Nova Scotians are of United Empire Loyalist descent and settled in the province following the American Revolution. Cumberland County, Shelburne County and the Annapolis Valley have the largest English populations. Most Scots settled on Cape Breton Island or Pictou County; over 50% of the population in Pictou, Inverness and Victoria counties (the last two are on Cape Breton) and Gaelic was widely spoken in northern Nova Scotia and parts of PEI until the late 19th century. Most Irish are found in Antigonish County.
Nova Scotia remains a small French/Acadian minority, and an even smaller French-speaking minority. Those claiming French ancestry are concentrated in Yarmouth and Digby counties in southern NS or in Richmond County (Cape Breton Island), with some sizable numbers in Inverness and Antigonish counties. 30.5% of the population of Digby County claim French as their mother tongue, and Francophones constitute about three-fifths of the population in Clare municipal district. There are isolated French-speaking communities in Yarmouth County (20.3%), Richmond County (Isle Madame, 22.8%) and Inverness County (Chéticamp, 13.1%). Acadians in other parts of the province, notably Antigonish or Guysborough County, have been Anglicized.
Nova Scotia has the largest German (and Dutch, 3.6%) population of the Atlantic provinces. A significant German Protestant population settled in Nova Scotia, particularly Lunenburg County, during early British colonial rule – they were brought in as ‘Foreign Protestants’ by the British to counterbalance the Acadian and native (Mi’kmaq) populations after Britain acquired Nova Scotia from the French. Lunenburg County, by far, still has the largest German population in the province; 32.1% claimed German ancestry in 2011.
76% of the Nova Scotian population is Christian and 21.8% have no religious affiliation. In more detailed terms, 33% of the population is Catholic, 12.1% are adherents of the United Church of Canada, 11% are Anglican and 8.9% are Baptist. The relatively large Anglican population and the large Baptist population (second largest, proportionally, after New Brunswick) is a sign of the province’s large stock of descendants of the United Empire Loyalists. Catholics constitute a large majority of the population on Cape Breton Island, with the exception of Victoria County, which saw more English settlement; and also in Antigonish County. Pictou County, Guysborough County, Halifax County and the Acadian counties of Digby and Yarmouth also have sizable Catholic populations; in contrast, the Catholic population in the Anglo/German counties is quite small. The contentious issue of religious schools, which has been a hot topic of religious (and linguistic) strife in Canadian history, was settled prior to Confederation in Nova Scotia (in 1865) with the adoption of non-denominational schools and allowed after-school Catholic religious education in schools.
Nova Scotian political culture is both similar to and dissimilar to the general political culture of the Atlantic provinces. As in other provinces, provincial politics have been highly influenced by parochialism, tradition, conservatism, pragmatism and a dose of cynicism and caution. However, unlike in the other provinces, the traditional Liberal/Conservative duopoly in provincial politics has been successfully challenged by the NDP.
Ideology and issues have played a relatively minor role in Nova Scotian politics, historically. Since pre-Confederation days, observers have pointed out that few if any meaningful issues or ideologies divided the Liberals and the Conservatives. Both parties reached their positions more on grounds of political expediency rather than principles; for example, the early Liberals opposed expanding the franchise and fought against abolishing the upper house. To this day, both the Liberal and Conservative (PC) parties are moderate, pragmatic and ideologically similar parties while the incumbent NDP government adapted itself to the terrain and governed in a similarly moderate and fairly non-ideological fashion.
No great ethnic, religious, class or ideological antagonisms have had a strong, lasting influence in Nova Scotian elections. Some ethnic and religious voting patterns have been evident, notably with Acadians in particular and Catholics in general tending to lean towards the Liberals. However, unlike in many other Canadian province, the religious cleavage in vote choice at the provincial level has been far less pronounced. Religion and religious conflict has played a role in Nova Scotian politics, notably in pre-Confederation days or in 1954, but the ‘schools question’ was never a major political issue in the province and both parties effectively catered to both Protestants and Catholics. The provincial Conservatives have been considerably less hostile towards Catholics than their counterparts in other provinces and, as a result, they have at times managed to appeal strongly to Catholic voters.
Class politics and the union movement (with industrial workers in steel mills and coal mines) have been more prominent in Nova Scotia than in the other Atlantic provinces, explaining the strength of the CCF/NDP compared to other Atlantic provinces. Class politics and unionization ran highest on Cape Breton Island, historically more influenced by post-Confederation immigration and the tenets of British trade unionism, and Cape Breton Island is where the labour movement found most of their support. However, with that exception, class consciousness has never been particularly high in the province.
Family ties, traditional loyalty, local caution and conservatism as well as patronage sustained the Liberal/Conservative duopoly for well over a hundred years. Patronage in the public sector subsisted well into the 1950s, and pork-and-barrel ‘highway politics’ or the granting of government contracts to party friends continued to be the rule well beyond that. Today, while partisan loyalties are much less solidly entrenched, personality and local party organization plays a large role.
Nova Scotia had a long and rich political history prior to it joining Canadian Confederation in 1848. The House of Assembly was the first legislature in Canada, created in 1758, and Nova Scotia was the first British colony to gain ‘responsible government’ (government responsible to the elected legislature) in 1848, under the leadership of Joseph Howe – who had already led to the creation of the Liberal/Conservative party system in 1836. When Nova Scotia joined Confederation, it did so under the leadership of the pro-Confederation Conservative Premier Charles Tupper (1864-1867).
However, the majority of Charles Tupper’s constituent did not follow him into embracing Confederation with the Canadas in 1867. When Nova Scotia joined Confederation, it was still experiencing a ‘golden age’ because of reciprocity, shipbuilding, lucrative custom duties and international trade; the conservative and cautious people of Nova Scotia, fearing the loss of self-government and the imposition of direct taxation (a major issue in early provincial politics), resisted Confederation.
You think that Quebec was the first Canadian province to elect an outright separatist government in 1976? Think again. Nova Scotia, in 1867, spearheaded by anti-Confederation leader Joseph Howe, elected an overwhelmingly anti-Confederate majority both to the House of Commons in Ottawa (17 of the province’s 18 seats) and to the House of Assembly in Halifax (36 anti-Confederation Liberals against 2 pro-Confederation Conservatives). Joseph Howe immediately went to London to attempt to “repeal” Confederation, but the British refused and Howe quietly accepted the resolution, as did most of his partisans (although the Liberal/anti-Confederation Premier of Nova Scotia, William Annand, proved more radical, but he was a non-entity and was pushed out in 1875). In a sign of the legendary pragmatism of Nova Scotia’s politicians, Howe and most of his followers decided to seek “better terms”for Nova Scotia within Canada – he went as far as joining Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s cabinet as President of the Privy Council (1869-1873) and Secretary of State for the Provinces (1869-1873). Likewise, 10 Anti-Confederation MPs in Ottawa joined Macdonald’s very pro-Confederation Conservatives. However, the anti-Confederation party in provincial politics evolved to become the provincial Liberal Party.
Between 1867 and 1956, Nova Scotia had a one-party (Liberal) dominant system – the NS Liberals governed between 1867 and 1878, between 1882 and 1925 and again between 1933 and 1956. The Liberals’ 43-year old on power between 1882 and 1925 remains, to date, the longest unbroken one-party hold on power in Canada, although the Alberta PCs will break that record in September 2014. The Conservatives won the 1878 election because of a recession, but the Liberals regained power in 1882 and entrenched themselves.
The long era of provincial Liberal dominance, not replicated in federal elections, owed a lot to strong organization (the Liberals built a strong, cohesive province-wide organization, while the Conservatives did not organize province-wide until 1896 and had weak local branches until the 1950s) and able leadership. Indeed, the provincial Conservatives lacked strong leaders: able Tory leaders made their mark in federal, not provincial, politics until the 1960s: Nova Scotians John Thompson, Charles Tupper and Robert Borden all served as federal Tory leaders and Prime Minister of Canada, years later Robert Stanfield took the leadership of the federal PCs during the Trudeau era. In contrast, provincial Tory leaders usually served short periods of times, many failed to win their seats and none of them left a mark on provincial politics unlike the succession of long-serving Liberal Premiers until 1954.
FPTP magnified and exaggerated the winning party’s majority in the legislature, but the popular vote was often far tighter than the seat count. Between 1871 and 1945, the Conservatives dropped below 40% of the vote only once (1920); the Liberals’ best PV result was 56.7% and dropped below 40% only once between 1867 and 1963.
William Stevens Fielding, the Liberal Premier between 1884 and 1896, was the province’s first major Premier. In the 1886 election, angered by Macdonald’s treatment of NS and opposing the Conservatives’ fiscal and tariff policies, Fielding ran on a separatist platform calling for repeal of Confederation. He handily won that election, but he was unable to do that and he quickly became a pragmatist in the line of Joseph Howe. Fielding was the first Premier who took a more active interest in the workings of government, with projects such as building roads and inducing outside interest in developing the province’s coal reserves. Along with Ontario Liberal Premier Oliver Mowat, he became a powerful advocate for provincial rights and in 1896, after helping Wilfrid Laurier’s federal Liberal electoral campaign in NS, resigned to join the federal cabinet where he had a long and illustrious career as Minister of Finance between 1896 and 1911 and again between 1921 and 1925.
His successor as Premier, George Murray, ruled the province for 27 years between 1896 and 1923. This is the longest unbroken tenure for a Canadian head of government, but Murray made no mark on Canadian history and is not as prominent in provincial history as his predecessor and some of his successor. Murray was an affable, moderate and pragmatic leader who was a master of patronage and brokerage politics, carefully balancing labour and capital interests. He was, however, not an innovator – he admitted as much himself, saying he did not want to be a vanguard of public opinion. He refused any initiative which had not proven successful in Ontario.
The 1920 election represented a short-lived deviation from the established political order. United Farmers and Labour candidates won 30.9% of the vote against 24.7% for the Conservatives, forming the Official Opposition with 11 members to the Tories’ 3. The industrial working-class had been hit by the post-war slump, increased freight rates, lower demand for steel, the steep rise in the cost of mining coal and the long, expensive haul to central and western Canadian markets. The Independent Labour Party was formed on Cape Breton in 1917 and on the mainland in 1917. Farmers had widely divergent interests but the economic difficulties, dissatisfaction with the political order and a wage-price squeeze briefly allowed them to federate as their brethren did, with even more success, in Ontario and the Prairies. The United Farmers of Nova Scotia were born in 1919. Murray aptly called an election before either new group could get organized and the press widely denounced them as socialists and Bolsheviks. Once elected, the Farmer-Labour group made a poor impression and the Conservatives quickly recovered.
Indeed, the Conservatives won the 1925 and 1928 elections by attaching themselves to the Maritime Rights movement, active in the 1920s, and effectively serving as the spokesman for discontented Nova Scotians prior to the Great Depression. The Conservatives won 40 out of 43 seats in 1925, and the new Premier, Edgar N. Rhodes, demanded genuine financial concessions from Ottawa in terms of trade, taxation, fisheries and freight rates. Other achievements included abolishing the upper house, administrative reform, teachers’ pensions and allowances for widowed mothers. However, having been reelected by a tight margin in 1928, the Conservatives were in office when the Great Depression struck and where thrown back out of office by the Liberals in 1933.
Angus L. Macdonald, the Liberal Premier between 1933 and 1940 and again between 1945 and 1954, became one of Nova Scotia’s most famous Premier. Macdonald was an impressive orator, a master of new means of communication, had an engaging personality and an attractive biography – a man who rose from humble Catholic Gaelic origins on Cape Breton Island to become a leading law professor. Macdonald perpetuated old Nova Scotian political traditions of patronage, pork-and-barrel road construction (highway politics) and rewarding party friends with jobs and contracts; but Macdonald favoured a more interventionist and activist government, both provincially and federally, than Murray had. His government introduced old age pensions, passed modern labour/union legislation, paved roads and promoted rural electrification. Macdonald, like many of his predecessors, was a vocal advocate of the province’s interests in federal-provincial relations. He argued in favour of federal aid to provinces based on province’s needs, and that Ottawa should assume full responsibility and exclusive jurisdiction over unemployment insurance, old-age pensions and mothers’ allowances.
With the outbreak of war and the 1940 federal election, Macdonald became Minister of Defence in Mackenzie King’s federal Liberal wartime government in Ottawa between 1940 and 1945. He was replaced as Premier by his Highway Minister, A.S. MacMillan, whose five-year tenure was relatively unremarkable but gave the Liberals a third term in office in the 1941 election, which was the first election in which the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), today’s NDP, won seats (it had won its first seat in a 1939 by-election), taking three seats – all from Cape Breton, where the CCF had been endorsed by District 26 of the UMW.
Macdonald returned home in 1945 and took his old job back. Less than two months later, he led the Liberals to a landslide victory in which the Conservative vote fell by 13% to 33.5% and were completely shut out of the legislature, leaving the CCF’s caucus of two (both from Cape Breton) to assume the role of Official Opposition. However, as in 1920, the Conservatives had a phoenix-like rising from the ashes, under a young Robert Stanfield, who became the PC leader in 1948.
Macdonald continued his advocacy for provincial rights in his second term and invested heavily in education, although his second term – from 1945 to his death in 1954 – was not as successful as his first term. The Liberals won reduced, albeit comfortable, majorities in 1949 and 1953. The PCs were reborn, while the CCF maintained a small and very regionalized (Cape Breton) presence in the legislature until they lost their last Cape Breton seat in 1963.
When Macdonald died in 1954, the Liberal Party split along confessional lines, with the Liberals ousting Macdonald’s successor as (interim) Premier, the Catholic Harold Connolly, in favour of the Protestant Henry Hicks. Hicks took the ill-advised decision of raising taxes to finance the provincial education system. This, combined with the loss of Catholic support due to the 1954 confessional split, led to the Liberals’ defeat against Stanfield’s PCs in the 1956 election. It was very close contest, one of the few which didn’t result in an awfully disproportional seat count, but 1956 – or perhaps Stanfield’s landslide third term reelection in 1963 (56% and 39/43 seats) – marked the definitive end of Nova Scotia’s one-party dominant era and the long period of Liberal rule broken by short-lived and forgettable Tory administrations.
Stanfield came from a rather different social milieu than Macdonald – part of a wealthy Truro WASP textile family, but he was a hard-working, honest, and humble man and gained the same slightly paternalistic, elitist ‘father figure’ image that Macdonald had. Stanfield, who was Premier of Nova Scotia until he won the federal PC leadership in 1967, was the quintessential Red Tory – centrist, pragmatic, supportive of government intervention, moderate if not progressive. Under his premiership, the provincial government played an active role in the province’s economic development. Some of his government’s policies included increased funding for education, comprehensive secondary schools, removing the worst aspects of party patronage (creating a professional bureaucracy and respecting the Civil Service Commission, set up in 1935 but used by the Liberals as a shield for their patronage) and setting up a hospital insurance scheme. More famously, he created a Crown corporation to attract private investment to the province – including a heavy water factory, a colour TV factory and auto assembly plants.
Stanfield was replaced by G.I. “Ike” Smith, whose term was plagued by economic problems. The owner of the Cape Breton coal mines and steel mills had announced in 1965 its intention to close its mines on the island within 15 years, which led the federal Liberal government, in 1967, to nationalize the mines in a new Crown corporation which would focus on operating and phasing out the mines and developing new economic opportunities. In 1967, that same company announced the closure of its Sydney steel plant, leading Smith’s government to nationalize Sydney Steel. The province was also forced to take ownership of the colour TV factory and a heavy water plant. Smith’s tenure was not without its achievements, but the PCs narrowly lost the 1970 election to Gerald Regan’s Liberals, with a minority government. The NDP won two seats, again on Cape Breton, the first seats in seven years.
During the campaign, Regan had said that he found Smith too socialistic, but that didn’t keep the Liberals from favouring government intervention just as much. To be sure, Regan’s election ushered in a more businesslike and technocratic style, but the government played a large role in promoting offshore oil and gas exploration on Sable Island and created a new publicly-owned power system (Nova Scotia Power) by taking over a privately-owned company. The Liberal government provided free drugs for pensioners, free dental care for schoolchildren, formulated Canada’s first freedom of information act and introduced collective bargaining for fishermen and public servants. Regan’s Liberals were reelected in 1974, defeating the PCs, led by the more populistic John Buchanan since 1971.
However, voters punished the Liberals for high utility prices, a poor economy and unfulfilled promises in the 1978 election, in which the PCs won 31 seats to the Grits’ 17 and a record 4 seats for the NDP (again, all from Cape Breton). The NDP’s difficulty to win seats on the mainland upset the party’s Haligonian party establishment and led to internal battles. The middle-class and ‘urban progressive’ Haligonian win won out, with Alexa McDonough, but a rogue Cape Breton MLA, Paul MacEwan, was expelled from the NDP in 1980 and founded the Cape Breton Labour Party in 1982, which emphasized working-class issues more than the new Haligonian NDP leadership.
Premier John Buchanan’s PCs were reelected in 1981, in which the Liberals won only 33% of vote and in which the NDP won its first seat on the mainland (MacEwan was reelected on Cape Breton). Buchanan’s government negotiated an offshore development agreement with Ottawa and reorganized the fisheries sector; on the other hand, he faced a number of economic and political problems. The man who would later become known as ‘Teflon John’, however, remained very popular with voters, who liked his ‘down-to-earth’ populist style. He was reelected with an increased majority in 1984, while the Liberals won only 31% and 6 seats – their leader not among them. The NDP, criticizing the government’s cuts in social services, won three seats – all on the mainland this time.
Buchanan’s third term proved difficult. Oil and gas exploration gradually stopped after an underwater gas well exploded and federal oil grants were phased out. The industrial town of Glace Bay (Cape Breton) was hit hard by a mine fire, a fisheries plant burning down and the closure of the two heavy water plants by Ottawa – while Sydney Steel continued to face a host of problems. Other parts of the province, however, saw greater economic success.
The PCs were plagued by a variety of scandals involving many cabinet ministers and PC MLAs. For example, the Deputy Premier was forced to resign after revelations that he had pressured banks to write off some $140,000 in personal loans in 1980 and the attorney general’s office had later interefered with an RCMP criminal investigation into the matter. The government was also hurt by a judicial inquiry into the case of a Mi’kmaq man convicted to 11 years in jail for a murder he did not commit; the investigation revealed incompetence, racism and coverups from police, the judicial system and attorney generals since 1970.
Despite these scandals, “Teflon John” managed to win a fourth term in office in 1988, although with a significantly reduced majority: the PCs won 28 seats to the Liberals’ 21 and the NDP’s 2 seats. The fourth term is a classic example of “one term too much” – it was a real trainwreck for the PCs, and led to a Liberal landslide in the 1993 election. Nova Scotia and most of Atlantic Canada’s economies suffered in the 1990s, and NS was badly hit by the fisheries crisis which meant a major decline in the fishing industry and job loses in the fish processing industries. If that was not bad enough, the wave of scandals which had begun hitting the PCs before 1988 became a tsunami which went up to the Premier himself. A former cabinet minister implicated Buchanan in cases of corruption and nepotism; it came out after he resigned from office that Buchanan had received about $1 million in PC party funds while he was Premier, including $40,000 annually to supplement his salary.
Buchanan resigned in September 1990 and was named to the Senate by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. His successor, after a PC convention, was Donald Cameron, who was left with the unenviable job of picking up the pieces. Cameron tried to clean up government and passed landmark conflict of interest, party financing and human rights legislation. The 1991 budget froze public sector wages and cut 300 jobs in the governments, and in 1992 he privatized Nova Scotia Power. His efforts to rebuild were hurt by the revelations of Buchanan’s finances, and by a 1992 mine disaster which killed 26.
John Savage’s Liberals won a landslide in the 1993 elections, taking 40 seats out of 52 and reducing the PCs to only 9 MLAs. Savage was confronted with a terrible economic situation, which forced the Liberals to introduce a string of unpopular austerity budgets. Savage raised the sales tax, imposed a surtax on high incomes, curbed public sector wages, cuts jobs in the public sector and made major spending cuts in education and healthcare. Influenced by New Public Management tenets including ‘efficiency’, ‘privatization’ and ‘downsizing’, Savage at first cut back on patronage appointments and reformed the public sector, but Liberal pressure forced him to loosen his stance on patronage appointments. Savage was compelled to resign in 1997, and was replaced by Russell MacLellan.
The 1998 election was a turning point in NS history. Although the Liberals won the most votes and 19 seats, the NDP made major gains and formed the Official Opposition, with 19 seats (up from 3), leaving the PCs with 14 seats. A year earlier, in the federal election, the NDP had won 6 seats in the province while the federal Liberals were shut out entirely due to Prime Minister Chrétien’s unpopular cuts to unemployment insurance and other programs. MacLellan remained in office for a bit over a year, forming a minority government with PC support. In July 1999, John Hamm’s PCs won a majority government with 30 seats against 11 apiece for the NDP and Liberals.
Under Hamm’s first term, Cape Breton Island’s remaining steel mills and coal mines shut down entirely (in 2001). The PC government sold off Sydney Still Corporation, the provincially-owned operator of the Sydney steel mill. The federal Crown corporation in charge of the coal mines, DEVCO, sold all surface assets in December 2001. Otherwise, the PC government balanced public finances and cut taxes. Hamm’s PC government was reduced to a minority in the 2003 election, winning 25 seats to the NDP’s 15 and the Liberals’ 12.
Hamm stepped down in late 2005 and was replaced by Rodney MacDonald, who sought a mandate of his own in June 2006. The PCs gained 3% in the popular vote, but suffered a net loss of 2 seats, being reduced to 23 seats against 20 for the NDP and a pitiful 9 for the Liberals, who, with only 23% of the vote, won their worst result ever.
MacDonald’s government, worn down by some scandals, lost a confidence vote and was defeated by Darrell Dexter’s NDP in the June 2009 election. The NDP made major gains in both the popular vote and seat count, winning 45% of the vote and a majority government with 31 seats. The Liberals made smaller gains, winning 27% of the vote and 11 seats, but this was enough to place them in second. The governing PCs fell to third place with only 24.5% of the vote and 10 seats.
Campaign and issues
Dexter, forming the first NDP government anywhere in the Atlantic provinces, governed in a very moderate fashion, going out of his way to appear as a centrist and ‘reasonable’ leader; something which has worked well for the NDP in Manitoba or Saskatchewan but didn’t prove successful for Dexter in NS. His government’s record was mixed, hardly a disaster but failing to live up to the high expectations voters had set in the NDP in 2009.
Dexter’s backers point to his government’s fairly solid economic record. The province is projected to post a $18.3 million surplus (0.04% of GDP) in FY 2013-14 – one of only four provinces to do (BC, SK, QC, NS) and real GDP growth for 2013 is expected to be 1.7%. It had balanced the budget in 2010-11 but posted a small deficit since then. Credit rating agencies gave the province high ratings.
His critics on the left, however, accuse him of doing so by embracing austerity (while the right criticized him for raising taxes). Dexter’s government made substantial funding cuts to education, health care and post-secondary education over a four-year period estimated at $772 million. It lifted the freeze on tuition fee increases, and undergrad tuition fees in the province have increased to an average of $5,934/student in 2012-13, one of the highest in the country. With unions, Dexter’s government proved only marginally more friendly than his predecessors’ governments, making some fairly limited changes to trade union legislation, although critics claimed that his changes were still too friendly to unions. The NDP was called out by left-leaning think-tanks such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) for doing little to improve labour standards. The left also criticized Dexter for abandoning rent control, a measure which was welcomed by landlords and business.
Above all, perhaps, Dexter got lots of flack from the left for ‘corporate welfare’, ostensibly to create jobs. The government gave millions of dollars in loans or tax breaks to business including shipyards, an aquaculture firm and Imperial Oil. Were these wise investments which will create jobs in the long-term? Time will tell, but the NDP’s left-wing base didn’t like the optics of it much.
By his first year in office, Dexter was hit by the MLAs expenses scandal, in which the Auditor General reported that many MLAs – from all parties, and incidents predating the 2009 election – had filled excessive or inappropriate expense claims. The scandal, again, hit all three parties – two Liberal, one PC and one ex-NDP MLAs were all forced to resign – and Dexter himself had questionable expense claims of his own. Dexter’s government did a poor job of handling the scandal, in the process voters – who a few months earlier had seen the NDP as something new and a breath of fresh air – got angry at the government and disillusion set in.
A major factor which has been cited to explain the NDP government’s unpopularity was that the party quickly lost touch with rural Nova Scotia, where the NDP had done tremendously well in 2009. The province’s economy has not been too shabby, but Halifax is one of the few regions which has actually prospered since the NDP came to power, while rural NS declined. To add to this perception of rural/urban disparities in growth, the NDP fumbled a number of rural issues, the most noteworthy of which was the December 2009 cancellation of the Yarmouth Ferry, which connected the southern municipality of Yarmouth with Maine; to make matters worse, the government announced and handled this decision in a aloof, disconnected manner which gave a strong impression that the NDP just “didn’t get” rural NS.
The government, as aforementioned, was far from being a total disaster. On healthcare, the NDP was able to find a strong middle ground between closing rural ERs and keeping them open, in the form of Collaborative Emergency Care Centres (miniature ERs in small communities with paramedics and nurses). Although the cuts to education were criticized by some, others welcomed Dexter’s trimming of the education budget, arguing that the government was challenging school boards to identify savings and tackle the decline in elementary and secondary school enrollment. On environmental issues, the NDP government took a fairly strong stance on climate change and especially wilderness protection. The government’s energy policy hasn’t been well received by voters (disliking an increase in power rates), the opposition) and some industries (natural gas and wind power), but Dexter’s ‘Maritime Link’ scheme to to receive electricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador has generated some positive responses. The project would diversify NS’s energy sources and reduce its historical dependence on fossil fuels.
The NDP platform’s main planks included continuing to deliver balanced budgets (and decrying the ‘financial recklessness’ of the Liberals and PCs), reducing the harmonized sales tax (HST) by 1% a year in 2014 and 2015 to reduce it to 13%, taking the HST off ‘family essentials’ (strollers, children’s car seats) and keeping it off home energy, capping elementary school class sizes at 25 students, defending the Maritime Link project, adding five new Collaborative Emergency Centres and open clinics staffed by nurse practitioners.
The Liberal platform did not delve deep into specifics and was filled with flowery language and pablum. The main planks emphasized by the Liberals included “standing up to Nova Scotia Power” by breaking Nova Scotia Power’s private monopoly and creating a regulated, competitive energy market; job creation (focusing on small businesses); balanced budgets (and criticism of the NDP’s corporate ‘handouts’); reinvesting in education after NDP cuts; healthcare and seniors. Deregulation of the energy market is a fairly right-wing plank, and the Liberal platform used populist rhetoric on the matter (‘enough is enough’, ‘standing up to Nova Scotia Power’ etc). The Liberals pledged to reduce the HST, but only when the province reaches a sufficient budget surplus. On healthcare, the Liberals proposed to cut provincial health boards from 10 to 2 and use savings to pay for more family doctors and reduce hip/knee replacement time. On education, the Liberals platform called for capping KG-Grade 2 classes to 20 students and Grades 3-6 classes to 25 students. On issues such as education, the Yarmouth Ferry or community services it does seem like the Liberals took populistic stances challenging the NDP on issues where its performance was criticized.
In one of the ironies of Atlantic Canadian politics, the PCs might have been to the left of the Liberals in this campaign (although it’s a rather pointless point to argue), especially as the Liberals came to be defined with their ‘standing up to Nova Scotia Power’ stuff. On the issue of energy, for example, the PCs proposed to freeze electricity rates for five years (magically?) and lower renewable energy targets. Other PC platform planks included cutting the HST to 13%, creating 20k jobs (again critical of the NDP’s corporate welfare), reducing school boards from 10 to 4, cutting the number of district health authorities from 10 to 3 and a derided goal to increase the provincial population to 1 million by 2025.
The Greens, who ran a full slate in 2009, only nominated 16 (/51) candidates this year. Their platform, for what it’s worth, included funding public rail transit across the province, mandating Nova Scotia Power to use 100% renewable energy by 2020, introduce a guaranteed annual income and removing parental income as a factor in student loan system.
Turnout was 59.08%, virtually unchanged from last time (58%). This is, by recent historical standards, very low. Changes compared to the 2009 election.
Liberal 45.71% (+18.51%) winning 33 seats (+22)
PC 26.31% (+1.77%) winning 10 seats (+1)
NDP 26.84% (-18.4%) winning 7 seats (-24)
Greens 0.85% (-1.49%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 0.3% (-0.38%) winning 0 seats (nc)
For once, the pollsters were right. Canadian pollsters have had a tough time, for some reason, calling provincial elections; the most recent and memorable case being that of the BC provincial election in May; the BC NDP was widely expected to defeat the incumbent BC Liberal government, but the Liberals were reelected with a substantial margin of victory over the NDP. Some believed that the same thing could happen in Nova Scotia, although the NS Liberals’ lead in polls in the final stretch was far larger than any lead the BC NDP (or Alberta Wildrose in 2012) held in the final stretch; the NS Liberals led the NDP by about 20 points in all the final polls.
The pollsters generally correctly predicted the Liberals and NDP’s share of the vote, perhaps slightly overestimating the Liberals (but by 1-2% at most) and NDP (again by 1-2% at most). In turn, they underestimated the PCs by about 1-3%.
What was most surprising about the results was how poorly the NDP ended up doing: not only did they get trounced for reelection (unsurprisingly) but they placed third in the seat count, meaning that Jamie Baillie’s PCs will form the Official Opposition to the Liberal government; the first time the NDP has failed to place first or second since 1993 (which predates the emergence of the NDP as a potent force in NS politics) and the worst NDP result (in seat and % terms) since that same date. The NDP did place second ahead of the PCs on the popular vote by a few decimal points, but they won 3 seats less than the PCs did; mostly, I think, because the NDP got screwed over in Halifax, which was also rather surprising. Premier Darrell Dexter lost his own seat by 31 votes to the Liberals – one of those surprising Liberal gains in the HRM.
I haven’t analyzed the NDP’s vote distribution at all, but I have a hunch that its vote was more evenly distributed than the PC vote and, hence, ended up losing a number of tight races to the Liberals/PCs. What is also remarkable, by glancing at my map’s shading above, is how tight almost all of the NDP seats ended up being. The NDP did not win any seat with a margin over 10%; in fact their biggest victory was a 5.8% margin in Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River and a 5.6% margin in Sydney-Whitney Pier (a 573 vote majority). About 2,100 less votes for the NDP would have wiped them out and 2,100 votes extra would allow them to have 15 seats.
In any case, Stephen McNeil’s Liberals won a large majority government, basically as impressive as Dexter’s NDP majority government in 2009. Unlike Dexter, McNeil was not able to thoroughly sweep rural areas – but he won his majority government by nearly sweeping the HRM (Halifax metro) and performing fairly well in rural parts of the province outside the old Grit stronghold in the Annapolis Valley and the Acadian counties.
I explained some of the reasons for the NDP’s unpopularity above. A large part of the explanation can be summarized as being that the NDP failed to live up to the unreasonably high expectations that voters had placed in them in 2009, failed to create the “new politics” which everybody promises but which no politician actually delivers (of course) and forgot about its core electorate in going out of its way to appear as a centrist, fiscally responsible governing party. When you had these explanations to Nova Scotia’s contemporary political culture: low polarization, a very fickle electorate and three parties which run around in a circle ideologically; and the NDP’s defeat makes sense.
The NDP had a decent run in office, but it failed to cater to its base and its attempts to break old stereotypes of the NDP as ‘anti-business’, socialist or ‘pro-union’ did not help it maintain its exceptional 2009 levels of support. The NDP, likely out of cabinet inexperience, mishandled a number of important events or issues (HST hike, expenses scandal, energy, Yarmouth Ferry, the case surrounding the tragic suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, corporate welfare etc) and that hurt their credibility and support in voters’ eyes.
In contrast, the NS Liberals were reinvigorated after a tough stretch in the wilderness since 1999. At least part of that likely comes as a ‘trickle down effect’ of federal political trends (the NS Liberals are still officially tied to the federal Libs) – a look at the polls over the NDP’s government shows you, for example, that the Liberals fell back into third place in polling for a while after the federal Liberals were decimated in May 2011. Now, the new Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, is still rather popular across the country and the federal Liberals have posted massive leads over the NDP and Stephen Harper’s unpopular Conservative government in the Atlantic region since Trudeau won the Liberal leadership contest earlier this year. After all, Stephen McNeil tried to harness some of Trudeau’s support – Trudeau campaigned for McNeil at least once. Similarly, the PCs, held down by the unpopular MacDonald and Hamm governments, were likely further hurt by the unpopularity of Harper’s Tories in the region at the moment.
The most surprising aspect of the result was the large swing against the NDP government in the HRM. Heavy swings were expected (and did materialize) in rural Nova Scotia, but most had expected that the NDP would manage to resist fairly well in the HRM, which is a traditionally Dipper region both provincially and federally. However, the heaviest swing against the NDP came in the HRM, the NDP’s vote share fell by about 23 points to 31%, a distant second behind the Liberals (49%). The NDP won only 2 seats against 18 for the Liberals in this seat-rich region of Nova Scotia. One of the seats which the NDP lost was Premier Dexter’s own seat, Cole Harbour-Portland Valley.
The NDP only managed to narrowly save two of its seats in the HRM: Halifax Needham (with a 3.5% majority) and Sackville-Cobequid (with a 1.1% majority). Halifax Needham covers the city’s North End, a traditionally deprived working-class neighborhood which is also popular with students and other urban progressives. Maureen MacDonald, the NDP MLA since 1998 and outgoing finance minister, won reelection. Sackville-Cobequid is centered around the working-class suburb of Lower Sackville, an area which has been represented by the provincial NDP since 1993. That was it, however, for the NDP.
The party was shut out of Dartmouth, even ridings like low-income Dartmouth North (lost by 14 – likely hurt by the stench of the former NDP MLA, forced to resign for the expense scandal) or blue-collar Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage (lost by 2). In Cole Harbour-Portland Valley, Premier Dexter likely lost because redistribution tacked on the Liberal/PC-leaning affluent neighborhood of Portland Valley to complement traditionally NDP blue-collar suburban neighborhoods such as Woodlawn and Forest Hills. The Liberals picked up Dartmouth South, a more middle-class seat which includes downtown Dartmouth, by 13 points. Liberal MLA Andrew Younger, a popular councillor who had gained Darthmouth East from the NDP in 2009, was reelected with 64% of the vote.
In Timberlea-Prospect, a suburban/exurban seat west of Halifax, the NDP was hurt by the retirement of their wildly popular MLA Bill Estabrooks (70% of the vote in 2009) and the Liberals won the seat with 51.9% to the NDP’s 26%. The Liberals picked up other NDP ridings in the HRM including Halifax Atlantic, Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, Halifax Armdale and Halifax Chebucto. Halifax Chebucto has been held by the NDP since 1981 for all but one term, including by former NDP leader Alexa McDonough, although it is probably more middle-class (= more Liberal) and has different boundaries than in the 80s. The Liberals held the rather affluent middle-class suburban ridings of Bedford and Clayton Park West by huge margins, and picked up other exurban/suburban ridings (Sackville-Beaver Bank, Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank, Hammond Plains-Lucasville, Fairview-Clayton Park) from the NDP.
In rural Nova Scotia, candidate personality/quality still plays a large role. For example, Colchester North MLA Karen Casey, elected as a Tory in 2009, was reelected as a Liberal with 61% to the PCs’ 26.4%. Yarmouth Liberal MLA Zach Churchill, who had picked up the seat from the PCs in a 2010 by-election, was reelected with 82% of the vote (the NDP won only 2.6% in the riding hit hard by the cancellation of the ferry). In Glace Bay, the depressed post-industrial (mining) riding on Cape Breton, Liberal MLA Geoff MacLellan was reelected with 80.4%. The Liberals’ hold on the Annapolis Valley is also due in part to personality, popular incumbents Stephen McNeil and Leo Glavine both won reelection with about 75% of the vote. On the other hand, in the redistributed (partly) Acadian riding of Clary-Digby, the Liberal majority was sharply reduced by the retirement of both of the new seat’s incumbents and the presence of a Francophone PC candidate: the Liberals won 54.7% to the PCs 31.1%. Acadians lean heavily Liberal, but they can easily vote for an Acadian Tory – Acadian Tory MLA Chris d’Entremont was reelected in Argyle-Barrington with 54.6%.
A very disappointing results for the PCs was their failure to retake Cumberland North, a Tory stronghold which fell to the Dippers in 2009 on the back of a split in the Tory vote; the NDP lost the seat but the Liberals won with a majority of nearly 10% on the Tories. In Cumberland South, PC leader Jamie Baillie was reelected with 51%. On the other hand, the PCs retook all three of Pictou County’s ridings from the NDP, the Liberals are very weak (for some reason) in Pictou County and were not a factor; probably the only part of the province where the Liberals weren’t even in contention.
On Cape Breton Island, the PCs lost one seat – Victoria-The Lakes – to the Liberals; their candidate, Pam Eyking, was the wife of federal Liberal MP Mark Eyking. Another federal Liberal MP’s wife, Kelly Regan, was reelected in Bedford (her husband is Halifax West MP Geoff Regan, himself the son of former Liberal Premier Gerald Regan). The NDP held its two industrial Cape Breton ridings with significantly reduced majorities.
In good part, it seems that the government lost reelection more than the opposition won the election, although McNeil was a strong candidate in his own right and the Liberals ran a strong campaign. Regardless of the NDP’s successes in governing the province, their mistakes and gaffes hurt them badly and created a certain malaise within the electorate. Their defeat leaves them in a weak position, a third party in the legislature for the first time in over a decade, and leaderless for the time being. The Tories did not prove much stronger, despite placing second.
The Liberals now face the tough time of governing. Just like the Liberals successfully attacked the NDP on energy and electricity rates, the Liberal government will likely be defined by its handling of one of its cornerstone proposals – breaking Nova Scotia Power’s private monopoly and the effect thereof on utility prices (an issue which contributed to the defeat of a few NS Premiers in the past…). However, the Liberals likely come in with much lower (realistic) expectations than the NDP came in with in 2009.
Guest Post: Irish Referenda 2013
I was fortunate enough to receive a guest post on the October 4 Irish referenda, which I did not have time to cover, from David J. Barrett
Two referenda took place in the Republic Ireland on the 4th of October on whether to abolish Seanad Éireann (the Irish Senate), Ireland’s rather powerless upper house, and on whether to establish a Court of Civic Appeal.
The Seanad has long been criticised in the Ireland due to its seeming irrelevance and extremely convoluted electoral system. The original constitution of the Irish Free State in 1922 contained a senate, which was used originally as a means to ensure the representation of the remaining Protestant Unionists in Irish politics, and was at first appointed and then elected as a nationwide, nineteen-seat constituency by PR-STV in 1925, which was considered chaotic, and replaced by selection by parliament. While it did return a lot of Protestant members, it also proved to be a stronghold for the fairly conservative Cumann na nGaedhael, which proved problematic when they retained a majority in the chamber after the party lost nationally in 1932. After making it a point to delay every piece of legislation of note by the new Fianna Fáil government, even after another election in 1933 which reaffirmed Fianna Fáil’s new dominance of the Irish party system; the party proposed the Senate’s abolition in 1936. Predictably this was also delayed, before the chamber was abolished entirely.
The modern Seanad was created by the new Irish constitution of 1937, and owes a lot to the corporatist ideas of Fascist Italy that were popular in political circles in Ireland at the time. The Seanad was given only very limited delaying powers of up to ninety days, and was elected in an extremely convoluted manner.
43 members are elected by five ‘vocational’ panels, returning between five and eleven members. The panels are meant to represent various sectors of Irish society and are named after those sections, such as the ‘Cultural and Educational Panel’ and the ‘Labour Panel’. Organisations involved in those areas have some rights in the way of nominating people for election, but the electorate for each panel consists of local councillors, members of Dáil Éireann (the lower house of Parliament) and outgoing members of the Seanad. This means that in practice no vocational members were ever elected and were almost never nominated for these seats, with most elected for them in recent years being former or future members of the Dáil and very much party politicians.
An additional six seats are elected by university graduates, with three returned by the graduates of Trinity College Dublin, a traditionally Protestant university, and another three by the graduates of the National University of Ireland, an umbrella group consisting of four other universities – University College Dublin, University College Cork, National University of Ireland Galway and National University of Ireland Maynooth. The graduates of Ireland’s other two universities, Dublin City University and the University of Limerick, do not have a vote.
