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
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.