Category Archives: Germany
After France, this post looks at the EP election results in some of the most important member-states in EU affairs today – Germany and Greece (as well as Hungary, important in its own way).
These posts do not include, generally, descriptions of each party’s ideology and nature. For more information on parties, please refer to older posts I may have written on these countries on this blog or some excellent pre-election guides by Chris Terry on DemSoc.
Note to readers: I am aware of the terrible backlog, but covering the EP elections in 28 countries in detail takes quite some time. I promise to cover, with significant delay, the results of recent/upcoming elections in Colombia (May 25-June 15), Ontario (June 12), Canadian federal by-elections (June 30), Indonesia (July 9), Slovenia (July 13) and additional elections which may have been missed. I still welcome any guest posts with open arms :)
Turnout: 48.12% (+4.85%)
MEPs: 96 (-3)
Electoral system: Closed list PR, no threshold (effectively 0.58%)
CDU (EPP) 30.02% (-0.7%) winning 29 seats (-5)
SPD (S&D) 27.27% (+6.5%) winning 27 seats (+4)
Greens (G-EFA) 10.7% (-1.4%) winning 11 seats (-3)
Die Linke (GUE/NGL) 7.39% (-0.1%) winning 7 seats (-1)
AfD (ECR) 7.04% (+7.04%) winning 7 seats (+7)
CSU (EPP) 5.34% (-1.9%) winning 5 seats (-3)
FDP (ALDE) 3.36% (-7.6%) winning 3 seats (-9)
FW (ALDE) 1.46% (-0.2%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirates (G-EFA) 1.45% (+0.5%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Tierschutzpartei (GUE/NGL) 1.25% (+0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
NPD (NI) 1.03% (+1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Family (ECR) 0.69% (-0.3%) winning 1 seat (+1)
ÖDP (G-EFA) 0.64% (+0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Die PARTEI 0.63% (+0.6%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Others 1.76% winning 0 seats (nc)
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, Horst Seehofer’s Christian Social Union (CSU), won the EP elections in Germany with 35.4% of the vote. Germany is widely seen as an ‘island of stability’ (and economic prosperity) in the midst of the EU, having managed to weather the economic doldrums which have hit most of the EU fairly well. With a population of nearly 82 million people, Germany is the most populous member-state of the EU and it has always been one of the key ‘engines’ of the EU, often in tandem with France. This has been particularly true in the last five or so years, for a variety of reasons. Politically, Germany’s leadership has been remarkable stable for nearly ten years – Angela Merkel, who took office as Chancellor in November 2005, is now the EU’s longest-serving head of government (after Estonia’s Andrus Ansip resigned early this year) and the country’s party system, despite minor but relevant shakeups since 2009, has not experienced the dramatic ups-and-downs, shifts or realignments seen in Greece, Italy, Spain, France, the Czech Republic, Ireland and even the UK. Economically, Germany has the EU’s largest economy – and also one of the healthier economies in the EU. Since 2010, Germany’s unemployment rate has declined from 8% to 5.3% (a feat which many of Germany’s neighbors and partners, notably France and Italy, can only dream about). Although economic growth has been unremarkable, Germany has a balanced budget and its public debt (77%) is declining. As the economic and political powerhouse of the EU and Eurozone, therefore, Germany has come to assume a leading role in the Eurozone crisis.
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 Germany, Merkel’s Eurozone crisis policy has been relatively popular, despite substantial opposition to the idea of German taxpayers ‘bailing out’ countries such as Greece and Spain. The European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which allows for loans up to €500 billion for member states of the eurozone in financial difficulty and in which Germany is the single largest contributor (27.1%), recently survived a judicial challenge and was confirmed by the Constitutional Court.
Between the 2009 federal election, which saw Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU form a black-yellow coalition with the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP), and the 2013 federal election last September in which Merkel’s CDU/CSU won a landslide result (41.5%) and formed a Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD), Angela Merkel’s popularity increased dramatically while that of the FDP collapsed just as dramatically. In the 2013 election, polls showed that Germans were particularly optimistic and upbeat about their country’s economic future.
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). 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. 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. 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. In 2013, Merkel’s CDU played on her personal popularity, and ran a very ‘presidential’ campaign which heavily emphasized Merkel, and campaign posters drove the above ideas home: Merkel’s face with the words ‘stability’/’security’/’continuity’. Exit polls in 2013 showed that many of the Union’s voters said that their top motivator in voting for the CDU/CSU was Merkel alone (in contrast, only 8% of SPD voters said that their top motivator was the SPD’s disastrous top candidate in 2013, foot-in-mouth victim Peer Steinbrück).
Domestically, Merkel’s political longevity and her ability to destroy her junior coalition partners (the SPD from 2005 to 2009 and the FDP from 2009 to 2013) owes a lot to her local 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). In the 2013 election, there were few differences between the SPD and the CDU/CSU’s platforms, because the Union effectively blurred major policy differences between them on the SPD – the few differences concerned tax increases (the SPD and Greens supported tax increases for the wealthy, the Union rejected tax increases) and the universal minimum wage (the Union opposed it in the 2013 campaign, but didn’t care much about it in the end) – while they agreed on matters such as gender quotas in management positions, freezing rent, renewable energies and the bulk of EU policy (although Merkel reiterated her tough anti-Eurobond stance and strict application of the Fiscal Compact).