The final eleven seats are appointed by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the day, who generally appoints promising party members who they feel can challenge for a seat in the Dáil in the next election, although they have also been known to select prominent figures in Northern Ireland for a seat. This inbuilt addition of eleven government seats means that only one Irish government has not had a majority in the Seanad, however the current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, used most of his appointments to appoint prominent members of civil society, such as Fiach Mac Conghail, the Director of the Irish National Theatre Company, and Katherine Zappone, a theology professor who is pursuing a court case to get her Canadian same-sex marriage recognised in Ireland.
Background to the Referenda
While no one was particularly happy with the Seanad, and many reports were issued as to its reform, no government ever did anything. This reached a climax with a referendum passed in 1979 to give all graduates the vote for the university seats, which was never legislated for.
Faced with increased questioning of his leadership, Fine Gael leader and then opposition leader Enda Kenny said that, if elected, Fine Gael would propose a referendum to abolish the Seanad, visibly surprising the Seanad leader of his party sitting next to him at the press conference, as it was felt he needed to do something bold and dramatic to keep hold of the party leadership. The idea took hold, and Labour and Fianna Fáil included it as part of their manifesto in the 2011 election, and was included in the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government’s programme for government.
Despite calls for the proposal to be put to the newly formed Constitutional Convention as a proposed change to the Irish constitution, this was not done and a referendum was announced for October 4th 2013, along with a larger procedural and uncontroversial amendment to establish a Court of Appeal.
Richard Bruton, Kenny’s defeated leadership and now Minister for Enterprise, was put in charge of the Fine Gael campaign. Also on the Yes side were their coalition partners in Labour, the republican and nationalist Sinn Fein, the small far-left Socialist Party and the civil society group One House. In opposition were Fianna Fail (motivated to do a u-turn and oppose the referendum presumably as a means of inflicting a defeat on Kenny), the now tiny Irish Green Party and the civil society groups Democracy Matters and Future Matters.
The campaign opened with polls showing wide leads for abolition. Fine Gael ran a very focus-group led campaign, with posters pointing out the Seanad cost the Ireland €20 million a year, and (ironically from the largest party in the state) that abolition would result in fewer politicians. While the party spent a lot of money on the campaign, the campaign never really caught the imagination of party activists and they stayed oddly muted.
The other Yes advocates focused on the undemocratic nature of Seanad elections, arguing that a chamber chosen by the already educated and powerful in Irish society was inherently wrong. This could be seen in Sinn Fein’s election slogan of ‘Equality not Elitism’ and the Socialists pointing out how many people had votes in the poorest parts of Dublin as compared to the richest. The support of groups for yes was regarded as surprising, as both parties are known for opposing virtually every referendum proposed by any government, with Sinn Fein’s at least likely motivated by attempting to seem more ‘responsible’. Labour’s campaign however was very lukewarm, with many prominent party members, including Joanna Tuffy and the party’s Seanad leader Ivana Bacik actively campaigning against the proposal, to no visible sanctions from party headquarters.
The No side said that the proposal was part of a government ‘powergrab’ that was undemocratic and intended to silence dissenting voices, pointing out that no reform had ever actually been done, so abolition was somewhat premature. No group on the No side defended the status-quo. The Fianna Fail, the most prominent No party, used the slogan ‘Demand Real Reform’ while the Greens ran with ‘Democracy is Priceless’ (although with posters only in the parts of Dublin where the party has the best hopes to rebuild). Democracy Matters ran a highly visible campaign, highlighting all of the prominent figures of Irish liberalism that were elected by the Seanad that was widely regarded as effective.
While the polls narrowed, every poll showed a lead for the Yes side, often over 50%, and the campaign failed to capture the public imagination. A debate on the issue on RTE, the Irish national broadcaster, between Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin and Enda Kenny was rejected by Kenny, who largely did not personally campaign, and his place in the debate was filled by Bruton. This was seen by many commentators as ‘chickening out’. Kenny argued that the Taoiseach of the day does not personally campaign on referenda and they are not partisan issues however.
There was no campaign for either a Yes or a No on the Court of Appeals, which was regarded as dull, procedural and a ‘common-sense’ solution to the problem of an overloaded Supreme Court.
Turnout was 39.17% for the Seanad question and 39.15% for the Court of Appeal question.
Abolition of the Seanad
No 51.73% (634,437 votes)
Yes 48.27% (591,937 votes)
Court of Appeal
Yes 65.16% (795,008 votes)
No 34.84% (425,047 votes)
The Referendum to abolish the Seanad was narrowly defeated, while that to establish a Court of Appeal was very comfortably passed, with a victory in every constituency.
The geography of the Seanad result was somewhat odd. The highest No vote was observed in Dublin South East, an extremely wealthy and somewhat bohemian constituency that has a high number of rich professionals, politicians (the Irish parliament building is in the constituency) and students (Trinity College Dublin is there as well) which gave the Yes side a mere 39%. However every constituency in Dublin, whatever their demographic profile, returned a No vote, as did the whole commuter belt around the city. Greater Dublin’s relative uniformity on the issue largely carried the day for the No side, whose performance was quite patchy outside of the capital.
In the south, Cork City’s wealthy southern suburbs were against abolition (unsurprisingly as this is Martin’s political base) but the more working class areas in the north of the city were narrowly in favour – apparently due to an active campaign by a local Sinn Fein deputy. The proposal similarly narrowly passed through Limerick City, while losing in Galway in the west, which has more students.
While some rural areas in Cork were very narrowly against abolition, these constituencies also have spillover from Cork’s suburbs in them as well. The only genuinely rural Nos were in the two northern Donegal constituencies, which seem to habitually oppose any proposal even slightly controversial (Donegal North East also had highest No vote to the Court of Appeals, and they were the only constituencies to oppose the European Fiscal Compact two years ago for instance). This will be very disappointing for Sinn Fein, who are very strong in the area and would have hoped their campaign would influence people there more.
Aside from the already mentioned Cork North Central and Limerick City, every area that voted Yes was rural, with the highest Yes vote being in Kenny’s own constituency of Mayo (57%), but many of them were quite narrow indeed.
While there were no publically released exit polls with demographic breakdowns there was clearly an urban-rural divide, something that seems to manifest itself in every Irish election that is not a General Election, and was certainly seen in the 2011 presidential election, and while it seems plausible that education made a difference (as more educated people were more likely to be voters in the Seanad already) we cannot know that from the result.
Notably, there is a heavy correlation between Fianna Fail support in a constituency and a Yes vote, and for Labour support and a No vote, something both parties will be keen to downplay when they go through the effectiveness of their campaigns. Fine Gael and Sinn Fein seemed to make no difference.
The turnout was very low, and was only somewhat above the 33% turnout of the Children’s Rights referendum of last year. There is talk of Ireland suffering ‘referendum fatigue’. These are the fifth and sixth referenda of this parliamentary term, with at least five more expected to be proposed over the coming years, including undoubtedly contentious polls over legalising same-sex marriage and lowering the voting age. While it is hard to get people excited over the abolition of a largely powerless upper house and these are more ‘meaningful’ issues to most people there is the possibility of referenda becoming dominated only by the seriously politically committed – the sort of anoraks with unrepresentative views of the general population that result in the banishment of the moderate middle from the Irish electorate.
What happens now?
The result is a real blow to Enda Kenny, who was seen as the personal leader of the Yes side and the Seanad proposal being very much a personal crusade, His refusal to debate is now seen as much more damaging than it did at the time, and the result is ominous for the readiness of the Fine Gael organisation for an undoubtedly difficult local election campaign next year.
Kenny’s association with the idea was such that apparent ineffectiveness of Labour and Sinn Fein has been largely ignored, but the lack of either to a real ideological commitment to abolition probably meant that they never really cared enough to really run serious campaigns, with Labour in particular conserving reserves for the local elections.
Kenny has indicated his intention to treat the result as a vote for reform of the Seanad, as the No side had hoped, but no one is of yet very sure of what that means, except that the graduates of all universities are likely to be given a vote for the six university senators, but beyond that – as nobody wants another referendum on the issue which is what real reform would need – it seems likely that the idea of Seanad reform will be eventually passed to the constitutional convention, which will issue recommendations but nothing seems likely for the remainder of this parliamentary term.
If you wish to contribute a guest post on any election or subject related to electoral politics, please email me at glhermine<at>gmail.com
Federal elections were held in Austria on September 29, 2013. All 183 members of the National Council (Nationalrat), the lower house of the Austrian Parliament, were up for reelection.
The National Council is elected by proportional representation using partially open lists. For electoral purposes, Austria is divided into nine regional electoral districts (the nine federal states) and further subdivided into 39 local electoral districts. Political parties submit regional, state and federal lists; voters then cast their vote for a party, but they may also indicate their preference for one regional list candidate and one local list candidate. If they cast their vote for one party but then attribute their preferences to other lists’ candidates, only their vote for the party stands and their preferential votes are not counted. A statewide electoral quota, calculated by the Hare method, is used to allocate seats at both the regional and state levels; seats won by a party at the regional level are accordingly subtracted from its corresponding statewide seat total, and the remaining mandates come from the party’s state lists. Finally, all 183 National Council seats are distributed at the federal level by the d’Hondt rule; seats won by a party at the state level are then deducted from its corresponding nationwide seat total, and the remaining mandates are allocated from the party’s federal lists. A party must receive at least 4% of the vote or win at least one local mandate to secure representation.
Candidates may be ‘moved up’ the list through preferential votes if they win 14% in the regional constituency, or 10% in the state constituency or 7% federally.
The upper house, the Federal Council (Bundesrat) is, similarly to Germany, intended to provide representation for the states in Austria’s federal system. The 61 members of the upper house are indirectly elected by proportional representation by each state’s legislature (Landtage), with each state holding between 3 and 12 seats dependent on its population. Unlike in Germany, where the Bundesrat is rather powerful, the Austrian Bundesrat is weak and its powers are limited. It only has an absolute veto power over constitutional laws limiting the powers of the states, laws relating to the Bundesrat and treaties concerning the jurisdiction of the states. On other issues, it only has a dilatory veto, which the National Council can override easily. The weakness and near-irrelevance of the upper house in day-to-day politics has led to calls for it to be abolished or strengthened on the model of the German Bundesrat.
Austria’s party system
Between 1945 and the 1990s, Austria had a stable two-party system, dominated by the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). Since the 1990s, Austrian politics became far more competitive, pluralist, depillarized (like in the Netherlands) and unstable with the rise of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) on the right of the spectrum and the growing weight of the Greens on the left.
Austrian society was pillarized (similar to Belgium or the Netherlands) until the 1960s and marked by a “two-camp mentality”. The two main camps, the ‘reds’ (Social Democrats) and the ‘blacks’ (Catholic conservatives), were more than two political parties: they formed tightly-knit and highly organized social milieus whose influence extended to the social, cultural and economic spheres. There were well-defined ‘red’ and ‘black’ trade unions, radio/TV stations, newspapers, student unions, recreational organizations, aid organizations, youth and pensioner organizations and typical leisure activities (skiing for the right, football for the left). During this era, political allegiances were rather solidly set in stone – there were no dramatic changes in the parties’ results from one election to another, and the main parties won fairly similar results in elections between 1945 and the mid-1980s.
On a geographic level, state governments reflect this tradition of solid political allegiances. ‘Red Vienna’ has been governed by Social Democrats since 1945 (and, with the exception of 1934-1945, since 1919), who even held an absolute majority between 1945 and 1991 and between 2001 and 2010. The Social Democrats have also governed Burgenland since 1964. On the other hand, the conservative ÖVP has governed the states of Upper Austria, Lower Austria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg since 1945 (and, except for Lower Austria, the conservatives governed those states during the entirety of the First Republic, 1918-1934).
As a relic of this almost entirely bygone era, Austria still has the highest rates of political party membership in the EU (alongside Cyprus) – in 2008, about 17% of the electorate were members of a political party – compared to less than 2% in France and the UK and 2.3% in Germany. It must be noted, however, that Austrian party membership (specifically in the ÖVP) is often acquired indirectly through membership in allied organizations such as the Austrian Workers ‘and Employees’ Federation (ÖAAB), the Austrian Business Association (ÖWB) and the Austrian Farmers’ Federation (ÖBB).
One of the main hallmarks of Austrian politics since 1945 has been the concept of ‘Proporz’, the proportional representation of parties in the government, the public service and the nationalized economy in accordance with their share of the vote at the polls. Proporz was established at the federal level after World War II, as to prevent a repeat of the political polarization and class warfare which had destroyed Austrian democracy in the inter-war era. Proporz was intended to mediate differences and mutual skepticism between the two parties, by allowing all major parties a share of the cake and to produce political stability and post-war prosperity through close bipartisan cooperation.
The Proporz principle not only involved the division of cabinet positions between the parties in proportion to their strength and traditional ‘profiles’ (the Ministry of Agriculture as a conservative position, the Ministry of Labour as a social democratic position); it also meant dividing public sector employment and positions in economic chambers, trade unions or state-owned businesses.
Depillarization led to increasing discontent with the Proporz system. Ideological differences between the two major parties became increasingly blurry, leading to a process of depoliticization and vegetative and corrupt politics in which the two main parties alternated in power and divvied up power like baronies. Proporz created political stability and a strong democracy, but it also created and entrenched nepotism and patronage at almost all levels of the state. The rise of the FPÖ in the 1980s/1990s represented the first major challenge to Proporz on the electoral scene.
Salzburg and Tyrol, to be joined by Styria, have abolished mandatory Proporz at the state level and allowed for free coalition building. Vienna and Vorarlberg never had mandatory Proporz.
The Social Democratic Party of Austria (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ) is Austria’s oldest party and the major party of the left.
The party finds its roots in the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP), founded in 1888 under the moderate leadership of Dr. Victor Adler. Socialists and workers’ movements, heavily influenced by similar movements in Germany, had begun meeting in 1874 but divisions between moderates and more radical anarchists prevented unification until 1888. The Social Democrats greatly benefited from the introduction of universal suffrage in the Austrian crown lands (Cisleithania) in 1907, becoming the second-largest faction in 1907 and the largest faction in the 1911. The Social Democrats operated in all parts of Cisleithania, even the non-German speaking provinces, and it supported a federal democratic state with minority rights and regional autonomy. This did not prevent the different nationalities to gradually form their own Social Democratic groups – for example, Czech, Italian or Polish Social Democrats sat in different groups than German Social Democrats. The Czechs split from the party in 1912, other groups followed with the outbreak of war and the eventual demise of Austria-Hungary.
With the Austro-Hungarian defeat in World War I in 1918, SDAP leader Karl Renner convened a provisional national assembly in October 1918 and proclaimed the Republic of German-Austria in November 1918. The SDAP won a plurality in the February 1919 elections to the constituent assembly, winning about 41% of the vote and 72 seats against 69 seats for their main rivals, the Christian Socials (CS). Karl Renner was confirmed as Chancellor, forming a Grand Coalition with the Christian Socials. Renner’s cabinet, which lasted until July 1920, introduced the 8-hour workday, workers’ councils, the creation of the Austrian Chamber of Labour and negotiations for a republican constitution which was adopted in November 1920. The SDAP, unlike the CS, were largely in favour of union with Germany (Anschluss) and the Republic of German-Austria’s provisional constitution expressly stated its intent to join the Weimar Republic. However, the Allies opposed Anschluss and, in the Treaty of Saint-Germain (September 1919), Austria was forced to renounce Anschluss and change its name to Austria instead of German-Austria. The SDAP were close allies of their German brothers, the SPD, and they hoped union with Germany would strengthen the socialist movement.
The SDAP lost the 1920 elections to the CS, taking 69 seats to CS’ 85 seats. Thereafter, the SDAP was excluded from government (the CS governed in coalition with the Pan-Germanist Greater German People’s Party) and remained in opposition for the rest of the democratic First Republic and was forced underground under the Austrofascist dictatorship (1934-1938) and Nazi rule (1938-1945). However, the SDAP dominated local politics in Vienna until the advent of Engelbert Dollfuβ’ Austrofascist regime in 1934, the so-called ‘Red Vienna’ era (1920-1934). SDAP mayors in the Austrian capital built large public housing projects (Gemeindebau) and provided social and health services which significantly ameliorated living conditions.
The First Republic (1920-1934) was a violent and fractious period politically, marked by an opposition between left and right – both politically and militarily through paramilitary organizations (the SDAP’s Republikanischer Schutzbund and the right-nationalist Heimwehr). In July 1927, for example, SDAP supporters protested the acquittal of right-wing paramilitaries accused of killing a veteran and a child; the chief of police, a former CS Chancellor, called on the police to breakup the protest, killing over 80 protesters. The SDAP’s intransigence aggravated the political crisis; for example in 1932, SDAP chairman Otto Bauer, leader of the party’s left-wing (Austromarxist), refused to form a Grand Coalition with the CS.
In February 1934, civil war (in Vienna and parts of Styria) erupted between the SDAP’s Republikanischer Schutzbund and Chancellor Dollfuβ’s authoritarian conservative government. Within a few days, with the intervention of the federal army, Dollfuβ put down the revolt and the SDAP was forced underground and persecuted by the government. The SDAP remained illegal until the end of World War II.
In April 1945, the party was refounded as the SPÖ and Karl Renner, with Stalin’s tacit approval, declared Austrian independence and formed a provisional government with the conservatives (ÖVP, ex-CS) and communists (KPÖ). Renner convinced Stalin to accept him as provisional leader of Austria, presenting himself as the only one who could reach an agreement with both communists and conservatives, and apologizing for his past support for the Anschluss (in 1938, Renner supported Hitler’s annexation of Austria). The Western Allies were skeptical of Renner, whom they viewed as a potential Soviet puppet, and held out recognition of the newly independent Austria until October 1945. The SPÖ was defeated in the November 1945 elections, in which the conservatives won an absolute majority while the communists won only 5.4% and 4 seats. The SPÖ remained an influential junior partner in ÖVP-led governments until 1966. These governments, fairly moderate, guided Austria through Allied military occupation (which ended with the State Treaty in 1955) and post-war reconstruction. The bases of the welfare state were laid, many industries nationalized and the communists were gradually entirely sidelined from the Austrian political scene. Crucially, the SPÖ chose to ally with the ÖVP rather than the KPÖ, and downplayed Otto Bauer’s Austro-Marxism.
The ÖVP, led by Josef Klaus, won an absolute majority in the 1966 elections and formed the first single-party government in post-war Austrian history. The SPÖ, however, returned to power only four years later, forming a minority government supported by the FPÖ. Bruno Kreisky, a former foreign minister of Jewish descent forced into exile by the Nazis in 1938, became Chancellor. A year later, in a snap election in 1971, the SPÖ won an absolute majority, which it held until 1983. Kreisky pursued a reformist-progressive agenda; on moral/cultural issues (decriminalization of abortion and homosexuality, moves towards separation of church and state, language rights for Slovene and Croat minorities), economic/social issues (expansion of the welfare state, 40-hour workweek, expanding employee benefits, gender equality in the workplace, 4-week paid vacation) and other issues (democratization of education, shorterning military service). He unsuccessfully tried to introduce nuclear energy in Austria, but voters narrowly rejected nuclear power in a referendum in 1979. Kreisky’s wide-reaching reforms came at a cost: under his chancellorship, the Austrian debt increased dramatically. His government increased spending (through deficit spending) in areas such as education or healthcare; Austria also had a large nationalized economy.
Economic woes, scandals, bungled policy decisions and the emergence of the Greens caused the SPÖ to lose its absolute majority in the 1983 election. Kreisky resigned and was replaced as Chancellor by Fred Sinowatz, who formed a coalition with the liberal FPÖ. Sinowatz’s short tenure (3 years) was largely clouded by scandals and the crisis caused by the heavily indebted nationalized industries. He resigned following Kurt Waldheim’s victory in the presidential election, having been highly critical of Waldheim because of his concealed Nazi past (he had served in the SA). He was replaced by Franz Vranitzky, who called snap elections for November 1986 when the FPÖ’s right-wing took control of the party in September 1986. The SPÖ sustained major loses in the elections but remained the largest party, allowing them to remain in power, through a Grand Coalition with the ÖVP. The SPÖVP Grand Coalition governed until 1999.
Under Vranitzky’s chancellorship, Austria entered the EU in January 1995, but Austrian neutrality – espoused since 1955 and the Cold War – was reaffirmed. During the Grand Coalition era, both major parties were confronted by the rise of the far-right/right-populist FPÖ led by Jörg Haider. Vranitzky kept his distance from Haider, denounced by the latter as a policy of exclusion.
Vranitzky resigned in 1997 and was replaced by Viktor Klima. Under Klima’s short chancellorship, a number of state-owned industries were privatized and cut several public services. The SPÖ suffered significant loses in the 1999 election, seeing their share of the vote fall to only 33%, although they remained in first place. Negotiations to renew the Grand Coalition failed, and the ÖVP, led by Wolfgang Schüssel, formed a highly controversial ‘black-blue’ coalition with Haider’s FPÖ in February 2000, despite attempts by Klima to organize EU opposition to such a coalition. The right blamed the SPÖ and the President for the EU ‘sanctions’ and questioned their loyalty to the country.
The SPÖ gained ground in the 2002 elections (but the main winner was the ÖVP), but remained in opposition. In 2006, the SPÖ suffered small loses in the election, as a result of a big scandal involving BAWAG, a major bank owned by the SPÖ-aligned trade union. Nevertheless, the SPÖ placed first and its leader, Alfred Gusenbauer, became Chancellor in an uneasy Grand Coalition with the ÖVP. The Grand Coalition barely lasted two years, wracked by consistent disagreements between the two partners and Gusenbauer’s weak leadership. New elections were held in September 2008, and both the SPÖ and ÖVP suffered substantial loses – the SPÖ lost 6.1% of its vote share, winning a paltry 29.3%, although it remained in first place. Lacking any other realistic options, the SPÖVP Grand Coalition retained power, with SPÖ leader Werner Faymann becoming Chancellor. This time, the SPÖVP coalition has managed to survive its full term, despite some policy disagreements between the two partners.
Austria’s economy has performed relatively well in the past years, again in contrast with other troubled EU economies. Close ties to Germany and a traditionally prosperous economy. GDP growth has been positive since 2010, although it slowed to 0.9% in 2012 and is projected to stand at 0.4% in 2013. Growth, however, should pick up again in 2014. Unemployment is very low, at 4%. The country’s deficit, at 2.5% of GDP, is below EU guidelines and the government is projecting a return to fiscal balance in 2016.
Faymann’s government has received some international attention for his Keynesian policies, although the SPÖVP government also adopted austerity measures, most recently in March 2012. Faymann’s government pushed through work-training legislation which provided strong unemployment benefits and guaranteed paid training internships for young apprentices.
In 2012, the government adopted an austerity package worth €27.9 billion in tax increases and spending cuts (pensions, public sector, sector subsidies). This followed the loss of Austria’s Triple-A credit rating in January 2012. In June 2013, however, the coalition announced a €1.59 billion stimulus package for the next 3.5 years (until 2016), on the heels of the insolvency of Alpine Bau, Austria’s second-largest construction company. Without dropping its objective to reach fiscal balance in 2016, the government’s stimulus package envisions bringing forward public works projects and promoting housing construction.
The SPÖ is a traditional European social democratic party, although perhaps a bit more left-wing than other social democratic parties whose shifts towards the centre have been even more pronounced. The SPÖ says that they are the party of social justice, and their 2013 platform was fairly left-leaning.
One of the SPÖ’s main planks this year was a much-debated proposal to introduce a “millionaire’s tax” (estate, inheritance and gift taxes, 0.5%-1% levy) on all wealth and inheritances in excess of €1 million. The SPÖ argues that its tax proposals would fund concomitant tax reductions on labour incomes and provide €2-3 billion in revenues to fund the welfare state. The Social Democrats claim that the tax is also a fair contribution from the wealthiest Austrians, and a tool to fight income inequality. The SPÖ also advocated for higher contributions to the healthcare system from higher-income voters.
The SPÖ also wished to extend an existing bank levy to help pay for embattled lender Hypo Alpe Adria.
The SPÖ’s labour and social policies included calls for more investments in community housing, increasing the minimum wage in regulated industries to €1,500/month (there is no national minimum wage, collective bargaining in regulated industries currently set a minimum wage of €1,000/month), AMS (Austrian Labour Market Service) support for groups particularly affected by unemployment (elderly, health impaired, beginners, those with inappropriate or inadequate qualifications), expanding and improving childcare, proving paid paternity leave (for a month).
The party also opposes equalizing the retiring age for men and women (women may retire at 60 instead of 65 for men) before the scheduled timeline of 2024-2033. The different retirement age, the party argues, is compensation for the social, family and economic burden of women.
On educational issues, the SPÖ proposed lengthening compulsory education until the age of 18 (currently 15) and it has supported the creation of ‘new secondary schools’ for students between the ages of 10 and 14; these are to be new common, comprehensive schools which will replace lower secondary schools; the aim is to eliminate the separation of children into educational avenues too early on. The SPÖ opposes tuition fees in university, and, alongside the Greens and FPÖ, voted to abolish tuition fees in 2008 (that law was overturned and the SPÖVP failed to reach an agreement by the court’s deadline, creating a mess). The SPÖ also proposed introducing an Austria-wide training fund for apprentices to provide financial incentives to companies excelling in the training of young apprentices.
The SPÖ is traditionally pro-European. However, in 2008, SPÖ leaders Werner Faymann and Alfred Gusenbauer, in an open letter to the very popular Eurosceptic and populist newspaper Kronen Zeitung, said that any further modifications of EU treaties which would affect Austrian treaties would need to be ratified by the Austrian electorate. Seemingly, they have dropped that posturing since then…
The SPÖ and ÖVP crossed swords recently on the issue of the draft (compulsory 6-month military service or alternative civilian service), which was decided by voters in a referendum in January 2013. The SPÖ’s leadership, including Faymann, supported abolishing the draft and creating a professional army. However, the proposal divided the SPÖ itself (the governors of Salzburg and Styria gave tacit support to the status-quo) and proved unpopular with (older) voters, who appreciate draftees’ roles in emergency/disaster relief efforts and who were concerned about defending Austrian neutrality. With about 49% of voters turning out, nearly 60% voted in favour of the draft. The issue is dead for the moment and did not feature in the electoral campaign.
The Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) is Austria’s main centre-right party, founded in 1945.
Although the ÖVP is a post-war creation, it is the clear successor of the Christian Social Party (Christlichsoziale Partei, CS), founded in 1891. The Christian Socials were a clerical-conservative party which originally opposed capitalism, liberalism and consistently opposed socialism. Besides clericalism and, later, close ties to the Catholic Church, the CS came to be strongly associated with political anti-Semitism (although it was by no means the sole preserve of the CS). The CS used strongly anti-Semitic rhetoric in its early denunciations of capitalism and tied their liberal and later socialist enemies to ‘the Jews’. The CS’ original policies were not, ironically, all that far removed from the Social Democrats: they both were anti-capitalist, competed for working-class support and promised social reforms. The CS’ social agenda was strongly influenced by the Papal encylical Rerum Novarum. In their early years, the CS received a cool reception from the old elites and even some of the Church hierarchy.
However, after World War I, the CS emerged as the dominant Catholic conservative party. The CS won the 1920 elections, and thereafter became the dominant force in federal politics until 1934/1938. The CS governed in coalition with the pan-German GDVP and the agrarian Landbund; however, during the 1920s and 1930s, the CS opposed Anschluss (union with Germany), having been naturally reluctant to join Catholic Austria with predominantly Protestant and Prussian-dominated Germany. During the First Republic, the CS built a strong base of support through an alliance with the Catholic Church and leading Austrian industrialists. The Heimwehr, a right-wing paramilitary group, was also a part of this ‘system’; although they were a diverse group, with the Styrian and Carinthian groups eventually leaning towards the Nazis, they came to be closely identified with the CS (or the pan-Germanists) and the CS strengthened them as a de facto ideological military. The CS’ leader for most of this era was Ignaz Seipel, a Catholic prelate who served as Chancellor between 1922 and 1924 and 1926 and 1929.
The CS suffered major loses in the 1930 elections (-12.6%), losing votes to the pan-Germanists, the Heimatblock (political wing of the Heimwehr) and the Austrian Nazis. Following substantial Nazi gains and CS loses in regional elections in 1932, Karl Buresch’s government resigned and the President called upon his young agriculturte minister, Engelbert Dollfuβ, to form a cabinet in May 1932. During the Great Depression, CS leaders (including Ignaz Seipel), on the basis of the Papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, came to favour the implementation of a corporatist government modelled on Italian fascism. In March 1933, faced with the Depression, Hitler’s accession to power in Berlin and domestic political violence and instability, Dollfuβ took advantage of a procedural crisis in the Nationalrat to suspend the legislature and subsequently barred its members from reconvening.
Henceforth, Dollfuβ ruled by decree and granted his government authoritarian powers. The government censored the press, arrested opponents and quickly dissolved the SDAP’s Republikanischer Schutzbund, the Communist Party and the Austrian NSDAP. In September 1933, the CS and other nationalist groups merged into the Fatherland Front (Vaterländische Front) which became the authoritarian ruling party. Following the Austrian Civil War in February 1934, Dollfuβ’ government banned the SDAP.
In May 1934, Dollfuβ promulgated the May Constitution, which created the so-called ‘Ständestaat‘ (Corporative State). This period has come to be referred to by some as Austrofascism. Dollfuβ’ ideology and his regime was strongly influenced by Italian fascism (corporatism) but also from traditional Austrian political Catholicism (which entailed a strong opposition to Anschluss and union with Protestant Germany); Austrofascism bears strong resemblance to António de Salazar’s Portuguese Estado Novo, Miguel Primo de Rivera’s 1920s dictatorship in Spain and, later, the first decades Francisco Franco’s regime in Spain.
Dollfuβ’ main goal was preserving Austrian independence and fighting Hitler’s expansionist designs over his native country. Rhetorically, Austrofascism promoted a clerical view of Austrian nationalism which emphasized Austria as a ‘better German nation’ and drew a clear line between Catholic Austria and largely Protestant Germany. In practical terms, Dollfuβ found a strong ally in Italy’s Benito Mussolini. Prior to 1936, Italian relations with Nazi Germany were fairly cool, notably because Rome was hostile to the idea of Anschluss and wanted to preserve Austrian independence as to provide it with a weak buffer state.
Dollfuβ was assassinated by Austrian Nazis in July 1934, but the Nazi coup attempt failed – in large part because a furious Mussolini threatened war with Germany if Hitler invaded Austria. Hitler stood down, and Dollfuβ was succeeded by Kurt Schuschnigg. Schuschnigg sought to defend Austrian independence by seeking Italian backing, but by 1936, with Rome moving closer and closer to Berlin after the Ethiopian invasion, Vienna lost its main ally and Schuschnigg was forced to give in to Hitler’s successive demands (amnesty for imprisoned Nazis, including Nazis in cabinet, appointing Austrian Nazi leader Arthur Seyss-Inquart as interior minister etc). In February-March 1938, Schuschnigg tried last-ditch attempts to salvage Austrian independence, but to no avail. Schuschnigg was unwilling to put up any resistance when Hitler demanded his resignation and replacement by Seyss-Inquart. Austria was quickly annexed by the Third Reich and Schuschnigg, among others, sent to concentration camps.
The post-war ÖVP was the clear successor of the Christian Socials, with the important difference that the ÖVP rejected authoritarianism and anti-Semitism. The ÖVP eventually became a traditional post-war European Christian democratic party, which embraced parliamentary democracy and gradually became less sectarian. The ÖVP became the strongest party in the Nationlrat following the 1945 elections, and held the chancellorship until 1970 – in coalition with their former sworn enemies, the Social Democrats, until 1966. Under the Grand Coalition, the Austrian ‘social partnership’ model – the elaboration and formulation of social and economic policy in close collaboration with social partners – was entrenched.
The ÖVP went through a long and tortuous period in opposition, federally, between 1970 and 1986. The ÖVP reentered government, as the SPÖ’s junior partner, following the 1986 elections, a role it kept until 1999. However, during this period, the ÖVP, badly hurt by the rise of Haider’s far-right FPÖ, saw its support drop by well over 10 points. In the 1999 elections, the ÖVP placed third behind the SPÖ and FPÖ, with 26.9%. Nevertheless, after SPÖ-ÖVP talks failed, ÖVP leader Wolfgang Schüssel formed a controversial governing coalition with Haider’s FPÖ. The formation of a coalition with a far-right party led to EU ‘sanctions’ on Austria (mostly a concerted boycott of the Austrian government). However, the ‘sanctions’ failed and largely had the opposite effect: many Austrians were alienated from the EU and rallied behind Schüssel. In the 2002 elections, the ÖVP cashed in on this phenomenon and the collapse of the FPÖ, increasing its vote share by over 15 points and winning 42.3%, its best result in years. Schüssel continued his coalition with a weakened FPÖ, later BZÖ. His government was marked by a strong economy, privatizations, a major pension reform including pension cuts and an increase in the retirement age and tough new immigration/integration policies. Today, the Schüssel government has been increasingly tainted by revelations of corruption scandals involving former ÖVP and FPÖ/BZÖ ministers.
In an unpleasant surprise for the party, the ÖVP placed a close second behind the Social Democrats in 2006, with 34.3% of the vote. The ÖVP resigned itself to becoming the junior partner in a Grand Coalition with the SPÖ, which collapsed after a bit more than two years. Like their governing partner, the ÖVP suffered major loses in the 2008 elections, falling to a record low 26%, down 8.4% since 2006.
The ÖVP’s leader since 2011 has been Michael Spindelegger, the Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister. The ÖVP also holds the important portfolios of finance, interior and justice.
The ÖVP is, as aforementioned, a run-of-the-mill Christian democratic centre-right party. It emphasizes traditional Christian democratic values such as the social market economy (which the ÖVP rebranded, in the 1990s, as the ‘eco-social market economy’ to highlight a preoccupation with environmental issues) and support for European integration, as well as broader centre-right themes such as freedom, responsibility, rule of law and subsidiarity.
The ÖVP campaigned hard against “Faymann’s taxes” (particularly the millionaire’s tax), highlighting the fact that Austria already has one of the highest tax burdens in the OECD (48.9%, fifth place), and that further taxes would create an additional burden on the middle-class and hinder the country’s economic competitiveness (a claim which the SPÖ roundly denies). The ÖVP often claims that foreign companies are turning away from Austria or outsourcing jobs because of the tax burden (despite the fact that the ÖVP has been in power since 1987). Instead, the ÖVP says it wants to lower taxes with the aim of pushing the tax burden below 40%. They proposed to introduce a tax-free allowance of €7,000 per child and a child tax credit.
The ÖVP, like the SPÖ, wishes to balance the budget by 2016, but it prefers to balance the budget through spending cuts rather than tax increases.
On economic policy, the ÖVP’s platform focused on simplifying business creation, job creation (42,000 by 2018), reducing bureaucracy and reducing regulations. One of their main proposals was flexible working hours, and a more flexible retirement model to allow seniors to remain active in the labour force longer if they wished to do so. On the whole, the economy – particularly ‘restoring’ the country’s competitiveness, promoting entrepreneurship (especially among the youth) – played a prominent role in the party’s campaign, which sought to paint itself as the party for “hard-working citizens” or promoted Austria as the “land of explorers” in campaign posters which looked like tourism campaigns.
Another point of contention with the SPÖ in this campaign was the equalization of men and women retirement ages: the left sticks to the long-term timeline (2024-2033), while the ÖVP wants to bring it forward immediately.
The ÖVP recognizes the role the government has to play in ensuring social cohesion and providing a social safety net, but they feel that such safety nets create dependency. The party proposed to introduce means-testing for social benefits and sanctions for beneficiaries who, for example, turned down a job opportunity. The party also seeks to strengthen the voluntary sector.
On education policy, the ÖVP supports the current two-tier system for general secondary education (grades 5-8), while the SPÖ and the Greens tend to favour a comprehensive school system. The party’s platform proposed to make the second year of kindergarten free but also mandatory for children with learning deficits. On post-secondary education, the party has clashed with the SPÖ numerous times in the past years over the issue of tuition fees – the ÖVP favours reintroducing them.
The Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), a far-right or right-populist grouping, is probably Austria’s most famous and most polarizing and controversial party.
The FPÖ was founded in 1956, but it is the post-war incarnation of the old German national-liberal or German nationalist ‘camp’ (lager) in Austrian politics, which was born following the 1848 Revolutions. In the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire, German national-liberal advocated for the union of German-speaking peoples in a single, Greater Germany. The German liberal base – the anti-clerical intelligentsia and middle-classes of German Austria – feared that they would be overwhelmed by Slavic peoples in the Austro-Hungarian empire. The German national movement emerged in 1879, following the collapse of the hitherto dominant but increasingly moribund and stale German Liberal Party.
These ideas were expressed by numerous leading German Austrian politicians – future SDAP founder Victor Adler and radical German nationalist and anti-Semite Georg von Schönerer – in the 1882 Linz Program, which opposed ‘attempts to convert Austria into a Slavic state’, defended German as the official language and proposed ‘splitting off’ ‘foreign’ regions such as Galicia, Bukovina and Dalmatia to retain only the core German crown lands of Austria, Bohemia and Moravia which would, they hoped, become part of the Greater Germany. Many of Georg von Schönerer’s erstwhile followers abandoned him, but his pan-Germanism, rabid anti-Semitism and fiery opposition to political Catholicism (he founded the ‘Away from Rome!’ movement advocating conversion to Lutheranism) had a deep influence on Adolf Hitler years later. The German nationals were some of those who lost out with the introduction of universal suffrage in 1907, but they retained a significant electoral presence in several German-speaking regions of Cisleithania including Carinthia and Styria.
In the inter-war era, the Greater German People’s Party (Großdeutsche Volkspartei, GDVP) was the largest pan-Germanist party, although the agrarian Landbund expressed similar opinions. The GDVP advocated for Anschluss, free trade, the creation of Volksgemeinschaft and was still rabidly anti-Semitic. They governed in coalition with the CS between 1921 and 1929, while the Landbund remained in most CS-led governments until the official end of the First Republic and the advent of Austrofascism in 1933. After 1930, the GDVP, like the DNVP in Germany, lost significant support to the Nazis and most GDVP members went on to join the NSDAP after the Anschluss in 1938.
World War II discredited pan-German ideas (guilt by association), and Austria developed its own national identity – one which was in good part built around the “first victim” idea – Austria as the first, unwilling, victim of Nazism; a controversial concept to this day which many say has allowed Austrians to wash their hands of any responsibility in relation to Nazi atrocities, in which Austrian citizens partook. Regardless, most Austrians identify as Austrians today rather than as Germans, and even within the FPÖ, pan-Germanists form only a small minority. Nevertheless, the FPÖ has retained some of the ideological markers of German nationalism (notably opposition to non-German minorities, such as Carinthian Slovenes) and some politicians retain close ties to German nationalist student fraternities (Burschenschaften).
The FPÖ’s direct predecessor was the short-lived Federation of Independents (Verband der Unabhängigen, VdU) founded in 1949, winning 11.7% of the vote in the second post-war election in the Second Republic. In the 1945 election, about 500,000-700,000 ex-Nazis were barred from voting, but they regained their voting rights in the 1949 election. The VdU, a national-liberal and ‘third camp’ party, won most of their votes. The VdU also recruited former Nazi officers, including Luftwaffe colonel Gordon Gollob and Waffen SS Obersturmführer Friedrich Peter. However, ex-Nazis did not only flow to the ‘third camp’ – a significant number joined the SPÖ, ÖVP and even KPÖ. In 1970, SPÖ Chancellor Bruno Kreisky’s first cabinet ran into controversy because it included four former NSDAP members, one of whom (agriculture minister Hans Öllinger) was forced to resign. That same year, Kreisky – despite being of Jewish descent and having been forced to flee into exile in 1938 – strongly defended Friedrich Peter, by then leader of the FPÖ (a potential coalition partner), when he came under attack from ‘Nazi hunter’ Simon Wiesenthal who had revealed that Peter had served in the Einsatzgruppen (which killed hundreds of thousands of Jews in Eastern Europe in 1941, although Peter denied taking part in mass killings). Kreisky even directly attacked Wiesenthal, going as far as calling him a Gestapo agent.
The FPÖ was founded in 1955/1956, and its first leader was Anton Reinthaller, a pre-war Austrian Nazi leader (although fairly ‘moderate’, non-violent) who served in Nazi public administration and the SS after 1938. He was replaced by Friedrich Peter in 1958, who held the party’s leadership until 1978. Peter, despite his Nazi past, gradually moved the party towards the centre, presenting the FPÖ as a modern liberal party. His successor as party leader, Norbert Steger, maintained a similar direction. Steger envisioned to transform the FPÖ into a liberal party similar to the German FDP, emphasizing free-market economics and anti-statist policies.
However, Steger was unable to transform the FPÖ into such a party. Firstly, the FPÖ was an ideologically heterogeneous party which included a mix of moderate free-market liberals, ex-Nazis, German nationalists and other more right-wing types. Under the SPÖ-FPÖ coalition government (1983-1986), for example, FPÖ defense minister Friedhelm Frischenschlager attracted much controversy when he shook hands with Nazi war criminal Walter Reder, responsible for the Marzabotto massacre in Italy, upon his return to Austria. Secondly, under Peter and Steger’s leaderships, FPÖ support had declined from the post-war high of 10-11% to only 5-6%. In the 1983 election, the FPÖ won an all-time low of 5%.
Steger was overthrown at a leadership conference in Innsbruck by Jörg Haider, the leader of the Carinthian FPÖ, who was backed by the German nationals in the FPÖ. Under his leadership, the FPÖ started clawing its way to the top – winning 9.7% in 1988, 16.6% in 1990, 22.5% in 1994, 22% in 1995 and the historic high of 26.9% in 1999. In 1989, Haider’s Carinthian FPÖ saw its vote share in the state elections surge by 13 points, placing second with 29%. In coalition with the ÖVP, Haider became Governor of Carinthia in 1989, a position he lost in 1989 after he commented positively on the Third Reich’s ’employment policies’. On a similar register, Haider, in his career, also praised Waffen SS men and described the Austrian nation as an ‘ideological miscarriage’. Haider would regain his gubernatorial office in 1999, when the FPÖ claimed 42.1% of the vote in the state election, placing first.
Although Haider gained publicity for his comments about anything and everything Nazi, pan-Germanism and Nazi nostalgia played little to no role in the FPÖ’s campaigns. Instead, Haider’s leadership was marked by opposition to immigration, the European Union and populist attacks on the political leadership and Austria’s cozy political system.
Within the FPÖ, Haider’s right-wing populist leadership alienated the liberal minority, led by Heide Schmidt, which split off from the party in 1993 and founded the Liberal Forum (LIF). The liberals disagreed with Haider’s leadership style and his right-populist direction on issues such as immigration or the EU. The LIF achieved initial electoral success in the 1994 election, but it soon saw its support decline and effectively died out by 1999.
The FPÖ’s historic result in 1999 and the formation of a coalition government with ÖVP in which the FPÖ held key portfolios including finance, defense and justice, created an uproar in the EU. The EU considered that the FPÖ’s cabinet participated legitimized the European far-right and they saw it as a breach of the traditional cordon sanitaire around the far-right in other European countries – although it should be pointed out that EU outrage was far tamer after the post-fascist AN/MSI entered the Italian government in 1994.
At any rate, the EU boycott of Austria was counterproductive and the FPÖ soon found itself steamrolled by its far more experienced coalition partner. Besides, the FPÖ struggled to adapt to its cabinet participation after having gotten there on an anti-establishment drive. Blue-collar supporters disliked the ÖVP’s neoliberal economic reforms and the government lost support when a tax reform, a major demand of the FPÖ, was postponed. The FPÖ lost support in state elections as early as 2000.
Jörg Haider did not enter the government, preferring to stay on as governor of his home state and influencing the party and coalition from the outside. In 2000, Haider officially stepped down from the party’s leadership and was replaced by Susanne Riess-Passer, the Vice-Chancellor. At least twice, Haider announced his definite retirement from politics, before changing his mind within days. Despite being formally removed from the FPÖ leadership, Haider remained the ‘true’ leader of the party. He created uncomfortable controversies for the government in 2002 when he caused a crisis with the Czech Republic by demanding the closure of a Czech nuclear facility and later by his controversial visit to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (Haider was well known for his close ties to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi).
Haider’s involvement in government business came to irk the FPÖ’s cabinet ministers, who adopted a more pragmatic and moderate attitude while in government. In August 2002, he criticized the government for delaying tax reforms due to major floods, while Riess-Passer backed the government’s policy on tax reform. The FPÖ’s right-wing, backed by Haider, organized a leadership conference at Knittelfeld (Styria) in September 2002, at which the party’s anti-government right-wing disavowed its cabinet members. The next day, Riess-Passer, the FPÖ finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser (who later defected to the ÖVP) and parliamentary club leader Peter Westenthaler, resigned from their positions. This crisis led to snap elections in November 2002 in which the FPÖ’s support plummeted to 10.1% of the vote and lost 33 seats. A much weakened FPÖ remained in government.
The FPÖ’s internal crises and electoral annihilation did not end there. The party suffered even more severe loses in state elections after 2002, and it collapsed to only 6% in the 2004 EU elections. Once again, the FPÖ’s cabinet participation and electoral failures led to an internal crisis in the party, except that Haider was now the one being opposed by the party’s right. In 2005, FPÖ chairwoman and Haider’s sister Ursula Haubner saw her position threatened by the party’s right, led by Vienna FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache. In April 2005, Haider, Haubner and Vice-Chancellor Hubert Gorbach (among others, including most of the FPÖ caucus) quit the FPÖ and founded the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), which was almost immediately marginalized in comparison to the FPÖ in two state elections in 2005. The black-blue coalition became a black-orange (BZÖ) and completed its term in 2006.
The regrouped FPÖ was led by Heinz-Christian Strache, who reoriented the party on a more radical, far-right orientation focusing on immigration, integration, Islam and the EU. In the 2006 elections, Strache’s FPÖ won 11% of the vote, a low result but nevertheless a small improvement on the united FPÖ’s result in 2002 – despite the loss of its Carinthian stronghold to Haider’s BZÖ. In 2008, the FPÖ won 17% of the vote, a significant improvement.
Haider’s untimely death shortly after the 2008 elections, in which the BZÖ had won 11% of the vote, did not reunite the divided Austrian far-right, as the federal BZÖ took a right-liberal turn. However, the Carinthian branch of the BZÖ, dominated by ‘Haiderites’ closer to the far-right, broke away from the BZÖ and founded the Freedom Party in Carinthia (FPK), which became the FPÖ’s state branch in a CSU/CSU-type of relationship.
The past five years have been a mixed bag for the FPÖ, which polled up to 27% (its 1999 record) but saw its support drop to the high teens-low twenties more recently. In 2010, Heinz-Christian Strache won 25.8% of the vote in the Vienna state elections, more than predicted by polls and close to its 1996 Viennese record. In January 2012, the FPÖ’s support temporarily declined after Strache’s controversial “new Jews” comment – saying that his supporters were the “new Jews”, likening the troubles they faced because of protesters outside a controversial far-right ball in Vienna to the persecution of the Jews under Nazi rule. The FPÖ’s support declined considerably, below 20%, starting in the summer of 2012 – a mix of Frank Stronach’s new party joining the scene and corruption scandals badly hurting the Carinthian FPK but also senior FPÖ parliamentarian Martin Graf (accused of swindling a 90-year old woman). Following the spectacular loses suffered by the FPK in the March 2013 Carinthian state elections, there were divisions between the FPK and the FPÖ which led to the FPK merging into the FPÖ in June 2013.
The FPÖ, like other successful European far-right parties, strongly polarize public opinion. Strache and the FPÖ are disliked by a large majority of voters, and the party’s strongest critics brand it an extremist, xenophobic and racist party. On the other hand, the FPÖ has a fluctuating but relatively robust core of voters, who see in it a party either close to their ideology or, more often, a protest option against the corrupt and stale major parties.
The FPÖ’s campaign have traditionally focused on immigration, asylum and integration issues, although less so in this election. Social and economic issues, which the FPÖ often ties to its criticism of immigration, have always been central to the FPÖ’s ideology as well. The party’s tagline is die soziale heimatpartei, or ‘the social homeland party’. In this election, the FPÖ’s slogan was liebe die nächsten (love thy neighbor), although that was followed by für mich sind das unsere österreicher (for me, that’s our Austrians). One of their posters even featured a sweet grandmother embracing Strache.
The party has tough stances against immigration, asylum seekers and Islam. The ÖVP-FPÖ government introduced stricter laws on asylum, immigration and integration while they were in government; a 1999 law forced non-EU foreigners residing in Austria to take German classes (half of which they would pay for from their own pockets) and threatened with losing social benefits and their right of residency if they refused.
The FPÖ wishes to limit asylum, which it feels should only be temporary, and wants to crack down on asylum abuse, by immediately deporting those who abuse the system. Furthermore, the party wants to deny asylum to all those who come from a safe third country or those whose asylum requests have previously been rejected by a safe third country.
The FPÖ’s platform accused the SPÖ and ÖVP of bringing more and more immigrants into Austria on the pretext of jobs, something which the FPÖ said endangers Austrian jobs, fuels social dumping and is destroying the educational system. It wants to close the labour market to workers from the east.
Closely related to these issues, the party has often campaigned hard on issues of national identity and against ‘Islamization’, denouncing Islam as contrary to Europe/Austria’s ‘Judeo-Christian values’. The FPÖ platform called on limiting/stopping immigration from outside the EU, opposed Turkish membership in the EU, denounced Islamization and promoted the German language. The FPÖ has often rhetorically associated immigration with criminality. They want to automatically deport foreign criminals, and to fight all crime, they want more means for the police and stiffer sentencing.
In the past, the FPÖ ran into some controversy with its very blunt language on those issues. In the 2010 Viennese elections, Strache’s campaign posters included slogans such as Mehr Mut für unser Wiener Blut (more strength for our Viennese blood), Zu viel Fremdes tut niemandem gut (too much foreign[ers] does no one good) or Wir bewahren unsere Heimatstadt. Die SPÖ macht sie uns fremd (we maintain our hometown. The SPÖ makes it foreign). In the 2006 Viennese elections, the FPÖ posters stated that “Vienna must not become Istanbul” (previously, under Haider, “Vienna must not become Chicago”).
Some of the party’s immigration/asylum proposals also significantly isolate them from the other parties: they are the only party favouring the detention of asylum seekers’ children pending deportation or creating a separate healthcare system for non-EU foreigners.
In this campaign, however, the FPÖ ran a comparatively tame campaign with feel-good slogans like “love thy neighbor” (though foreigners apparently don’t count as neighbors) or “high time for charity” – the party branded its policy as one ‘Nächstenliebe‘ (charity). Socioeconomic issues were high on the FPÖ’s agenda, which has often been described as a contradictory mix of economic liberalism and interventionism. However, in this campaign, Strache focused a lot on defending the welfare state (for ‘real’ Austrians), criticizing the SPÖVP government for its policies on matters such as pensions,
The FPÖ wants to reserve full benefits for Austrian citizens and stop the ‘export’ of family allowances abroad. It also conditions its ‘charity’ by saying that it only wants to help those who want to help themselves but cannot do so on their own.
The party’s platform called for increasing family allowances, tax relief for families with children, rent reduction, investments in social housing, increasing the monthly minimum wage to €1,600, solidarity tax for millionaires, an entitlement to a markdown-free pension after 45 years employment, fixing the legal retirement age for men at 65, keeping women’ retirement age at 60 and an increase in minimum pensions. On a more liberal line, the party’s platform emphasized lower taxes: lowering the tax rate for the lowest income bracket from 36.5% to 25% and tax breaks for small/medium businesses. It also accussed the two major parties of favouring big corporations and banks, and promised to relieve small/medium businesses by reducing bureaucracy, exempting them from compulsory contributions and promoting subsidized bank loans for domestic businesses.
The party takes conservative stances on moral/societal issues such as same-sex marriage, religious symbols in classrooms (the crucifix) and is critical of the use of gender quotas or penalties to promote gender equality in business (the left-wing parties favour gender quotas).
The FPÖ is Eurosceptic – Strache insists he’s pro-European, but also says that the EU has not created social peace. In this campaign, the FPÖ aimed its Eurosceptic fire at the so-called “liability madness” and advocated withdrawing from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and reducing Austria’s contributions to the EU. It is also opposed to Eurobonds, and wants to support the Eurozone into a ‘strong’ northern Euro and ‘weak’ southern Euro. Under Strache’s leadership, the FPÖ has become more pro-Israel; the party is also pro-Russian and pro-Serbian.
As an anti-establishment party, the FPÖ is also pretty big on issues like direct democracy: its wants to introduce binding popular initiative referendums (250,000 voter signatures), veto referendums and promoting direct democracy through the internet.
The Greens-The Green Alternative (Die Grünen – Die Grüne Alternative or Die Grünen) are Austria’s green party. In the past three elections, the Greens won between 9.5% and 11% of the vote, making them one of the consistently strongest green parties in Europe.
The opposition against the construction of the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant in 1978 (resulting in the defeat of nuclear energy in a 1979 referendum) and popular mobilization against plans to build a power plant on the Danube at Hainburg in 1984 are often cited as the events which led to the formation of the Austrian Greens. The modern-day Greens were founded in 1986, in an attempt to unite a leftist green movement and a right-wing green party, both of which had run separate lists in the 1983 elections (1.9% for the conservatives, 1.4% for the leftists). Proto-green politicians, however, had been winning some seats at the local level since 1977, beginning in Salzburg.
A Green list won 4.8% of the vote and 8 seats in the 1986 elections. Political inexperience, tensions between the parliamentarians and the base (a constant in the history of many early green parties), internal divisions and a knack for provocative statements/actions marked their first term in the Nationalrat. In the 1990 elections, the Greens kept their share of the vote and took 10 seats. In the 1994 elections, after presenting themselves as a “constructive opposition” (in contrast to the FPÖ’s intransigence) and as a bulwark against the FPÖ (the Greens had been active in fighting the FPÖ’s first anti-immigration actions), the Greens increased their support to 7.3% and 13 seats. In snap elections in 1995, the Greens proved unable to find their voice in a campaign which did not hit on their core themes, and their support fell to 4.8%. Reorganized under the leadership of Alexander van der Bellen, who remained Green leader until 2009, the Greens returned to the 1994 levels in 1999 (7.4%) and increased their vote to 9.5% in 2002.
The Greens won their best result in 2006, with 11.1% and 21 seats. Their support fell slightly in the 2008 election, winning 10.4% and 20 seats. Eva Glawischnig is the Green leader since 2009 and was the party’s top candidate in this election.
The Greens are often cited as a potential coalition partner for either the SPÖ or the ÖVP (or both) at the federal level, but the Greens have not yet participated in a federal governing coalition. At the state level, however, the Greens currently govern in coalition with the SPÖ in Vienna (since 2010), with the ÖVP in Upper Austria (since 2003), Salzburg and Tyrol (both since 2013) and with both parties in a coalition within Proporz in Carinthia (since 2013).
The Austrian Greens are often described as a centrist party, which attempts to appeal to dissatisfied voters from both the ÖVP and SPÖ. There are differences between the state parties in terms of ideology: the Viennese Greens are widely seen as the most left-wing branch of the Austrian Greens.
Traditional green themes such as environmental and economic sustainability, solidarity, human rights, feminism, grassroots democracy and non-violence are at the core of the party’s ideology.
The environment was, naturally, atop the Greens’ platform and remained the key preoccupation for most of their voters. In this elections, the Greens targeted 100% use of renewable energies by 2035. To reach this goal, the Greens proposed a ‘get out of oil’ plan, a €1 million solar rooftop panels program. Another key Green initiative, which is due to be implemented in three states starting next year, is the 365 Euro-Öffi-Ticket – a plan to reduce public transportation costs to a maximum of €1,095 per year (€1/day for transportation within one state, €2/day for transportation across one state border, €3/day across Austria). Other key parts of their environmental agenda included: increasing the truck toll to shift goods transport to rail, promoting public transit and non-polluting forms of transportation, entrenching animal welfare in the constitution, ending factory farming, promoting organic farming and shifting to 100% organic food in kindergartens, schools and hospitals.
The Greens’ socioeconomic policies in this election were rather left-leaning. The party wants upper rent limits, more social housing, opposition to the ‘two-class system in medicine’, creating a needs-based basic income to close gaps in the existing welfare system and ensure a ‘decent living for all’, no tuition fees for universities, a statutory universal minimum wage of €8.50/hour, full social insurance for all employees, increasing the cost of overtime hours, mandatory rest periods.
Naturally, the Greens take liberal positions on moral/societal issues: they favour same-sex marriage and adoption rights, legalizing soft drugs, creation 10,000 “women jobs” and linking government funding/contracts for business to the promotion of women. They also tend to have liberal attitudes on immigration: jus soli citizenship (if the parents are permanent residents) or granting work permits to asylum seekers as soon as they have applied for asylum (something which almost all parties, including the SPÖ oppose). Originally opposed to EU membership, the Greens are now strongly pro-European, in line with most other continental green parties.
Corruption and transparency were the other major Green theme this year, following a number of scandals which have involved the ÖVP, SPÖ, FPÖ and BZÖ. The party’s platform called for immediate examination of corruption suspicions, banning risky monetary transactions with taxpayers’ money, more funding for fighting corruption, an independent prosecutor and a fundamental right to information.
The Alliance for the Future of Austria (Bündnis Zukunft Österreich, BZÖ) is a right-liberal party founded in 2005 by Jörg Haider and other FPÖ dissidents.
The impetus for the BZÖ’s foundation in 2005 was a pushback against the FPÖ’s government participation and its negative effect on its electoral results led by the FPÖ’s right-wing against Carinthian governor Jörg Haider and his followers (notably his sister who was the then-leader of the FPÖ). The BZÖ’s ideology under Haider differed only slightly from that of the FPÖ, with the notable exception that the BZÖ (which took the FPÖ’s place in Schüssel’s government until the 2006 elections) was seen as more ‘responsible’ and ‘fit’ for government than the radicalized FPÖ and the BZÖ adopted more economically liberal positions than the HC Strache-led FPÖ (favouring a flat tax, for example). On immigration issues, Haider’s BZÖ recycled the anti-immigrant stances of Haider’s FPÖ.
As often happens in the party splits, the BZÖ took the bulk of the pre-division party’s caucus but, at the polls, voters preferred the old party rather than the splinter. The BZÖ badly lost two state elections in 2005 (Styria, Vienna), failing to enter the Landtage and falling behind the FPÖ. In the 2006 federal elections, with Haider retreating to Carinthia, the BZÖ’s top candidate was Peter Westenthaler. The BZÖ won only 4.1% of the vote and 7 seats – almost all of it due to its regionally-concentrated strength in Carinthia, where it won 25% of the vote.
When Westenthaler was found guilty of perjury in the summer of 2008, Haider returned to the forefront and became the BZÖ’s top candidate in the 2008 elections. With a campaign largely focused on immigration issues, the Haider-led BZÖ experienced a spectacular electoral breakthrough, winning 10.7% of the vote (a combined 28.2% of the vote for the two far-right parties) and 21 seats. It won 39% of the vote in Carinthia, and won over 10% in Salzburg, Styria and Vorarlberg.
However, Haider was killed in a car accident (speeding and DUI at cause) on October 11 in Carinthia, a bit more than ten days after his party’s electoral breakthrough.
Haider’s death led many to question the future of his party: would the BZÖ survive its founder/leader’s death or would Haider’s death mean the demise of the BZÖ and HC Strache’s FPÖ becoming the sole far-right party in the country. In any event, the Carinthian BZÖ fared extremely well in the March 2009 state elections in Carinthia: Governor Gerhard Dörfler’s party won 44.9% of the vote, an increase on the Haider FPÖ’s 2004 state election result. That was, however, the BZÖ’s last hurrah.
Josef Bucher, the BZÖ’s parliamentary club leader and a former businessman, was elected BZÖ leader in April 2009. Under Bucher, the party re-positioned itself as a right-wing liberal party, with a liberal emphasis on economic issues while retaining conservative views on immigration and Euroscepticism. The new orientation displeased the large Haiderite Carinthian branch, led by Haider loyalists such as Governor Gerhard Dörfler and chairman Uwe Scheuch. In December 2009, they split from the party to create the FPK, which aligned with federal FPÖ as a regional ‘sister party’ (a la CSU). The BZÖ’s leaders in Styria and Lower Austria also criticized the new liberal direction. As a result of internal divisions, defections, loss of support to parties like Team Stronach, the weakness of Bucher as a leader, the weakness of his liberal positioning and scandals hurting the BZÖ, its support fell to 2-3% in polls. The Carinthian BZÖ, a rump party led by Bucher, managed to win 6.4% and 2 seats in state elections earlier this year.
The BZÖ is a right-wing, economically liberal and moderately nationalist party – located somewhere between the FPÖ and ÖVP, but with far more right-wing (neoliberal) views on economic issues than the FPÖ.
On economic issues, the BZÖ focuses on low taxes – no new taxes, cutting or abolishing some existing taxes (fuel tax, legal fees, commissions to real estate agents paid by renters/buyers, energy tax etc), limiting municipal taxes and utility prices and flattening the tax system (44% flat rate on incomes over €11,000, with a €9,000 deduction for each child). One of their well-known recent slogans has been Genug gezahlt! (paid enough!). The party’s platform proposed over €10 billion in savings through major administrative reforms, including privatization, massive reduction in bureaucracy (including cutting many civil service positions). As a liberal party, the BZÖ also places much emphasis on encouraging entrepreneurship and helping start-ups and small businesses. In fact, the party presents itself as the ‘only party’ which represents small business owners.
On social policy, the party’s landmark proposal this year was a “citizen’s income”, set at a third of the minimum wage (to encourage initiative and reduce dependency), which would replace current social benefits. The party also wants tax-free overtime, a flexible retirement age, supports healthcare privatization, and introducing €1,000/year tuition fees.
The BZÖ has retained more conservative views on immigration issues (though it no longer prioritizes them) and is Eurosceptic. However, its immigration views are a bit more moderate than the FPÖ – recognizing the need for skilled migrants, the BZÖ supports a ‘Green card’ model and a point system.
Team Stronach (TS or FRANK) is the Austria’s political newcomer, founded in September 2012 by Austrian-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach. Although it is vague on a number of issues, it is a right-wing liberal, populist and Eurosceptic party.
Frank Stronach, aged 81, was born in Styria before moving to Canada in 1954. He started his own company two years later in Toronto, and in 1969 his company got its first automotive parts contract and merged with Magna Electronics. Stronach made his fortune (estimated at US$ 1.2 billion) in the automotive parts industry in Ontario (Canada), where he was CEO of Magna International. Stronach set up Magna activities in his native Austria, with the creation of Magna Europe in 1986 and the 1998 acquisition of Steyr Daimler Puch, now Magna Steyr, an automobile manufacturer based in Styria. Stronach also owned Magna Entertainment, which was North America’s largest thoroughbred racing company – Stronach’s horses won several races in the 90s and 00s.
Stronach, and his Canadian-born daughter Belinda Stronach, were previously active in Canadian politics. Stronach himself ran for the federal Liberal Party in the 1988 federal election in York-Simcoe, but lost to the Progressive Conservative candidate. Magna International was noted for its connections to both the Ontario Liberal Party and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives. Belinda Stronach, who replaced her father as CEO of Magna International, ran for the leadership of the newly-founded federal Conservative Party in 2004 (as a moderate, Red Tory, candidate), placing a distant second to Stephen Harper. She was elected as a Conservative MP for the suburban Toronto riding of Newmarket-Aurora in the 2004 federal election, but she crossed the floor to join Prime Minister Paul Martin’s governing Liberal Party in May 2005 and became Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. Her move allowed the Liberal minority government to survive a few more months. Although the Liberals lost the 2006 federal election, Stronach held her riding as a Liberal by a comfortable margin. She did not run for the Liberal leadership in 2006 and retired at the next election in 2008.
Her father ended speculation about his future in Austrian politics in August 2012, when he announced that he would return to Austria and create his own party – Team Stronach – which was found in September 2012. It was joined by SPÖ, BZÖ and ex-BZÖ defectors. At dissolution, Team Stronach held five seats in the Nationalrat and was recognized as a parliamentary club (seven MPs defected, but two later joined state governments).
Team Stronach ran in the four state elections held earlier this year. In Carinthia and Lower Austria (March 2013), TS took 11% in Carinthia and nearly 105 in Lower Austria (with Stronach himself as their top candidate). It failed to enter the Tyrol Landtag in April 2013, winning only 3% of the vote – hurt by internal divisions and competition from local independent conservative parties. In Salzburg, in May, TS won 8% of the vote and formed government with the ÖVP and the Greens. TS also has Proporz government seats in Carinthia and Lower Austria, although it is not part of the unofficial governing ‘coalitions’ in those states.
TS has been extensively criticized for the lack of details about its policies, as well as how many of their policies came out as random thought bubbles by Stronach. Nevertheless, what is clear is that TS is a right-wing populist party emphasizing strongly liberal/libertarian views on economic and fiscal policy, mixed in with Euroscepticism and opposition to the Euro. On economic issues, TS’s platform emphasized themes such as free enterprise or creating “business-friendly climate”; in concrete terms, this means a 25% flat tax (‘fair tax’), reducing bureaucracy, reducing the debt and eliminating deficits, reducing the size of Parliament (with term limits), flexible opening hours for shops, a reduced 10% tax rate for companies which invest their profits locally and abolishing the mandatory ORF broadcasting fees. It also criticized the pension system as unfair and opaque, arguing for a ‘fair pension’ and motivating people to work beyond 65. It is critical of the Austrian social partnership, particularly of the roles of unions in businesses – it wants to reduce if not eliminate union’s powers and allow employees to share in their company’s profits.
Stronach’s platform said they were pro-European but anti-Euro. It is unclear whether or not the TS wants to leave the Euro and return to the schilling, or if they want a ‘flexible exchange rate’ for the Euro where an Austrian Euro is worth more than a Greek, Portuguese or Spanish Euro.
Unlike the FPÖ, TS is not anti-immigration – it has fairly conservative views on asylum, but supports qualified immigration.
Needless to say, TS is very much a personalist party and one man’s electoral machine. The campaign played heavily on Frank Stronach; specifically his bio as a ‘self-made businessman’ or ‘incorruptibility’. The party’s campaign posters almost all included Stronach’s picture, and often featured short slogans such as ‘incorruptible Frank’, ‘honest Frank’ or ‘social Frank’. The party’s core message was also tailored to reach out to dissatisfied or protest voters, with ideas such as ‘the main parties have divided the country, we need to bring it back together’ or ‘time for change’ (a theme shared, naturally, with the Greens, the FPÖ, BZÖ, NEOS etc…), but also campaigning hard on the issue of ethics and corruption.
Stronach polled up to 12% or so in the polls, and attracted a large numbers of protest voters who had previously considered voting for the FPÖ.
Team Stronach spent nearly €11 million on its campaign (which is more than the €7 million spending limit), but its campaign still ended up as one of the poorest on record. The party was constantly dogged by questions about the ‘details’ of its platform, weakened by Stronach’s poor performance in some TV interviews and debates (his ‘Styrian-Canadian English accent’!) and bizarre thought bubble policies – late in the campaign he came out in favour of the death penalty, before finding out that even his own party colleagues didn’t agree with him on that one.
NEOS – The New Austria (Neos – Das Neue Österreich) is the other newcomer on the Austrian political scene, although much less publicized than Team Stronach. NEOS, which ran in coalition with the remnants of the Liberal Forum (LIF) and the LIF’s former youth wing, the Young Liberals (JuLis), is a centrist party with liberal views on both economic and moral/societal issues.
NEOS was founded in October 2012 by Matthias Strolz, a former member of the ÖVP from Vorarlberg who had been critical of the established parties and political system. It formed a coalition with the Liberal Forum (LIF), the liberal FPÖ splinter which ran in 2008, winning only 2.1% of the vote, and the Young Liberals (JuLis), the former youth/student wing of the LIF which is represented in the student union ‘parliament’.
One of NEOS’ most prominent supporters and financial backers is Hans Peter Haselsteiner, the billionaire chairman of construction giant Strabag and former LIF MP (1994-1998). Haselsteiner started by endorsing the party and funding it, but later accepted to be the party’s ‘top candidate’ although he did not run for office himself.
NEOS is a liberal party, with fairly liberal views on economic and fiscal issues, but also liberal views on moral/societal issues (a major difference with TS and the BZÖ, with whom it shares economic liberalism). The other major difference with TS and the BZÖ is on Europe: NEOS is strongly pro-European, promoting a federal Europe.
The new party presented a “9 1/2 point plan for Austria” – these points are lower and flatter taxes (reducing average taxation from 44% to 40%, simplify the tax system, raise the threshold for the maximum rate, , education reform (more school autonomy, less political interference), pension reform (flexible retirement age, create private pension plans, reduce benefits), debt reduction (less bureaucracy, spending cuts, government pay freeze, reduce grants/subsidies), solidarity (creating a new needs-based citizens’ benefit to replace all social benefits), sustainable businesses (less bureaucracy, more R&D spending, more entrepreneurial freedom, eco-friendly development), childcare/families, electoral/political reform (reducing party financing by 75%, direct democracy, transparency, abolish the Bundesrat, more open list voting, MMP) and European federalism (a more democratic EU, European federalism).
Education and pension reforms ranked high for NEOS, which argued that the current pension system is unsustainable in the long-term. On education, it wants less bureaucracy, political control and ‘paternalism’ and more autonomy for schools. In more concrete terms, its platform called for comprehensive all-day schooling (which is often a left-wing position in Austria, where schools run from 8am to 1pm) and extending compulsory education to the age of 18. On pension issues, it wants to explore private pension plans, introduce a higher and flexible retirement age, equalize the retirement age between genders and reduce benefits.
It takes liberal stances on moral/societal issues or immigration: NEOS supports same-sex marriage and adoption, legalizing soft drugs and is pro-immigration.
Two other parties gathered enough signatures to run in every state: the Communist Party and the Pirate Party.
The Communist Party of Austria (Kommunistische Partei Österreichs, KPÖ) is one of Austria’s oldest party, having been founded in 1918. Unlike communist parties in neighboring Germany and Italy, the Austrian Communists never achieved major electoral successes – in 1945, a peak year for European communist parties, the KPÖ won only 5.4% of the vote.
The party had little influence during the First Republic; already in 1918, revolutionary movements – unlike in Germany or Russia – were unsuccessful outside of a handful of densely populated industrial or urban areas. The party was banned by the Austrofascist dictatorship in 1933, and took part in the Austrian Civil War of 1934. The KPÖ was fairly moderate and avant-gardiste for its time in the 1930s, criticism Moscow’s anti-social democratic (‘social fascism’) phase in the 1920s and early 1930s. Breaking with the Austrian mainstream, the KPÖ opposed union with Germany, claiming that “view that the Austrian people are a part of the German nation” was “theoretically unfounded”.
The KPÖ played a very active role in the Austrian resistance to Nazi rule during World War II, and could claim that it had done more than any party to fight Nazi rule. Therefore, in 1945, the Soviet Union had high hopes and expectations for the Austrian Communists and other Austrian parties felt that the KPÖ was a force to be reckoned with. The party was represented by seven members in Karl Renner’s provisional government (vs. 10 SPÖ and 9 ÖVP). However, in the 1945 elections, the KPÖ won a paltry 5.4% and 4 seats – this remains the party’s historic high. Despite its weak showing, which led the Soviet Union to lose interest in the creation of a communist state in Austria (or creating a GDR-like partitioned state in the Soviet occupation zone), the KPÖ was still represented by one minister in Chancellor Figl’s government. They were forced to leave cabinet in 1947, the watershed year in which the Italian and French Communists were pushed out of their respective countries’ cabinets.
The KPÖ masterminded and led the August 1950 strikes in Austria, a huge wave of strikes and protests against the conservative government’s post-war reconstruction/economic policies. The KPÖ and strikers received only halfhearted support from the Soviets; the police dispersed the strikers, and the SPÖ-affiliated unions firmly opposed the KPÖ-led strikes.
The KPÖ’s support declined in the 1950s. Unable to push Moscow to accepting a partition of the country (like in Germany), the KPÖ decided to push for Moscow’s preferred option (Austrian neutrality), which was ultimately accepted by the two main parties. The KPÖ’s support fell to 4.4% (3 seats) in 1956, and, hurt by its Stalinist line in the emerging Cold War and the 1956 Hungarian uprising, the KPÖ lost all seats in 1959 (3.3% of the vote). It remained represented in Landtage until 1970, but the party became a fringe party at the national level. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it flirted with eurocommunism – going as far as condemning the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, but then moved back towards dogmatic positions in the 1980s. The fall of communism and the loss of East German financial support led to internal struggles and divisions in the 1990s, which resulted in a near-total loss of support in elections (0.3% in 1994 and 1995).
Since 2003-2005, the KPÖ has enjoyed a brief revival of popular support – although one which is localized and personality-dependent. Under the leadership of Ernest Kaltenegger, the KPÖ have become very strong in Graz (Styria) – councillors donated parts of their salaries to charity and were actively involved in social housing. The KPÖ won 20.8% in the 2003 municipal elections in Graz, and it took 6.3% in the 2005 state elections in Styria, winning 4 seats in the Landtag. Its support declined in the 2008 Graz elections (11.2%) and 2010 Styrian elections (4.4%, but retained their seats), but it won 19.9% in the November 2012 municipal elections in Graz, placing second behind the ÖVP (ahead of the SPÖ, Greens, FPÖ…). The KPÖ also holds a total of three seats in three borough assemblies in Vienna since 2010. At the federal level, its support has picked up somewhat (1% in 2006, 0.8% in 2008) but it remains weak, even in Styria.
The KPÖ leader is Mirko Messner, a Carinthian Slovene. The KPÖ platform calls for a €10 minimum wage, increased unemployment benefits, an active wage policy, a reduction in working hours to 30 hours/week without loss of pay, affordable housing (more social housing etc), nationalization of the banks, reversing pension reforms, comprehensive all-day schools throughout the compulsory education period, elimination of tuition fees, gender equality, same-sex marriage rights and is strongly pro-immigration. The party says that it fights for a ‘caring society’ and criticizes increasing poverty, declining real wage levels, lower pensions and the ‘dismantling’ of the European welfare state.
The Pirate Party (Piratenpartei Österreichs) was founded in the summer of 2006, but this was their first candidacy in a national election. Indeed, the party failed to gather the required number of signatures to run in the 2006 or 2008 federal elections, and its first candidacy in any election appears to have been a municipal election in Bregenz in 2010.
The party has not experienced the same (short-lived) wave of support its German colleagues enjoyed in 2012, but they have met small electoral successes at a local level. It won 3.8% and one seat in the April 2012 local elections in Innsbruck (Tyrol) and 2.7% and 1 seat in the November 2012 local elections in Graz (Styria). It won about 1% of the vote in the Carinthian, Lower Austrian and Salzburg state elections earlier this year.
Like most Pirate parties, the Austrian Pirates are organized along a fairly horizontal, non-hierarchical and grassroots model. The LiquidFeedback software is quite important for internal decision-making and the party has no single leader, it is led by a five-member executive.
Their core issues are democratic reform, freedom, privacy and internet policy. It is opposed to data retention and endorses copyright reform, legalization of private copying, non-commercial use/sharing of digital data, prevention of censorship, patent reform and promotion of open-source materials (notably in education). These traditional Pirate themes are their main focus, but they also have positions on other issues. Some of their more prominent ‘other’ proposals include drug legalization, an unconditional basic income, lower taxes on labour income, higher taxes on speculation and capital gains, same-sex marriage, free public transit and a more flexible education system.
Corruption ranked highly in voters’ minds and was addressed by almost every party. Over the past few years, all major Austrian parties except for the Greens and the new parties (TS) have been hit by corruption scandals or case of woeful mismanagement. Corruption was an even larger issue in two state elections earlier this year (Carinthia and Salzburg).
In Carinthia, the far-right FPK state government and most of its senior leadership were hit hard by corruption allegations. Former FPK leader and Vice-Governor Uwe Scheuch, was accused of granting the Austrian citizenship to Russian investors in return for illegal donations to Scheuch’s then-party, the BZÖ. Scheuch was forced to resign in August 2012 after allegations that he, and other senior Carinthian politicians including the then-leader of the state ÖVP were involved in a kickback scheme to profit from the 2007 sale of the embattled Hypo Alpe Adria bank to a Bavarian bank. The Carinthian BZÖ and ÖVP received millions in illegal money from the scheme. The FPK Governor of the state, Gerhard Dörfler, was accused of using public funds to send out a large mailer to all households in the state before the 2009 state elections. These scandals, first and foremost the Hypo Alpe Adria scandal, led to snap elections in the state back in March.
Federally, senior ÖVP and ex-FPÖ/BZÖ politicians have been caught up in the Telekom scandal, a wide scandal involving bribed politicians and cabinet ministers from Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel’s government between 2004 and 2006. In 2011, FPÖ/BZÖ infrastructure minister Hubert Gorbach was expelled from the BZÖ after it was revealed that he had modified a law in Telekom Austria’s favour in return for €264,000. Former senior managers, lobbyists and independents consultants have been found guilty or or charged with cheating Telekom Austria with hundreds of thousands of Euros in funds, which were paid out to the FPÖ/BZÖ or politicians from the ÖVP, FPÖ/BZÖ and even SPÖ.
From the same era, the Eurofighter scandal has created headaches for the ÖVP and its former far-right coalition partners since 2006, when the SPÖ and the Greens launched a parliamentary investigation into the purchase of Eurofighter planes. Politicians from the then-governing parties are suspected to have received bribes from the contractors.
Former ÖVP interior minister and MEP Ernst Strasser was recently convicted of bribery after a 2011 investigation by the British Sunday Times masquerading as lobbyists caught Strasser willing to accept a €100,000 bribe in return for amendment to EU laws.
Corruption has also hurt the SPÖ. Chancellor Werner Faymann and his former chief of staff were investigated by prosecutors in 2011 on suspicion of embezzlement and abuse of office; one of Faymann’s confidantes is suspected of pressuring the state-owned railways company to begin an advertising campaign for the SPÖ.
In late 2012, the Salzburg state government (then governed by the SPÖ in coalition with the ÖVP) had lost €340 million in public funds by privately speculating on high-risk derivatives. The state’s finance minister (SPÖ) had been aware of the losses since the summer, and had dismissed the employee responsible (but then asked for her help a few months later for a budget presentation). The state employee responsible for the losses, a member of the ÖVP, had started work in 2000, when the ÖVP still ruled the state. She received permission from ÖVP ministers and later SPÖ ministers. Although the state later recouped its loses and actually made a profit. Nevertheless, the behaviour of politicians from both major parties and their perceived incompetence in the face of the scandal seriously eroded voters’ trust and support.
The Salzburg scandal led to snap elections in May 2013. The SPÖ and ÖVP both lost very heavily (-15.6% and -7.5% respectively), with the Greens being major benefactors – the Greens, who ran on a strongly anti-corruption/anti-mismanagement platform, won 20.2% of the vote. The FPÖ increased its vote share and Stronach’s party won about 8%.
Turnout was 74.9%, down 3.9% from 2009. This is the lowest turnout in a national election since the end of the war. The full results were:
SPÖ 26.82% (-2.44%) winning 52 seats (-5)
ÖVP 23.99% (-1.99%) winning 47 seats (-4)
FPÖ 20.51% (+2.97%) winning 40 seats (+6)
Greens 12.42% (+1.99%) winning 24 seats (+4)
Team Stronach 5.73% (+5.73%) winning 11 seats (+11)
NEOS 4.96% (+2.87%) winning 9 seats (+9)
BZÖ 3.53% (-7.17%) winning 0 seats (-21)
KPÖ 1.03% (+0.27%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 0.77% (+0.77%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.25 (-2.99%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Chancellor Faymann’s governing SPÖ won the ‘race for first place’ which pitted them against their coalition partner, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spindelegger’s ÖVP. The ÖVP’s objective had been to place first, a result which would have allowed its leader to become Chancellor and senior party in government rather than junior partner. However, neither of these two parties can be counted as the real ‘winners’ in this election. In fact, both party once again won record low results, as in 2008.
Together, the two parties which have dominated Austrian politics since 1945 (and even prior to that, since 1919) won only 50.8% of the vote between themselves; in 1975, the two parties had taken 93.3% of the vote amongst themselves, and in 2006 they had still polled 69.6% together. Once again, it is yet another historic defeat for the two parties at the centre of Austrian politics for decades, and another success for existing ‘third parties’ and new parties.
Although Austria, like Germany, is doing quite well economically and voters are generally fairly optimist about their country’s economic future (likely much more so than in 2008), the two governing parties failed to capitalize on this. Instead, both the SPÖ and ÖVP are associated in voter’s minds with the corrupt, nepotistic and stale political system which has governed Austria for much of its post-war history.
The far-right FPÖ and the Greens both did well, with the Greens winning their best in their short history and the FPÖ breaking 20% for the first time since 1999.