Already between 2005 and 2009, Merkel’s first Grand Coalition cabinet, the government’s policies had been quite moderate and even leaned towards the SPD on some issues (Keynesian-style deficit spending, healthcare reforms in a pro-public healthcare direction, VAT increase for infrastructure development, introducing legal minimum wages in some industries). The SPD 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 was badly hurt by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s highly controversial welfare reforms, and it has 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 after 2004. The SPD’s platform in 2013 was quite left-wing – emblematic of the SPD’s post-Schröder swing to the left, the party being pushed to left as Merkel successfully adopted SPD planks and a general shift of all parties (except the FDP) to more leftist positions since 2009 and especially 2005. In 2013, the SPD’s support increased to 25.7% of the vote, but it remained miles behind the CDU/CSU. The SPD was unable to sucessfully challenge Merkel, even on her government’s weak suit – social justice, a major concern for German voters these days (or rather, while the SPD’s social policies were more popular, the SPD lacked the CDU’s credibility on Eurozone and economic issues) – and shackled with a poor chancellor-candidate (Peer Steinbrück, the infamous ‘gaffe-machine’).
Between 2009 and 2013, the FDP, Merkel’s junior partner after the 2009 elections – in which the right-liberal FDP, on a platform of low taxes and surfing on right-wing unease with the fairly moderate record of the CDU-led government between 2005 and 2009, won an historic high of 14.6% – collapsed. The FDP’s performance in the black-yellow government was widely judged, even by its 2009 supporters, to be ineffective and incompetent and their actions reinforced the old image of the FDP as an exclusive club for special interests and high earners. Merkel steamrolled the FDP and by not lowering taxes, she effectively drained the FDP’s main plank of all meaning. In 2013, therefore, the FDP’s calls for tax cuts certainly rang hollow. The party, which had been in every Bundestag since the end of the War, suffered a defeat of epic and historic proportions: 4.8%, falling below the 5% threshold for seats in the Bundestag and finding itself without any MPs. In past (and recent – Lower Saxony in 2013) federal and state elections, the FDP had survived ‘close calls’ thanks to ‘loan votes’ – CDU supporters voting (on their second, PR, vote in Germany’s two-vote system for federal and most state elections) for the FDP to allow the party, the CDU’s preferred coalition partner, to retain seats. Loan votes and locally-focused FDP campaigns had allowed the FDP to survive in several state elections after 2009 (even as the federal party was in full collapse mode), but these dynamics were in-existent or insufficient in September 2013 – after the Lower Saxony election in 2013, which saw the black-yellow government lose to red-green despite the FDP’s success, there was a backlash against loan votes for the FDP, based on the erroneous claim that black-yellow would have been reelected without the loan votes (however, exit polls in September 2013 showed that a bit less than half of the FDP’s voters were tactical voters). The liberal 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 and the FDP’s right-wing supporters have in part shifted over to the new, anti-Euro Alternative for Germany (AfD).
The AfD was founded in February 2013, mostly by ex-CDU academics and private sector figures. The AfD’s unifying plank is opposition to the Euro (but not, it insists, the EU) – Bernd Lucke, the party’s leader, argued that the Euro was unsustainable and that it 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 AfD claims that is not against the EU, but the party wants to reduce the scope of the EU’s power and supranational aspects, opposes Turkish membership and is against taxpayer-funded bailouts. The AfD is a right-wing party, but it is not really clear what it really stands for. The party’s leadership is economically liberal (in the European sense), but the party’s membership is not quite as convinced by the leadership’s liberalism: members voted to oppose the EU-US free trade deal, despite support from the leadership. Some AfD members and candidates have shifted to the right and embraced social conservative and traditional Christian ‘moral values’, which has reportedly displeased some liberal supporters. The AfD has rejected claims that it is anti-immigration, but the AfD was the only major German party to praise the results of the recent Swiss referendum curbing freedom of movement. The party’s opponents on the left have accused it of pandering to anti-immigration and xenophobic sentiments. The AfD won 4.7% of the vote in the 2013 election, mostly protest votes which came, predominantly, from the FDP, other parties and Die Linke.
The AfD goes out of its way to promote a respectable and clean image of itself, rejecting ties and comparisons to right-wing populists and the far-right in other EU countries. Far-right parties such as the FN and Geert Wilders’ Dutch PVV tried to woo the AfD, but the Germans strongly rejected any cooperation with these less respectable, more extremist parties. It has even rejected overtures from UKIP, criticizing the British party’s anti-EU and anti-immigration stances; although it has been reported that some members of the AfD are supportive of an alliance with UKIP and its partners in the EFD group in the EP. Instead, the AfD has been trying very hard to be accepted as an ally of the British Conservative Party, to fit the general image of a respectable, rather moderate centre-right but Eurosceptic party (notwithstanding the Tories’ ECR ties to more inconvenient parties in Poland and the Baltics). The AfD’s campaign to woo the Tories, something welcomed by some Tory/ECR MEPs, to their side was complicated by Merkel and Berlin-London diplomatic channels. Merkel is said to have warned or pressured David Cameron against developing formal ties with the AfD. However, on June 12, the ECR group voted to accept the AfD, unofficially by a narrow vote of 29-26 in which 2 Tory MEPs defied Cameron’s wishes by voting in favour of the AfD. 10 Downing Street will hope that this embarrassing defeat for Cameron in ‘his’ EP group will not endanger his highly-important relationship with Merkel.