There was much sensationalism in the foreign press about the FPÖ’s result. While this is undoubtedly a strong result for the FPÖ, and a sign that HC Strache’s party is gradually gaining ground and continues eating into the main parties’ electorates, just like Haider had done in the 1990s leading up to the 1999 election. Nevertheless, 20.5% is not the FPÖ’s strongest result – it had done better in 1994, 1995 and naturally 1999 – and both history and polling shows that the FPÖ is far from hitting its potential ceiling.
The FPÖ can be pleased with such a result, considering that its polling numbers throughout most of late 2012 and 2013 were fairly poor (often below 20%). The FPÖ gained ground during the campaign, likely as a result of Stronach gradually losing ground for the original wave of support which greeted his party’s creation. After a strong result in the 2010 Viennese election, things had been looking even brighter for Strache’s FPÖ – the party was polling first in a lot of polls, often polling at or above its 1999 level. In 2012, the FPÖ’s support declined considerably with the creation of Frank Stronach’s party and the damaging corruption scandals surrounding the Carinthian FPK but also the FPÖ at the national level.
The FPÖ has a high ceiling, but as the contrast between 1999 and 2002 showed, it also has a very fickle electorate which is, by and large, not tied to the party itself. While the FPÖ has a fairly robust 10-15% base consisting of ideologically far-right voters, who are more closely drawn and tied to the party; a large part of the FPÖ’s electorate also consists of protest voters, which are less closely drawn to the FPÖ and are theoretically willing to vote for any appealing protest party. Stronach, originally, represented an appealing protest alternative to those voters who aren’t as far-right as the FPÖ itself. Stronach adapted parts of the FPÖ’s traditional anti-establishment/anti-system rhetoric, with some ideological/political differences (more economically liberal, less hostile to immigration), and with his image as a ‘self-made businessman’ and ‘incorruptible outsider’ was in a very strong position to draw on the FPÖ’s potential electorate. Of course, Stronach’s shine wore off quite quickly, especially after a botched campaign which allowed some of those erstwhile Stronach voters to drift back towards the FPÖ.
Without being able to predict the future, the storyline here bears at least some superficial similarities to the 1990-1999 situation. A SPÖVP Grand Coalition, winning reelection despite both parties consistently shedding support to other parties (mostly the FPÖ); a young, charismatic, telegenic and energetic FPÖ leader gradually gaining ground and moving his way up to to the top. Analysts had already noted in 2008 that HC Strache was rather similar to Haider in his style, rhetoric and personality. Now, with Haider (and the remnants of his party) out of the picture and Stronach nearly out of the picture as well, Strache is in a strong position to continue building on the FPÖ’s support.
The Greens performed well, winning 12.4% of the vote, which is their best result in a national election to date. The Greens benefited from the relative unpopularity of the SPÖVP government, and likely from its strong focus on corruption and ethics. However, despite a strong campaign, the Greens underperformed compared to their polling numbers. They had been polling between 13 and 15% in most recent polls. Green support in most countries usually tends to be fairly soft, with a number of potential Green voters changing their mind in the final days or at the polling station, preferring to vote for major parties or other minor parties.
Frank Stronach won 5.7% and 11 seats. This is a disappointing result for Stronach’s new party, which likely hoped to perform much better than that – especially given that it had been polling up to 12-15% support in a few polls last year, and which hadn’t performed too badly in state elections earlier this year. Stronach was still able to draw on protest voters and other disappointed voters, but he fell far short of his potential. Despite spending the most of any other party in this election (about €40 per vote, by far the highest of any parliamentary party), Stronach ran a botched campaign in which Stronach himself performed poorly on TV debates and interviews and in which the party was dogged by questions about his party’s incomplete or insufficiently detailed platform. In the end, a failure for Stronach.
Rather, the main winners amongst the ‘newbies’ were NEOS, the much less publicized (and much less affluent) liberal centrist party founded late last year. Surprisingly, NEOS broke the 4% threshold and won nearly 5% of the vote. The party had seen its polling numbers lift off the ground during the campaign, but it ran a comparatively low-key and shoestring campaign (€900,000, the least of any of the top seven parties). It did receive press coverage (likely more than the Pirates or Communists) and it had the advantage of being financially and politically supported by businessman Hans Peter Haselsteiner, but it did not participate in the major TV debates between the party leaders.
Unsurprisingly, the BZÖ collapsed and the party’s future is extremely dire at this stage, being outside of the Nationalrat and being represented in only one state legislature. Not only was the party badly hurt by the loss of its founder and most famous member, Jörg Haider, only days after its strong showing in the 2008 election, it then collapsed into chaotic internal divisions which led to the departure of its largest, most powerful and dominant state branch (the Carinthian FPK). The party was further hurt by corruption scandals dating back to its days in government (2005-2006) and it was unable to mobilize support on a new platform, less far-right and more liberal, given its divisions, a poor leadership and above all Stronach’s party campaigning on a very similar platform.
SORA is usually the exit pollster which everybody, notably the Austrian media, refers to for post-electoral analyses. One of my readers recommended that I look at another, less prominent, polling institute (Ecoquest, full PDF of its exit poll here) as well.
Ecoquest found that 38% of voters were late-deciders, meaning that they made up their mind in the ‘intensive campaign’, while 58% had made up their mind earlier. This is a significant finding, which speaks to the increasing volatility and unpredictability of Austrian politics, which were, until 1986, so stable and predictable. In 1983, only 8% of voters decided who they would vote for during the campaign and 92% had already made up their mind – a sign of the former pillarization of Austrian politics around two camps. Since then, according to Ecoquest’s data, the proportion of late deciders has increased almost consistently in every election: 16% in 1986, 18-20% between 1994 and 1999, 23-24% in 2002 and 2006 and 33% in the last election.
What is more, 29% of voters made up their mind in the last few days (9% in the 1-2 weeks before the election). Austrian voters, like voters in other depillarized countries such as the Netherlands, are extremely fickle: their preferences are not set in stone, and they jump around a lot before making their choice. This is, obviously, especially the case for swing voters: Ecoquest found that 58% of swing voters were late deciders, against only 25% of regular voters.
Their breakdown further shows that the ÖVP was badly hurt by the campaign period: of former ÖVP voters (’emigrants’ from the ÖVP), 61% of them were late deciders. NEOS voters, similarly, were largely made up of late deciders: three-quarters of them decided they would vote as they ultimately did during the campaign, including 34% in the final days.
Swing voters also make up an increasingly large part of the electorate: 25% of the voters were considered ‘swing voters’ by Ecoquest, down from 28% in 2008, although the general trendline since 1975 shows a strong increase in swing voters (3% in 1975). Similarly, about half of voters considered voting for another party than the one they ultimately voted for; most wavering was within the same ideological family (SPÖ voters considering the Greens, FPÖ voters considering Stronach and vice-versa etc).
Unsurprisingly, swing voters don’t end up voting for the two major parties. My educated guess is that swing voters tend to be younger voters, with no attachment to either of the two old parties. In this election, according to Ecoquest, 20% backed the FPÖ, 17% voted Stronach, 15% for NEOS, 14% for the Greens and only 11% and 10% for the SPÖ and ÖVP respectively. In 2008, Ecoquest tells us that swing voters had given 28% to the FPÖ, 25% to the Haider BZÖ, 12% to the Greens and 11% and 8% to the ÖVP and SPÖ respectively.
Vote transfers (2008-2013)
If you’ve read my posts on German elections in the past (or the big one just below), you know that I think that vote transfer analyses, albeit certainly flawed, imperfect and to be taken with a grain of salt, are literally the best things to come out of exit polls.
Table 1: Vote transfers since 2008 (SORA)
Table 2: Vote transfers since 2008 (Ecoquest)
SORA’s analysis appears to be the most complete, given that they also estimate the number of votes lost to abstention since 2008 (methodology info in German here).
The Social Democrats held about 1,047,000 votes from 2008 to 2013, losing most heavily (154,000) to abstention, and losing roughly similar amounts to all other parties: 51,000 to the FPÖ, 47,000 to Stronach, 43,000 to the Greens and 35,000 to their coalition partner. According to Ecoquest, which does not seem to have been able to estimate non-voters’ behaviour, the SPÖ held about three-quarters of their 2008 votes, and the FPÖ and the Greens were the two parties which received most of their lost support.
Conversely, the SPÖ drew in a few additional votes from 2008 BZÖ and FPÖ voters (59k and 42k votes respectively), and smaller numbers of 2008 ÖVP or Green voters (34k and 22k), as well as some who had backed other parties (26k) or had not voted in 2008 (28k). Ecoquest found a fairly substantial contingent of 2008 Green voters (8%) voting SPÖ.
The ÖVP held 949,000 votes from 2008 in 2013; like the SPÖ they held about three-quarters of their 2008 voters. It lost most voters to abstention (69,000), NEOS (58,000) or the Greens (47,000). Both NEOS and the Greens, with an electorate similar to parts of the ÖVP’s urban electoral base, are attractive options for centrist or right-of-centre middle-class, well-educated and affluent voters in urban areas (notably Vienna). The ÖVP also lost significant support to NEOS in Vorarlberg, a conservative stronghold. The ÖVP lost fewer voters to Stronach (41,000), the FPÖ (38k) or the SPÖ (34k). It gained a few extra votes from about 38,000 2008 FPÖ voters, 36,000 other party voters, 35,000 2008 SPÖ voters and 31,000 non-voters.
The FPÖ held between seven in ten to three-quarters of its 2008 voters. About 72,000, or 8%, of its 2008 voters did not turn out this year. Some 42,000 backed the SPÖ instead, a similar amount (41,000) joined Stronach’s party this year and another 38,000 voted ÖVP. There were negligible transfers, unsurprisingly, between 2008 FPÖ voters and 2013 Green or NEOS voters. These loses were compensated by heavy gains from the moribund BZÖ; 173,000 of those who backed Haider’s party in the last election (a full third of them) voted FPÖ. About 58,000 2008 non-voters and 51,000 SPÖ supporters further enlarged the FPÖ’s electorate in 2013. Furthermore, 14% of those who had backed other parties in 2008 voted FPÖ this year, worth about 42,000 ballots.
The Greens held between 65 and 70% of their 2008 voters. Those 2008 Greenies who didn’t back the Greens again this year mostly did not vote altogether (9% of them, 48k) or backed NEOS (11% of them, or 54k). The Greens did not lose much support, comparatively, to either of the two major parties and lost almost no votes to the FPÖ or BZÖ. The Greens drew their additional voters from a broad range of horizons: 18% (54k) of other party voters, 8% (!) of BZÖ voters (41k) and 3-4% of SPÖ and ÖVP voters (43k and 47k).
A mere 64,000 (barely 12%) of the BZÖ’s 2008 supporters repeated their 2008 vote in 2013. A third of them voted FPÖ, returning to ideological roots, and 68,000 joined Stronach. Non-negligible amounts of their 2008 vote also flowed to the SPÖ (59k – likely as a result of the SPÖ’s strong performance in Carinthia) and the Greens (41k). NEOS and the ÖVP did not profit much from the BZÖ’s collapse. Finally, a full 14% of them (71,000) did not vote at all this year. The BZÖ did manage to win a few additional votes from voters who hadn’t backed Haider’s party in 2008 – perhaps the loss of Haiderite far-right/protest voters were partially (very partially) compensated by more moderate voters, attracted by the BZÖ’s new ideological orientation? 26,000 2008 ÖVP voters, 18,000 2008 FPÖ voters, 18,000 2008 non-voters and 17,000 2008 SPÖ voters backed the BZÖ this year.
Team Stronach’s drew from the SPÖ, ÖVP, FPÖ and especially the BZÖ. 68,000 of 2008 BZÖ voters backed Stronach, making about a quarter of his total vote. 17.5% of his vote came from 2008 SPÖ voters (47k), 15.2% (41k) from the ÖVP and FPÖ each, 11.9% from non-voters and 10% from those who had voted for other parties in 2008. Only 4.8% of Stronach’s vote came from 2008 Greenies.
NEOS drew mainly from the ÖVP and the Greens. 24.9% (58,000) of its vote came from 2008 ÖVP voters, 23.2% from Green voters, 14.6% from other party voters from 2008 (LIF?) and 11.2% of its 2013 voters had not voted in 2008. Smaller shares came from the SPÖ (9.4%), BZÖ (8.6%) and FPÖ (8.2%).
Sociodemographic voting patterns (exit polls)
The exit poll details by sociodemographics reveal some rather interesting factoids – and disagreements between SORA and Ecoquest’s exit polls.
SORA showed a very big gender gap. The SPÖ did 7 points better with women (29% vs 22%), and the ÖVP did a full 10 points better with women (29% vs 19%). The FPÖ, on the other hand, did 12 points better with men (28%) than with women (16%). That the two main parties did better with women while the far-right was preferred by more men than women is not too surprising. The far-right, in Austria but also in other European countries (such as France), usually performs better with men than women (although 12 points better is a bit spectacular). A variety of reasons have been advanced to explain this phenomenon; including socioeconomic differences (more working-class, blue-collar men in industrial jobs; more women staying at home and those employed tend to work in non-industrial sectors such as services), education (large share of women in post-secondary education and universities), religiosity (women tending to be more religious than men) or different gender reactions to the far-right rhetoric (the far-right’s traditional messages of ‘strength’ and ‘violence’ tend to be associated with masculinity and appeal less to women; both J Haider and HC Strache could be seen as representative of a fairly macho culture, with their personality and behaviour).
The Greens did 3 points better with women (13% vs 10%), Stronach did 4 points better with men (8% vs 4%). The other parties did not show a pronounced gender gap.
Ecoquest showed a much less remarkable gender gap. The SPÖ did do 6 points better with women (30% vs 24%); but they actually found the ÖVP did best with men (23% vs 21%), and the gender gap for the FPÖ was only 3 points (23% with men, 20% with women). The Greens still did 4 points better with women, the other parties did not show a pronounced gender gap.
SORA showed even more spectacular gender gaps within age groups. Men under 29 voted 32% FPÖ, 19% ÖVP and 18% for the SPÖ and Greens (8% TS, 4% NEOS). In stark contrast, women under 29 voted 27% Green, 26% ÖVP, 25% SPÖ and only 10% FPÖ (nearly tied with NEOS, 9%) and 1% for Stronach. With middle-aged men (30-59), the FPÖ still led the SPÖ by a full 9 points (30% vs 21%), with the ÖVP at 19%, the Greens at 10% and Stronach at 9%. Women of the same age, however, preferred the main parties: 30% SPÖ, 26% ÖVP, 19% FPÖ, 13% Greens, 5% apiece for NEOS and Stronach. Older men (60+), finally, preferred the SPÖ by 11 points over the FPÖ (35% vs 24%) and 12 points over the ÖVP (23%). The BZÖ and Stronach each won 5% of their votes, the Greens only 4% and NEOS only 3%. Older women (60+), however, preferred the ÖVP by 4 points over the SPÖ (36% vs. 32%); the FPÖ took only 14%, against 6% for the BZÖ and the Greens. Older men are probably far more likely to include a large contingent of retired manual workers and other industrial workers, who remain loyal to the old party of the working-class; older women probably include a number of retired women who were employed in secretarial positions, services, non-industrial sectors or stayed at home (I would guess Catholic religious practice should be quite high, comparatively, with older women).
Ecoquest did not provide a similar breakdown by gender/age. They did break down by age. They found that all voters under 30 were nearly split four way: 21% ÖVP, 20% FPÖ, 19% Green, 17% SPÖ – SORA showed an even closer four-way split (23% FPÖ, 22% ÖVP, 22% Green, 21% SPÖ). NEOS also did well (6% Ecoquest, 10% SORA) and Stronach basically at par with his average. Ecoquest showed that voters aged 30 to 44 preferred the FPÖ by 3 points over the SPÖ (27% vs 24%), the ÖVP a distant third with 19% and not too far ahead of the Greens (14%). With those aged 45 to 59, the SPÖ led by 8 – this time over the ÖVP (30 to 22), the FPÖ at 18%, the Greens at 15%. Voters over 60 preferred the two old parties (34% SPÖ, 26% ÖVP), but a fair share (21%) still voted FPÖ, but few voted Green (6%, behind TS, 8%). SORA’s 30-59 sample showed the FPÖ and SPÖ tied at 25%, with the ÖVP at 22% and the Greens at 11%, much lower than with Ecoquest. Stronach, SORA found, also did best with these voters (7%, 5% in the other age groups) and NEOS did just as well with those 30-59 than with those under 30 (6%). Ecoquest, however, found NEOS doing disproportionately well with voters under 30 (10%) and uniformly poorly (3%) with all other ages. They also found that Stronach’s strongest support, at 8%, came from those 60+; polling 6% uniformly with the other age groups.
SORA tells us that the FPÖ beat the SPÖ by 9 points with workers (arbeiter) – 34 to 25, with the ÖVP far behind at 18%, Stronach at a strong 10% and the Greens/NEOS very weak (5% and 3%). It is clearly no secret that the FPÖ has made major inroads, since the 1990s, with working-class voters, largely at the SPÖ’s expense. But did they really win them by 9? Ecoquest tells us that no, the arbeiter and skilled workers preferred the SPÖ by 7 points over the far-right (36 to 29), although they confirm SORA’s findings on the ÖVP, Greens and NEOS support with these voters and come close to SORA on Stronach’s performance (7% they say).
The two pollsters come close to agreement on the voting preferences of employees and officials/civil servants (beamte): SPÖ and FPÖ basically tied (27-25 for SORA, 24-24 for Ecoquest), with a weak ÖVP (18-19%) and Stronach (4% or 3%) but strong Greens (15% or 17%) and NEOS (5% or 6%).
Self-employed persons (selbständige), liberal professions and farmers showed a clear preference for the ÖVP – unsurprisingly. In SORA, the ÖVP won 36% of their support, running miles ahead of the FPÖ (18%), NEOS (13%), TS (13%) and Greens (12%). The SPÖ was extremely weak (5%). In Ecoquest, the ÖVP took 44%, against 16% for the Greens, 15% for the FPÖ, 8% for TS, 6% for the BZÖ and 5% apiece for the SPÖ and NEOS.
Austrian pensioners disproportionately favour the two old parties. In SORA, the SPÖ took 34% against 31% for the ÖVP; the FPÖ took only 17%, with the Greens and NEOS being very weak (6%, 2%). In Ecoquest, the SPÖ won 35% of pensioners’ votes, versus 25% for the ÖVP, 21% for the FPÖ and only 6% for the Greens.
SORA’s detailed breakdown of the vote by education levels was quite interesting. The SPÖ’s support decreased with higher qualifications; the Greens had the exact opposite pattern. The SPÖ did best, with 34%, with those voters who only completed compulsory education. It took 28% with those who followed apprenticeship training in the dual system (Lehre), 24% with those who completed school-based training in secondary technical and vocational schools (BMS), 19% with those with the Matura, the academic high school leaving examination and only 9% among those with a university education. The Greens, on the other hand, won only 8% with those with compulsory education, 5% with those who were in part-time vocational schools for apprentices, 14% with those who graduated from a BMS, 19% with those who obtained a Matura and won the most votes of all parties (30%) with university-educated voters.
The ÖVP’s support had relatively little to do with education. It did poorly with those with compulsory schooling (23%), graduated from a part-time vocational schools for apprentices (20%) or have a Matura (21%); but did quite well both with university grads (29%) and especially BMS grads (34%). From my cursory understanding of the German-Austrian system, BMS schools are focused on fields such as engineering, business, tourism, fashion, social services or agriculture/forestry; the dual system part-time schools provide to more blue-collar or service/retail fields including woodworking, metals, textiles, catering, retail, construction or commerce/transports. This might serve to explain the ÖVP’s results but also the FPÖ’s very strong result with dual system grads (35%) and weaker results with the BMS (21%). The far-right also did poorly with those with only compulsory education (15%) – I might guess these people are disproportionately older/retirees; and about at its national average with those who got the Matura (19%). Unsurprisingly, the FPÖ was extremely weak – only 4% – with university grads.
Stronach did best (9%) with those with compulsory education, but also took 7% with those with the Matura. His support was fairly evenly spread out. NEOS did worst with those with apprenticeships or BMS (3%, 2%), and extremely well with those holding a Matura (10%) and even better with university grads (12%).
Ecoquest’s educational breakdown was not as detailed, but findings were similar. The SPÖ’s support declined with higher qualifications (31-21-14), the Green vote was the opposite (6-24-35), ÖVP support was balanced and the FPÖ did best (26%) with those with compulsory education/vocational-technical education, and poorly (11%) with Matura holders and university grads alike. NEOS did best (10%) with both these groups. Stronach’s support followed a similar trendline than that of the SPÖ.
Ecoquest reported interesting results on unionization and religiosity. With union members, the SPÖ won 36%, a full 16 point lead over the ÖVP (20%), the FPÖ (17%) did quite poorly too with unionized voters, as did Stronach (4%). With non-unionized voters, however, the SPÖ placed third with only 21%, the FPÖ led with 24% to the ÖVP’s 23%. The Greens (13%) and Stronach (7%) did quite well too.
Religious practice still plays an important role in vote choice, as Ecoquest found. Among all Catholics, results were of course similar to the national numbers, but with ‘core’ Catholics (those attending mass every Sunday or regularly), the ÖVP won 46% to the SPÖ’s 24% and the FPÖ’s 12% (Greens and Stronach: 7%). With Catholics who seldom attend services, the ÖVP fell into third with only 20% against 26% for the SPÖ and 25% for the FPÖ. The Greens won 12%. The SPÖ won 36% with Protestants, against 17% for the Greens, 13% for the ÖVP and 10% each for the FPÖ and BZÖ; but the sample size is very small. With irreligious voters, the SPÖ led the Greens by 8, 30 to 22, with FPÖ on 19% and the ÖVP irrelevant at only 10%.
Ecoquest found that while only 36% of Austrians regularly used the internet for their political news, NEOS and Green supporters were far more likely to use the internet for political news: 45% used it daily or several times a week for political news. On the other hand, the FPÖ and Stronach’s supporters rarely use the internet for that purpose (72% and 80% rarely/never use it for that).
Voter motivations, major themes and issues
SORA and Ecoquest both asked why a party’s voters voted the way they did, and both used different perspectives/angles on the question.
Table 3: Vote motivators (SORA)
In Ecoquest, 46% of ÖVP voters said they were loyal ÖVP supporters and/or liked its platform, 24% said the party had done a good job/had good candidates, 35% cited economic/fiscal reasons (good for business, low taxes, controlling the debt), 21% said the party was honest or represented stability, 10% voted strategically against a red-green coalition and 13% cited Spindelegger.
In Ecoquest, 50% of SPÖ voters said their party represented ‘the common man’, workers or social groups along those lines, 44% said they were loyal SPÖ voters or liked its platform, 29% said the party had gone a good job/had good candidates/they were happy with the party, 16% said they were responsible and/or honest or represented stability, 11% voted strategically to prevent a black-blue coalition and 10% cited Faymann.
No one reason clearly came out of FPÖ voters’ motivations – not a surprise, given that as a protest party they attract a more diverse base than either of the two major parties. 35% of the FPÖ’s voters cited disapproval/protest against the Grand Coalition or saw the FPÖ as a lesser evil, 31% cited approval of the party’s immigration policies, 28% liked the party because it brings ‘a breath of fresh air’ or took daring/brave stands, 22% said they were regular FPÖ voters or liked its platform, 14% cited Strache, 12% cited its EU/Eurozone policies.
For the Greens, the environment and the party’s energy/climate/environment policies were cited by a full 45%, 39% cited corruption/the Greens’ anti-corruption stances/disapproval-protest of the Grand Coalition, 28% said they were happy with the Greens’ performance or brought new ideas, 20% liked their platform or were regular Green voters, 17% cited education polices and another 17% cited Green top candidate Eva Glawischnig.
SORA has no details on TS or NEOS voters’ motivations, but Ecoquest cited a few reasons. For Stronach’s party, Frank Stronach himself was cited as a reason by 29%, 15% said the party brought a ‘fresh wind’, 10% said it was a protest vote and 7% cited Stronach’s economic competence. Half of NEOS’ voters said it was a protest vote, 29% said they hoped for change, 13% cited liberalism or the platform and 9% cited NEOS candidate Haselsteiner.
In SORA’s results we can point out: the weaker impact of the platform for FPÖ voters, the importance of voters’ appreciation of a party’s performance for the SPÖ and ÖVP, the major importance of the Greens’ role in controlling abuses in their voters’ eyes, and a ‘candidate bonus’ for all candidates except ÖVP leader Spindelegger.
Table 4: Top issues (SORA)
|Cost of living||32%||34%||28%||42%||28%|
|Housing and rent||21%||28%||16%||29%||17%|
In terms of issues, SORA found that SPÖ supporters were most concerned by social, economic and daily life issues such as jobs, pensions, healthcare, cost of living, housing or taxes. No one issue, however, clearly stood out. For ÖVP voters, no one issue stood out as particularly important – in fact, no one issue was cited above the national average by ÖVP voters. FPÖ voters rated a whole lot of issues as very important – jobs, taxes, economy, pensions, corruption, cost of living, housing and above all immigration and safety/criminality. Green voters were very much concerned about education, the environment, corruption and to a lesser extent transportation. Some of the top SPÖ socioeconomic concerns were notably less important for Green voters.
Ecoquest and SORA asked additional questions related to political dissatisfaction, the country’s direction or Europe. FPÖ voters, unsurprisingly, showed higher than average rates of annoyance/disappointment with parties, the state of political debate, the country’s direction, the benefits of EU membership and dissatisfaction with Austrian and European policies. According to SORA, the FPÖ won 35% with voters who felt Austria has gone in the wrong direction since 2008 (only 9% with those who felt it has gone in the right direction), 40% among those who disapproved of both Austria and the EU’s response to the economic crisis (vs 9% with those who approved of both Vienna and Brussels’ reactions).
Stronach and NEOS supporters also expressed deep dissatisfaction with political parties.
Ecoquest found a sharp drop in positive perceptions of the EU since 2008: those saying it has brought more advantages dropped from 65% to 47%, those who said it has brought more disadvantages increased from 32% to 41%. 71% of FPÖ are in the latter side, as are 60% of Stronach’s voters. About three-quarters of Green and NEOS supporters, however, expressed positive views of the EU.
SPÖ voters were upbeat and positive about the country’s direction and its response to the crisis, but were split in their attitudes towards the EU’s policies, albeit half of them expressed positive views of the EU. ÖVP voters were fairly optimistic and happy about the country’s direction and its response to the crisis, but also more strongly pro-EU than SPÖ voters.
The SPÖ was the strongest party in ‘Red Vienna’, the red state of Burgenland, Upper Austria and… Carinthia. The ÖVP predominated in conservative Tyrol and Vorarlberg and topped the poll in Lower Austria and Salzburg. The FPÖ was the strongest party in Styria. It also placed second in Carinthia, Tyrol, Vienna and Vorarlberg.
On the one hand, general patterns of Austrian electoral geography held tight. The SPÖ found its strongest support in industrial neighborhoods or towns, railway towns, the Upper Styrian steel districts, Viennese hinterland/commuterland and the old SPÖ stronghold of Burgenland (governed by the SPÖ since 1964). The ÖVP did best in Catholic and clerical rural areas (parts of Lower Austria, Tyrol/East Tyrol etc) and more affluent urban or suburban areas. It remained weak in most of Vienna, the Upper Styrian districts, Carinthia and industrial towns.
The SPÖ and FPÖ are usually the strongest parties in industrial, working-class towns or neighborhoods. In the manufacturing centre of Steyr (Upper Austria), the SPÖ won 38% to the FPÖ’s 21.6%; the ÖVP placed fourth (12.4%), behind the Greens (12.9%). Of course, 38% for the SPÖ in Steyr isn’t exactly strong; as recently as 2006, the party won over 50% of the vote there. In the former industrial town of Wels (Upper Austria), the SPÖ won 32.5% to the FPÖ’s 27.1%, with the ÖVP a very distant third with only 14.4%. The SPÖ did well in the old industrial towns (salt mining, soda works) in the Salzkammergut: 44.1% in Ebensee, 44.8% in Gosau, 42.9% in Hallstatt and 37.2% in Laakirchen (these are old Socialist strongholds, of course: the 1934 civil war extended to Ebensee, also in Steyr etc). The FPÖ placed second in Laakirchen (20.9%), Ebensee (16.8%) and Bad Goisern (20.4%), but their results were not exceptionally strong; likely due to the importance of tourism in the region and an older population.
In Linz, overall, the SPÖ placed first with 33.8% against 19.4% for the FPÖ, 17.1% for the Greens and 15.2% for the ÖVP; similarly to Vienna, the SPÖ and FPÖ did best in traditionally working-class and low-income neighborhoods, while the Greens were very strong in the inner-city area, including some affluent areas.
The FPÖ did much better in the Innviertel in northwestern Upper Austria, a region which has close cultural and economic ties to Bavaria, winning over 25% in all three districts in the regions. These districts were amongst the FPÖ’s best districts in the country. In the very famous industrial town of Braunau am Inn (which is not famous for economic reasons!), the SPÖ won 33% against 26.2% for the FPÖ and 16% for the ÖVP. The far-right even topped the poll in Ried im Innkreis and Andorf.
Another closely disputed state was Lower Austria, an ÖVP stronghold at the state level but often quite marginal in national elections. This year, the ÖVP won the state with 30.6% to the SPÖ’s 27.6% and the FPÖ’s 18.8%. The diverse state includes both SPÖ bastions and some of the strongest ÖVP regions in Austria. The SPÖ does best in industrial centres such as Sankt Pölten, which it won with 37.6% to the ÖVP’s 20% and the FPÖ’s 17.9% (again, the SPÖ was over 50% as recently as 2002); Wiener Neustadt (33% vs 23.5% FPÖ, 17.4% ÖVP) and most of the industrial areas in the Industrieviertel, located south of Vienna. The SPÖ also performs strongly in isolated industrial or railway centres, such as the railway town of Gmünd on the Czech border (40.1%); Amstetten, another railway junction town (34.4% SPÖ, FPÖ second), St. Valentin (40.8%), Stockerau (32.5%). On the other hand, the ÖVP polls very well in rural Catholic areas: the party won nearly 50% in the district of Zwettl, and over 40% in Horn and Waidhofen an der Thaya.
Styria had a very sharp swing away from both governing parties, which both 5% of the vote compared to the 2008 election. The FPÖ gained 6.7% and won 24% of the vote, placing 0.2% ahead of the second-placed SPÖ. Frank Stronach’s native state was also, by far, his best state: Team Stronach won 10% of the vote in Styria, only 0.6% behind the Greens. He won 15.8% in Weiz district, where he was born (about 20% in the town he was born, and he won 25% in the town next door). At cause for this sharp swing against the SPÖVP in Styria seems to be a local reaction to the SPÖVP state government’s unpopular municipal reforms, which led a number of rural SPÖ and ÖVP mayors to call on their constituents to boycott the election or vote for parties other than the SPÖVP. The FPÖ did very well in Leibnitz and Graz-Land district, winning about 27% of the vote; both in places which had voted ÖVP and SPÖ in 2008. The SPÖ saved face – barely – by placing first in Upper Styria, a solidly leftist industrial area (steel, mining, industries etc). The SPÖ won 48% in Eisenerz, 34.5% in Leoben, 40.7% in Mürzzuschlag, 40.4% in Kapfenberg and 36% in Bruck an der Maur. Keep in mind that while the SPÖ won over 35% in the districts of Leoben and Bruck-Mürzzuschlag, it had won over 50% in both as recently as 2006.
Graz, the Styrian capital and Austria’s second largest city, the Greens topped the poll with 21.7% against 19.3% for the FPÖ, 18.5% for the SPÖ, 17.1% for the ÖVP, 7.3% for Stronach and 7% for NEOS. As an industrial centre with a large working-class population, Graz used to favour the SPÖ – not anymore. The FPÖ and the KPÖ have taken a lot of the SPÖ’s old blue-collar support, while the Greens have polled well with middle-aged middle-class voters and academics in this university town. The results by borough in Graz shows a city split by the Mur river: the FPÖ won the poorer, working-class districts on Graz’s west side, while the Greens won the downtown core and the wealthier districts on the east bank of the river. Compared to 2008, you can notice that the FPÖ won all but one of the districts which the SPÖ had carried, while most ÖVP districts went Green except two affluent boroughs which stayed black.
The Greens did best (31.3%) in St. Leonhard district, a trendy university district which they had already carried back in 2008. The FPÖ did best (31.5%) in Puntigam, a young low-income district. They also did well in working-class districts such as Eggenberg (26.8%) or Liebenau (26.5%).
While the FPÖ did very well in Styria, it did poorly in Carinthia. The FPÖ won only 17.9% of the vote in Carinthia, hurt, it is true, by the BZÖ still pulling 10.8% in Haider’s home state. However, the FPÖ/BZÖ total fell far short of the FPÖ/BZÖ total from 2008, which allowed the SPÖ to record fairly substantial gains (+4.3%) and place first, as it had in 2006. The ÖVP also increased its vote share by 0.7% and the Greens increased theirs by nearly 5% (with nearly 12%, this is a very strong performance for the Greens). The Carinthian far-right is still reeling from the spectacular collapse of the ‘System-Haider’ back in March, a shock defeat which led to public divisions in the FPK/FPÖ. The SPÖ did best in the Carinthian Slovene towns along the Slovenian border, Villach (35.5%) and old industrial or mining towns such as Sankt Viet an der Glan (37.9%) or Hüttenberg (41.3%). Josef Bucher, the BZÖ’s (now former) leader will be happy to know that the BZÖ topped the poll in his hometown of Friesach (with 31.6%).
The ÖVP won the states of Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg; the latter two of which are conservative strongholds in which the ÖVP polled over 50% in better years for the party. The SPÖ narrowly won the city of Salzburg itself (23.7% to the Greens’ 20.7% and the ÖVP’s 20.3%); the SPÖ and FPÖ won a few towns in the Salzach river valley; in some of those places there’s a lot of tourism and skiing, but also, I think, some old industries or railway towns in places such as Lend, Saalfelden, Bischofshofen. The ÖVP did best in mountainous or rural areas.
In Tyrol, the Greens won the university town of Innsbruck, taking 24.2% against 21.2% for the ÖVP. The ÖVP and SPÖ both increased their vote shares since 2008 in Tyrol, the ÖVP vote was up 1 point and the SPÖ vote by a tiny 0.3%. At cause is the disappearance of a local conservative list, led by Fritz Dinkhauser, who had run in the 2008 federal elections fresh from his big success in the 2008 Tyrolean state elections (second place, about 18%); he was unsuccessful federally (1.8%) but he still won nearly 9% in Tyrol, most of those votes from the ÖVP (which had won 44% in 2006). The Greens did well in Innsbruck suburbia while the SPÖ and FPÖ won a few industrial islets in the Inn valley (FPÖ won Kufstein, Wörgl; SPÖ won Kirchbichl). The ÖVP did very well in more mountainous and remote towns, notably in the exclave of East Tyrol, a district where the ÖVP won 40% of the vote.
Similarly, in Vorarlberg, the ÖVP did well in mountainous villages and ski resorts, but the vote was far more divided in the densely populated valleys which include the state’s three major cities (Bregenz, Dornbirn, Feldkirch).
NEOS won 13.1% of the vote in Vorarlberg, something which nobody saw coming. Was it largely a favourite son vote for the party’s leader, Matthias Strolz? NEOS won 14% in his hometown of Bludenz but topped the poll in three towns nearby. NEOS’ success in the state was a major drag on the ÖVP and Green vote, the ÖVP’s support dropped by 5 points from 31% to 26%, while the Green vote fell back 0.2% to 17%.
The FPÖ, historically strong in Vorarlberg (which has the highest foreign population outside of Vienna), did quite well – gaining 4 points to reach 20.2%. The party won a number of suburban towns outside Bregenz and two old textile towns in Dornbirn district (22.2% in the district).
The city of Innsbruck’s report on the elections analyzed the results by precinct in the city from various interesting angles. Breaking precincts down by sociodemographic ‘type’, we find that the Greens did best in downtown precincts, with a high proportion of students and middle-classes (31.7%) and in highly-educated, affluent residential areas (29%). With the exception of the downtown-type precincts, which are strong only for the Greens, the Greens did well in areas where the ÖVP also did well, showing the relatively high socioeconomic status of many Green voters.
The FPÖ did well in the same kind of places where the SPÖ also did well, but poorly in places where the Greens and ÖVP did well. The FPÖ’s best results came from high-density residential precincts with ‘ordinary people’ and large apartment towers or social housing (29.2%, these were also some of the SPÖ’s strongest areas, with 30% of the vote).
I am quite sure these observations in Innsbruck also apply to other cities in Austria. The correlation between SPÖ and FPÖ strength certainly applies in Vienna as well.
The SPÖ won ‘Red Vienna’, albeit with only 31.6%, down 3% since 2008. The Greens and FPÖ have, over the years, seriously weakened the SPÖ in its old stronghold. The FPÖ placed second with 20.6%, but this will be a disappointing result for HC Strache, who had won over 26% in the 2010 state elections and was likely hoping for a strong result in his hometown. The FPÖ has always been banging on the red-green government which governs the city since 2010 and which has attracted some controversy for its transportation policies.
One of the more interesting aspects of Viennese geopolitics is the correlation between the SPÖ and the FPÖ’s support in the city: the FPÖ’s strongest districts tend to be some of the SPÖ’s strongest districts. The FPÖ’s best result this year came from Simmering (31.1%) in southern Vienna, a working-class district with a substantial immigrant population (but not huge; it also has white low-income areas where I suspect the FPÖ does best) which was also the SPÖ’s best district this year (39.9%). The FPÖ won its second best result next door in Favoriten, winning 28.7% to the SPÖ’s 39.8%. The FPÖ (and, you guessed it, SPÖ) also did well on the other side of the Danube, in Donaustadt (36.5% SPÖ, 26.8% FPÖ) and Floridsdorf (37.2% SPÖ and 28.6% FPÖ); two low-income and traditionally working-class districts, with a fairly low immigrant population. Both parties again did well in Liesing, Meidling and Brigittenau; working-class districts close to large concentrations of immigrants or immigrant-heavy themselves.
The FPÖ’s support, however, has declined in the most immigrant-heavy parts of the city; notably Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus, where the FPÖ won 25.7% in 1994 but only 18.3% today (the FPÖ vote citywide was about 2% lower in 2013 than in 1994). This is also the case in Margareten (24.5% in 1994, 15.1% today), Ottakring (25.5% in ’94, 20.1% today) or Leopoldstadt (25.3% in 1994, 16.7% today). These districts have some of the highest immigrant populations in Vienna, and parts of Leopoldstadt, Ottakring and Margareten have seen gentrification in recent years, which has brough along stronger Green support. FPÖ has indeed fallen off since the ’90s in the Greens’ inner-city districts, their weakest terrain. On the other hand, their results in the outer blue-collar suburbs aforementioned are nearly all-time highs – in fact, the FPÖ vote in 2013 in Simmering and Floridsdorf was even higher than in 1999 (even if city-wide support was down 4% on 1999).
The Greens won 16.4% in Vienna, up 0.5% and enough to take third place ahead of the ÖVP (14.5%, down 2.2% and winning their worst Viennese result in any national election). Both parties were hurt by NEOS, which won 7.6% of the vote in Vienna. Indeed, the Greens’ result is mediocre considering their national average; in 2006, the Greens won 17.3% in Vienna.
NEOS did best in the Innere Stadt, an extremely costly and affluent professional district in the heart of Vienna (it has a small population, but in the daytime its population swells due to the government and business centered here) which is the city’s ÖVP stronghold. The ÖVP won 30% of the vote in the Innere Stadt, down nearly 9% on 2008 (the ÖVP won 42.9% in 2006…). The Greens’ support declined as well: down nearly 3% on 2008, to 17.2%. NEOS won 15.6%, and the results clearly confirm that NEOS hurt the ÖVP and the Greens without having much effect on the SPÖ (its weak support up 0.2%) and likely no effect on the FPÖ.
NEOS did very well in the rather affluent, very well-educated and ‘bobo’ inner-city Green strongholds (which form a ring around the Innere Stadt): 13.3% in Josefstadt, 12.8% in Alsergrund, 12.3% in the Neubau, 12.1% in Wieden and 11.8% in Mariahilf; all of which were won by the Greens (as in 2008). The Greens lost votes in two of their inner-city strongholds: -1.4% to 28% in Josefstadt, -0.2% to 32.4% in Neubau; and they were stagnant in Alsergrund, Wieden and Mariahil. And in any case, they fell short of their 2006 levels.
NEOS also did well in more suburban affluent districts, which are also good for the ÖVP. NEOS won 13% in Währing (24% ÖVP), 11.9% in Döbling (24.7% ÖVP) and 11.9% in Hietzing (27% ÖVP). The swing against the ÖVP and the Greens were even larger in these districts than city-wide.