The AfD was joined by Hans-Olaf Henkel, a former president of the German employers’ federation (BDI) and manager at IBM Germany, in January 2014. An advocate for a division of the Euro between a stable northern zone and an unstable southern zone, Henkel was second on the AfD’s list for the EP behind party leader Bernd Lucke.
After the 2013 election, a Grand Coalition with the SPD was the only realistic option on the table. The only other coalition option was a black-green coalition, between the CDU/CSU and the Greens, but the federal Greens, who had ended up performing quite poorly in the election, had burned too many bridges with the CDU/CSU during their rather left-wing campaign. The Union and the SPD reached an initial agreement on a coalition program on November 27, but for the first time, one of the coalition parties – SPD – had taken the decision to submit any coalition agreement it would sign to ratification by its membership in an internal vote. On December 2014, with high turnout, 76% of SPD members voted in favour of the deal. The internal vote was a bit stacked in favour of the yes, because SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel put his job on the line and strongly promoted the terms of the Grand Coalition agreement. Furthermore, in the unlikely event that SPD rejected the agreement, there was the threat of snap elections (which the CDU/CSU would have won by a similar margin as in September 2013).
On the whole, the SPD got a fairly good deal out of the CDU/CSU, considering the weak bargaining position they were in. The new government’s policy program includes two of the SPD’s main promises from 2013: the introduction, from January 1 2015, of a universal minimum wage at €8.50 (with only minors, interns, trainees or long-term unemployed people for their first six months at work excluded; some companies will have until 2017 to phase in the new minimum wage) and allowing workers who have contributed for 45 years to retire early at 63 (currently 65). The SPD also won a liberalization of Germany’s dual citizenship laws, which will no longer require German born-children of non-EU/Swiss citizens to choose, at age 23 (provided they’ve lived in Germany for 8 years or graduated from a German school), between their parents’ and German citizenship. On economic matters, there will be no tax increases (a key CDU demand) but the government promises new investments worth €23 million in training, higher education, R&D and transport infrastructure among others. To please the CDU/CSU, the government’s pension reform also includes a measure to increase the pensions of older mothers who raised children before 1992. To please Bavaria’s CSU, the new government is supposed to implement a toll on foreigners using German autobahnen, but many doubt the controversial policy will go ahead given that Berlin needs to find a way to ensure that Germans don’t pay the toll and make it compatible with EU legislation. The new government is committed to the energy transition, to gradually wean Germany off of nuclear energy by 2022.
In the cabinet, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel is Vice-Chancellor and minister of the economy and energy – responsible for the energy transition. Andrea Nahles, a former SPD general secretary from the party’s left, became minister of labour and social affairs, pushing forth the pension reform. In the CDU, the promotion to the defense ministry of Ursula von der Leyen, who had been labour minister under black-yellow, was widely read as a sign that Merkel was grooming her as a potential successor. Wolfgang Schäuble, the CDU finance minister since 2009 associated with austerity policies and Germany’s ‘tough’ line, retained his job. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the SPD’s 2009 chancellor-candidate who is perceived as being pro-Russian, returned to the foreign ministry – a job he had held under the first Merkel Grand Coalition.
The coalition’s platform was criticized by employers, who were particularly up in arms about the pension reform – both the SPD’s retirement age changes and the Union’s pension boost for older mothers, which they claim will cost Germany €130 million by 2030. The conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the tabloid Bild were both critical of the coalition agreement. Abroad, The Economist has criticized Merkel’s temerity and the lack of structural reforms, arguing that the government’s various interventionist mini-reforms risks squandering the country’s past economic progress.
The new government has been fairly quiet. In February, it ran into a mini-cabinet crisis following the surprise resignation of a SPD MP (Sebastian Edathy) who later fled the country after police searched his house and claimed that he was the client of a Canadian-based international child pornography ring. The CSU agriculture minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, was forced to resign after it was revealed that, while interior minister in October 2013, he had informed Gabriel of an investigation against Edathy and in doing so likely breached an official secret. The SPD’s leadership is suspected of having tipped off Edathy (and prompting him to resign from the Bundestag before his parliamentary immunity was stripped), and the CSU demanded that the SPD’s parliamentary whip step down. Because of the CSU’s sabre-rattling, the Grand Coalition was briefly at risk of premature death, but the events in Ukraine in late February-early March 2014 meant that the scandal finally blew over. Federally, polling numbers have not budged much since September 2013: the CDU/CSU is down from 41.5% to about 39% in polls but still miles ahead of the SPD, which is stable at its 2013 levels. The Greens, who won only 8.4% in 2013, are now back up to 10-12%; Die Linke are in the 8-10% range, above their 2013 result (8.6%). The FDP is still dead, and the AfD would likely win seats in the Bundestag in the next election, because it’s now polling at 6-7%, above the 5% threshold in federal elections.
There was a major and significant change in the electoral system ahead of the EP elections: in February 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 3% threshold was unconstitutional and ordered for it to be scrapped entirely. In 2009 and prior EP elections, a 5% threshold had applied, but it had been lowered to 3% by the major parties after the Constitutional Court had struck down the 5% threshold in November 2011. The new rules were obviously a huge boon for small parties – a category which now includes the FDP.