On the results of this election, a continuation of the SPÖVP Grand Coalition which has ruled since 2006 is by far the most, if not only, realistic option for forming a government. In fact, even before the election, most people thought that the Grand Coalition would be renewed for another go-round after the election. The SPÖ and ÖVP have their disagreements and during the campaign both parties made sure to make voters think that they hadn’t actually governed together for seven years. Yet, no other option had the numbers and/or was acceptable enough to the parties involved.
Black-blue and red-green both fell short (especially the latter), and a black-blue coalition was unlikely even if it did have the numbers. The ÖVP has said that the FPÖ will need to change its positions on the EU and be less hostile towards immigration if they want to serve in government with them. A right-wing government made up of the ÖVP, FPÖ and TS do hold an absolute majority, albeit pretty thin to make it vulnerable to defections. Anyhow, that option hasn’t even been considered seriously by the parties involved. Red-blue, which is not as ‘out there’ as some foreign observers might assume, is still even less likely.
There were talks of extending the Grand Coalition into a Super-Grand Coalition with the inclusion of the Greens and/or NEOS, but nobody seemed to take that too seriously or be overly keen on it.
In conclusion, this election will likely bring about very few changes in governance: the main changes could be in the attribution of cabinet portfolios, with a rumour that Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger (ÖVP) might switch from foreign affairs to finance, removing the rather unpopular ÖVP finance minister Maria Fekter. The ÖVP’s extremely popular Sebastian Kurz, the 27-year old state secretary for integration (Kurz received more preferential votes than Spindelegger) will likely receive a major promotion.
Nevertheless, with the continuation of the Grand Coalition – once again made up of parties which ‘lost’ the election (as Strache was quick to point out) – means that Austria seems to be, again, on route to a 1999-like election with a very strong FPÖ.
The FPÖ will be helped by the fact that the BZÖ is now basically dead and by the rapid implosion of Team Stronach. TS was always destined to be a flash in the pan, because Stronach is quite old and already is too busy living most of the time in Canada to actually lead a political party on the other side of the pond (he can’t stay over 70 days in Austria because he’d need to pay all his taxes in Austria). Since the election, Stronach, who has run TS with an iron hand, has already sacked three TS state leaders, other state leaders are angry at Stronach, the Carinthian TS wants to split from the federal party, the Vorarlberg TS has basically imploded and Stronach has moved back to Canada and let the new TS parliamentary leader, Katrin Nachbaur, to deal with the mess. TS has seen its support collapse to 2% in post-election polls, while the FPÖ has already been pegged at 25% in one poll (tied for first). In the meantime, NEOS’ support has steadily increased to 6-8%… a new political force to reckon with?
Thanks for bearing with me as I try catching up on backlog… stay tuned for Nova Scotia (Oct 7) and Luxembourg (Oct 20) coming up next.
Federal elections were held in Germany on September 22, 2013. All members of the Bundestag were up for reelection. Federal legislative power in Germany is shared between two legislative assemblies – of which the Bundestag is the most important and the only one which is directly elected – but it is not considered a bicameral parliament. A de facto upper house, the Bundesrat, serves as a legislative body representing Germany’s 16 Länder (federal states) which must approve any law affecting policy areas in which the Länder have concurrent powers as per the Basic Law. Their suspensive veto on other pieces of legislation can be overriden by the Bundestag.
Be warned: this post is extremely long, but divided by section headers – so that you can read what you want.
Germany’s electoral system
The Bundestag is made up of at least 598 members, elected for a four-year term by mixed-member proportional representation (MMP). 299 members are elected in single-member constituencies (wahlkreise), while the remaining seats (variable number) are list mandates elected by proportional representation (Saint-Laguë). The number of wahlkreise varies from state to state based on the state’s voting-age (18+) population, with the city-state of Bremen having two wahlkreise and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) having a hefty 64 districts.
German voters have two votes. The first vote (erststimme) is for an individual candidate in their single-member district; the winning candidate in each district is the candidate receiving the most votes (FPTP). Every single candidate who wins a district mandate is entitled to a seat – this may seem obvious for those used to FPTP systems, but the workings of MMP in Germany makes that point fairly important and relevant.
The second vote (zweitstimme) is for a state-wide closed party list. Only parties receiving over 5% of the vote nationwide (although there are no national lists) or who have won at least three district mandates qualify for list mandates. For example, in 1994, the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) won 4.4% of the vote, but because it won three districts, it managed to elect a 30-member caucus. All regular seats are distributed proportionally at the state level. However, if a party has won more seats (through district mandates) than it is entitled to (i.e. party x wins 8 district seats, but its second votes only entitle it to 6 seats), it is entitled to keep those seats – this creates an ‘overhang’. Overhang seats expand the size of the Bundestag, in the last election (2009), there were 24 overhang seats, expanding the legislature’s size to 622 members.
Until this election, disproportionality in the results due to overhang seats was not compensated. In 2008, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the electoral system was unconstitutional because the overhang seats could, in theory, create a ‘negative vote weight’ (losing seats due to more votes, such as in 2009) and gave legislators three years to fix the issue. A new electoral reform was approved earlier this year, which will compensate overhang seats by distributing additional leveling seats so that each party gets at least its minimum seat number when proportionally distributing the federal vote. This can, of course, expand the size of the Bundestag – potentially up to 700 or 800 seats. As a result of this election, there will now be 630 members of the Bundestag.
The seat distribution process is notoriously complicated and I can’t pretend to understand much of it. This link, in German, should explain the full details for those particularly interested by the electoral system and the changes carried out since the last election.
Germany’s party system and the party platforms
Post-war Germany’s political and partisan system has been marked by remarkable stability, which is of course a sharp contrast with the fragmented and unstable party-political landscape of the Weimar Republic but also with a good number of other Western European countries which experienced significant institutional, political and/or partisan changes since 1945 (most notably Italy, France, Belgium or the Netherlands). Between 1961 and 1983, West Germany had a two-and-a-half party system, with two large parties – the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) – with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), as a smaller third party, playing kingmaker and forming a governing coalition with either the CDU/CSU (1961-1966) or the SPD (1969-1982). The emergence of the Greens in the 1983 federal election, followed by the gradual growth of the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS)/The Left (Die Linke) following German reunification in 1990 have altered this system. That being said, since 1990 (or later, arguably), the party system has stabilized again around the two major parties, now joined by three smaller parties – with two of them (the FDP and the Greens) being potential coalition partners. The progressive trend, however, has been the weakening of the two main parties – in the 2009 federal election, the CDU/CSU won its worst result since the first election (1949, an early ‘transitional election’ towards the post-1961 2.5 party system) and the SPD won its worst result in the entire post-war era. In contrast, all three ‘third parties’ won their best results ever.
The Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union, CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union, CSU) form the Union (or CDU/CSU). The CDU was founded in 1945, with the intention of acting as a pan-confessional big-tent centre-right party – a goal which it has achieved. In large part, the CDU was built on the ruins of the powerful pre-war Zentrum (or Centre Party), a centrist/centre-right party which had represented German Catholics during the the Kaiserreich and the Weimar Republic. The CDU’s founder and first leader, Konrad Adenauer (Chancellor of Germany between 1949 and 1963), was a prominent Centre Party politician during the Weimar Republic. Although Adenauer, a Rhineland Catholic, was hostile towards Protestant ‘Prussianism’, he was eager to create a broad anti-communist right-wing party which would break through confessional boundaries and integrate those Protestant conservatives who had fallen prey to National Socialism in the 1930s to the new democratic system. In this sense, while the CDU could be construed as the Zentrum‘s successor party, its base has been far less exclusively Catholic than the Centre Party. In addition to Centre Party politicians, the nascent CDU also integrated politicians from predominantly Protestant liberal (DDP, DVP) and conservative (DNVP) parties from the Weimar era. More controversially, a number of Nazi Party members or collaborators (including Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger, 1966-1969; Hans Globke etc) joined the CDU after the war.
The CDU governed West Germany continuously between the first post-war election (1949) and 1969, with Konrad Adenauer serving as Germany’s first post-war Chancellor for nearly fifteen years between 1949 and 1963. Under this period, the CDU established itself as the sole conservative party, eventually killing off (by 1961, at the latest) other small right-wing parties (either regional or national in scope) such as the German Party (DP, based in Lower Saxony), a party for Heimatvertriebene (post-war German refugees/expellees from eastern Europe) or the remnants of the old Zentrum. Under Adenauer and his successors, the CDU strongly defended European/Western integration (alliance with the United States, NATO membership in 1955, German rearmament) and opposed reunification if it meant German neutrality or giving in to Moscow’s conditions. Domestically, this was also an era of rapid economic growth (Wirtschaftswunder). The CDU, under Adenauer and his finance minister/eventual successor Ludwig Erhard, promoted the ‘social market economy’ – capitalism with social policies (collective bargaining, social insurance, pensions etc). The CDU lost power to a SPD-FDP coalition led by SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt following the 1969 election, and only returned to power in 1982, when the FDP withdrew from its coalition with the SPD and allied with the CDU, allowing CDU leader Helmut Kohl to become Chancellor, an office he held until 1998. The most marking moment of Kohl’s sixteen years in power was German reunification in 1990.
The CDU was defeated in the 1998 federal elections and remained in opposition to a SPD-Green (rot-grüne) government until 2005. Following Kohl’s defeat in 1998, he was succeeded by Wolfgang Schäuble, viewed as Kohl’s preferred successor. However, a major party financing scandal in 2000, which implicated Kohl and other prominent CDU leaders, forced Schäuble to resign in February 2000. He was replaced, in April 2000, by Angela Merkel, an East German (Protestant, furthermore, in a largely Catholic party) who was originally seen as Kohl’s protege. Merkel had turned against her former mentor during the party financing scandal.
Angela Merkel was the CDU/CSU’s Chancellor-candidate in the 2005 federal election, facing off against incumbent SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The CDU, fresh from a landmark victory in a state election in NRW, a SPD stronghold, was due to defeat Schröder’s worn-out and unpopular government by a large margin. However, a poorly run campaign and a fairly unpopular economic agenda (calls for deregulation, increasing the VAT, floating the idea of a flat tax) significantly eroded the Union’s lead in poll and the CDU/CSU won by a hair: a 1% edge over the SPD in the second votes, and a four-seat plurality (226 vs 222). Angela Merkel became Chancellor, but at the helm of a ‘Grand Coalition’ with the SPD, the second such coalition since Kurt Georg Kiesinger’s cabinet (1966-1969).
Domestically, the Grand Coalition’s record was fairly moderate – in contrast with Merkel’s quasi-Thatcherian platform during the election. The VAT was increased to fund infrastructure development, the income tax was largely left untouched (no flat tax, no hikes for higher income groups, a court-enforced tax cut for lower earners), Keynesian-style deficit spending during the early economic crisis (2008-2009), introducing legal minimum wages in some industries (Germany has no universal minimum wage, some industries have legal minimum wages, the courts often set de-facto minimum wages and some are set through collective bargaining) and healthcare reforms going in the SPD’s direction (raising income threshold to opt-out of the mandatory public system, abolishing the privileges of most private insurers etc) rather than the CDU/CSU’s (who had campaigned on a platform of uniform insurance payments).
Although the CDU/CSU lost support in 2009 (33.8%), Merkel was able to form a new coalition, this time with the CDU/CSU’s preferred coalition partner, the free-market liberal FDP, a ‘black-yellow’ coalition (schwarz-gelb).
Abroad, Merkel, with the Eurozone debt crisis, has gained an image as a tough and inflexible advocate of austerity policies, debt/deficit reduction in Europe’s most heavily indebted countries (Greece, Italy, Spain etc), enforcing strict fiscal rules in the EU (the European Fiscal Compact) and steadfast opposition to the idea of ‘Eurobonds’. Germany has been at the forefront, furthermore, of negotiations related to bailout packages for Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus. As a result, Merkel has become perhaps the most important European head of government – though also one of the most divisive/polarizing. In countries such as Greece and Italy, Merkel and Germany have become associated with harsh and unpopular externally-imposed austerity policies. In Germany, however, her Euro crisis policy is generally quite popular. There is significant domestic hostility to the idea of German taxpayers ‘bailing out’ countries such as Greece or Italy, but by and large, voters side with her government’s “tough line” (austerity) over other (‘pro-growth’ or Keynesian) approaches, traditionally advocated by southern European countries or France.
A large part of Merkel’s personal popularity stems from the solid health of the German economy, which is escaping Europe’s economic doldrums fairly well. Unemployment dropped almost without interruption between 2010 and 2012, from 8% to around 5.5%; rich southern states (Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg) basically have ‘full employment’. In 2012, for the first time in five years, the federal government posted a small budget surplus (0.2% of GDP). Germany has escaped recession since 2009, although growth fell from around 4% in 2010 to only 0.9% in 2012 – but growth projections remain fairly healthy. Some analysts worry that Germany’s current economic climate is not sustainable in the long term and warn that certain reforms must be undertaken if Germany’s economic health is to remain so strong in the next years. For example, Germany has a very low birthrate and skills shortage is a particularly big issue. The OECD has said that Germany will need to recruit 5.4 million qualified immigrants between now and 2025, and in August the government published a list of skilled job positions to recruit non-EU foreign labour. With the economic crisis, Germany has already welcomed thousands of southern European immigrants, particularly younger and educated citizens, fleeing huge levels of youth unemployment in Spain, Italy, Greece and so forth.
In contrast with its European neighbours, still facing uncertain growth prospects and struggling with high unemployment/debt/deficit, Germans are particularly optimistic and upbeat about their country’s economic future. A majority of respondents in polls feel that Germany’s economy is on the ‘right track’ and large percentages are satisfied about their personal economic condition.
Germany’s strong economic conditions are a result of structural factors (strong export market in Asia for German cars, machinery and equipment; specific demographic factors; Germany’s geographic location etc) and, Merkel’s critics point out, economic reforms undertaken by the red-green cabinet before 2005 (labour market reforms with Agenda 2010, cuts in welfare/unemployment benefits with Hartz IV). Regardless, in the eyes of most voters, Merkel (and, by extension, her party) have come to stand for economic stability and growth in chaotic and uncertain times; a steady and reliable hand at the helm.
Voters, however, are increasingly concerned about social justice. Low unemployment hides the fact that many Germans – up to a quarter of the labour force – hold low-paid, insecure and part-time jobs, called ‘mini-jobs’ or McJobs. The lack of a universal minimum wage in Germany adds to this situation.
The CDU/CSU’s campaign this year was very much of a ‘presidential’ campaign, heavily reliant on the image of their popular leader, Angela Merkel, who, with approvals above 70%, is much more popular than her party (as shown, for example, by the CDU’s mediocre results in some state elections recently). The CDU’s main campaign poster featured Merkel, often with the tagline ‘Kanzlerin für Deutschland‘ (Chancellor for Germany); small placards waved around at rallies simply read ‘Angie’ and the CDU popularized Merkel’s signature hand gesture, the Merkel-Raute or diamond-shaped hand gesture. Merkel, furthermore, has become known in Germany as mutti or mother. Critics contend that the CDU ran an empty campaign of platitudes and focused entirely on the personality of their leader, which might be true, but that’s also a proven way of winning elections.
While Merkel is seen as a tough and unflappable leader outside Germany for role in the Eurozone crisis, in Germany she has a reputation for legendary fence-sitting and pragmatism. Merkel has often been perceived as lacking any ideological direction of her own, instead she has run things on the basis of shifting her policies and adapting herself to what was popular. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, which reopened Germany’s very contentious nuclear energy debate, Merkel made a monumental U-turn and announced that Germany would shut down all nuclear reactors by 2022. Just a year before, her government had overturned a red-green decision to shut all reactors down by 2022. Strongly anti-nuclear public opinion, which threatened the CDU’s standings in crucial state elections in 2011, strongly pushed Merkel to do a 180 on the issue. Since then, Merkel and the CDU have promoted renewable energy, which is off to a tough start. A government renewable energy surcharge, which will increase electricity bills by about 20%, is unpopular (see this article in Der Spiegel for more on Germany’s energy transformation).
Many analysts noted how the CDU/CSU’s platform effectively blurred major policy differences between the Union parties and their main rival, the SPD. The parties do differ on the issues, but the differences are fairly minimal. The CDU rejects a universal minimum wage, saying it would hinder Germany’s economic competitiveness. Instead, they want negotiable minimum wages, set by unions and employers. The CDU and SPD agree on issues such as the retirement age (67), introducing a gender quota to increase women’s presence in management positions (just disagreeing on the quota itself), freezing rent, equalizing the pay of temporary employees with that of permanent employees, developing renewable energy, expanding internet access, more daycare places, supporting families with children (slight disagreement over policies, tax credits and so forth), a European financial transactions tax and EU banking supervision by the ECB.
One of the main differences between the CDU and the SPD is that the CDU’s platform explicitly rejected any tax increases, unlike the SPD and the Greens which proposed increasing the tax rate for the top income bracket. The CDU claimed that the red-greens’ tax hike would be a burden on families and businesses. On fiscal policy, the CDU takes a more conservative tone. It wishes to start paying off Germany’s debt (81% of GDP) and not create any more debt after 2015. On European fiscal policy, the CDU’s platform reiterated the black-yellow coalition’s agenda over the past years – no Eurobonds (the CDU says each state should be liable for its own debt), strict application of the EU Fiscal Compact with penalties for transgressors and help conditional to adoption of structural reforms. Merkel criticized Schröder’s government for allowing Greece to join the Eurozone. The CDU continues to strongly support European integration, which has remained a key element of the party’s policy since 1949. However, the CDU opposes EU membership for Turkey.
In Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union, CSU) is the local version of the CDU. The CSU is a separate party from the CDU, but they have always formed a single fraction in the Bundestag (the ‘Union’) and they do not run candidates against one another. The CSU’s origins are often traced back to the Bavarian People’s Party (BVP), a regionalist conservative party during the Weimar Republic which dominated Bavarian politics (though it never did match the level of total hegemony later set by the CSU) and was something of a Bavarian Zentrum (during the Kaiserreich, there was also a separate Catholic/Centre party in Bavaria). However, the BVP was in numerous aspects different from the CSU: it was significantly more conservative than the CSU, oftentimes bordering on reactionary. Between 1920 and 1921, under Minister-President Gustav von Kahr (although he was not a member of the BVP), Bavaria became something of a conservative/far-right ‘rogue state’ within the tumultuous nascent republic; in 1923, von Kahr was involved in the preparations of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, although his designs were different than the NSDAP’s. Additionally, relations between the BVP and the Zentrum were more uncertain than CDU-CSU relations – the BVP, far more to the right than the Centre, rarely sat in governments with the Centre and in the 1925 presidential election the BVP endorsed right-winger Paul von Hindenburg in the second ballot over Wilhelm Marx, the Centre Party candidate backed by the democratic parties of the ‘Weimar Coalition’. Finally, the CSU which was born in 1945, came to represent a far larger segment of the Bavarian electorate than the exclusively Catholic and fairly bourgeois BVP – the CSU was joined by Protestants, former supporters of the pan-German right (DNVP) and a Bavarian farmers’ party (BBB).
The CSU represents a certain Bavarian conservative particularism/regionalism, which has been clearly visible in German politics ever since German unification – the state has always been, by far, the one state where regionalist (at times even separatist) feelings ran the highest. The conservative and predominantly Catholic state of Bavaria has long resented Prussian/Protestant domination, and almost always fought for federalism and devolution for Bavaria.
Relations between the CDU and CSU have almost always been good, with the exception of a brief period of discord in 1976 and the early 1980s between CSU leader Franz Josef Strauß and CDU leader Helmut Kohl. Two CSU leaders have been the Union’s ‘Chancellor-candidates’ – Strauss in 1980, and Edmund Stoiber in 2002. Both lost, partially as a result of their difficulty breaking through – as Bavarian Catholics – with Protestant voters in Northern Germany.
The CSU has achieved an extraordinary level of political domination in Bavaria. The party has governed the state since 1946, except for 1954-1957, and it won an absolute majority in the Bavarian Landtag between 1962 and 2008. In its first years, the CSU successfully crushed the Bayernpartei (BP), a conservative and originally separatist party which was represented in the Landtag between 1950 and 1966 and had won 20% of the vote in Bavaria in the 1949 federal election. Unlike the BVP, the CSU was successfully able to break through confessional boundaries and develop a more significant appeal to Protestant voters in Franconia.
The CSU is generally seen as being more conservative than the CDU, particularly on moral (social) issues such as same-sex marriage. On economic issues, however, the CSU retains a bit of its interventionist and Keynesian leanings from early days. The CSU is pro-EU, but it is slightly more skeptical of European integration than the CDU is.
The Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) is the only major party in modern-day Germany which survived the two world wars and the different regimes which have ruled Germany since unification. The SPD was founded in 1875 (and adopted its current name in 1890) by the merger of two socialist parties, both founded in the 1860s. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s Anti-Socialist Laws in the late nineteenth century (1878-1890) proved unable to check the rise of the SPD, which, by World War I, had become one of the strongest and largest socialist parties in Europe. In 1912 – the last elections under the Kaiserreich – the SPD won 35% of the vote and, despite an unfavourable electoral system, emerged as the largest single party with 110 seats.
Until 1959, the SPD constantly juggled with its ideological direction (revolutionary Marxism vs reformist/revisionist social democracy) and the difficulty of reconciling fairly ‘tough’ Marxist rhetoric with a very moderate, pragmatic and reformist realpolitik – especially after 1918. The SPD, one of Europe’s most important social democratic parties throughout its history, has been on the forefront of the gradual evolution of the European left from revolutionary Marxism to reformist social democracy. The father of Marxist ‘revisionism’ and evolutionary socialism was Eduard Bernstein, was an early and prominent member of the SPD (who, ironically, quit the party to join a more leftist splinter, the USPD).
Despite continuing to play with Marxist rhetoric and identifying as a working-class party, in practice the SPD moderated rapidly, becoming a pragmatic and reformist (rather than doctrinaire revolutionary) party. In 1914, the SPD voted in favour of war credits and the SPD’s leadership and a majority of its caucus supported the German war effort in World War I until the last years of the war; although enthusiasm dissipated quickly and internal dissent increased significantly. In July 1917, for example, the SPD voted in favour of a Reichstag Peace Resolution, alongside the Zentrum and the left-liberals. The SPD’s moderate and fairly pro-war course under the moderate leadership of Friedrich Ebert finally led to a split in party ranks in 1917, with anti-war pacifists and the party’s Marxist left-wing (Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxembourg of the Spartakusbund, which became the Communist Party – KPD – in 1918) founding the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD).
Following the armistice, the November Revolution and and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s abdication in November 1918, (majority-)SPD leader Friedrich Ebert became Chancellor, forming a leftist provisional government composed of the SPD and USPD. This government enacted several major social, economic and labour reforms. However, the two parties quickly split paths over the tumultuous revolutionary situation in Germany. The SPD turned against the revolution, fearing radicalization and the collapse of the state, and made its peace with the strongly anti-revolutionary military High Command. In January 1919, Ebert and SPD defense minister Gustav Noske turned to the right-wing/anti-communist paramilitary Freikorps to put down the Spartacist Uprising; a decision which continues to spark controversy to this day and was a major factor in the irreconcilability of the SPD and KPD.
After the elections to the National Assembly in January 1919, the SPD allied with the Zentrum and left-liberal German Democratic Party (DDP), forming the Weimar Coalition – a coalition of democratic parties (as opposed to the anti-regime USPD or right-wing DNVP) favouring a pragmatic and moderate political course. The SPD thus became an integral part of most Weimar Republic governments – Ebert served as Reich President from 1919 till 1925, and the SPD participated in several cabinets until 1930. However, its association with the Weimar Republic weakened the party, which never came close to regaining its 1919 heights in popular support (37.9%). On the right, the SPD was seen as the main culprit in the popular ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth/the “November criminals”, while the KPD saw the SPD as ‘social-fascists’ or ‘social-traitors’ for their 1918-1919 actions.
With the onset of the Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis on the right and the KPD on the left and the collapse of German parliamentary democracy after 1930, the SPD’s popular support declined significantly (from 29.8% in 1928 to 20.4% in Nov. 1932) and it was absent from the three ‘presidential cabinets’ which ruled between 1930 and January 1933 (although it was forced to tolerate Brüning’s cabinet and the SPD voted for President Hindenburg over Adolf Hitler in the 1932 presidential runoff ballot). The left’s ability to resist the Nazi threat was significantly hindered by the deep-seated mutual hostility between the SPD and KPD, which were unable to form an anti-Nazi bloc (though even if they did, an alliance between the democratic and reformist SPD and the Stalinist KPD would hardly have been coherent).
The SPD was the only party whose members were able to vote against Hitler’s Enabling Act in 1933, and it was subsequently banned by the Nazi regime and its members persecuted by the Nazis.
After the war, the West German SPD was led by Kurt Schumacher, a concentration camp inmate. In the Soviet occupation zone, the SPD was forcibly merged with the KPD to form the SED, East Germany’s ruling party. During the early years of the Federal Republic, the SPD pursued a fairly leftist agenda, for example supporting the nationalization of all industries. It was critical of Adenauer on European/NATO integration and German rearmament; the SPD was much more interested than the CDU in reunification, and it saw German neutrality outside NATO and the nascent European superstructures as the best way to reunify the country. In sharp contrast, Adenauer’s policies firmly aligned West Germany with the Western bloc and western Europe, while being considerably less concerned by the increasingly unrealistic idea of reunification. Although the SPD was strongly anti-communist, in the eyes of many voters, the SPD’s leftist and neutralist policies were somewhat indifferenciable from East German state socialism.
Germany’s post-war economic boom, the SPD’s narrow appeal as a left-wing arbeiterpartei (workers’ party – a class party), the strong appeal of anti-communism (and general hostility to anything too leftist which such an ideology traditionally entails) and the loss of historical SPD strongholds (notably Saxony, Thuringia or Berlin) to the Soviet zone meant that the SPD was no match to the CDU/CSU in the early years of the Federal Republic. It won 29% in 1949 and 1953, and 32% in 1957. In the 1957 election, the CDU won an absolute majority on its own.
1959 was a watershed year for German social democracy and even for social democracy as a whole. The SPD, feeling the need to reinvent itself after three electoral loses in a row, adopted the Bad Godesberg Program. In this platform, the SPD abandoned all references to Marxism and declared itself a volkspartei (people’s party) instead of the arbeiterpartei it had been since its creation. Ideologically, Bad Godesberg marked the SPD’s official acceptance of the free market economy, although calling for Keynesian economic policies and state intervention in the economy. Once again, the SPD was at the forefront of the social democratic movement in dropping all references to Marxism and officially making its peace with capitalism – other European social democratic parties, although significantly moderated and non-revolutionary in practice by that point, would have ‘their’ Bad Godesberg ‘moment’ only years later.
In the 1961 and 1965 elections, the SPD made significant gains – reaching 32% and 39% of the vote respectively. In 1966, the SPD entered government (for the first time since 1928), as junior partner in a Grand Coalition with CDU Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger. The SPD’s participation in government led to more Keynesian economic policies. In the 1969 election, the SPD won 43% of the vote, and it formed a red-yellow (social liberal) coalition with the FDP. Willy Brandt, the leader of the SPD since 1964, became Chancellor. Following the Guillaume affair (a GDR spy in his cabinet), Brandt resigned and was succeeded by Helmut Schmidt, who remained Chancellor until the FDP broke off the social liberal coalition in 1982.
Brandt’s chancellorship was, at home, marked by an expansion of the German welfare state, several major societal reforms (legalization of homosexuality). Economic policies during the SPD-FDP governments where, however, very moderate (to the disappointment of many on the left). Brandt’s foreign policy – the Ostpolitik – has become one of the more famous aspects of his time in office. The Ostpolitik was period of detente and normalization of relations with East Germany and the Soviet Union, with the two Germanies mutually recognizing one another, de facto. In the Moscow and Warsaw Treaties, the West German government recognized Germany’s post-war eastern border with Poland at the Oder-Neisse Line. The Ostpolitik was extremely controversial and matters such as the Basic Treaty with the GDR or the recognition of the Oder-Neisse Line raised much opposition from the CDU/CSU as well as post-war German refugees from Eastern Europe. In 1972, for example, Brandt was nearly removed from office by a confidence vote which would have given the chancellorship to the CDU, but narrowly survived by two votes – it later turned out that the Stasi had bribed two CDU members to save Brandt.
Schmidt’s government, less famous although longer than Brandt’s, was in a more difficult context: economic turmoil (oil crises), domestic terrorism with the Red Army Faction and tensions (both at home at abroad) related to the NATO Double-Track decision. The SPD, which won a record-high 46% of the vote in 1972, saw its support ebb in the next two elections. The social liberal coalition won reelection in 1976 and 1980, but in 1982, with the FDP moving from social liberalism to neoliberalism, it broke up the coalition and formed a black-yellow coalition with the CDU’s Helmut Kohl. The SPD considered the FDP’s decision a betrayal and an act of grubby political opportunism.
Internal divisions and other troubles, and later the short-lived windfalls of German reunification in 1990 meant that the SPD went through a long period of poor results and opposition (federally) throughout the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s. The emergence of the Greens reduced the SPD’s support throughout this period, but the SPD found a new governing partner in the Greens – the first red-green coalition at a state level was formed in Hesse in 1985. The SPD found more success at the state level: Johannes Rau, later President of Germany, served as Minister-President of NRW between 1978 and 1998 (often with an absolute majority), Hesse (governed continuously by the SPD between 1946 and 1987) or Oskar Lafontaine, Minister-President of Saarland between 1985 and 1998.
The SPD was able to regain power in the 1998 election, with Helmut Kohl’s long-time CDU/CSU government being worn down by a poor economy and the shine of reunification seriously starting to wear off. The SPD, with the popular Minister-President of Lower Saxony, Gerhard Schröder, as its chancellor candidate, won 41% of the vote against 35% for the Union parties. Like in his home state of Lower Saxony (which he had governed since 1990), Schröder formed a red-green federal coalition with the Greens. In the 2002 elections, the SPD-Green coalition was reelected by a tiny margin.
Although Schröder’s government introduced a number of more left-wing progressive policies (phasing out nuclear power, green taxation, funding for renewable energies, civil unions, naturalization law liberalization, increased child and housing allowances, improved parental leave scheme and restoring full wage replacement for sick pay), his government – both at home and abroad – remains closely associated with economically liberal policies such as Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV. In 2000, the government passed a major tax reform which significantly lowered both income taxes across the board (the lowest tax rate was cut from 26% to 15%, and the top tax rate from 53% to 42%), reduce corporate taxation and increased the basic allowance.
To counter high unemployment and stagnant economic growth, Schröder’s second cabinet introduced Agenda 2010, a series of policies intended to reform the labour market and social security, in the form of substantial cuts to unemployment benefits.
Although Agenda 2010 included a number of reforms in education, healthcare, vocational training, pensions and economy (notably reducing wage costs and employment protection), it has been closely associated with labour market reform. Labour market reform came in the form of the Hartz reforms (Hartz I-IV) between 2003 and 2004, formulated on the basis of recommendations from a 2002 commission – the Hartz commission.
Hartz IV (the last but most significant and controversial of the reforms) merged long-term unemployment benefits and social assistance into Arbeitslosengeld II, effectively leaving those dependent on such payments worse off (as of 2013, the standard rate for an individual is €382 plus the cost of ‘adequate housing’ and health insurance). Following the reforms, full employment benefits (Arbeitslosengeld I) were paid out for 12 months instead of 32 months previously. Following that period, it is replaced by the much lower Arbeitslosengeld II (widely known as Hartz IV) benefits. Hartz IV also introduced sanctions (benefits cuts) for those who did not accept job offers below their skill levels.
Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV’s wide-reaching reforms of the German labour market and welfare state were in line with liberal economic reforms similar to those promoted by right-wing leaders such as Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. Unsurprisingly, Agenda 2010 created significant unrest within the SPD, to the point that Schröder threatened to resign if his party did not back his reforms. Already in 1999, Schröder’s finance minister and SPD rival, former Saarland Minister-President Oskar Lafontaine, resigned from government and the Bundestag, citing disagreements with Schröder’s economic policies. The Hartz reforms were met by large protests, opposition from unions (traditionally close to the SPD) and even led to a 2005 split in SPD ranks, with leftist dissidents participating in the creation of WASG (Labour and Social Justice Electoral Alternative).
The SPD’s electorate responded unfavourably to Schröder’s reforms, and the SPD suffered an historic drubbing in the 2004 European elections (only 21.7% of the vote) and, in 2005, the SPD lost the state elections in the old Social Democratic stronghold of NRW to the CDU-FDP. The SPD’s defeat in NRW led Schröder to call snap elections. However, because of Angela Merkel’s poor campaign and Schröder’s political acumen, the SPD only barely lost the 2005 federal elections.
After talks for other coalition options failed, the SPD formed a Grand Coalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU, with SPD secretary-general Franz Müntefering becoming labour minister and vice-chancellor (until 2007). The SPD’s troubles did not stop with its defeat in the 2005 elections. It did very poorly in the 2009 European elections, and a few months later it won a record low 23% of the vote in the 2009 federal elections. The SPD was unable to campaign on its significant achievements in influencing policy and tempering the CDU/CSU’s more right-wing policies while in the Grand Coalition; it bled votes to all sides (non-voters, Greens and the Linke being the top beneficiaries) as a result of strong voter discontent with Agenda 2010/Hartz IV.
The SPD’s chancellor-candidate this year was Peer Steinbrück, a former Minister-President of NRW (2002-2005) and the Grand Coalition’s finance minister (2005-2009). Steinbrück was chosen by the SPD as their chancellor-candidate because of his rather moderate positions on economic/fiscal policy, as well as his ‘straight-talking’ style. However, Steinbrück quickly turned out to be a liability for the party, in good part because he seems to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. He made a number of gaffes, perhaps blown out of proportions by an hostile media, but certainly not things which politicians should say: his most famous gaffes include comments on Merkel’s “women bonus”, lamenting the low salary of the German Chancellor, saying that Merkel’s attitude towards the EU/Eurocrisis was influenced by her GDR/Ossie upbringing and most famously, his “two clowns” comments following the February 2013 Italian elections.
The SPD was been torn between a desire to continue appealing to the centre as Schröder successfully did in 1998 and 2002 and an urge to move back towards the left following left-wing backlash to Agenda 2010/Hartz IV after 2004. The SPD’s platform this year was quite left-wing – emblematic of the SPD’s post-Schröder swing to the left, the party being pushed to left as Merkel successfuly adopts SPD planks and a general shift of all parties (except the FDP) to more leftist positions since 2009 and especially 2005 (see Der Spiegel).
The SPD emphasized social justice heavily in its platform. The party’s landmark proposal was creating a universal minimum wage, set at €8.50. It also proposed to increase taxes on those earning over €100,000 from 42% to 49%. Other economic and social proposals included a full pension at age 63 (instead of 67) for those who have contributed for 45 years or more, creating a minimum ‘solidarity pension’ of €850, replacing Germany’s two-tiered multi-payer healthcare system with single-payer universal healthcare, more places in daycare and schools, fighting tax evasion and allowing double citizenship (currently strictly limited).
The SPD, along with every other party (FDP included) clashes with the CDU/CSU on the issue of the Betreuungsgeld (child care benefit), a monthly payment of €150 to parents with children between 1 and 3 who do not place their children in a daycare (Kindertagesstätte or Kita). The measure is strongly supported by the Bavarian CSU, and by extension the CDU although some CDU members are more reticent. Critics argue that the Betreuungsgeld will encourage mothers to stay at home to take care of their young children, which would weigh heavily on the labour market and Germany’s workforce shortage. Some SPD leaders, such as NRW Minister-President Hannelore Kraft, would like to make Kita mandatory (mandatory schooling only begins at age 6 in Germany). SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel says that the money should be spent on daycare, where there are not enough spaces. Others also criticize the Betreuungsgeld for the traditionalist, conservative ‘stay-at-home mom’ image it promotes. Conservatives, however, feel that parents should be free to choose where to send their children to school and many on the right see mandatory public daycare as socialism.
On European policies, the SPD platform criticized austerity and Angela Merkel’s hardline approach in the Eurozone crisis. It supports Eurobonds and a more ‘pro-growth’ orientation (while still supporting ‘fiscal consolidation’). It supports stricter regulation of financial institutions and banks, a European ratings agency and coordination of fiscal and economic policies in the Eurozone. It wants to create a European monetary fund from the European Stability Mechanism.
The SPD has struggled to motivate and mobilize voters with its campaign. Merkel, as noted above, adopted a number of SPD proposals as her own; as one observer put it, the CDU’s platform was that of the SPD’s without the tax increases. The SPD failed to present itself as a solid alternative to a very popular Chancellor.
In contrast with the CDU’s very presidential and personalist campaign, the SPD campaign was the complete opposition: its chancellor-candidate was notoriously absent from most campaign lit, and the SPD’s slogan was Das WIR Entscheidet (It’s the WE that counts) – hardly an embrace of its candidate!
The Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP) is a liberal party, founded in 1948, which has a long history of playing kingmaker in German politics.
The FDP was formed after the war in continuation of Germany’s (predominantly Protestant) liberal tradition. The party represented a novel attempt to reconcile the two historic traditions of German liberalism – left-liberalism (social liberalism) associated with Weimar’s German Democratic Party (DDP) and national-liberalism or right-liberalism, a more conservative liberal tradition with historic ties to Protestant industrialists and embodied by the Kaiserreich’s National Liberal Party or Weimar’s German People’s Party (DVP). Throughout its history, the FDP has oscillated between left-liberalism and right-liberalism; today, the FDP is firmly in the right-liberal camp.
The FDP won 12% of the vote in the 1949 federal elections. Its support has, with some exceptions at both extremes, ranged from a low of 6% to highs of 10%. Between 1961 and 1983, the FDP was the only party other than the Union and the SPD to be represented in the Bundestag. Given that neither of the two major parties won an absolute majority in that era, the FDP was the all-important kingmaker which made and broke governments. It governed with the CDU between 1949 and 1966, with the SPD between 1969 and 1982 and with the CDU between 1982 and 1998.
In its early years, the FDP acted as centre-right secular party for Protestant voters; contrasting itself to the CDU by its secularism, mild anti-clericalism and opposition to religious schools (it was also more economically liberal than the CDU).
In 1982, the FDP broke up its social liberal coalition with the SPD, citing policy differences and divisions within the SPD over the NATO Double-Track. The FDP had also begun shifting to the right, under the influence of Otto Graf Lambsdorff, the FDP economics minister who drafted a policy paper promoting neoliberal economic ideas. The decision was controversial inside and outside the party, with the FDP’s support falling from 10.6% to 7% in the 1983 election. From that point forward, the FDP became a pro-business right-liberal party. Social liberal coalitions became increasingly rare at the state level (the last one was in Rhineland-Palatinate, between 1994 and 2006) and the FDP’s preference was clearly for black-yellow (schwarz-gelb) coalitions. When the CDU and FDP hold a majority to themselves, a schwarz-gelb coalition is almost always a certainty (just like a rot-grüne coalition is a certainty when the SPD and Greens hold a majority).
The FDP went through tough times between 1994 and 1999: it failed to reach the 5% threshold in a series of state elections between 1994 and 2000, it fell below 5% in the 1999 European elections and it barely survived the 5% threshold federally in the 1998 elections (6.2%).
Under Guido Westerwelle’s more populist but still clearly right-liberal leadership, FDP support increased in the 2002, 2005 and especially 2009 elections. In the 2009 elections, the FDP won 14.6% – an historic high – on a platform calling for lower taxes. The FDP profited from right-wing unease with the fairly moderate record of the CDU-led government between 2005 and 2009. After the 2009 election, with the CDU/CSU and FDP holding an absolute majority (unlike in 2005), they formed a schwarz-gelb coalition.
A black-yellow coalition was seen as being more in touch with Merkel’s preferences and easier to manage. The coalition turned out to be a disaster for the FDP, which was widely seen as ineffective and incompetent as governing partners and their image as an exclusive club for special interests and high earners was reinforced by certain boneheaded moves by FDP leaders. Merkel, the master politician, steamrolled the FDP.
The FDP’s main campaign promise in 2009 had been to lower taxes. Despite having been in government for four years, it was unable to do so. In fact, while in government, the FDP was even forced to agree to things such as raising the public health insurance premiums by 0.5% after having run a 2009 campaign on the slogan “more net from gross [income]”.