Merkel’s CDU/CSU emerged victorious in the EP elections, and Merkel expressed satisfaction with the Union’s performance and its majority over the SPD. However, with only 35.4% for the CDU and CSU, it is a poor result for Germany’s senior governing parties, which is down both from Merkel’s own landslide result in September last year (41.5%) and the Union’s result in the 2009 EP election (37.9%) and past EP results (2004 – 44.5%, 1999 – 48.7%, 1994 – 38.8%). In 2013, Merkel’s own personal popularity had been the reason for the CDU’s success and the party had likely received votes which went more to support Merkel the Chancellor than to support the CDU/CSU the party. Therefore, in an election without Merkel on the ballot, some loses could be expected.
The main reason why the Union parties did poorly is because the CSU’s result in Bavaria was unexpectedly bad: the ruling hegemonic party in conservative Bavaria received only 40.5% of the vote in the Land, down 7.6% from 48% of the vote in 2009 (and 49% in the 2013 federal election and 47.7% in the 2013 state elections, held a week before the federal election). The result came as a surprise, because state-level polling in Bavaria for the EP had showed the CSU in its usual high-40s territory, and the CSU had done fairly well (by Bavarian standards, which means winning in the usual landslide) in local elections held in the state in March 2014. Over the past few months, the CSU has grumbled against some of the government’s policies – Bavarian Minister-President Horst Seehofer, the powerful boss of the CSU and the state, opposes the construction of high-voltage power lines which would transmit wind energy from the North Sea to southern Germany, and the CSU has continued playing its populist, regionalist messages (against EU and federal bureaucrats, against foreign drivers clogging up Bavaria’s autobahnen, against immigrants receiving welfare benefits).
One reason for the CSU’s poor turnout may have been the low turnout – only 40.9%, which is about 7% less than in the country and actually down 1.5% from the last EP election in Bavaria. In contrast, turnout in the rest of Germany increased by 4.9% from 2009. There was, as in 2009, a clear correlation between higher turnout and local elections being held the same day – turnout was highest in the Rhineland-Palatinate, reaching 56.9%; it was up 16.8% from 2009 to 46.7% in the Eastern state of Brandenburg, where there were no local elections alongside the EP election in 2009. However, turnout is not the only explanation, because the CSU’s raw vote did not hold stable – the party lost nearly 330,000 votes from 2009. The CDU’s support increased in Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Merkel’s home state, where she did very well in 2013), Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. The CDU suffered substantial loses in Berlin (-4.2%, but turnout increased 11.5%), Hamburg (-5.1%), Hesse (-5.8%) and Schleswig-Holstein (-3.5%).
The SPD, in contrast, performed quite well – 27.3% is a significant improvement on the party’s last two disastrous performances in the EP elections (21.5% in 2004 and 20.8% in 2009, both of them historic lows for the SPD), and the SPD has increased its vote total from about 5.5 million to 8 million. Martin Schulz, the PES’ ‘presidential candidate’ and the SPD’s top candidate, likely accounts for (part of) this good result. An Infratest dimap exit poll showed that Schulz was the favourite EU Commission candidate in Germany over Juncker, 42% to 24%, and even received the preference of 23% of CDU/CSU voters. 76% of SPD voters said that Schulz was an important reason that they voted SPD, against only 55% of Union voters who said that Juncker was an important reason that they voted for the CDU/CSU. The SPD was criticized for an ad campaign which said that “only if you choose Martin Schulz and the SPD, can there be a German President of the European Commission”.
The SPD has also performed surprisingly well, so far, in the Grand Coalition (unlike in 2005-2009). So far, many of the new government’s popular policies – the minimum wage, the pension reform and the dual citizenship reform – all bear the SPD’s mark, a surprisingly good record for what is a weak junior governing partner. 59% of SPD voters were happy with the federal government’s performance, compared to 79% of CDU/CSU voters and 53% of all voters.
The Greens placed third, with 10.7% of the vote, which is down 1.4% on their record-high performance in 2009 (12.1%) but an improvement on the Greens’ poor result in last year’s federal election, when the party won only 8.4%. The Greens’ result in 2013 came as a shockingly bad underperformance by the party, which had been on an upswing since 2007 and especially since 2010-2011 (marked by the Greens’ victory in the 2011 Baden-Württemberg state elections, where the Greens overtook the SPD and the left won enough seats to form a green-red coalition with the Greens in the driver’s seat). The Greens ran a woefully bad campaign in 2013, unwisely seeking to put an emphasis on their left-wing (similar to the SPD, furthermore) position on economic/social issues (with tax increases which the Greens had lots of difficulty defending and framing correctly) rather than their niche environmental issues where the Greens are most popular and credible. The Greens’ left-wing oriented campaign, under Jürgen Trittin, aimed to deflect left-wing criticism that the Greens were just waiting to dive into a black-green coalition with the Union, but instead it just nudged the Greens way too close to the SPD in a position where they would not dare criticize the SPD’s failings (notably on hot-button transportation and infrastructure kerfuffles). The Greens were also hurt by controversies stemming from a terribly overblown faux-scandal about ‘veggie-days’ (allegedly a Green plan to ‘force’ meat-free days in public cafeterias, even though they already existed) and a difficult series of revelations from the Greens’ ties to the pedophile movement in their foundational years. Since the last election, the Greens have been rebuilding, but it’s been difficult. In the Infratest dimap exit poll, 81% of voters said the Greens lacked a strong leader and 70% said they had difficulty seeing what the Greens stood for.