The FDP’s decline began in January 2010 with the “hotel affair”, when it was revealed that the FDP received a huge €1.1 million donation from August Baron von Finck, who owns the Mövenpick hotel group; his company later benefited from a major reduction in the VAT on hotel bills, one of the black-yellow government’s first decisions. The “hotel affair” reinforced widely-held stereotypes of the FDP as an exclusive party for special interests and lobbyists. On the same line, the FDP (which held the health ministry) was also criticized by the red-greens for failing to liberalize the pharmacy sector (which would reduce the costs of pharmaceutical distribution), given that self-employed pharmacists are a solidly FDP electorate.
The FDP’s support in opinion polling federally quickly collapsed below 5%. The FDP was thrown out of the state legislatures in Berlin, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Saxony-Anhalt in the most recent state elections. It was, however, able to survive in Schleswig-Holstein, NRW, Hamburg and Lower Saxony; mostly through popular local leaders who ran away from the federal leadership and often contradicting the FDP’s federal policy direction (for example, the Schleswig-Holstein FDP ran on a platform of shutting down dangerous nuclear reactors).
It was also helped by “loan votes”, where CDU-leaning voters ‘loan’ their second vote (PR) to the FDP to allow the FDP to surpass the threshold (and give the CDU a coalition partner). The Lower Saxony state election earlier this year was the most extreme example of the old “loan vote” phenomenon in German politics – widely thought to have little luck of winning over 5%, the state FDP increased its support to 9.9% – exit polling showed that a huge majority of FDP ‘voters’ in that election were ‘loaned voters’.
FDP leader Guido Westerwelle was replaced as FDP leader and Vice-Chancellor by the younger and initially more popular Philipp Rösler. This leadership shuffle amounted to little, as Rösler became just as unpopular as Westerwelle had been. The FDP’s chancellor-candidate was Rainer Brüderle, the chairman of the FDP’s parliamentary group and, prior to that, minister of economics and technology between 2009 and 2011. In January 2013, Brüderle was accused of sexism by a journalist who alleged that he had made advances on her.
The FDP’s platform hit the party’s traditional core themes: lower debt, sound currency, lower taxes, civil rights and support for small businesses. Like the CDU, it opposes a universal minimum wage, tax increases and Eurobonds/debt pooling. It goes further than the CDU on taxation, calling for tax cuts when possible, reducing the fiscal drag (‘disguised progression’), reducing the energy tax (to reduce electricity costs) and simplifying tax laws. It also wishes to allow the solidarity tax (Solidaritätszuschlag), a tax which covers the costs of German reunification, to expire in 2019 (Merkel has proposed extending it). However, the FDP’s tax proposals likely ring a bit hollow after four years in government. It seemed to focus a lot of its campaign on attacking the three left-wing parties (SPD, Greens, Linke) for wanting to increase taxes, run up government spending and turn Europe into a “debt union”.
On social issues, the FDP supports less government intervention. In this campaign, the party proposed to lump Hartz IV benefits, basic security, social assistance, housing benefits and child benefits into a single ‘citizen’s income’. It differs from the CDU on the issue of the Betreuungsgeld, mentioned above. In healthcare, the FDP supports the current healthcare system and wants to allow for more competition.
The FDP’s platform emphasized the importance of cutting government debt and securing the currency. It wants to have a balanced budget in 2015, start repaying the debt in 2016, cutting red tape and limiting public sector growth to economic growth.
The FDP has always attached strong importance to civil rights and individual liberties. Its image as the party defending individual rights took a hit in 1995, when it agreed to wiretapping (Großer Lauschangriff, or eavesdropping). Many left-liberal voters have abandoned the party for the Greens, who place more emphasis on such issues than the modern FDP. The FDP’s platform opposed data retention and protecting data privacy, but in government it was fairly mum during the PRISM scandal and after revelations that the German military knew of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program.
The FDP still finds common ground with the left on issues such as same-sex marriage (the CDU is the only party which still opposes same-sex marriage, although a court decision earlier this year forced the government to grant homosexual couples the same benefits and rights as heterosexual couples), dual citizenship and opposition to data retention without cause.
The FDP supports European integration (although it wanted a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty), but it has a small national-liberal minority which is more Eurosceptic.
The Left (Die Linke) is a democratic socialist party founded in 2007 by the merger of the East German Left Party.PDS (Linkspartei.PDS) and the West German WASG (a group of SPD dissidents). Die Linke is widely associated with the former East Germany (where the vast majority of its support is) and, for some, with the former communist regime of the GDR.
The Left Party.PDS, known as the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) until 2005, was the successor party of the Socialist Unity Party (SED), the governing party of the GDR between 1949 and 1989. The October-November 1989 mass protests against the East German regime led the SED Politburo to dismiss longtime strongman Erich Honecker, empowering a new generation of reformist politicians in the SED including Hans Modrow and Gregor Gysi. In late 1989 and early 1990, the SED gave up its monopoly on power, abandoned Marxism-Leninism and allowed for the first and only free elections in East Germany in March 1990. The SED, renamed the PDS in February 1990 under Gysi’s leadership, was soundly defeated in the East German elections in 1990, winning only 16% of the vote against some 48% for the pro-reunification Alliance for Germany, led by the CDU.
Following German reunification, the PDS retained a strong presence in East Germany – particularly in low-income areas of East Berlin, where the PDS was able to win direct seats beginning in 1990. The PDS’ strength increased following the 1990 reunification election, when it won only 11% of the vote in the East. With the shine of reunification wearing off, the PDS was able to successfully appeal to older East German voters who felt that they were on the losing side of reunification (total economic collapse and deindustrialization, high unemployment, poverty, low development) or who harboured Ostalgie for the former GDR. To this day, the former East Germany remains significantly poorer than the West, with the highest unemployment figures (still over 10% today in some rural parts of the east) found in the ex-GDR. The PDS won 20% of the vote in the ex-GDR in 1994, 21.6% in 1998, 17% in 2002 (the SPD lost votes in the West, but gained in the East in that election – perhaps due to the Bavarian Stoiber having poor appeal to easterners) and 25% in 2005. In West Germany, however, the PDS won only 1% of the vote prior to 2005.
The PDS was below the 5% national threshold in 1990 and 1994, but because it won direct seats, it was able to qualify for list seats. In 2002, however, the PDS won only two direct seats, less than the three required to qualify for list seats, so it was returned to the Bundestag with only two seats.
The Left Party.PDS ran a common list with the WASG, a West German group of SPD dissidents and leftists including former SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine. Their 2005 campaign was strong, with the popular and charismatic Gysi and Lafontaine sharing the spotlight. The party ended up with 8.7% of the vote and 54 seats. Not only did it do exceptionally well in the East, it also had a mini-breakthrough in the West, taking nearly 5% of the West German vote, mostly in Lafontaine’s home state of Saarland (18.5%).
The Left Party.PDS and WASG merged to form Die Linke in 2007, and the party enjoyed an upswing in West Germany: between 2007 and 2009, Die Linke entered the state legislatures of Bremen, Lower Saxony, Hesse, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Saarland (where it won 21% with Lafontaine as the top candidate). In the 2009 federal election, Die Linke won a record high 11.9% of the vote, including 28.5% in the East and 8.3% in the West. The party benefited from the SPD’s unpopularity, a strong leftist protest against SPD policies such as Hartz IV (especially in the East) and opposition to German participation in the war in Afghanistan.
Die Linke is a controversial and polarizing party. Its most virulent opponents often style it as ‘the SED’ or the ‘Stasi Party’, references to its connections to the former communist dictatorship in East Germany and the suspected/proven participation of some of its members, including former PDS leader Lothar Bisky, in the Stasi, East Germany’s infamous secret police. The party includes more extremist and radical factions who have a tendency to say things which embarrasses the moderate leadership: praising the GDR or praise for communist/leftist leaders around the world, such as Fidel Castro. Some members of the party remain under observation by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, the federal agency for the protection of the constitution (which observes or bans extremist parties on the far-right and far-left). That being said, only a minority of the party’s leaders/MPs were members of the SED prior to reunification. Besides, a lot of the ex-SED/PDS members tend to be comparatively moderate and pragmatic.
Die Linke causes headaches for the SPD and the Greens, who have not yet resolved themselves to accept Die Linke as a governing partner either at the federal level or the state level in West Germany. In East Germany, where ex-SED/PDS members tend to be more pragmatic and moderate than West Germany’s more radical and dogmatic ex-SPD/leftist members, coalitions with Die Linke are more palatable to the SPD and the Greens.
The PDS supported a SPD/Green government in Saxony-Anhalt between 1994 and 2002 without participating in it; SPD-led coalitions with Die Linke’s external support are called the Magdeburg Model, and the Magdeburg Model was successfully repeated in Berlin (2001-2002) and NRW (2010-2012). However, after the Hessian state elections in 2008 which gave a theoretical red-red-green coalition a majority, the SPD’s Andrea Ypsilanti was unable to form a SPD/Green minority government with Die Linke’s support, after four SPD MPs defected and led to snap elections in January 2009 (which saw an SPD collapse and black-yellow majority).
Die Linke currently governs in coalition with the SPD in the state of Brandenburg since 2009 and red-red (SPD-Die Linke) coalitions were in power in Berlin between 2002 and 2011 and in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania between 1998 and 2006.
To date, no red-red-green coalition has been formed at the state level. There were negotiations for such a coalition in Thuringia in 2009, but the SPD finally opted for a Grand Coalition with the CDU, being opposed to Die Linke (as the largest left-wing party) holding the state premiership. In Saarland, that same year, the Greens preferred to support a CDU-FDP government (forming a so-called Jamaica Coalition) rather than a SPD government dependent on Die Linke’s support. In West Germany, the SPD is still fairly allergic to the red-red-green option, partly because of lingering bad blood between Die Linke’s ex-SPD members (first and foremost Lafontaine) and the more dogmatic positions of the party’s western leadership.
Die Linke went through internal divisions following the 2009 election, mostly boiling down to a conflict between the party’s pragmatic ex-PDS eastern members and more dogmatic western members. In 2012, a party congress resulted in the division of the party’s co-presidential positions between these two wings: the young eastern and pragmatic Katja Kipping alongside the and more leftist westerner Bernd Riexinger (close to Lafontaine). The 2009-2013 period has been, therefore, a fairly tough period for the party in terms of electoral support. Die Linke lost its western footholds in Schleswig-Holstein (2012), NRW (2012) and Lower Saxony (2013); it suffered loses in the 2011 state elections in Saarland and was unable to enter the Landtag in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in 2011.
Die Linke presented itself in this election as “100% social”. Its main socioeconomic proposals included a €10 minimum wage (to be increased to €12 in 2017), a €1,050 minimum pension, increasing Hartz-IV benefits to €500 (and later replaced by a €1,050 guaranteed minimum income), abolishing ein Euro jobs (15-30 hour jobs paid about €1/hour, while still receiving Hartz-IV benefits) and other temporary contracts, reducing working hours to 30 hours per week on full pay, lowering the retirement age from 67 to 65 and introduction of single-payer universal healthcare.
On taxation, Die Linke proposed to increase the basic allowance to €9,300, linear progression up to €65,000 and increasing taxes on those earning over €65,000 from 42% to 53%. It wants to create a ‘wealth tax’ of 75% for incomes over €1 million. Additional revenues from taxation would be used to fund higher social benefits and to increase spending in education, healthcare and subsidized housing (the party also supports a ceiling on rents).
The party is the most Eurosceptic of the parties represented in the Bundestag, having opposed the Lisbon Treaty, the European Stabilization Mechanism and the Fiscal Compact. Nevertheless, the party supports EU membership and the official line is in favour of the Euro, although Oskar Lafontaine recently said that the Euro should be ditched entirely. In the Eurozone crisis, Die Linke supports Eurobonds, an exceptional pan-European levy on properties worth over €1 million and introducing a tax on financial transactions.
Die Linke is famous for pacifist and anti-militarist positions. It wants to withdraw from NATO, a major point of disagreement with the SPD and the Greens and certainly a major roadblock to a federal red-red-green coalition. The party opposed the war in Afghanistan, intervention in Syria, ban weapons exports and wishes to recall the German army (Bundeswehr) from all foreign engagements. The party’s hostility to Israeli actions in Palestine and controversial statements by some leaders, interpreted as anti-Semitic, have caused controversy and forced the party to officially announce that it supported Israel’s right to exist. The public pronouncements of some of the party’s leaders praising Fidel Castro or Hugo Chávez also sparked controversy and negative media attention for the party.
Die Linke has fairly ‘green’ positions on environmental issues, more so than the SPD and similar to the Greens. It opposes fracking, CO2 capture-and-storage, the construction of more coal-fired power plants and took an anti-nuclear stance in the past.
Alliance ’90/The Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), widely known as the Greens or Grünen (singular: Grüne), are Germany’s green party. Founded in 1979, it is one of the oldest green parties and because it has consistently maintained significant levels of popular support (unlike more flash-in-the-pan green parties in Italy or France), the German Greens are also one of the most famous green parties in Europe and the world.
The Greens were founded in 1979 by environmentalists and pacifists, united by opposition to pollution, nuclear power, NATO military action and certain aspects of the industrialized society. The early German Greens attracted a wide range of members, from left to right. After the party’s right-wing split in 1982 to create the Ecological Democratic Party (ÖDP), the Greens became a more left-wing party. The party was the logical conclusion of the growth of new social movements after the May ’68 student protests and, in Germany, the development of an extra-parliamentary left-wing opposition critical of the SPD ever since it entered a Grand Coalition with the CDU in 1966. Student movements, academics and other left-wing activists were particularly critical of the SPD on matters such as the perceived failure of denazification, the adoption of the emergency acts (1968), the ‘radicals decree’ (Radikalenerlass) which made ‘loyalty’ to the Basic Law a prerequisite for public sector employment (a decree effectively aimed at banning communists from the public sector), the SPD’s acceptance of NATO and the SPD’s support for the NATO Double-Track decision. In fact, a number of extra-parliamentary left-wing activists who had joined the communist ‘K-Groups’ after 1968 went on to join the Greens: most famously, incumbent Baden-Württemberg Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann and 2009/2013 Green chancellor-candidate Jürgen Trittin.
The Greens won their first seat in a state legislature in Bremen in 1979, but they failed to enter the Bundestag in their first federal electoral participation in 1980, taking only 1.5%. In 1983, in the wake of debate over the NATO Double-Track and the installation of IRBMs and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles in West Germany, the Greens won 5.6% and entered the Bundestag with 27 seats. In the 1987 election, following the Chernobyl disaster and awareness of acid rain and pollution, the Greens increased their support to 8.3% and 42 seats. At the state level, the Greens entered the first red-green coalition with the SPD in Hesse in 1985, marking a victory for Green moderates (realos) over the radical ecosocialists and ‘deep greens’ (fundis) who opposed government participation.
In the 1990 federal election, the West German Greens allied with the East German Alliance ’90 (Bündnis 90), an alliance of three civil rights associations in the GDR. Federally, the two groups won 5.1% – in the East, Alliance 90 won 6% while the West German Greens fell below the 5% threshold and lost all seats. However, a special derogation in the electoral law in 1990 applied the 5% threshold separately in the two Germanies, so the East Germans won 8 seats in the Bundestag. Alliance 90 and the Greens merged in 1993 and the Greens regained lost support in 1994 (7.3%).
The Greens lost votes in the 1998 election (6.7%) but, for the first time, they entered federal government in coalition with the SPD. Green leader Joschka Fischer became Vice-Chancellor and foreign minister, and Schröder’s government included two other Green cabinet ministers. The Greens had by that point participated in red-green coalitions with the SPD in Berlin, Lower Saxony (with Schröder and Trittin), Hesse, Saxony-Anhalt, NRW, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg.
Government participation moderated the Greens’ positions, transforming the Greens into a New Left movement of young radicals, students and activists into a pragmatic, reformist and centre-left party. For example, the Greens effectively abandoned their earlier pacifist and anti-militarist sentiments, accepting NATO and approving German military intervention in Kosovo (1999) and Afghanistan (2001), although the issue created major strains within the party. In Schröder’s second term, the Greens were compelled to acquiesce to Schröder’s welfare and labour reforms. Green achievements while in government include the phase-out of nuclear energy (2000), promotion of renewable energies and the legalization of civil unions (2001).
In 2005, the Greens lost some votes (from 8.6% to 8.1%). Between the 2005 election and 2013, the Greens raked up electoral successes. It won a record high 16% in Bremen in 2007, leading to the first red-green election since Schröder’s defeat in 2005. In the 2009 federal elections, the Greens won their best federal electoral result to date, taking 10.7% of the vote and 68 seats. Green support surged following the 2009 election, polling over 20% in late 2010. In 2011, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the anti-nuclear movement in Germany grew in strength and the Greens achieved their most remarkable result ever in the Baden-Württemberg state elections, winning 24% of the vote and surpassing the SPD. BaWü Green leader Winfried Kretschmann formed the first ‘green-red’ coalition with the SPD as a junior partner. In 2012, the Greens won the mayoralty in Stuttgart (BaWü). The Greens were able to enter the Landtag of every single German state during this period, even in East German states where Green support is the lowest.
Green support peaked at over 25% federally following the BaWü state elections, but their support fell sharply afterwards and the Greens suffered from the ephemeral Pirate surge in German politics following the Berlin state elections in September 2011. The Greens had hoped to replicate the BaWü election in Berlin, a Green stronghold, but a poor campaign by their top candidate and the Pirate surge led to a disappointing result for the Greens.
The Greens held the first nationwide primary to determine their two chancellor-candidates in October 2012. Similarly to the Green Party’s leadership, the chancellor-candidate spots are split between one man and one woman. Jürgen Trittin, the former federal minister for the environment and the co-leader of the Greens Bundestag caucus won 71.9% of the vote. More surprising was the race between three women for the second spot: Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the deputy speaker of the Bundestag, won 47.3%, defeating Renate Künast, the co-leader of the caucus and a former federal minister (38.6%) and Claudia Roth, the co-chairwoman of the party (26.2%). Trittin is considered on the party’s left, while Göring-Eckardt is considered on the party’s right.
While the Greens almost always, when possible, form red-green coalitions with the SPD, there have been two recent exceptions. In 2008, the Greens formed the first black-green coalition with the CDU in Hamburg, largely due to the liberal image of CDU mayor Ole von Beust. In 2009, the Saarland Greens, unwilling to accept a SPD government tolerated by Die Linke, supported a CDU-FDP coalition (a so-called Jamaica Coalition). The Saarland Jamaica coalition collapsed in 2011 and the Greens suffered loses in the snap election. Angela Merkel recently said that her party’s relationship with the Greens had improved significantly since 2005, raising more questions about a black-green coalition.
The perception on the left that the Greens would happily accept a black-green coalition with the CDU apparently worried the Green leadership significantly, and their platform in this election was fairly leftist – and also placing greater emphasis on social and economic questions instead of the Greens’ pet issue (the environment and energy). Trittin also excluded the possibility of a black-green coalition.
Their economic and tax proposals were quite similar to the SPD. The Greens proposed increasing the basic allowance to €8,712, and increasing taxes on higher incomes (45% for income over €60,000 and 49% for incomes over €80,000). Like the two other left-wing parties, the Greens support a wealth tax, beginning with a 1% levy on incomes over €1 million. Like the SPD, the Greens support a €8.50 universal minimum wage, a minimum pension of €850 (while maintaining the retirement age at 67) and single-payer universal healthcare. The Greens’ platform also talked about increasing Hartz-IV benefits to €420/month. They share similar positions to the SPD on issues such as child care/daycare, the Betreuungsgeld and controlling rent increases.
On environmental issues, the landmark Green proposal was to have 100% of power from renewable sources by 2030 (and, by 2040, transport and heating). The Greens also proposed to introduce fuel consumption limits on vehicles, extending the truck toll and introducing a speed limit on Germany’s famous autobahn.Merkel’s 180 on nuclear power in 2011, however, cut the grass from under their feet. Additionally, the Greens have suffered from the unpopular and messy energy policies, some of which is rooted in red-green legislation from the Schröder era. During the campaign, the Greens were unwilling or unable to exploit unpopular and costly infrastructure projects – notably Stuttgart 21 (a controversial project to rebuild the railway network in and around Stuttgart, dogged by huge cost overruns) and the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport (due in late 2011, it will now be open only in 2014 and the costs are much higher than originally predicted). The SPD, along with the CDU, is supportive of such major infrastructure projects; the Greens were probably unwilling to endanger their relationship with the SPD over the issue.
The Greens ran into controversy with their proposal for ‘veggie-days’ – meat-free days in public cafeterias, an issue which was spun out of proportion (and misinterpreted) to paint the Greens as intolerant radicals who want to ‘force’ their views on others and tell others how to live their lives. However, the German agriculture ministry (held by the CSU) already supports and funds ‘veggie-days’.
Since the 1990s, the Greens have claimed the mantle of civil rights/individual liberties for themselves, at the expense of the FDP. The rise of the Pirate Party in 2011 endangered their ‘hold’ on that issue, but the Pirates have since petered out and the Greens have more or less reestablished their advantage on the issue. The party wants to loosen anti-terror laws, abolish the military counterintelligence, stop the use of undercover agents by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, opposes video surveillance in public spaces and is opposed to data retention. The FDP still shares similar positions, but the Greens are seen as more credible on such issues. However, during the campaign, the Greens were not extremely vocal about the NSA PRISM scandal, again because of their ties to the SPD (which is more supportive of surveillance).
The Greens are pro-European and share similar positions to the SPD on those questions, including the Eurozone crisis.
The Greens were haunted this year by their former ties (in the late 1970s and early 1980s) to the pedophile movement. Old controversies were reopened after Franco-German Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who said in a 1975 autobiography that he had sexually intimate relations with children while working in a Frankfurt kindergarten, was due to receive a major prize. Old documents from the early days of the Green movement were unearthed, hurting the Greens. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the nascent Green party included members (rallied in the Arbeitsgemeinschaft “Schwule, Päderasten und Transsexuelle”) who supported the decriminalization of non-violent and non-incestual sexual relations between adults and minors. It is clear that the early Greens supported and were supported by pedophile activists. This was a result of the late 1960s counter-cultural generation, who wanted to free society from the shackles of sexual repression – in good ways (women’s sexual autonomy, LGBT liberation) but also bad ways (legalizing pedophilia). The pro-pedophilia section of the Greens quit the party in 1987, and today’s Green leaders have all vigorously denounced past pedophile ties to the party, and the party is paying a hefty sum for a study into pedophile activists’ involvement in the party. Cohn-Bendit has repeatedly said that his book passage was meant as a fictional provocation.
A few days before the election, it was revealed that Jürgen Trittin – the Green top candidate – had signed a 1981 platform which supported the decriminalization of sex between adults and minors. Trittin admitted responsibility and said that he regretted his mistake. However, the Greens’ opponents played on the scandal – the CSU called on Trittin to withdraw from his position as top candidate. Many feel that the Greens were unfairly targeted by a smear campaign playing on controversies from nearly 30 years ago, on a subject which was already public knowledge beforehand and which the Greens have since denounced. However, it’s obviously very tough for anybody to do adequate damage control on an issue as damning as pedophilia.
The newcomer of this election, which received significant media attention, was the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD), a right-wing eurosceptic party founded in February 2013.
Germany has lacked a strong and viable Eurosceptic party on the centre/right. Die Linke is Eurosceptic, but its criticism of the EU is not its top issue – the party is associated with left-wing economic policies and carries around baggage as an East German ex-communist party which makes it tough for it to appeal to a wide coalition of anti-European voters. On the right, both the CDU/CSU and FDP are pro-European although the CSU and FDP include some Euro-critical minorities. The far-right parties, notably the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), are usually associated with issues such as immigration and their association with neo-Nazism and/or right-wing extremism means that they have no chance of becoming respected and viable Eurosceptic parties. Despite this lack of political options, there is a fairly substantial minority of voters (25-30% or so) who are Eurosceptic.
The AfD was founded largely by former CDU members, led by economist Bernd Lucke. Lucke argued that the Euro was unsustainable, and said that the currency should be scrapped. Economically troubled southern European countries should abandon the Euro while northern European countries including Germany and Austria could form a smaller Eurozone in the north.
The main theme in the AfD’s campaign was opposition to the Euro – the southern European countries withdrawing, the other countries either readopting their former national currencies or creating smaller monetary unions. It also supports cutting off aid to Eurozone countries who have not made ‘efforts’ to sanitize their public finances. While the AfD is not against German membership in the EU, it advocates for a “Europe of sovereign states” and generally has European policies similar to those of the British Conservative Party.
On economic issues, the AfD is conservative: no minimum wage, simplification of the tax law and debt reduction. It is critical of Angela Merkel’s energy transition project. The AfD claims it is not anti-immigration and wishes to promote skilled immigration, praising the Canadian model. However, some on the left have accused the AfD of pandering to xenophobic or nationalist sentiments.
The Pirate Party (Piratenpartei) experienced a short-lived surge in popular support after the Berlin state elections in September 2011, in which the Pirates won 8.9% and 15 seats. The party’s support surged over 5%, and peaked at over 10%, in polls nationally. The Pirates entered the state parliaments in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and NRW in 2012. However, the Pirates saw their support collapse in late 2012, falling back under the 5% threshold and remaining there ever since. After an initial wave of support, Pirate support fell as a result of controversies, small scandals, public scrutiny into the party and a perception of the party as a single-issue party with no positions on major issues. The Pirates have a left-libertarian platform, centered around their pet themes of copyright reform, internet freedom. individual liberties and government transparency. The Pirates also support free public transit, re-nationalizing the water, gas and electricity networks, 15 students per class, the voting age at 14 and an unconditional basic income for all.
Turnout was 71.5%, up 0.8% from the 2009 federal election. The results presented below use the second vote (Zweitstimmen) – the most important vote – for the percentage figures.
CDU/CSU 41.5% (+7.8%) winning 311 seats (+72) incl. 235 district, 76 list
SPD 25.7% (+2.7%) winning 192 seats (+46) incl. 59 district, 133 list
Die Linke 8.6% (-3.3%) winning 64 seats (-12) incl. 4 district, 60 list
Greens 8.4% (-2.3%) winning 63 seats (-5) incl. 1 district, 62 list
FDP 4.8% (-9.8%) winning 0 seats (-93)
AfD 4.7% (+4.7%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Pirates 2.2% (+0.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
NPD 1.3% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
FW 1% (+1%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Others 1.7% (+0.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
The German federal elections were a major triumph for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her party, the CDU/CSU Union. Together, the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, won 41.5% of the vote – the party’s best result since the 1990 reunification election in which the Union won 44% of the vote. Furthermore, with 311 seats, the CDU/CSU fell only five seats short of winning an absolute majority on their own – something which no German party has done since Konrad Adenauer won an absolute majority in 1957.
The triumph is first and foremost a triumph for Merkel herself, rather than her party. The CDU’s campaign was centered on Merkel and her perceived leadership abilities, contrasting them with that of her main rival, the SPD’s Peer Steinbrück.
If you read the description of the parties and their campaigns above, it should hardly be surprising that Merkel was reelected in a landslide. The German economy has performed well – remarkably well if you consider the poor economies of many of its neighbours and other EU nations – since 2009, with a major decrease in unemployment since 2010 and fairly solid economic growth. Critics either point out that Merkel was only reaping the benefits of the major policy changes enacted by her SPD predecessor or emphasize that Germany’s robust economy is undermined by the large number of underemployed people, low-paying ‘mini-jobs’ and increased wealth inequalities. However, fairly or unfairly, the widespread perception in Germany is that Merkel is a strong and capable leader who has been a steady hand in turbulent waters, who has successfully protected Germany from European economic turmoils. The CDU’s campaign posters drove this idea home: Merkel’s face with the words ‘stability’/’security’/’continuity’.
The exit polls (I am using Infratest dimap, not FG Wahlen) confirm these observations. In a head-to-head ‘direct vote’, Merkel would have defeated Steinbrück 58% to 34%. Merkel has a 71% approval rating – Steinbrück’s approval is 44%, lower than both CSU leader Horst Seehofer and Linke bigwing Gregor Gysi’s approval ratings.
Angela Merkel is an able politician, whose main strength has been her ability to adopt (almost wholesale) the popular policies of other parties (mainly the SPD) to fit with public opinion. In doing so, she was able to deny both the SPD and the Greens issues around which they could have motivated voters (on certain aspects of economic policy or nuclear energy). It also forced the SPD, which had picked a fairly right-leaning candidate, to tack further left to differentiate itself from the CDU and prevent bleeding to Die Linke or the Greens. The SPD, burdened with an unpopular and poor top candidate in Peer Steinbrück, was never able to present itself as a concrete alternative to Merkel or convince voters that it could manage the economy and the Eurocrisis better than Merkel.
She handily defeated Steinbrück on almost all personality traits. 70%, against only 22% for Steinbrück , saw her as the ‘strongest leader’. 57% saw her as most competent, 57% as the most sympathetic and 53% as the most credible. Only on the question of ‘awareness of problems’ did she lose to Steinbrück, 40 to 41. On the top two most important issues of the campaign – the Eurocrisis and the economy, Merkel trounced Steinbrück: 52% (against 25% for her rival) saw her as the best candidate on the Eurocrisis, and 43% (against 38%) saw her as strongest on the economy. Steinbrück retained the SPD’s traditional edge on social issues, 51% to 33%.
When asked whether their top motivator in voting for the Union or SPD was the top candidate, the party’s political platform or both, the results are very stark. 46% of CDU/CSU voters said Angela Merkel was their (sole) top motivator in voting the way they did, 45% said both Merkel and the CDU/CSU’s platform were important. Only 8% of SPD voters said Peer Steinbrück was their (sole) top motivator in voting SPD, against 55% who said the SPD’s platform was their top motivator and 32% who said both the candidate and platform were important. In line with their campaigns, the CDU’s vote included a very strong personalist element for Angela Merkel, while the SPD’s vote was a loyal SPD/left-wing vote driven by the party’s platform and not its candidate.
Angela Merkel is far more popular than her party. The federal government’s approval rating was 51% – much lower than Merkel’s approvals, but still the strongest approval rating for a government in an election since at least 1998. Voters, however, were not particularly pleased with a black-yellow government: only 37% of voters said the CDU/CSU-FDP should continue to govern and only 41% said a black-yellow coalition was good for the country. In contrast, a large majority (57%) said a Grand Coalition would be good for Germany.
The CDU/CSU was seen as the most competent party on the major issues – on the economy, a full 58% said the Union was the most competent, up 11% since 2009. 51% said the party was also the most competent on jobs, up 14% from 2009. As in 2009, only 22% of voters said the SPD was the most competent party on economic issues – it is absolutely imperative that the SPD regain lost ground on that issue if it wishes to win the next election. 46% of voters said the CDU/CSU was the most competent on the Eurocrisis, against 20% for the SPD.
What is more, despite a campaign heavily focused on social justice, only 43% of voters (down 1% from 2009) said the SPD was the most competent party on that issue, against 24% for the Union (which gained 5 points on that issue since 2009). The SPD had a 3-point edge over the CDU on family policies, and a 20-point advantage on salaries.
However, the exit polling found that voters agreed with the SPD/left’s positions on major issues such as the universal minimum wage (83% agree according to FG Wahlen, and Infratest dimap says 74% of CDU voters and 61% of FDP voters also want a universal minimum wage), increasing the top tax rate (56% agree) or state intervention for affordable housing (86% agree). The SPD was unable to exploit the fairly leftist tint of the voters this year, who largely agreed with the SPD’s core platform planks.
The other main result of this election was the FDP’s collapse and elimination from the Bundestag. The FDP, which had been represented in every Bundestag since the first federal election in 1949 and had won a record high 14.6% in 2009, was wiped out. It lost nearly 10% of its 2009 support. It is the second largest collapse for a single party from one election to the next since the SPD’s 2005-2009 collapse. The FDP, the CDU’s coalition partner since 2009, won only 4.8% of the vote, falling below the 5% threshold for list seats. The FDP has not won a direct seat since 1990 (and before that since 1957), and it had no chance of winning any direct seats in 2013, so it could not qualify for seats by winning at least three district mandates.
The FDP’s defeat is a major event in German politics, given that the party had been represented in the Bundestag since 1949. Four years after winning its best result ever, what went wrong for the FDP? If you read my profile of the parties above, I pointed out a few of the factors which had hurt the FDP’s standing in the polls since 2009: its inability to cut taxes (despite being in government) after promising to do so in 2009, the ‘hotel affair’ which reinforced negative stereotypes of the FDP and the party’s general ineffectiveness if not outright incompetence in the federal government. Only 12% of voters said they were satisfied with the FDP’s performance in government – compared to 57% who were satisfied with the CDU’s performance. In 2009, 51% of voters had said they would find it good if the FDP were in government; only 28% of voters still held that view this year.
The ARD exit poll asked 2009 FDP voters who did not vote FDP voters this year for their views on the FDP. 90% of them said that the FDP had promised a lot but hardly delivered anything, 82% said that their former party cared too much for specific interest groups and 74% said that in the last four years, the FDP had not moved anything. The wider electorate largely agreed with these statements. The FDP had been seen, in 2009, as particularly competent on fiscal policy (19% of 2009 voters said the FDP was the most competent on fiscal policy) and economic policy (14%). This year, only 6% of voters rated the FDP as the most competent party on fiscal policies and even less voters – 3% – said the FDP was the best on economic policy. 36% of voters this year rated the CDU/CSU as the most competent on fiscal policies, up 8% from 2013.
The FDP’s most visible leaders – Philipp Rösler and Rainer Brüderle – both had very low approval ratings: 17% and 27% respectively. Former FDP leader and outgoing foreign minister Guido Westerwelle had a 48% approval ratings, much higher than where it was when he was FDP leader, but that’s only because the foreign ministry is a generally non-controversial position and the minister is almost always well perceived.
Many believed that although the FDP was undeniably in dire straits, it would manage to eek out a save-face (and save-seat) performance and win over 5% of the vote. Despite predictions of doom, the FDP had managed to perform strongly in the most recent state elections in Schleswig-Holstein, NRW, Hamburg and most spectacularly Lower Saxony earlier this year. In Lower Saxony, there was a huge ‘loan vote’ effect which depressed the CDU vote considerably and allowed the FDP to not only save its seat but also increase its overall vote share out of the blue. The CDU leader in Lower Saxony, former Minister-President David McAllister, had endorsed the loan vote strategy in a bid to save his black-yellow government. Although the strong loan vote effect in Lower Saxony does not explain the black-yellow state government’s defeat, as was originally assumed, there was some sort of backlash against such loan vote deals after the election. Merkel and the federal CDU leadership did not, as far as I know, publicly endorse a loan vote strategy to save the FDP and she kept things to a minimum by saying that she would regret it if the FDP did not pass the threshold.
Yet, even in the absence of official directions from the top, many thought that – as in past elections – enough CDU voters would give their second vote to the FDP to allow the FDP to win over 5%. That was not the case. There were many loan votes from CDU voters to the FDP, but not enough to save the FDP. The ARD exit polling showed that a full 47% of FDP voters said that they had voted tactically for the party, against a mere 50% who said the FDP was their preferred party. This is the highest share of tactical voters for any of the five parties, by far (the party with the second largest number of tactical voters, Die Linke, had only 19% tactical voters…). 63% of FDP voters voted CDU on the first vote – although this is not entirely unusual (in 2009, the FDP won only 9% of the first vote against nearly 15% of the second vote).
In the exit polling, 51% of German voters said that the FDP was no longer needed. This strikes at a core issue in the FDP’s collapse and its future – the party has lost its raison-d’être in the eyes of many voters. In the past two decades or so, the FDP’s niche had been lower taxes. Having been utterly unable to deliver on the one issue which defined it and which attracted so many voters in 2009, the FDP lost all credibility and effectively a good chunk of its raison-d’être. The FDP effectively dropped/lost the issue of civil rights/individual liberties to the Greens (and now, the Pirates) in the 1990s after approving wiretaps and voting against civil unions, there is now a serious risk that the FDP has lost the taxation/small government/economic liberalism issue to the CDU.
Basically, social liberal and left-liberal voters have their party in the Greens and/or Pirates; there is little reason why right-liberals or ‘business liberals’ cannot vote for the CDU which is similar to the FDP on most issues and, right now, far more credible.
It must further be pointed out that the FDP’s electorate is rather fickle – there is a lot of overlap between the CDU and the FDP in terms of electorates; certainly much more overlap than there is between the SPD and the Greens (similar ideologically, but far more dissimilar electorally). A fickle electorate which overlaps with that of a larger party can be both good and bad. When the CDU is unpopular with right-wing voters, as in 2009, the FDP comes in and wins those votes (at limited cost, in the end, to the CDU); when the CDU is popular and/or the FDP is unpopular, the CDU easily gobbles up those FDP votes (this is obviously what happened in 2013).
Will the FDP survive this electoral annihilation? As aforementioned, with the FDP having lost its niche, there is little reason why the FDP’s traditional electorate cannot become more or less reliable CDU voters. The emergence of the AfD also hurts the FDP, which had in the past likely appealed to ‘national-liberal’ anti-EU voters and wonkish libertarian types. There are many good reasons to believe that the FDP could die off. However, I would be careful about writing the FDP’s obituary just yet.
Firstly, the next government will likely be a Grand Coalition led by the CDU, which means that there will be at least a small shift to the left in government policies compared to the black-yellow government (but not much, considering how black-yellow proved surprisingly moderate for a right-wing coalition). The FDP could be in a position to appeal to any CDU voters disappointed by their party’s performance in government. The FDP would have had a much tougher time doing so if the CDU/CSU had won an absolute majority on their own.
Secondly, in some recent state elections, the FDP showed that it was able to overcome unfavourable national trends because of popular local leadership, local CDU troubles or more appealing platforms. In fact, the next leader of the FDP is likely to be Christian Lindner, a popular 34-year old who led the FDP in the 2012 state elections in NRW – an election in which the FDP increased its support by nearly 2% to 8.6%.
The SPD did, on the whole, poorly, although it improved on its disastrous 2009 result by nearly 3 points. Yet, with less than 26%, this is still the SDP’s second worst result since the Second World War (2009 being the worst). In good part, this was a result brought upon by Merkel’s spectacular popularity, Steinbrück’s unpopularity, internal divisions in the SPD (unease and doubts about Steinbrück’s candidacy), Merkel’s ability to ‘poach’ major issues from the SPD and a poor campaign. Steinbrück was undeniably a net liability to the SPD, as evidenced (for example) by the party’s rather clunky slogan (It’s the WE that counts). Initially chosen because of his moderate views and straight-talker style, both of those backfired against him: the CDU just moved in on the centre and nullified Steinbrück’s centrist positions – and forced Steinbrück and the SPD to adopt more left-wing positions; Steinbrück became associated with gaffes and foot-in-mouth disease, rather than being seen as some down-to-earth straight-talker.
To be sure, the SPD also faces demographic issues – an aging electorate, loss of support with working-class voters and so forth – but this result, like 2009, is mostly the product of unfavourable circumstances rather than some kind of heavy, irreversible trend (although the trend since reunification has been a general weakening of both major parties).
The SPD’s loses since 2005 are reversible (to a certain extent; the SPD isn’t on track to win 40% of the vote anytime soon) if the party manages to get its act together and find itself a credible alternative to Merkel. Hannelore Kraft, the popular Minister-President of NRW, is oft-cited as the frontrunner for the SPD’s candidacy in the next federal election in 2017. She did not run this year because it would still have been an uphill battle for her against Merkel. However, 2017 should be more favourable to the SPD: Merkel might not seek a fourth term, and the CDU’s popularity might have eroded some over four years.
The Greens were the other major losers of this election. They lost 2% of their 2009 vote share, winning 8.4% – basically what they won in 2002 and 2005. In historical perspective, this isn’t a bad result – it shows that the Greens have solidified a solid 7-9% base of support nationally, which is good news for them given the traditional fickleness of Green support in other countries (see: France and Italy!). However, since 2009, the Greens were on an upswing and basically went from one success to another, first and foremost among them being their remarkable triumph in the BaWü state elections in 2011. Although the Greens had since fallen from their post-BaWü heights in 2011, they stabilized at 12-15% support nationally between early 2012 and mid-August 2013. Starting in mid-August 2013, Green support in polls collapsed below their 2009 result (10.7%), most of those lost potential voters switching to the SPD or Die Linke. What went wrong?
Most agree that the Greens led a very poor campaign, further complicated by the pedophilia case. Seeking to solidify their left-wing credentials, the Greens chose to focus their campaign on unfamiliar socioeconomic issues rather than nice environmental/energy issues. In doing so, they emulated the SPD too much for their own good. They lost a bit of what could set them apart from the SPD, and became associated with the SPD/Steinbrück. The exit polls showed that this emphasis shift was unsuccessful, the Greens were still identified by voters as being most competent on environmental policies (56%) or affordable energy (27%). Voters who liked the Greens’ platform might as well vote SPD, those who found it insufficiently leftist could vote for Die Linke. Because of their close ties to the SPD, the Greens were unable or unwilling to exploit lucrative issues such as unpopular infrastructure projects (Stuttgart 21, approved in a local referendum in 2012 but opinion has shifted against it again; Berlin-Brandenburg Airport; etc), the NSA PRISM scandal or energy reform.