Die Linke placed fourth, holding their ground from the last election and gaining votes thanks to the higher turnout. It was an average result for the party, a bit below its result from 2013 (8.6%). Die Linke had hoped to gain from the SPD’s participation in cabinet, and tried to target left-wing voters disappointed with the SPD’s participation or performance in the Grand Coalition government. However, unlike in 2009, Die Linke proved unable to benefit from the SPD’s government record, largely because the SPD has been performing reasonably well in government thus far. The party still has trouble breaking out of its peripheral role in the German political system: after the party effectively supported or accepted the Russian invasion of Crimea and opposed Ukraine’s “fascist” government, the prospect of participation in a leftist coalition with the SPD and the Greens distanced itself, because the SPD demand that Die Linke drops its most contentious foreign policy planks (opposition to NATO, Euroscepticism) in order to be accepted into government. Die Linke lost votes in its East German, ex-GDR strongholds – its support in the East fell from 23% to 20.6%, its worst result in the old GDR since the first post-reunification EP elections in 1994; but it gained support in the West, increasing from 3.9% to 4.5%. In 2013, the results had also shown a trend towards a more nationalized vote, with Die Linke slowly building a still very small but substantial electorate in the West while being on a net downwards trend in the East, where the party faces demographic problems (aging electorate, out-migration, more affluent East German cities and social changes in the old GDR) and intense competition for protest voters.
The AfD did well in East Germany (8.3%), better than in the West (6.8%). Overall, across the country, the AfD had an excellent result, with 7% of the vote and 2.070 million votes, up from 4.7% and 2.056 million votes in the 2013 federal election. The exit polls showed that the AfD’s electorate largely consisted of protest voters, with highly specific concerns – currency stability (a major issue for 41% of the AfD’s voters), social security and immigration (a major issue for 40% of AfD voters but only 13% of the broader electorate); the AfD’s voters also stand out of the German political mainstream by expressing negative views towards the EU, the Euro, the desirability of deeper European integration and being rather pessimistic about the economy. For example, while the electorate which voted on May 25 was by and large strongly pro-European (actually, even more-so than in the past), with only 16% saying that EU membership brought more disadvantages (compared to 44% who said it brought mostly advantages, up from 25% in 2010), 70% saying that EU countries should act together more often and only 20% saying that Germany should return to the Deutsche Mark; the AfD’s supporters took opposite views on these issues, with 44% (the highest of all parties, with Die Linke in second at 19%) of AfD voters saying that the EU brought more disadvantages, 67% saying that EU member-states should act more independently/alone, 52% saying the EU’s open borders are threatening German society, 39% wishing to return to the old currency (one will notice, however, that not even a majority of AfD supporters support dropping the euro) and 78% opposing bailouts for other EU member-states (compared to 41% of German voters). The AfD is already a very polarizing party: 47% of voters considered it a right-wing populist party, which is not a popular label to be identified with in Germany, and 41% said that while it did not solve problems “it called them by their names” (80% expressed similar views regarding Die Linke).
The AfD appears to be responsible for a good part of the CDU and CSU’s losses. Infratest dimap’s vote-transfer analysis has some suspect findings, but it reports that, compared to 2013, the AfD gained 510,000 more votes from the Union, 180,000 from the SPD and 110,000 from Die Linke; in 2013, the AfD had pulled a diverse electorate, although most of their voters came from the smoldering ruins of the FDP, Die Linke and other parties. According to the vote-transfer analysis from this year, the bleeding from the FDP to AfD was more limited (-60,000) – instead, we are told that the FDP lost a good number of votes to the SPD (60,000) and the Greens (40,000). The city of Munich (Bavaria) also conducted a vote-transfer analysis for the city, compared to the 2009 EP elections. In Munich, the CSU lost 21,100 votes – or 16% of its 2009 voters – to the AfD, providing the new party with its largest bulk of voters (smaller quantities came from the FDP – 2,200 votes; the FW – 2,400 votes; non-voters – 2,100 votes; and other parties – 1,800 votes). In Bavaria as a whole, the AfD did quite well, taking 8.1% of the vote, nearly doubling their percentage from 2013. It did best in Munich’s suburbs in Upper Bavaria and in Swabia. Interestingly, in Munich, the FDP lost most of its 2009 voters – 42% of them (or 22,500 votes) the SPD, which is more than a bit unusual given that, in 2013, the FDP had lost 38% of its voters to the Union and only 9% to the SPD.
The Infratest dimap vote-transfer analysis showed that the Union parties, compared to 2013, also lost heavily to the SPD (-340,000) and Greens (-270,000); the SPD suffered loses, from 2013, to the Greens (-110,000) and AfD, but made up for them by gaining from the Union and FDP; the Greens suffered minor loses (-30,000) to the AfD but gained 2013 votes from all parties, mostly the two largest ones; Die Linke lost substantially to the AfD but gained, weirdly, 100,000 from the Union and 50,000 from the SPD. The analysis reported by Infratest dimap on the ARD website (linked above) seems very suspect and incomplete, given that it makes no mention of 2013 voters who did not vote this time. The Munich analysis appears more reliable, and the comparison is being made to the same kind of election.
The new electoral rules allowed seven small parties to make their entrance into the EP. Besides the FDP, which won a disastrous 3.4% and lost 9 of its MEPs, the largest minor party to make it in were the Freie Wähler (Free Voters), a confederation of various community/local lists and independent candidates which are present throughout Germany but quite strong in Bavaria, especially in local elections. The FW are very hard to pin down ideologically, with an eclectic mix of socially liberal policies, conservative policies or economically liberal policies, and a heavy focus on issues such as direct democracy, local autonomy and local/parochial concerns. The FW have a soft Eurosceptic side. The FW have, as noted above, run in state elections across Germany, but the only region where they have achieved considerable success at the state level is in Bavaria, where the FW won 10% in 2008 and 9% in the 2013 state election. The party won 1.5% of the vote across Germany, and 4.3% in Bavaria (down from 6.7% in the 2009 EP election, where FW was led by ex-CSU maverick Gabriele Pauli). The FW broke 2% in BaWü and Rhineland-Palatinate, but were under 2% in every other state (they had some success in Thuringia and Saxony, but FW had next to zero support in the city-states, NRW, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein). The FW’s new MEP, Ulrike Müller (a Bavarian state MP), is individually affiliated with the small liberal European Democratic Party (EDP) and will sit in the ALDE group. A sign of how local and candidate-based the FW’s support is: the FW’s best result in Bavaria came from the Oberallgäu kreise in Swabia (13.7%), where Müller is from. In 2009, the FW had done best around Fürth in Middle Franconia (where Pauli is from), and poorly in Upper Bavaria and Swabia.
The Pirate Party won 1.5% of the vote and one seat; that vote is up a bit from 2009, when the Pirates were just getting started, but actually down from the party’s results in the 2009 and 2013 federal elections (2% and 2.2%). The Pirates famously rode a brief nationwide wave of momentum following the 2011 Berlin state elections, but that collapsed beginning in late 2012, under the weight 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 are nowhere close to regaining lost support: they have serious internal conflicts (largely between moderate left-libertarians and far-left anti-fascist movements), the party’s membership numbers have declined quite significantly, As in past elections, the Pirates drew a disproportionately young, urban (and likely male) electorate: it did best in Berlin (3.2%) and its best results generally came from university towns, such as Darmstadt (Hesse), the district where the Pirates won their highest result this year (3.6%). Their sole MEP will join the G-EFA group, like the two outgoing Swedish Pirate MEPs.
The Tierschutzpartei (Animal Protection Party) is a small animal right’s party, founded in 1993, is fairly similar to the Greens but with the added weirdness and quirkiness which usually characterizes these specifically pro-animal parties. The party has no particular base in any state or region, and is generally a non-factor in elections (0.3% in 2013), but in low-stakes EP elections (it already won 1.1% in 2009), it appears to be able to gain a few extra votes across Germany because of its name (in these kind of elections, parties with non-controversial names or names like ‘family’ or ‘animal protection’ which are cute and friendly buzzwords, tend to have small boost which can bring them up over 1%). Indeed, the party’s support was evenly distributed throughout Germany, ranging from 1% to 1.8%. The party will join the GUE/NGL group.
The far-right neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), which did not run in 2009, won 1.3% and 1 vote (for Udo Voigt, the NPD’s crazy former leader who has praised Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess in the past). The NPD, which experienced a brief revival in the early 2000s which brought them into the state parliaments in Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, has been declining in recent elections. In 2013, the NPD fell to only 1.3%. The NPD, constantly under investigation by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (to the point where the common joke is that most NPD members are actually police informants) and facing renewed calls for its banning, is also weakened by financial problems and very negative media coverage of the far-right with the trial of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) Nazi terrorist group. Nevertheless, the NPD retains a small base in the most deprived regions of East Germany, where the NPD won 2.9% of the vote (and 3.6% in Saxony). The NPD, like the Greek and Hungarian Nazis, are untouchable parties – the EAF, for example, rejected the NPD. Udo Voigt will sit as a non-inscrit.
The Family Party, a minor socially conservative Christian democratic party with a small traditional base of support in the Saarland, won 0.7% (which is actually less than in 2009) and qualified for one MEP, who will sit with the AfD and the British Tories in the ECR group. Like with the Animal Protection Party, the Family Party likely benefits in these low-stakes elections from its name, a cute and friendly buzzword. The Ecological Democratic Party (ÖDP) is a Bavarian-based conservative green party (although it has shifted to the left recently, while retaining a ‘pro-family’ and socially conservative orientation unusual for the left-wing green movement), founded back in 1982 by right-wing socially conservative Green dissidents. The ÖDP has received a stable 1-2% of the vote in Bavarian state elections since the 1990s, but the party is largely absent from other states. In Bavaria, the ÖDP won 2.7% of the vote this year, up from 0.6% in 2009. It peaked at 6.7% in Memmingen. Outside Bavaria, the ÖDP’s best result seems to have come from BaWü (only 0.7%). The party’s new MEP will sit with the Greens. Finally, the last seat was won by an unusual party – Die PARTEI (literally The PARTY), a satirical protest party founded in 2004 by the editors of the satirical and provocative magazine Titanic. Die PARTEI often mocks the empty slogans and rhetoric of the major parties and calls major politicians ‘stupid’. The party’s most famous and long-lasting promise is to rebuild the Berlin Wall around East Berlin and the former GDR, a pledge which it has now amended to include building a wall around Switzerland (the party’s response to Switzerland’s recent referendum on freedom of movement). When the party is serious, its platform is usually quite left-wing. In this election, Die PARTEI also promised a ‘lazy rate’ (a quota for lazy people and loafers), redistributing all income over €1 million, abolishing DST, limiting executive pay to 25,000x that of the average worker, ‘fucking’ the US-EU FTA and changing the voting age so that only those between 12 and 52 can vote. Die PARTEI has small strongholds in left-wing inner city areas, those trendy and cosmopolitan urban areas where the Greens and Die Linke (in the West) do very well in. It won, for example, 3.8% in Berlin’s famous Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district and 4.2% in the inner-city Hamburg district of St. Pauli.