In election dynamics, a 1998-2005 red-green coalition was still a possibility in the spring; by election day, the alternative coalition options were a Grand Coalition or red-red-green. Those favouring a Grand Coalition would be best to vote SPD to strengthen the SPD against the CDU; those supporting red-red-green would likely support Die Linke to shore up a strong leftist counter-power to the hegemonic SPD. A black-green coalition was killed by the Green leadership before the election.
As first noted in the 2011 Berlin state elections, the Greens are having trouble to renew their leadership. The Green electorate has aged since the 1980s, becoming more balanced and middle-aged rather than disproportionately early 20s youths. The top Green leaders are all fairly old – Trittin is 59, Claudia Roth and Renate Künast are close to 50 and Winfried Kretschmann is 65. Katrin Göring-Eckhard, 47, is younger, but despite being co-candidate, she was sidelined in the media by Trittin. Rebellious, dissatisfied and apathetic young voters are more likely to see the Pirates or fringe/protest parties as more attractive options to vent their frustration at Germany’s stale political system than the Greens.
The ARD exit polling offers further insights into the Greens’ problem. 68% of respondents said that the Greens scared off voters with their tax plan, 59% said that they lost sight of their voters’ interests during the campaign and 50% felt that the Greens want to dictate to people how to live their lives (see ‘veggie-day’). This confirms that the Greens had trouble properly framing their tax plan, being unable to avoid the inevitable negativity associated with ‘tax increases’, even if studies showed that the Greens’ tax plan would have led to tax cuts for 90% of the voters.
Although many say that the Greens made a mistake by focusing on social justice in their campaign, others feel that a traditional campaign focused on environmental issues might not necessarily have been any more successful. Nuclear energy is no longer a mobilizing issue (unlike in 2009-2011) because of Merkel’s phase-out. Similarly, because of rising energy costs partly due to the government’s renewable energy policy, there has been something of a backlash against Green policies on energy issues.
The Greens also struggled to effectively mitigate the effects of the pedophilia accusations and downplay the ‘veggie-day’ “scandal”, although it is likely that those who were scared by ‘veggie-days’ or really up in arms about the pedophilia case don’t vote Green anyway.
Die Linke lost votes compared to their very strong 2009 showing, ending up with 8.6% of the vote, basically what they won in 2005. Considering that Die Linke went through a difficult trough in the last four years, which resulted in them losing almost all of their recent footholds in West Germany, this is a pretty good showing for the party. Certainly, from Gregor Gysi’s speech on election night (gloating about Die Linke ranking third), they seem – in public at least – pretty pleased with their performance.
A certain decline after their exceptional 2009 result was to be expected. The political and economic context in 2009 was far more prone to protest votes – a more pessimistic view of the economy, higher unemployment and a Grand Coalition in which the SPD’s performance was not perceived all that well by voters. Die Linke had done well in 2009 partly because they won a lot of ex-SPD protest voters in both Germanies, a left-wing protest vote against the SPD’s Hartz-IV/Agenda 2010 reforms and German participation in the war in Afghanistan. Neither of those were hot issues this year, although social justice and decent wages were still at the top of most voters’ agenda (particularly on the left).
In East Germany, the AfD, and to a lesser extent the Pirates and the far-right (NPD) provided alternative outlets for protest voters (East German voters are less ideological than West Germans, and Die Linke’s Ostalgie vote is not necessarily an ideological vote of attachment to socialism/communism).
Again in East Germany, Die Linke does face a demographic problem. Not only are old voters, who remember pre-reunification society and are more likely to harbour nostalgia for the former GDR, gradually dying away; the former GDR is changing. Unemployment has declined since 2010 as a result of job creation but also out-migration (the East’s population is declining by about 1%/year), and major East German cities are increasingly affluent as they become more attractive poles for economic and social development.
Die Linke has also suffered from fairly public internal divisions, mainly between the pragmatic easterners and the dogmatic westerners. They also have difficulty escaping the view that they’re a protest party which is against a lot of things but unclear about what they want. In the ARD exit poll, 72% of voters agreed with the statement that Die Linke’s policies were unrealistic and costly.
The exit polls also reveal another interesting tidbit about Die Linke’s electorate. In 2009, 60% of Die Linke’s voters said their vote expressed dissatisfaction against only 39% who said it expressed conviction (positiveness). This year, 51% of Die Linke’s voters described their vote as one of conviction against 43% who said it was a vote of dissatisfaction.
Die Linke won 22.6% of the vote in East Germany, down nearly 6% from their strong 2009 result. In West Germany vote, Die Linke’s vote fell from 8.3% to 5.6% (-2.7%). While Die Linke started from a much lower base in West Germany and therefore lost less heavily, 5.6% is a fairly good result for Die Linke. Compared to the 2005 election, when Die Linke won basically the same percentage federally, it has lost votes in the East (-2.7%) while gaining votes in the West (+0.7%). Similarly, in West Berlin, Die Linke’s vote has increased from 7.2% to 10.8% since 2005 while falling 0.5% in East Berlin. While Die Linke might gradually be losing its edge as a regional protest party/receptacle for post-GDR Ostalgie in the former GDR, it is slowly (but with much difficulty) building up a small but not insignificant base of support as a left-of-the-left party in West Germany.
AfD, the newcomers on the scene, took 4.7%, a strong result for a party which did not even exist a year ago. While polling shows that a majority of Germans feel that the Euro has been a net positive for Germany, there is a significant minority of public opinion which is anti-Euro and an even larger portion of the electorate (probably a majority) which opposes “German taxpayer-funded” bailouts for Greece and other troubled economies. There is demand for a party like the AfD, filing a void which no party has been able to fill. Until the AfD’s creation, this demand was not met by offer (besides the far-right and Die Linke, but as mentioned above, neither of them could fill the void).
AfD’s support increased late in the campaign, likely a backlash to CDU finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble saying, a few days before the election, that Greece would need another bailout in 2014.
ARD exit polling confirms that AfD was largely a protest party. 57% of their voters said their vote expressed dissatisfaction, by far the the highest of the six largest parties.
AfD has strong potential for growth in the future. While it will not be represented in the Bundestag, which makes it tougher for their views to be heard, its first election was a success and it has gained a profile as a potential choice for German voters opposed to the Euros or critical of the CDU’s European and Eurocrisis policies. It could potentially become an attractive option for right-wing voters dissatisfied with Merkel or the CDU/CSU in general; something which would be bad news for the FDP as they try to rebuild themselves after 2013. Nevertheless, the AfD is probably nowhere near becoming a serious alternative or potential governing party. Both the CDU and FDP leaderships have ruled out coalitions with the AfD, although some CDU and FDP members had more positive comments about the AfD at its birth. In the ARD exit polls, 56% of respondents said that the AfD was not a serious party.
The Pirates had a very disappointing election, basically winning what they won in 2009. After the 2011 Berlin Pirate-wave and the Pirate-momentum which swept through a few German states in early-to-mid 2012, it’s really back to square one for the Pirates. Their brief period in the limelight, were young voters saw them as an attractive protest option, are gone. The Pirates, most significantly, totally failed to capitalize on the NSA PRISM scandal and its German repercussions. They were hurt by the perception that they had no platform other than internet freedom (which is false, although their positions on a lot of important issues are vague or fluffy), internal divisions and other controversies. For the wider public, they have failed to outgrow their stereotypes as young nerdy males who watch My Little Pony. In the exit poll, 73% of voters said the Pirates were not a serious party.
The far-right/neo-Nazi NPD lost a bit of their support, winning 1.3% of the vote. The better economic situation as well as very negative media coverage of the far-right with the trial of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) Nazi terrorist group likely explains the NPD’s poor result. It remains a small and largely irrelevant protest party for the most economically deprived voters in rural and remote East Germany.
Vote transfer analysis
Die Zeit has an awesome graphic detailing vote transfers from the 2009 election, based on ARD exit poll data (and a 2005-2009 transfer analysis, with the same graphics, here).
The CDU held 78% (11.44 million) of their 2009 voters. It lost few voters to other parties, the largest loses being 710,000 votes (4.8% of the 2009 vote) lost to the SPD; otherwise they lost 290,000 votes to AfD, 350,000 votes to the FDP (!), 140,000 to the Greens, 110,000 to Die Linke and 180,000 to other parties. 390,000 (or 2.7%) of the CDU’s 2009 voters did not turn out this year – and over one million (7.2%) of their voters are said to have died since 2009!
These minor loses were more than compensated by substantial gains from the FDP and non-voters, as well as a few SPD voters. The FDP lost 2.46 million (38.9%) of their 2009 votes to the CDU/CSU, which is less than what they held from 2009 (1.44 million voters, or 22.8% of the FDP’s 2009 electorate, voted FDP again in 2013). 1.52 million voters, who made up 8.1% of the non-voters in 2009, voted CDU/CSU – likely right-wing voters who had not voted in 2009, dissatisfied with the Grand Coalition or Merkel’s performance. The CDU/CSU this year also gained about 920,000 SPD voters from 2009, or 9.2% of the SPD’s 2009 electorate. 12% of 2009 Green voters (560,000) voted CDU/CSU this year; the Greens’ tax planks might have really hurt them with these “black-green” voters who are likely rather wealthy. They also gained 380,000 votes from other parties, 230,000 from Die Linke and 560,000 of their voters this year were first time voters.
The ARD exit poll showed that 30% of first time voters voted CDU/CSU, 24% voted SPD, 12% voted Green, 7% voted Die Linke and 4% voted FDP. The Pirates likely received a significant chunk of first time voters.
The SPD held 67.3% of their 2009 voters, about 6.72 million votes. As noted above, 9% of their 2009 voters voted CDU/CSU this year; 3.1% (310,000) voted Die Linke, 440,000 (4.4%) voted Green, 510,000 (5.1%) did not vote and 680,000 (6.8%) of their 2009 voters are said to have died in the past four years. The SPD gained 710,000 votes from the CDU, 990,000 votes from the Greens, 680,000 from Die Linke, 580,000 from the FDP and 200,000 from other parties. In good part, the SPD’s gains came from 2009 Green and Linke voters, some of those likely protest votes against the 2009 SPD. The SPD also recovered 870,000 votes from voters who had not voted in 2009 (4.6% of the overall 09 non-voters) and 470,000 first time voters.
As noted above, the FDP held only 23% (or 1.44 million) of their 2009 votes: 39% went CDU/CSU, 9.2% voted SPD, 8.9% did not vote altogether, 6.8% voted AfD, 5.1% died, about 3% went for the Greens or others and 1.7% voted Die Linke (I want to meet these people). According to ARD, the FDP somehow won votes from people who hadn’t voted FDP in 2009: 350,000 from the CDU/CSU, 100,000 from non-voters, 50,000 from the SPD and so forth (20,000 Linke voters apparently voted FDP this year).
Die Linke held only 49.3% (2.55 million) of their 2009 votes. They lost 13.2% to the SPD, 10.8% to abstention, 6.6% (340,000) to AfD, 5.4% to others (Pirates or NPD, mostly), 5.2% (270,000) died and 4.6% voted Green. These were partially compensated by some gains from the SPD (310,000 votes or 3.1% of the SPD’s 2009 vote), 200,000 from the Greens and 240,000 from non-voters.
The Greens held 47.6% (2.2 million) of their 2009 voters. It bled a significant amount of voters to the SPD (21% of its 2009 vote) and the CDU/CSU (12.1%). They also suffered some loses to abstention (5.2%, 240,000), Die Linke (4.3%), the underworld of death (3.3%) and other parties (3.7%).
Where did the AfD’s voters come from? The largest numerical proportions came from the FDP (430,000), other parties (410,000), Die Linke (340,000), the CDU/CSU (290,000) and non-voters (210,000). Not many of their votes came from the SPD or the Greens. Nothing too surprising in these numbers. The AfD peeled off a lot of unhappy right-wing voters from the FDP, who lost trust in the FDP but perhaps disliked Merkel for her fence-sitting reputation or her Eurocrisis bailout policies. It also appealed to protest voters who had voted for other parties (probably the NPD) or Die Linke in 2009, most of those voters being in East Germany.
Finally, 77.4% of those who had not voted in 2009 (14.56 million) did not do so either this year. This reflects a solid core of apathetic voters who do not care about politics and/or voting (or are totally fed up with politics), and who never vote in elections. Non-voters who did vote in 2013 had not voted in 2009 largely because of dissatisfaction with their usual party. Unsurprisingly, 1.14 million first time voters (38.8%) did not vote this year.
Exit poll voter demographics
The ARD exit polls asked some basic sociodemographic questions, which are fairly interesting.
There was a gender gap in the CDU/CSU’s vote, with 37% of men but 44% of women voting for Merkel’s party. This is, I believe, a bigger gender gap than in past elections (the CDU did 5% better with women in 09). Obviously, it is in good part explained away by Angela Merkel herself. However – without any data to back me up here – it is possible that German women are a few points to the right of their male counterpart, because women (especially Catholics) have historically tended to be more religious than males. That being, everybody over-analyses gender gaps. None of the other parties showed a strong gender gap; the SPD, Linke and FDP did better with males (by 2 and 1 point respectively), the Greens did one point better with women.
Unemployed voters split their votes three ways: 26% for the SPD, 24% for the CDU/CSU and 23% for Die Linke. These numbers obviously betray the fact that unemployment is disproportionately East German.
Workers (arbeiter) voted 35% CDU/CSU, 27% SPD, 13% Linke and 4% Green. The SPD likely used to poll much stronger with blue-collar workers in the past, the erosion of working-class support for the SPD is one of the party’s main demographic problems.
The CDU/CSU performed best with pensioners (49%), self-employed workers (49%), civil servants (45%) and white-collar employees (39%). It performed worst with unemployed voters (24%).
The SPD performed best with pensioners (28%), blue-collar workers (27%), civil servants (27%), white-collar employees (26%) and unemployed voters (26%). Unsurprisingly, it only won 14% support with self-employed workers, a core conservative constituency in practically any country.
Die Linke, besides a 23% result with unemployed voters, won 13% with blue-collar workers, 8% with pensioners and 8% with white-collar employees. It won 6% with self-employed workers, better than one might expect – this might reflect the fairly non-ideological nature of its Ostalgie vote in the GDR. It did very poorly with civil servants (4%)
The Greens did best with civil servants (12%), self-employed workers (11%) and white-collar employees (11%). It won 8% with unemployed voters. It did significantly worse with blue-collar workers (4%) and pensioners (4%), which reflects low support for the Greens with senior citizens and lower-income, less educated blue-collar working-class voters.
The FDP, unsurprisingly, did best with self-employed workers (10%), and performed roughly on par with its national result with other categories, doing worse with blue-collar workers (3%) and civil servants (3%).
The AfD’s support was socially balanced, doing best with blue-collar workers (6%), white-collar employees (5%) and self-employed workers (5%).
The Pirates did best with the unemployed (5%) and blue-collar workers (4%). Although there is overlap between the Greens and the Pirates in that they both tend to do well with younger voters in bohemian urban cores, the 2011 Berlin elections also showed that the Pirates appealed to economically deprived, lower-income younger voters – a demographic which the Greens do not do as well with.
The CDU/CSU did much better with older voters than younger voters. It won 54% with those aged 70 and over and 45% with those over 60. Its support with middle-aged voters, between 25 and 59, was slightly below average (37-40%) while it did significantly worst with the youngest cohort, the 18-24s, winning only 30% of their vote. The SPD’s vote was slightly more balanced throughout the age groups, although they too did best with older voters: 29% with those 60-69, 28% with those over 70 and 27% with those between 45 and 59. It won 22-24% with younger voters.
The Greens have a younger electorate, although unlike the Pirates, they do not disproportionately better with the youngest crowd (18-24). The Green electorate has aged since the 1980s, the Greens now poll just as well with young adults and middle-aged voters: 11% with those 18-24, but also 11% with those between 35 and 44, and 10% with those 25 to 34 and 45 to 59. Unsurprisingly, the Greens do poorly with older voters: 3% with those over 70, 6% with those 60-69. The AfD also attracted younger voters, winning 6% with those between 18 and 44, 5% with voters 45-59, 4% with those over 60 and 3% with those over 70.
Die Linke’s support is fairly balanced, winning between 8 and 10% with all voters below 70, and 6% with those over 70. FDP support was also balanced, between 4 and 5%.
The city of Frankfurt, in 24 precincts (out of 365), broke down the votes cast by age and gender. The results largely conform to the exit polling shown above. Unsurprisingly, older voters (although it dropped off some with voters over 70) showed the highest turnout: only 57.5% of voters aged 18-24 turned out, down 3.6% from 2009. 75.2% of voters aged over 60 turned out, up 1.7% since 2009. Turnout increased with age, with all voters over 35 having extremely similar turnout numbers (75%). Turnout decreased from 2009 with younger voters, including those 35 to 44. Might this also explain the Greens’ poor results? Both men and women turned out in similar numbers.
The sample in question voted 32% CDU, 27% SPD, 15% Green, 10% Linke, 6% FDP and 5% AfD – very close to city-wide average.
The Frankfurt sample confirmed a gender gap in the CDU’s vote, with the women voting 34.9% for the CDU and men only 29.1% for the party. The SPD showed no gender gap whatsoever, but other parties did show small gender gaps. The FDP did better with men (6.8%) than women (4.7%), as did Die Linke (11% vs. 9.1%). The Greens, unsurprisingly, did better with women (16.9%) than men (13.7%). The AfD, unsurprisingly, did significantly better with men (6.8%) than with women (3.5%), which is again not all that surprising considering that right-populist protest parties tend to do better with males. Most of those who voted for other parties, largely the Pirates, were men (5.2%, 3.5% for women).
The age breakdown is very interesting. The CDU did best with older voters (50.4% with those 70+, 34.1% with those 60-69); they were below their city-wide average with all other age groups, and did worse (only 20.9%) with voters 18 to 24. The SPD vote, however, showed little correlation with age: 30.6% with those 18-24, 29.8% with those over 60 and in between that for the other age groups – although strong Green support with those 35 to 44 depresses the SPD vote there to 23.6%. The FDP did best with voters between 25 and 44 (7%) and those over 70 (6.3%), not so well with other age groups. The Greens show an interesting pattern: Green support is at its highest (20.1%) with those aged 35 to 44. If graphed, Green support would create a nice reverse parabolic curve: consistently increased as voters under 35 get older (17.7% with those 18-24, 18.4% 25-34) and dropping off after 45 (18.5% 45-59, 11.6% 60-69, 3.6% 70+). Die Linke did best with the youngest voters (13.6%) but also those 45-59 (12.4%), and worse with the oldest voters and those 35 to 44 (8.5%). The AfD drew the most support from middle-aged voters – 6% with those 35-44, 5.6% with those 45 to 59. Other parties (read, mostly: Pirates) did best with those 18 to 24 (10%) and their support declined consistently with age. Nothing too shocking: the Pirates have the youngest electorate of all parties.
There was a steep drop off in the Green vote with voters 18 to 24 since 2009 in Frankfurt: down 5.2%, the steepest decline (with voters below 60, the Green vote fell by 3-4% and did not change with those over 60).
The differences between the two Germanies remain visible politically, especially when it comes to the SPD and Die Linke. In West Germany, the CDU/CSU won 42.2% (+7.6%), the SPD 27.4% (+3.3%), the Greens 9.1% (-2.4%), Die Linke 5.6% (-2.7%), the FDP 5.2% (-10.2%) and the AfD 4.7%. Turnout was 72.5% (+0.3%). In East Germany, the CDU took 38.4% (+8.6%), Die Linke 22.6% (-5.9%), the SPD 18% (+0.1%), the AfD 5.8%, the Greens 5.2% (-1.6%), the NPD 2.8% (-0.3%) and the FDP collapsed to 2.6% (-8%). Turnout was 67.6% (+2.9%).
The CDU and CSU did best, as usual in Catholic regions. Although the CDU/CSU is a pan-confessional party (currently led by an East German Protestant) which enjoys far more support with Protestant and non-religious voters than the Zentrum had in the past, the CDU/CSU remain at their core Catholic parties which have almost always been led by Catholics (as far as I know, almost all previous CDU leaders were Catholic) and have a disproportionately Catholic membership (53% of CDU/CSU members in 2012 were Catholic, against 31% of the German population). The CDU/CSU, as in the past, performed noticeably better in Catholic than in Protestant areas. The CDU’s best constituency was Cloppenburg-Vechta (63%), a heavily Catholic rural area in the Oldenburg Münsterland. In Bavaria, although the divide between Catholic areas and Protestant areas in Franconia is blurred (unlike during the Weimar Republic), the CSU still wins its best result in rural, clerical Catholic Altbayern (Old Bavaria), which includes Upper and Lower Bavaria and Upper Palatinate. It also polls strongly in Catholic Lower Franconia. The CDU polled over 50% of the votes in other Catholic areas including Fulda (Hesse), Emsland (Lower Saxony), the Sauerland (NRW), the Münsterland (NRW), the Eifel (NRW/Rhineland-Palatinate) and Catholic regions of Baden and Württemberg. The CDU’s results are also markedly higher than in surrounding areas in the Catholic enclave of the Eichsfeld (Thuringia), the only district in the former GDR which does not have a non religious majority. In the district which includes the Eichsfeld, the CDU won 44.8% – its best result in Thuringia (the CDU won 53.6% in Landkreis Eichsfeld).
It is worth reiterating that while the confessional divide remains an important determinant of vote choice in West Germany and Catholicism a strong predictor of higher support for the CDU, the CDU – unlike the Zentrum – is not an exclusively Catholic party – 38% of its members are Protestant, and the party polls strongly in rural Protestant areas. The FDP’s collapse in those areas since 2009 has further boosted the CDU’s voteshare, while Merkel has somewhat reduced the intensity of the religious cleavage because of her Ossie roots and Protestant faith (certainly, the confessional divide was much stronger in 2002, when the Bavarian Catholic Stoiber was the Union’s chancellor-candidate). The CDU polled over 40% in much of rural northern Lower Saxony, outside the SPD strongholds of East Frisia and southern Lower Saxony, as well as rural and suburban Schleswig-Holstein. In both of these regions, an historically large proportion of Heimatvertriebene – post-WWII German refugees from lost eastern territories – has contributed to the CDU’s strength. The CDU inherited those voters in the late 1950s and early 1960s after ephemeral right-wing (and largely Protestant) parties such as the DP or the GB/BHE (Gesamtdeutscher Block/Bund der Heimatvertriebenen und Entrechteten) folded and their voters flowed to the CDU, although some passed through the far-right NPD which was strong in rural Protestant Lower Saxony in the 1960s and 1970s. Hesse and Bavaria also had large population of post-war eastern refugees. The impact of these voters should not over overstated, especially in 2013, but I do think that it does help explain some voting patterns.
The CDU/CSU performed better in rural areas than in urban or even suburban areas, but the urban-rural divide is not as stark as in certain countries (the US). In urban and suburban areas, the CDU/CSU polled quite well in affluent urban neighborhoods or affluent suburbs. The FDP’s collapse in those areas significantly increased the CDU’s vote share quite consequentially, for example from 33.9% to 46.9% in Böblingen (BaWü), where the FDP had won 21% of the vote in 2009. The CDU/CSU also won 46.9% in München-Land (Bavaria), 51.5% in Starnberg (Bavaria), 43.8% in Main-Taunus (Hesse – although the CDU vote did not increase by a lot – it was 37% in 2009) and so forth.
Voting patterns in East Germany are far less ideological, and owe far more to personality or the relative strength/organization of the respective parties in each state in the years following reunification. Years of Nazi and later communist dictatorial rule effectively killed off pre-war political traditions and party organization, and communist rule destroyed organized religious in the East, so the confessional divide – a major voting determinant in the West – is not a factor outside the Eichsfeld region.
Saxony is perhaps the best example. Before Hitler took power in 1933, Saxony – and parts of what is today Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt – had been socialist/communist strongholds. Saxony was where the SPD first found support, and by 1912 Saxony was known as ‘Red Saxony’ or the ‘Red Kingdom’ because almost all of its seats in the Reichstag were held by the SPD. The KPD and SPD were strong in Saxony and Thuringia in the interwar years, although the Nazis obtained very strong results in parts of Saxony (notably the Vogtland and Erzgebirge) in the 1930s. Leftist support in Saxony was strongest in the heavily unionized cities (Leipzig and Dresden) and in a diverse web of smaller industrial towns (mining, but largely textile) in the Vogtland and Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains). Saxony developed its own leftist subculture, in which the SPD was not only a political organization but also a social organization, especially in the cities, running its own de facto welfare state and playing a key part in social and cultural life. While very marked social antagonisms and a vociferously anti-socialist bourgeoisie contributed to leftist strength in Red Saxony, socialist support in the region also expressed local opposition to Prussian hegemony. While the SPD enjoyed strong support through a remarkable organization in Leipzig or Dresden (and central Saxony), its support was more fragile in places such as the Vogtland and Erzgebirge; hence, the Nazis were able to poll very well in the depression years (Saxony hit extremely hard) in those places where the SPD’s organization was less solid. Whatever socialist tradition survived the Nazi years was crushed by over four decades of communist rule.
Following reunification, Saxon politics came to be thoroughly dominated by the state CDU, under the leadership of Kurt Biedenkopf, the very popular Minister-President of the state between 1990 and 2002. The CDU won absolute majorities in three state elections in the 1990s, it only lost its absolute majority in 2004. Today, Saxony is the last state in Germany still ruled by a black-yellow coalition. In contrast, the state SPD – ironically if you keep in mind its history – is extremely weak, and the state Die Linke does not seem particularly vibrant either. While the CDU tradition might also owe to Saxon opposition to the GDR, which was perceived by many as a ‘Prussian’ state, it seems that a lot of the state’s CDU tradition is due to its complete dominance of state politics since reunification. Interestingly, the CDU polled rather poorly federally in Saxony in 1998, 2002 and 2005; since the last election, the CDU’s result in federal elections have caught up with its strong results in state elections (still 40% in the 2009 state election). This year, the CDU won 42.6% (+8%) to Die Linke’s 20% (down 4.5%) and the SPD’s 14.6% (stagnant). Unsurprisingly, the CDU’s support is lower in the major cities (Leipzig, Dresden and Chemnitz) and very strong (over 45%) in rural Middle Saxony, the Erzgebirge or Sächsische Schweiz.
The CDU also polled very well in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, which is Angela Merkel’s home state (she holds a direct seat in the northeast corner of the state). It won 42.5% of the vote, up nearly 10 points from 33% in 2009. Die Linke’s vote fell from 29% to 21.5% and the SPD won 17.8%. Certainly, a lot of this strong support is a personal/favourite daughter vote for Merkel, given that the CDU has not achieved a ‘Saxony’ level of dominance in state politics since reunification (in fact, it is currently the junior partner in a Grand Coalition led by the SPD). Merkel has been ‘good’ for her state, in the form of showering goodies on her home turf or promoting the state. For example, her government has been a big promoter of wind energy as part of its renewable energy push, and wind energy has become a major employer in the state.
In the East, one of the CDU’s most remarkable performances came from the state of Brandenburg. The CDU, which had placed third in the state in 2009 (with 23.6%) increased its support by over 10 points to 34.8%, while Die Linke’s vote fell from 28.5% to 22.4% and the SPD vote, countercyclical to the rest of the country, also fell (by 2% to 23.1%). While Saxony has been a CDU stronghold since reunification, Brandenburg has been a SPD/Linke stronghold since reunification. The SPD has held the state premiership since 1990, with Manfred Stolpe as Minister-President between 1990 and 2002. The state CDU has been weak, polling only 20% in the last state election – held on the same day as the 2009 federal election. The CDU’s weakness in 2009 might have been due to the state election being held on the same day, and the state SPD/Linke appear stronger at the state than federal level, but the CDU’s support was even lower in the state in 2005. The CDU’s strong performance this year might instead be due to the potential unpopularity of the state red-red government (which just changed premiers) or perhaps booming suburban growth around Berlin.
The SPD‘s core strongholds are urban, industrial and historically working-class areas (in West Germany). Given the wide margin between first and second, the overall results map (showing the largest party) has the SPD reduced to its core strongholds: the mining basin of the Ruhr, which remains one of the most economically deprived areas in West Germany; poor, Protestant and oftentimes old industrial regions such as northern Hesse, southern Lower Saxony, Lippe (NRW) and East Frisia; and working-class cities (or parts thereof) such as Bremen and Hamburg.
The SPD’s strongest constituency was Gelsenkirchen (44%), an impoverished (and ethnically diverse) former coal mining centre and depressed post-industrial city in the Ruhr conurbation. The SPD won over 40% of the second vote in other similar constituencies in the Ruhr: 43.9% in Herne-Bochum II (right next door to Gelsenkirchen), 43% in Duisburg II (the poorest northern half of Duisburg, a depressed industrial city known for its iron works and huge inland harbour), 41.3% in Oberhausen-Wessel III (another old coal mining area), 41.7% in Essen II (the most working-class neighborhoods of Essen, an industrial city formerly dominated by steel, iron works and mining)40.9% in Dortmund II (the poorest parts of Dortmund, an old coal and steel city).
The SPD’s strongest result outside the Ruhr was Aurich-Emden, an East Frisian constituency where the SPD took 43.8% of the vote. The city of Emden is a significant industrial harbour, shipbuilding centre and the site of a Volkswagen plant; East Frisia as a whole is a traditionally poor, underdeveloped and heavily Protestant area with limited industry outside urban areas. The SPD also did well (36.3%) in the other Frisian constituency, Friesland-Wilhelmshaven-Wittmund.
In the same state, the southern Lower Saxony – notably Hanover, Peine, Salzgitter and Wolfsburg – is another major SPD stronghold. This region, heavily Protestant, includes a number of major industrial cities. The SPD won 39.3% in Salzgitter-Wolfenbüttel (Salzgitter is a former iron ore mining community, which currently has a large steel plant), 36.1% in Gifhorn-Peine, doing best in Peine (a city also known for its steel industry), and 38% in Goslar-Northeim-Osterode. Overall, this is a fairly industrialized region, with a patchwork of smaller and larger industrial centres. It is rather poor as well, although Wolfsburg – Volkswagen’s HQs – has low unemployment (about 5%) because of Volkswagen.
Northern Hesse, around Kassel, is another SPD stronghold. It is not unlike southern Lower Saxony or NRW, but the area’s Social Democratic tradition is both more recent than the Ruhr’s and owes less to an industrial proletariat (although Kassel was a major industrial centre in the past, and Borken was the centre of a large mining area). The SPD won 34% in Kassel, 36.9% in Werra-Meiβner-Herseld-Rotenburg, 36.5% in Schwalm-Eder and 36% in Waldeck.
In NRW, the SPD is also relatively strong in the Protestant regions of Lippe, Herford, Bielefeld and the Siegerland. All of these regions are historically industrial, with textile and cigar making in Lippe and northeastern NRW and iron/steel works in the Siegerland.
The only two states won by the SPD this year were the traditional SPD strongholds of Bremen and Hamburg, two major industrial cities in northern Germany which have been fairly solid SPD strongholds for years. In Hamburg, the SPD performed best, unsurprisingly, in the most traditionally working-class neighborhoods of the city. In Bremen, the SPD’s best results were in the industrial and low-income city of Bremerhaven and lower-income blue-collar areas located outside the posh centre of the city of Bremen proper.
As is usual, the SPD did poorly in southern Germany, running up against a wall in Catholic regions – the SPD’s difficulty to breakthrough in Catholic regions, even more blue-collar areas, dates back to the party’s origins in the pre-1914 era, when the SPD did very poorly with Catholic voters and won most of its support from Protestant (even if in name only) voters. Today, the SPD also suffers from stiff competition from the Greens in many university towns in Bavaria and BaWü. In Bavaria, the remnants of a strong SPD tradition in the Protestant regions of Franconia (Hof, Erlengen, Fürth, Coburg and Nuremberg). Most of these have a strong industrial history (Hof’s textile industry, Erlangen with Siemens etc), and a fairly strong socialist history. The SPD won 28.5% in Nuremerg-South, 27.8% in Coburg and 26.7% in Hof. In BaWü, the SPD’s best result was, naturally, Mannheim (27.5%), a fairly important industrial city. The SPD also performed strongly in industrial and Protestant towns in Rhineland-Palatinate: 32.7% in Kaiserslautern, 29.8% in Worms and 29.5% in Ludwigshafen/Frankenthal.
The SPD did strongly in the Saarland, an industrial and old mining basin, increasing its vote share from 24.7% to 31%, likely benefiting from an 11% fall in Die Linke’s vote from the 2009 election.
The SPD still performs poorly in East Germany, except for Brandenburg (yet even there it only won 23% of the vote). In aging and socioeconomically depressed areas outside major Eastern cities, the SPD still has a very weak infrastructure and Die Linke rakes up whatever ideologically left-wing vote might exist. The SPD’s best Eastern results come from the cities: around 18.5% in Leipzing, 17.6% in Erfurt-Weimar, 20.9% in Magdeburg and a bit less than 15% in Dresden. The SPD’s worst result in Germany was 10.9% in remote Sächsische Schweiz (Saxony).
Not all of the SPD’s strongest regions have a longstanding (read: pre-1945) socialist history. While Hamburg, Bremen, Kiel and Lübeck were electing SPD members to the Reichstag in 1912, the SPD’s breakthrough in the Ruhr was slower because of difficulty in breaking through with Protestant and Catholic voters (Protestant workers in the Ruhr seem to have voted for the liberals until the 1890s) and the SPD’s support in what is today modern-day southern Lower Saxony was limited to the more industrial centres. Northern Hesse, the Saarland, the Siegerland, most of Lippe and most of East Frisia outside Emden were not SPD strongholds prior to 1945. Northern Hesse and the Siegerland were hotbeds of anti-Semitic Protestant politics in the Kaiserreich and northern Hesse was one of the Nazi’s strongest regions; the SPD achieved some success in Bielefeld but Lippe was never strongly leftist under the Kaiserreich or Weimar; finally, the SPD’s support in East Frisia was limited to Emden, its support in Aurich district was mediocre (and Nazi support was high: Hitler won the district in the 1932 presidential runoff ballot). In contrast, the SPD is notably weaker in Franconia, where it was quite strong in the late Kaiserreich and early Weimar Republic. Needless to say, almost nothing remains of the SPD’s pre-Nazi strongholds in the ex-GDR.
Die Linke‘s support is, obviously, disproportionately East German: its weakest showing in the ex-GDR is 17.1%, its strongest showing in the West (excluding West Berlin) is 11.7% in Saarbrücken. In the East, the party polled best in Thuringia (23.4%), Saxony-Anhalt (23.9%) and Brandenburg (22.4%); it was weakest in the CDU bastion of Saxony (20%) and Merkel’s home turf of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (21.5%). By far, however, its best Eastern results come from East Berlin – 29% in the parts of the German capital which were on the ‘other side’ of the Wall. East Berlin is also where Die Linke won its four district mandates, and where it has held at least one district seat since 1990. In 2009, Die Linke had managed to win a number of district seats outside East Berlin, but with the CDU’s success in the East, it lost them all and only held on to its four East Berlin seats.
Die Linke’s best second vote was result 34.6% in Berlin-Lichtenberg – a constituency with a large concentrations of Plattenbauten (prefabricated concrete slab state-housing from the GDR). It won 32.9% in neighboring Berlin-Marzahn-Hellersdorf (again, Marzahn has large Plattenbauten low-income housing estates) and 29.5% in Berlin-Treptow-Köpenick.
In general, Die Linke’s strongest results in East Germany tend to come from towns or areas which were developed as semi-new towns under the GDR, have large Plattenbauten estates or are otherwise influenced by ‘socialist architecture’. Die Linke performs very well, indeed, in ‘new towns’ which were built or more often extensively developed under communist rule: 26.7% in Hoyerswerda (Saxony, also a lignite mining area), 26.4% in Eisenhüttenstadt (Brandenburg), 30.3% in Suhl (Thuringia), 29.5% in Gera (Thuringia) and 25.8% in Neubrandenburg (MVP). Similarly, zooming down to a more micro level, Die Linke’s best precincts in, for example, Dresden came from the Plattenbauten neighborhoods of Gorlitz (over 25%) and Prohlis (up to 28.5%). Die Linke also polls quite well in industrial cities such as Rostock, MVP (24.8%) and economically depressed places such as Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg (27.2%).
To be fair, looking over local-level results maps, Die Linke also polls well in some less urban areas: 26.8% in the Mansfeld-Südharz landkreise in Saxony-Anhalt, 25.6% in the Salzlandkreis and 24.7% in Stendal landkreise in the same state. These areas have high unemployment (which hasn’t changed much: decline has been due to continue depopulation) and old populations.
Die Linke’s results in the growing parts of East Germany were poor – first and foremost Berlin’s growing suburbs in Brandenburg (below 20% in a lot of suburban towns just outside Berlin) or the university town of Weimar in Thuringia (21.1%).
Die Linke’s support fell off in West Germany: although, as noted above, its percentage of the vote fell by less in the West than in the East, it held a larger percentage of its 2009 vote in the East. The most dramatic fall for Die Linke in the West came from Saarland, where the party’s fell from 21% to 10% (and even much below its 2005 result: 18.5%). The cause is a ‘reverse’ Lafontaine effect: the removal of Oskar Lafontaine’s favourite son vote in his home state, which was very strong in 2009 and even 2005. Lafontaine remains an eminence grise in the Linke, but he played a smaller role in the 2013 campaign than the 2005 or 2009 campaigns, where he co-led the party’s campaign.
Outside Saarland, the Linke’s best Western results came from urban areas and the Ruhr (I realize the Ruhr is extremely urban). It won about 7-9% in Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen, Bochum, Essen and Duisburg. Its other urban performances reveal strong support in both blue-collar places such as Mannheim (7.5%), Bremen II-Bremerhaven (10%) and Hamburg-Bergedorf-Harburg (8.4%); but also more hipster young support in gentrified bohemian areas: Sternschanze (24.4%), St. Pauli (23.8%) and Altona-Altstadt (18.8%) in Hamburg, or some of Berlin’s trendy/bohemian areas (Die Linke won a number of precincts in Neukölln, a mixed neighborhood in West Berlin with a large bohemian population in parts). However, in Hamburg, for example (but also, I believe Frankfurt and other Western cities), Die Linke polls quite well in poorer blue-collar areas too (where the Greens do not poll so well).
The Greens are, very unsurprisingly, a predominantly urban party. Its best result was pretty obviously Berlin-Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Prenzlauer Berg East constituency (20.8%), the hub of the Berlin counterculture and covering the capital’s most bohemian neighborhoods. The constituency is also famous for being the Greens’ first and to date only district seat – the very colourful Hans-Christian Ströbele won the seat for the Greens in 2002 and has been reelected ever since then. He won reelection this year with a 21.9% margin, down from 29% in 2009. The Greens’ list vote, however, took quite a tumble: from 27.4% to 20.8%, falling into third behind Die Linke and the SPD who both gained from 2009. The Greens also did well in Berlin-Mitte (16.7%) and Berlin-Tempelhof-Schöneberg (15.4%).
Outside Berlin, the next strongest Green performance was in Freiburg (19.8%, down from 22.8%) in BaWü. Freiburg is a major university city, and an old hotbed of Green support and anti-nuclear activism. The city has a Green mayor since 2002. The Greens receive strong support in other university towns across Germany: 14.8% in Tübingen (BaWü), 15% in Karlsruhe (BaWü), 14.8% in Heidelberg (BaWü), 14.2% in Darmstadt (Hesse), 12.2% in Göttingen (Lower Saxony), 13.7% in Bonn (NRW), 15.6% in Cologne-II (NRW), 15.2% in Münster (NRW) and 13.1% in Aachen (NRW). The Greens won 9.3% in Freising (Bavaria), but their result in the city of Freising – an old Green stronghold with an agricultural/technical college (and NIMBY opposition to Munich airport expansion) – is likely much stronger.