Die PARTEI has promised that its MEP will resign the seat monthly, so that every candidate on the list will get a chance to serve for 30 days in the EP. In between the satire, Die PARTEI has suggested that it may be looking into joining a group, perhaps the Greens-EFA.
Turnout: 59.97% (+7.43%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Open-list PR, 3% threshold; mandatory voting (unenforced)
SYRIZA (GUE/NGL) 26.57% (+21.87%) winning 6 seats (+5)
ND (EPP) 22.72% (-9.58%) winning 5 seats (-3)
XA (NI) 9.39% (+8.93%) winning 3 seats (+3)
Elia (S&D) 8.02% (-28.63%) winning 2 seats (-6)
To Potami (S&D) 6.6% (+6.6%) winning 2 seats (+2)
KKE (GUE/NGL > NI) 6.11% (-2.24%) winning 2 seats (±0)
ANEL (ECR) 3.46% (+3.46%) winning 1 seat (nc)
LAOS (EFD) 2.69% (-4.46%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Greek European Citizens 1.44% (+1.44%) winning 0 seats (±0)
DIMAR (S&D) 1.20% (+1.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Union for the Homeland and the People 1.04% (+1%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Greek Hunters 1% (-0.26%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Bridges (ALDE) 0.91% (+0.91%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Greens-Pirates (G-EFA) 0.9% (-2.59%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Others 7.95% winning 0 seats (±0)
Greece has been at the centre of EU politics over the last five years, as the country which has suffered the longest and the most from the Eurozone debt crisis. As a result thereof, no EU member-state has seen political changes as radical as those which have taken place in Greece since 2009. The Eurozone crisis which has the leading issue in European politics for the past 4/5 years began in Greece shortly after the October 2009 legislative election in the country.
The root causes of the Greek (and, to a lesser extent, European) crisis were the country’s excessively high budget deficits and public debt. Since joining the EU in 1981 and especially since the mid-1990s, successive Greek governments customarily ran increasingly large structural budget deficits which by extension meant that Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio increased to reach unsustainable level by the time the 2007-2008 global recession triggered the economic and debt crisis in Greece. The crisis, however, was not caused – as is widely believed – by huge government expenditure or even a particularly generous welfare state (the popular ideas of lavish social benefits, ‘lazy’ Greeks not working hard enough and long paid vacations were largely myths) but rather by problems in the revenue side of the equation – tax evasion has famously been described as a ‘national sport’ in Greece, and the government’s unwillingness and inefficiency at collecting taxes has meant that the state has lost billions of euros in revenue. Greece’s tax evasion problem was compounded by a very large black market (about a quarter of the economy). Other factors which contributed to make the Greek debt crisis particularly catastrophic were the country’s very high external debt, a large trade balance deficit, heavy government borrowing and political corruption (since the restoration of democracy in 1974, Greece’s political system has been notoriously clientelistic).
By the time of the October 2009 election, Greece had already been in recession since 2008, its shipping and tourism industries having been hit particularly hard by the recession. The ruling conservative New Democracy (ND) party called early elections, which it lost to the opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) of George Papandreou, the third generation in a long political dynasty in post-war Greece (his predecessor, ND leader Kostas Karamanlis, was also the son of a former Greek Prime Minister). Upon taking office, the new PASOK government revealed that the country’s deficit and debt was much worse than previously thought, with the deficit revised to be an alarming 15.7% of GDP and the public debt at 129.7% of GDP – Greece now had the largest deficit and debt-to-GDP ratio in the EU. Events accelerated in early 2010, as it became apparent that Greece was unable to borrow on the markets and was forced to asked for a loan from the EU and the IMF to cover its costs. Credit rating agencies, in April 2010, downgraded Greece’s sovereign debt rating to ‘junk’ while speculation on a potential default and exit from the Eurozone (a ‘Grexit’) ran wild. In May 2010, Greece was granted an initial loan of €110 billion from the ECB, EU and the IMF (a powerful trio which has become known in Greece and other countries as the ‘Troika’) in exchange for the approval of an unpopular austerity package by the government. The Papandreou’s May 2010 austerity package, the third set of austerity measures in only four months, included further cuts in public sector salaries, limits on employee bonuses, cuts in pensions and tax increases across the board (the VAT, luxury taxes, property taxes, excise taxes). However, initial austerity measures only worsened the economic crisis, while Greece became dependent on bailout funds to foot its bills and was thus forced to adopt a fourth austerity package in June 2011 to access the next installment of bailout funds. Despite massive protests and a general strike, the Papandreou government passed the new austerity package which now included a plan for privatizations (with a target of €50 billion in revenue), more tax increases and pension cuts.