In urban areas, the Greens’ support is generally rather different from the SPD’s core bases of support – while the SPD polls better in blue-collar areas, neighborhoods with a large immigrant population or social housing precincts; the Greens naturally do better in the inner-cities – boroughs with a younger population, often at the core of the counterculture/student movement in the 1970s, oftentimes gentrified old working-class neighborhoods and cosmopolitan, lively areas with large LGBT, student, yuppie/aged ’70s hippies populations. They are not particularly affluent (and some areas retain pockets of deprivation), but gentrification has pushed property prices up significantly, In Frankfurt, the Greens won 23.7% in Nordend-Ost, 19.6% in Nordend-West and 18.9% in Bornheim. It won only 12.8%, for example, in the low-income Gallus borough. In Hamburg, the Greens won 27.1% in Sternschanze, 25% in Ottensen, 24.2% in Altona-Nord and 23% in St. Pauli – again, gentrified trendy/bohemian neighborhoods.
In Berlin, the Greens’ best neighborhoods are Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Kreuzburg, parts of Neukölln (the trendy Reuterkiez, the Greens are not as strong in the low-income parts of Neukölln), and Schöneberg. Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzburg are multicultural, cosmopolitan and bohemian inner-city areas which have seen major gentrification since the fall of the Wall and they are Berlin’s most famous hip/countercultural/alternative neighborhoods. The Greens’ best state district (Abgeordnetenhauswahlkreise) was Friedrichshain-Kreuzburg II (29.7%) followed by Friedrichshain-Kreuzburg I (27.8%), Pankow 6 (26.8%), Neukölln 1 (25.7%) and Tempelhof-Schöneberg (25.3%).
The Greens won 17.5% in Stuttgart I, which includes the downtown core, the trendy spots and student neighborhoods of Stuttgart. Green co-leader Cem Özdemir won 27.5% of the first vote in the district, placing a distant second to the CDU (42%).
In Munich, the Greens’ best results came from – no surprise here again – Ludwigsvorstadt-Isarvorstadt and Schwanthalerhöhe (22.9%), an historically working-class and low income neighborhood which has gentrified considerably and is now the city’s top bohemian/alternative neighborhood.
One will notice the Green outcrop in northern Lower Saxony – 14.3% in Lüchow-Dannenberg-Lüneburg. Without knowing much about this district, I believe it is largely due to heavy Green support in the university town of Lüneburg but also fairly high Green votes in the countryside (Lüchow-Dannenberg county) due to anti-nuclear sentiments created by the proposed Gorleben nuclear waste dump.
The Greens are weak in rural areas and heavily industrialized areas such as the Ruhr (outside the city cores of places such as Dortmund); they have also had, outside BaWü, trouble breaking through in rural Catholic areas – notice the very low levels of support in Cloppenburg-Vechta or in the rural parts of Altbayern. Unsurprisingly, much of East Germany is a dead-zone for the Greens: an old population, very few students or other core Green voters outside the cities and a declining post-industrial economy. The Greens polled below 5% in every ex-GDR state outside East Berlin, a very disappointing result for the Greens who had managed to win seats in each Eastern state legislatures in the last state elections. Their best GDR result, outside East Berlin, was Leipzig II (11.2%, this district includes the young and trendy neighborhood of Südvorstadt, a Green stronghold), followed by Dresden II-Bautzen II (9.5%) and suburban Potsdam (9%). The Greens performed best in Eastern university towns: 11.6% in Jena (Thuringia), 11.1% in Weimar (Thuringia) and 7.8% in Halle (Saxony-Anhalt).
It is worth reiterating how disappointing these results all are for the Greens. Unlike in 2009, they did not top the poll in most of their traditional inner-city strongholds. The Green vote fell by about 7 points in Berlin-Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Prenzlauer Berg East, an extremely substantial loss which caused them to drop from first to third. They placed fourth in Berlin-Mitte, the other district where they had topped the second vote in 2009. In Frankfurt, the Greens did not place first in any of their top boroughs. In Hamburg, the Greens narrowly topped the poll only in Sternschanze. In Munich, the Greens fell from first to third in Ludwigsvorstadt-Isarvorstadt and Schwanthalerhöhe.
Even in the East, where growth in urban areas provides the Greens with long-term potential, the Green vote fell from 2009 – although by smaller amounts than it did in their western strongholds.
The FDP‘s map does not seem to have changed much from 2009, with the exception that the party’s results are way, way lower than they were four years ago. Contemporary FDP support close resembles the distribution of wealth, with the FDP’s strongholds being the most affluent regions of Germany while its worst regions – both urban and rural – tend to be poorer. German liberal parties have always attracted support from the secular Protestant middle-classes and the urban bourgeoisie/industrialists. However, little – if anything – is left of liberal traditions in rural Protestant regions.
The FDP’s best results came from affluent areas. The FDP’s best constituency was Düsseldorf II (NRW) with 9.2%, followed by Main-Taunus (Heese) at 8.6%. The FDP also did quite ‘well’ in München-Land (Bavaria) with 8.5%, Bonn (NRW) with 8.3%, Stuttgart II (BaWü) with 8.3% and Köln II (NRW) with 8.1%. I believe there may have been local ‘loan vote’ deals between the CDU and the FDP in some constituencies in NRW (Bonn, I think).
The aforementioned constituencies and other places where the FDP did ‘well’ in 2013 (and much, much better in 2009 obviously) all include affluent urban neighborhoods or suburban communities. Düsseldorf II includes some very affluent suburban neighborhoods in the north of the city, including Carlstadt (19% FDP – 27.5% in 2009), Niederkassel (15.5%, 30.7% in 2009), Oberkassel (18%) and Wittlaer (13.8%). Main-Taunus, located north of Frankfurt, includes some of the city’s most affluent suburbs in the Taunus hills. München-Land, similarly, covers affluent suburbs south of Munich (the FDP won 7.4% in Starnberg, a very affluent area surrounding Lake Starnberg south of Munich). Köln II includes the exclusive community of Hahnwald (23.5% FDP, over 40% in 2009!) and other affluent suburban neighborhoods such as Marienburg (17.2%) and Müngersdorf (13.7%). At the other extreme, in Cologne’s working-class and low-income neighborhoods such as Vingst and Kalk, the party barely won 3%.
Inside the cities themselves, FDP support is strongest in pricey affluent core neighborhoods. For example, the FDP won 15.6% in Westend-Süd and 12.5% in Westend-Nord, Frankfurt’s two most affluent core neighborhoods. In Munich, the FDP won 13.5% in Altstadt-Lehel, a similar downtown area with very high property prices and – as a result – a high-income population. It also won 10.8% in Bogenhausen, more socially diverse but with some very affluent areas (Herzogpark/Oberföhring) where the FDP won up to 22% in some precincts.
The states where the FDP won over 5% of the vote were BaWü (6.2%), Hesse (5.6%), Schleswig-Holstein (5.6%), Rhineland-Palatinate (5.5%), NRW (5.2%) and Bavaria (5.1%). Its worst states were all in East Germany, where overall the FDP’s results were hilariously bad – oftentimes in seventh or so place behind the AfD and the Nazis. Naturally, the FDP’s worst result was 1.6% in Berlin-Lichtenberg (East Berlin).
BaWü (more accurately Württemberg proper) has a long tradition of liberal support, it was a liberal stronghold under the Kaiserreich and liberals continued to poll well in Württemberg during Weimar. The FDP has inherited some of the DDP/DVP’s former Protestant strongholds in Württemberg (further boosted by the fact that BaWü is one of Germany’s most affluent states), including some less suburban areas. Interestingly, however, liberals enjoyed some more Catholic support in southern Germany (notably Baden and the Palatinate) during the Kaiserreich (because of an anti-clerical tradition and a more enlightened Catholic Church) – and the FDP still polls better in Catholic areas of Baden and Rhineland-Palatinate than in other Catholic areas, although both of these regions are also wealthy.
Schleswig-Holstein also has a longstanding liberal tradition, though the FDP’s support in that state seems largely the result of Hamburg suburbia and other local factors. The FDP vote might have held up better, comparatively, in Schleswig-Holstein and NRW this year because both state FDPs are led by relatively popular ‘maverick’-ish politicians.
The AfD had interesting patterns of support, although not unusual if we treat the AfD’s electorate as a protest vote (which it largely is, certainly much moreso than any of the other parties’ electorates). As the vote transfer analysis showed, the AfD’s votes came largely from the FDP, Die Linke and other parties with the CDU/CSU and 2009 non-voters contributing a smaller but not insignificant share.
The AfD did best in East Germany, where it won over 6% in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg and over 5% in MVP (for some reason, the AfD only won 4% in Saxony-Anhalt). The party’s best constituency was Görlitz (Saxony) with 8.2% followed by the Sächsische Schweiz (7.9%). It also polled well in all of eastern Saxony outside of Dresden, the Erzgebirge and other similarly rural, poor and remote regions in MVP (the far east of the state) and Thuringia (outside the main urban areas). These low-income, economically depressed (very high unemployment) and remote regions often show strong support for other similar protest parties: Die Linke, of course, but also the NPD (the AfD’s map is very similar to the NPD in the East). Given Saxony-Anhalt’s low levels of AfD support and the relative ‘peripheral’/’borderlands’ support for the AfD in the other ex-GDR states, I am left wondering if those state’s foreign neighbors – Poland and the Czech Republic – might influence a nationalistic, Eurosceptic and perhaps xenophobic vote. Or is it due to local economic circumstances, naturally breeding discontent and making the AfD’s message attractive?
It might surprise some that the AfD, a right-leaning party, pulled so much support from Die Linke, the most far left of Germany’s major parties. In East Germany, however, Die Linke’s vote does not seem to be all that ideological. Their electorate – older, technocratic and probably educated (under the GDR) – does not seem particularly eager for radical change and appears, on the whole, more conservative and interested in short/medium-term improvements in their financial and social statuses.
In the West, the AfD’s support is a bit weird. There are some clear FDP patterns on the map – Hamburg’s suburbs (Harburg in Lower Saxony: 6%), Pforzheim in BaWü (7.2%), Main-Taunus in Hesse (6.9%), Munich’s suburbs (extended into Swabia). In northern Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, the AfD’s support is fairly close correlated to that of post-war German refugees; in other regions, the AfD’s support appears to be more rural and Protestant than Catholic. The AfD appears to have pulled an ideologically diverse electorate (with a lot from the FDP, though), concentrated in small towns and exurbs/suburbs. Not too unusual – lower middle-class outer suburban areas tend to be poorer and have strong feelings of alienation/dissatisfaction from politics and the major political parties.
In the cities, I haven’t done much analysis of the AfD’s support, but it seems to have drawn a socially diverse bunch of precincts: both affluent FDP strongholds and poorer, more left-wing (SPD/Linke, not Green). In Berlin, the AfD’s top 10 precincts were mostly in East Berlin and almost all of them – East or West – from fairly low-income areas (strong results in the Plattenbauten areas of East Berlin).
Pirate support was heavily skewed towards the inner-cities, oftentimes the same districts where the Greens did best. Their best result was 5.8% in Berlin-Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Prenzlauer Berg East; doing best in eastern Friedrichshain. They also won 4.7% in Berlin-Mitte and 4.1% in Berlin-Neukölln. Outside Berlin, their best results were Dresden II-Bautzen II (4.4%), Karlsruhe (4%) and Hamburg-Mitte (3.1%). Compared to the Greens, the Pirate electorate is younger and probably poorer as well.
The Berliner Morgenpost published a fantastic shaded, interactive map of the precinct results in Berlin. Naturally, the most striking thing about Berlin is the East-West division; in other words, how the Berlin Wall still influences voting patterns.
Die Linke’s best performances in Berlin – and in other East German cities (I looked at Leipzig and Dresden) – came from densely populated areas with high-rise Plattenbauten; for example the neighborhoods of Marzahn (the party’s best result, over 37%), Hellersdorf, Neu-Hohenschönhausen, Friedrichsfelde, Lichtenburg, parts of Pankow, western Friedrichshain, Mitte (that part which was in the GDR, in downtown East Berlin) and so forth. In East Berlin, Die Linke did not do as well in more suburban areas – with little high-rise apartment blocks and more single houses – notice the solid CDU area in Marzahn-Hellersdorf (Mahlsdorf, Kaulsdorf, Biesdorf), East Berlin’s most affluent suburban area, in the state district containing that area, Die Linke won only 24.6% (and the CDU won 35%). Similarly, the CDU did quite well in the more suburban parts of Pankow and Treptow-Köpenick.
The other exception is the extensively gentrified inner-city bohemian Green/Pirate strongholds of eastern Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg. The Greens lost a lot of precincts in eastern Friedrichshain, the most gentrified part of the neighborhood, but still won a good number of precincts in Prenzlauer Berg. Green support, unlike Die Linke, SPD, FDP and even CDU support ignores the Wall. Its inner-city strongholds are on both sides of the Wall. The Greens won a number of precincts in Kreuzberg, a very multicultural and countercultural neighborhood; the Greens did well both in the ethnically diverse and more economically deprived countercultural stronghold around Schlesisches Tor/SO36 and in more affluent areas further west. The Greens poll strongly in most other central core neighborhoods, including the fairly middle-class and white-collar yuppie Schöneberg/Friedenau (Schöneberg also has a large LGBT population) and Moabit, and ethnically diverse and economically deprived precincts in Wedding, Gesundbrunnen and Neukölln (some of the Greens’ best results came from the trendy and gentrifying Reuterkiez; Die Linke and the SPD picked up a lot of precincts in the lower-income parts of the socially troubled neighborhood).
SPD support, heavily West Berlin-based, forms a sort of C-shape around downtown Berlin (the CDU won the extremely expensive parts of the downtown core) – picking up some Green support in Neukölln, Kreuzberg, Tempelhof, Schöneberg, parts of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Moabit, Wedding and Gesundbrunnen. In other words, a mix of both Green strongholds and multicultural lower-income areas such as ‘Red Wedding’, Gesundbrunnen, and Charlottenburg North. Outside these areas, the SPD only managed to win a bunch of precincts, a lot in the working-class parts of Spandau – almost all covering densely populated precincts with high-rise apartments and/or social housing.
The CDU did best in all of the outlying, more suburban areas of West Berlin; with strongest results in the most affluent neighborhoods such as those facing the Grunewald.
Some other cities have interactive maps of their results at the precinct level; Dresden and Munich have particularly well-done apps which allow you to compare two maps, and it automatically generates a correlation graph and correlation coefficients/R2 stats for you. For example, in Munich, there’s a 0.61 correlation between the Green vote and the population aged 35-44; and a 0.55 correlation between the SPD vote and the population with a ‘migration background’ (immigrants).
There are two potential coalitions on these results. The most likely coalition is a Grand Coalition between the CDU/CSU and SPD. Angela Merkel has little qualms with such an option, she didn’t suffer too much from the 2005-2009 Grand Coalition, she will have the upper hand over her potential junior partner in any new Grand Coalition and she is flexible enough as a leader to alter the more controversial parts of her platform to meet halfway with the SPD (although, with the CDU/CSU in such strong footing, the SPD will be doing much of the concessions). Talks between the CDU/CSU and SPD kicked off on October 4.
The CDU/CSU and SPD already agree on a number of policy items, including important topics such as foreign/European policy (even Eurozone policy, in the end…), retirement or housing. The main disagreements are on taxes, the minimum wage, healthcare and family policy. The CDU/CSU is opposed to any tax increases, despite earlier rumours that it might moderate its stance. Now, the SPD’s leader, Sigmar Gabriel, has made signs that he is ready to meet Merkel halfway on the issue, saying that tax increases are not an end in themselves. Merkel moved towards the SPD in announcing that investing in education/research, another SPD priority, would be a priority for the next Bundestag. The SPD might force Merkel to compromise on the minimum wage, which is something that she is probably willing to do.
However, the SPD is not as keen on the idea of a Grand Coalition. The last Grand Coalition was disastrous for the SPD, and they probably can’t help but wonder if Merkel will effectively do to the SPD what she did to the FDP (steamroll them). The SPD’s leadership, led by Sigmar Gabriel, seem pro-Grand Coalition, fearing for new elections if Merkel is unable to form a government (if she lacks SPD support). The SPD’s base, however, is lukewarm at best. Apparently, the SPD wants to consult its membership sometime in October or November. A recent ARD poll shows a majority of SPD members support a Grand Coalition.
Merkel could perhaps form a minority government composed only of the CDU/CSU, but this appears unlikely. Germany is not accustomed to minority governments, partly because of a lingering memory of the Weimar Republic’s unstable minority governments. However, Merkel could probably last a full term with a minority government, given that a Chancellor can only be removed by a vote of no-confidence if the opposition has agreed on its own alternative chancellor candidate (constructive motion of confidence). That being said, a minority government is uncharted waters and could potentially create an unstable political situation in which the three opposition parties can ‘gang up’ and pass their own agenda and in which Merkel is left weakened. Merkel wants a strong government, so a minority government is unlikely.
The other option is a black-green coalition between Merkel and the Greens. Merkel seems to be the most interested in this option; the Greens appear fairly hostile although they have sat down with the CDU/CSU. The Bavarian CSU, finally, is opposed to a coalition with the Greens, both the Greens and CSU share mutual hatred for one another. The Greens demand more investments in education/research, a plan for renewable energy, a minimum wage and healthcare reform (single-payer). Given the Greens’ left-wing campaign and the CDU/CSU’s fairly anti-Green campaign (playing on the pedophilia scandal), such an option appears unlikely. Furthermore, the Greens’ four negotiators are due to be replaced (Trittin and co-leader Claudia Roth), so the Greens are going through a period of leadership change and renewal, therefore probably even less willing to be serious about a coalition.
Besides, the Greens know that their base would not easily accept a coalition with the CDU/CSU, and they would likely lose significant support in an election after a black-green coalition.
Theoretically, a red-red-green coalition has a majority of seats (but not of the vote). Yet, this option is not even being considered. First and foremost, a coalition which would remove Merkel from the chancellorship after her spectacular victory would be a PR disaster for the three parties, most particularly the SPD. Public opinion is opposed to a red-red-green coalition to begin with, forming on in these circumstances would be a recipe for unmitigated disaster. Even a ‘Magdeburg Model’ coalition with external Die Linke support would not work out and would be very unpopular. Second, neither the SPD or the Greens are ready for a red-red-green coalition at the federal level. Foreign policy differences (NATO, EU) between the SPD/Greens and Die Linke are a major obstacle; among other factors. The SPD is probably worried about what effects such a coalition could have on its support in West Germany.
Merkel talked to the SPD last week, she talked with the Greens on October 10 and she will be meeting with both SPD and Green leaders again next week (October 14 for the SPD, October 15 for the Greens). She should announce by the end of next week, certainly before the Bundestag reconvenes on October 22, with which party she intends to open formal talks to negotiate a coalition agreement.
Addendum: Bavarian and Hessian state elections 2013
State elections were held in Bavaria back on September 15, a week before the federal elections. The Bavarian Landtag (Bayerischer Landtag), which will now have 187 seats, is elected by MMP but using a peculiar electoral system different from the one used in federal and most state elections. 90 seats are single-member district seats, elected by FPTP. However, the proportional representation aspect of the vote (the second vote) is different in that there are no statewide lists, but rather seven regional lists (seven regional constituencies corresponding to Bavaria’s seven districts) and these lists are open lists – voters vote for the list candidate of their choice. However, voters may not vote for a candidate who stood in their district on their second vote.
The distribution of seats (5% threshold, Hare/Niemeyer method) is determined by the gesamtstimmen (total votes) – the sum of first and second votes. If a candidate from a party which won less than 5% of the votes in Bavaria wins the most votes in a district seat, he/she is not elected because their party won less than 5%, the runner-up from a party which won over 5% in elected in their stead.
Even those who know little about Germany probably know that Bavaria often stands out from the rest of Germany, as one of the states with the strongest local identity. Conservative, predominantly Catholic and historically rural, many (especially those on the left) view Bavaria as an austere, clerical and arch-conservative bulwark in Germany – sometimes known as the “little Texas”. Bavarians tend to be fiercely proud of their cultures and traditions, and might identify as ‘Bavarians’ first rather than Germans. Germans from other regions, particularly northern Germany, tend to stereotype Bavarians as ‘weird’ – wearing dirndl and lederhosen, speaking ‘funny’ (Bavarian language, Upper German dialects) or the Oktoberfest.
Bavarian politics certainly reflects Bavaria’s more unique place in Germany. It is a conservative stronghold like no other German state, and it is also often a strong advocate for federalism and states’ rights. Bavaria resisted German unification – it allied with Catholic Austria in the 1866 war against the Protestant hegemon of northern Germany, Prussia. After German unification, the Kingdom of Bavaria retained the right to maintain its own standing army, conduct its own foreign policy and other small advantages. Under the Weimar Republic, Bavarian politics were largely dominated by the conservative, Catholic and regionalist Bavarian People’s Party (BVP), a vocal advocate and fierce defender of federalism and states’ rights. Although Bavaria is closely associated with Nazism because of Munich and Nuremberg’s prominent place in Nazi lore and propaganda, Catholic Bavaria was one of the toughest nuts to crack for the Nazis in the 1930s. Much like the other Catholic regions of Germany (the Rhineland, for example), the Nazis did not poll as well in Catholic Bavaria when it came to national prominence after 1930; its Bavarian support was largely from Protestant voters in Middle and Upper Franconia – from voters who had supported pan-German conservative or liberal parties in the past (Kaiserreich Conservatives, the DNVP or the liberal parties).
Under the Federal Republic, Bavarian politics have been dominated by a single party, a feat which no other party has achieved in any other state except perhaps neighboring BaWü. The Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria, has governed the state since 1946 (except for 1954-1957) and it held an absolute majority in the Bavarian Landtag between 1962 and 2008.
A number of factors explain the CSU’s remarkable endurance. First and foremost, its conservative and Bavarian regionalist orientation is a good fit for the Bavarian electorate, which, outside of major urban centres, is very conservative. The SPD has long struggled to break through with Catholic voters, and in many parts of rural Altbayern (the most solidly Catholic and clerical region of Bavaria), the SPD is often seen as a foreign creature (associated with ‘godless’ socialism and anti-clericalism). In contrast, the CSU has built a solid base with small business owners, farmers, retirees, post-war German refugees and rural/small town voters in general. The CSU also won significant blue-collar/working-class support, because of the state’s low rates of unionization. Unlike the BVP, which was very much the heir to the Bavarian Zentrum from pre-war days, the CSU has also been able to break the confessional divide which was a defining element in Bavarian politics for years.
Secondly, the CSU, through its relative independence from the CDU and its nature as a Bavaria-only party, has successfully been able to ‘lobby’ for Bavarian interests in Berlin, or when the CDU/CSU is in the opposition federally, defend Bavarian interests against the intrusive federal government.
Thirdly, by controlling the state apparatus consistently since 1957, the CSU has come to control patronage networks and it has made efficient use of such networks to build up its political support. The CSU has been involved in a number of scandals over its history, none of these scandals have really hurt the party’s standing.
Last but not least, Bavaria has become one of Germany’s wealthiest states, as a prominent and well-off centre for manufacturing, IT, tourism and other tertiary industries. Most of Bavaria has extremely low unemployment rates today.
The CSU won the first two post-war elections in 1946 with over 50% of the vote. In the 1950 election, however, CSU support fell to 27.4% – down nearly 25 points – because of the emergence of two new parties which ate into the CSU’s conservative base: the separatist Bavaria Party (BP), which won 18% of the vote (mostly from Catholic Lower Bavaria) and the refugees’ party (BHE-DG), which won 12% (Bavaria received a large number of German refugees from former German territory in the east). A very divided Landtag allowed the SPD, in 1954, to form a coalition with the BP, BHE-DG and FDP, excluding the CSU. The CSU regained lost support in the 1954 election (38% of the vote, BP down to 13%) and returned to government, in coalition with the BHE-DG and FDP, which remained the CSU’s junior allies until 1962. The BP gradually died off after it lost its seats in the Bundestag in 1953 and following the ‘casino scandal’ in 1959, it lost all seats in 1966 and became an irrelevant minor party thereafter. Between 1978 and 1988, Bavaria was ruled by the colourful and controversial Franz Josef Strauß.
After winning 62% of the vote in 1974, the CSU’s vote gradually declined to 52% by 1994-1998. In the 2003 election, however, the CSU, led by Edmund Stoiber (Minister-President between 1993 and 2007), the CSU won 61% of the vote and upgraded its absolute majority to a two-thirds majority, the first time in the history of the Federal Republic. Five years later, however, the CSU suffered one of its worst defeats in decades, tumbling down 17% to ‘only’ 43% and losing its absolute majority, which it had held without interruption since 1962. In 2007, Stoiber, facing internal turmoil, had stepped down and was replaced by Günther Beckstein, a poor and uncharismatic leader. The CSU lost a lot of their support to the FDP, which won 8% and went on to be the CSU’s junior ally in the first coalition government in Bavaria since 1966; but it also lost much votes to the Free Voters (Freie Wähler, FW), an association of community/local lists and independent candidates which are present throughout Germany but quite strong in Bavaria, especially in local elections. In 2008, the FW owed much of their success to Gabriele Pauli, a CSU leader who criticized the CSU establishment and shocked the mainstream by proposing that marriages be turned into renewable seven-year contracts.
Beckstein stepped down after the election ‘defeat’ and was replaced by the much more charismatic Horst Seehofer, who is Bavaria’s Minister-President today. Seehofer has conservative views on immigrant, energy policy and same-sex marriage (the CSU’s strong opposition to same-sex marriage is one of the main reasons why it is not yet legal in Germany).
The FW are more or less centrist or centre-right, with an eclectic mix of socially liberal policies, conservative policies or economically liberal policies. Its main concern, however, is increasing local autonomy, more funding for communities, strengthening direct democracy and oftentimes opposition to specific infrastructure or investment projects in a given community. Their platform positions were fairly similar to the CSU’s this year.
The SPD, whose support in state elections has declined from a high of 36% in 1966 to an all-time low of 18.6% in 2009, had a strong top candidate this year: Munich mayor Christian Ude (since 1993), a popular mayor who was reelected with two-thirds of the vote in the 2008 election.
Turnout was 63.7%, up 6 points from 2008. The results were:
CSU 47.7% (+4.3%) winning 101 seats (+9)
SPD 20.6% (+2%) winning 42 seats (+3)
FW 9% (-1.2%) winning 19 seats (-2)
Greens 8.6% (-0.8%) winning 18 seats (-1)
FDP 3.3% (-4.7%) winning 0 seats (-16)
Die Linke 2.1% (-2.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
BP 2.1% (+1%) winning 0 seats (±0)
ÖDP 2% (±0%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Pirates 2% (+2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
REP 1% (-0.4%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Others 1.5% (+0.3%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Unsurprisingly, Horst Seehofer’s CSU government, popular and buoyed by an exceptionally strong local economy, was handily reelected and regained the absolute majority it had lost in the 2008 election. The main things which played in the CSU’s favour, according to the exit poll (ARD), was a very strong economy (71% said Bavaria has done well in the past decade, 84% said the Bavarian economy was good, +16 on 2008), a strong candidate (Seehofer led Ude 55-36 in a direct matchup, 74% saw him as the strongest leader and 72% said he would best defend Bavarian interests) and perceived competence on economic issues (69% said they were the most competent on economic policy, vs. 13% for the SPD). The SPD dominated on its niche issues (wages, social policy).
65% of voters approved of the government, up 17% from 2008. As it did federally, the government’s popularity did not help the FDP – 78% of voters were unhappy with the FDP’s performance in government. Again, Bavarian voters said that they felt that the FDP had been unremarkable and pretty useless in government. The unpopularity of the federal FDP brand likely played a major role as well, in the absence of a local FDP leader like Christian Lindner (NRW) to boost their chances, and with the CSU not campaigning for any ‘loan votes’ in favour of the FDP.
The CSU regained support from voters who had backed the FDP in 2009 (120,000 2009 FDP voters voted CSU this year) and non-voters (320,000 2009 non-voters voted CSU in 2013), with minor gains (20,000 votes) from Die Linke and the Greens, and minor loses (20,000) votes to ‘other parties’ (for some boneheaded reason, these vote transfer analyses ignore the FW!). The FDP lost about 50,000 to all other parties combined. The SPD gained votes from non-voters (110,00 of them), the Greens (20,000) and Die Linke (40,000). I don’t like these figures much, in good part because ignoring the FW is stupid.
The CSU won 89 direct seats, the SPD won only a single district mandate – Munich-Milbertshofen, which they had also won in 2009. This district includes inter-war social housing, cooperative housing (Neuhausen), partially gentrified inner-city areas in Neuhausen, the trendy and gentrified bohemian district of Schwabing-West and post-war social housing projects in Milbertshofen-Am Hart. The SPD won 34% of the first votes against 32% for the CSU. The SPD came close in Munich-Schwabing, an inner-city district which includes both SPD/Green inner-city trendy/hip areas such as Isarvorstadt (a gentrified area which includes the gay neighborhood; a Green stronghold), Maxvorstadt (a large student/academic population due to the universities) but also the expensive posh inner-city residential area of Lehel, where the SPD is weak (but the Greens pretty strong). Vote splitting hurt the SPD and/or the Greens here; the CSU won only 31.6% of the first votes, against 29% for the SPD and 17.7% for the Greens (their candidate was their Bavarian top candidate). The SPD won a narrow plurality of the gesamtstimmen. The SPD won almost all of its best results in Munich. Not only is Munich an urban area which naturally votes to the left of its surroundings, the SPD received a clear ‘Ude effect’ in Munich and Upper Bavaria.
One of the main reasons the Greens lost votes is because they suffered the most from a the Ude-induced boost in SPD showings in Upper Bavaria – keep in mind that with Bavaria’s electoral systems, a voter could only vote for Ude (standing on the SPD list in Upper Bavaria) in Upper Bavaria; Ude was not on the ballot as a list candidate outside of that district. The map on the left shows the percentage change in the Green vote since the 2008 election: the Greens lost 3% of the gesamtstimmen in Upper Bavaria (and the SPD gained 2.8%…); they gained votes (albeit only marginally in a lot of cases) in the six other districts – most notably, the Greens gained further in Nuremberg and Augsburg. Their loses in Upper Bavaria were perhaps further explained by the loss of Sepp Daxenberger, a very popular Green leader and mayor in southeastern Bavaria who passed away in 2010.
The increase in the CSU vote since 2008 (map here) largely came from Catholic Altbayern, the CSU actually lost support in Protestant areas in Franconia, particularly in the Nuremberg/Fürth metro. 2008 CSU leader Beckstein was a Protestant from Nuremberg. In contrast, CSU gains were quite heavy around Ingolstadt and Neuburg-Schrobenhausen, Seehofer’s native town and his constituency. In the Munich metro area, the CSU also cashed in on the FDP’s major loses.
Here is an electoral atlas of the results. The CSU did best in rural Bavaria, particularly Catholic regions of Altbayern, most notably Seehofer’s home turf. The SPD’s best results came from Munich, but the party also did well in working-class Protestant areas in Franconia such as Hof (29.7%), Coburg (27.6%) or Wunsiedel-Kulmbach (28%); in addition to urban areas such as Nuremberg (30.7% in the city’s lower-income southern end), Regensburg, Augsburg and Würzburg. The Greens, outside of Munich, did best in Freising (18.9%), an old Green stronghold and university town; parts of Nuremberg (about 14%) or the university town of Würzburg (15.8%). The FW did best in rural ares, particularly conservative and Catholic Lower Bavaria, which was a stronghold for a farmers’ party during the Kaiserreich and much of Weimar, and also where the FW’s current leader is from (the FW vote share was higher than in 2013 in Lower Bavaria). The FDP did best in affluent areas, peaking at 9.1% in Starnberg.
State elections were held concurrently with the federal elections in Hesse on September 22. The 110 seats in the Landtag are elected by a MMP (closed lists) system very similar to that used federally and in most other states. 55 members are elected in single-member districts by FPTP, the rest (plus compensation for overhang) are elected by closed lists, seats distributed to parties winning over 5% of the vote using the Hare/Niemeyer system.
Hesse as a single political entity is a post-war creation. Prior to World War II, modern-day Hessian territory was divided between a handful of small states. In 1866, Prussia annexed Hesse-Kassel, Frankfurt and Nassau, forming the province of Hesse-Nassau. Hesse-Darmstadt retained its independence as the Grand Duchy of Hesse, most of its territory was located south of the Main river and included Rhenish Hesse (Mainz/Worms), which is currently part of the Rhineland-Palatinate. In 1946, the Americans created the state of Hesse from the bulk of Hesse-Darmstadt and the former Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau, as part of the dismemberment of Prussia.
Between 1946 and 1987, Hesse was governed by the SPD, which held an absolute majority between 1950 and 1954 and between 1962 and 1970. The SPD governed with the CDU between 1946 and 1950, with the GB-BHE between 1954 and 1966 and with the FDP between 1970 and 1982. Following an inconclusive election in 1982, a new election was held in 1983, which led to a SPD government with external Green support; and, in 1985, the first red-green government in Germany was formed – before collapsing two years later over disagreements on nuclear policy. The CDU won the 1987 elections, and formed a black-yellow coalition, which failed to win reelection in 1991. The SPD and the Greens won the 1991 and 1995 elections.
The 1999 election was fought over federal politics; CDU leader Roland Koch made opposition to the red-green federal government’s proposal to allow dual citizenship for foreign immigrants the top issue in his campaign. The CDU and the FDP won a bare majority of seats and Roland Koch, a prominent leader of the CDU’s right-wing, became Minister-President. He was reelected with an expanded majority in 2003, with the SPD’s vote share collapsing by some 10 points. However, by the time of the 2008 election, his government had lost in popularity and his tough campaign on immigration and crime – largely focused on foreign youth criminality, proved extremely controversial – Koch’s critics accused him of xenophobia and racism. The CDU lost 12% of the vote, and the black-yellow government lost its majority. However, with Die Linke entering the Landtag for the first time with 5.1% and 6 seats, the red-greens had no majority on their own and would require the support or participation of Die Linke to form government. Given Koch’s right-wing nature and the controversial red baiting in his campaign, a Grand Coalition proved impossible. SPD leader Andrea Ypsilanti tried to form a red-green government with Die Linke support – the Magdeburg Model – but failed on two attempts. After a year of political instability, a new election was held in 2009.
In the 2009 election, the SPD was badly hurt by the chaos which had followed the last election, and the SPD’s vote collapsed by 12 points to an all-time low of 23.7%. The CDU did not profit from the SPD’s troubles, winning roughly what it won a year prior. The Greens and the FDP registered the strongest gains, both gaining over 6 points – the FDP won 16.2% of the vote, the Greens won 13.7% of the vote. In any case, the black-yellow coalition regained an absolute majority and Koch returned as Minister-President. Koch stepped down in 2010, partly because of disagreements with Merkel. He was replaced by Volker Bouffier, a Koch ally who had served as his state minister of the interior.
Bouffier’s SPD opponent was Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, who had already been the SPD’s top candidate in the 2009 election.
Turnout was 73.2%, up 12.2% from the 2009 election. Tying the election to the federal election likely boosted turnout significantly.
CDU 38.3% (+1.1%) winning 47 seats (+1)
SPD 30.7% (+7%) winning 37 seats (+8)
Greens 11.1% (-2.6%) winning 14 seats (-3)
Die Linke 5.2% (-0.2%) winning 6 seats (±0)
FDP 5.0% (-11.2%) winning 6 seats (-14)
AfD 4.1% (+4.1%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Pirates 1.9% (+1.4%) winning 0 seats (±0)
FW 1.2% (-0.4%) winning 0 seats (±0)
NPD 1.1% (+0.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Others 1.3% (+0.5%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Der Spiegel has a map of the results here.
The Hessian elections ended inconclusively, as in 2008. The incumbent black-yellow government lost its absolute majority, while only a red-red-green/Magdeburg Model government can be formed by the left.
Exit polls confirm that voters were closely divided. In a direct vote for Minister-President, Bouffier held a two-point lead (44-42) over his SPD opponent, Schäfer-Gümbel. 51% of voters approved of the government, and 55% of respondents said a red-green coalition would be good for Hesse (but only 21% said the same for a red-red-green government). Asked which party should form the next government, 48% said the SPD against 47% who said the CDU. Although voters were optimistic about the economy (77% said the economy was good, up from 36% in the January 2009 election), and voters overwhelmingly sided with the CDU on economic issues (55% said the CDU was the most competent party on economic issues), the CDU was unable to translate that into additional support.
According to the vote transfer analysis, the CDU suffered fairly significant loses to the SPD (29,000 voters) and AfD (15,000), which were cancelled out by the influx of 75,000 votes from voters who had backed the FDP in 2009. The SPD’s gains came at the expense of the Greens (47,000 votes), the FDP (48,000), the CDU and Die Linke (18,000).
Compared to the federal election held at the same time, the CDU underperformed Merkel’s result by about 1%, while the SPD did about 2% better than in the federal election. The Greens did about 1% better in the state election, Die Linke about 1% worse, the FDP about 0.5% worse and the AfD did 1.5% worse (it won 5.6% in the federal election).
The FDP’s result was perhaps the only good thing of the night for them. Early exit polling and early preliminary results had shown them under the 5% threshold in the state election, in the end they managed to save their parliamentary caucus – winning 5.03% of the votes, 920 more votes than they needed.
Government formation will take a long time. There are a number of potential options which are all feasible, but all of them have serious challenges. A red-red-green government, or a Magdeburg Model government, is theoretically possible on these results and it seems to be considered as a serious possibility. However, after what happened in 2008 and the unpopularity of such an option in public opinion, it will be tough to form such a government. A Grand Coalition with the SPD and CDU is one of the likeliest options, but as 2008 showed, a Grand Coalition with the Hessian CDU (and its rather conservative leadership) is not less problematic than a red-red-green government. A black-green government seems to be on the table as well, and the federal CDU is, if rumours are to be trusted, prodding the Hessian CDU towards a coalition with the Greens, as some kind of experiment for a future federal-level black-green government. In Hesse, CDU-Green governments already exist at the local level. However, the Greens would likely agree to such a coalition if it was led by somebody other than Bouffier. If all of these options fail, then Hesse could face new elections, as in 2009. However, there is no deadline on government formation at the state level in Hesse (unlike federally), so these talks could very well draw out for months.
Angela Merkel was reelected to a third term, winning a very impressive result and falling only a few seats short of an absolute majority. Although this election is unlikely to lead to major or fundamental changes in German domestic, European and foreign policy in the next four years, these elections will have some political significance. The SPD remain weak, and with much work to do on their end if they are to regain power federally in 2017. The Greens weakened and facing problems of their own, a surprising and very disappointing result after a spectacular four years for the German Greens. Die Linke, despite falling from their 2009 heights, confirmed that they remain a major political force, mostly in the East but with some significant support in the West as well. In the long-term, with Die Linke shaping up to establish itself as a permanent force on the German left, the SPD and the Greens will be forced to make their peace with Die Linke and accept them as a coalition partner if they want form a left-wing coalition at the federal or even state level.
The FDP thrown out of the Bundestag for the first time in their history; an historic defeat for the FDP and the long liberal tradition it has embodied in the post-war era. Will the FDP be able to reemerge as a major player in federal politics, or will they die out and their remaining votes squeezed by parties such as the CDU or the AfD? The emergence of a new Eurosceptic force (AfD) in German politics, the first such party which seems to be credible enough and with sufficient potential support to become a major player in German politics. Will the AfD be a flash in the pan, similar to parties such as The Republicans in the early 1990s or the NPD in the mid-1960s; or will they be the force that is able to shake up Germany’ stable political/partisan system?
Angela Merkel, by 2017, will have been in power for 12 years. This is a long time, but not unusually long for CDU Chancellors – Kohl governed Germany for 16 years, Adenauer for 14 years. Undoubtedly, she will go down in history as one of Germany’s most significant and important Chancellors, and not only because of her key role in the Euro crisis. After 12 years in office, will Merkel seek a fourth term in office in 2017, and seek to match Kohl’s 16-year tenure at the helm of Germany? It is unclear as of now what Merkel intends to do, with many believing she will retire, others thinking she will be back for a fourth term.
The CDU seems to lack a clear ‘crown prince’ to succeed Merkel. Potential rivals/successors such as Christian Wulff or Roland Koch have already been pushed out, and other potential successors such as David McAllister or Norbert Röttgen, two former Minister-Presidents (Lower Saxony and NRW) failed to win reelection in their last state elections. The federal minister of labour and social affairs, Ursula von der Leyen, is a major contender for Merkel’s succession, but she might have fallen out of favor by criticizing the CDU’s family policies as too conservative. The young federal minister of family affairs, women and youth Kristina Schröder, is a rising star in the CDU but she has not made a major mark in her ministry after four years.
Thank you for reading this long post, either entirely or in parts. I apologize for the long time it took to write this up, but hopefully it was worth it. Stay tuned: Austria (Sept. 29) and Nova Scotia (Oct. 8) are next on the list, before major elections in the Czech Republic and Luxembourg later this month.