Austerity measures adopted to meet the Troika’s strict conditions for the bailout had a disastrous impact on Greece’s economy and society, while doing nothing to turn the ship around – in fact, fears of a Greek default and ‘Grexit’ only increased in 2011. Greece, in recession since 2008 with a GDP shrinkage of 3.1% in 2009 and 4.9% in 2010, saw its economy shrink by a full 7.1% in 2011 and 7% in 2012. Unemployment increased from 10.4% in the last quarter of 2009 to 20.8% in the last quarter of 2011, and reached a high of 27.8% in the last quarter of 2013. Unemployment has hit young people the hardest, with over 60% of them currently unemployed. Major spending cuts have crippled Greece’s healthcare system (while unemployment left many without access to public healthcare), with most hospitals and the clinics in precarious conditions; the suicide rate has increased while there have been reports of an increase in HIV infection rates and a malaria outbreak for the first time in four decades. Greece’s public debt reached 148.3% of GDP in 2010 and 170.3% in 2011, while the budget deficit fell to 10.9% in 2010 and 9.6% in 2011
In October 2011, when an agreement on a second multi-billion euro bailout including a debt restructuring (a haircut of 50% of debt owed to private creditors), Papandreou shocked and seriously angered the Troika and EU leaders by announcing a referendum on the deal. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to withhold payment of the next installment of bailout funds, and under intense EU, Troika and domestic opposition pressure, Papandreou was forced to renege on his idea and pushed out the door. A new national unity government led by an independent technocrat, Lucas Papademos, with ministers from ND, PASOK and the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). Increasingly exasperated with what they saw as Greek politicians unwilling to implement the required austerity measures or being woefully ineffective at putting them in practice (for example, the government has missed privatization targets by miles for several years), the Troika – especially the Eurozone and Germany – became even tougher in their demands for austerity and economic reforms in exchange for a second bailout. In February 2012, to access the second bailout from the EU-IMF, Papademos’ government passed a fifth austerity package including tough cuts in the minimum wage, pensions, spending, the definitive elimination of a paid ’13th month’ salary, job cuts in the public sector, more privatization and structural reforms to liberalize ‘closed professions’. Despite major opposition from the streets, LAOS (which left government as a result) and over 40 dissident MPs from ND and PASOK, the austerity package was passed by Parliament and Greece was cleared to receive a second bailout of €130 billion with a debt restructuring agreement (worth €107 billion) with private holders of Greek debt to accept a bond swap with a 53.5% nominal write-off. Greece’s ten-year government bond yields shot through the roof at the time of the second bailout and debt restructuring, reaching nearly 40%.
The economic crisis had huge repercussions on the Greek political system. Since 1981, Greece had a fairly stable party system dominated by two major parties – the conservative ND and the social democratic PASOK, although both were clientelistic patronage machines with a very strong dynastic tradition (both ND and PASOK were founded by prominent Greek dynastic politicians – Konstantinos Karamanlis for ND and Andreas Papandreou for PASOK) and rather different from the ‘average’ conservative and social democratic parties in Europe (if such a thing exists). PASOK, for example, lacks the trade union roots and ties or the Marxist background of many older social democratic parties in the EU. Although under Andreas Papandreou PASOK pursued a very left-wing re-distributive agenda and created Greece’s welfare state, PASOK can still be somewhat accurately described as the modern heir of Venizelism, a uniquely Greek liberal-nationalist ideology (it certainly inherited the Cretan stronghold of the Venizelists). After Andreas Papandreou’s death in 1996, PASOK progressively abandoned its early leftist, nationalist and Eurosceptic orientation, and both ND and PASOK became far closer ideologically than they would care to admit, although both remained bitter rivals because of tradition and political culture (with the exception of a brief period of instability and caretaker governments in 1989-1990, ND and PASOK had never governed together before 2011). At the helm of an increasingly unpopular government associated with austerity and the country’s economic collapse, the bottom fell out of PASOK progressively between 2010 and late 2011, and collapsed beginning in the fall of 2011, as Greece’s situation looked more desperate and catastrophic than ever before. ND’s support, in opposition under the leadership of senior politician Antonis Samaras, held up fairly well (albeit at historically low levels in the high 20s-low 30s) until early 2012. In opposition, ND hypocritically opposed the first three rescue packages in 2010 and 2011 (Dora Bakoyannis, a former foreign minister and Samaras’ rival for the ND leadership in 2009, was even expelled from the party in May 2010 for voting in favour of a EU-IMF loan; she went on to create her own pro-austerity liberal party, DISY); even under Papademos’ technocratic cabinet, ND tried to have the cake and eat it – Samaras promised to renegotiate the second bailout agreement after his party begrudgingly supported it, even if the Troika (exasperated by Samaras’ waffling and lack of commitment) made it clear that there could be renegotiation. In the Papademos government, both ND and PASOK (and LAOS, much to its chagrin) became associated with the unpopular austerity policies, which caused major internal dissent within party ranks.
The bankruptcy of the traditional political system allowed new parties – often quite radical – on the left and right to rise to prominence. On the left, the traditional third force in Greek politics has usually been the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the country’s oldest parliamentary party. While the KKE’s electoral base is larger than that of many communist parties in the EU today, it has a very low ceiling because the party basically operates in an alternate reality – after the fall of communism, instead of evolving the KKE doubled-down on arcane and archaic quasi-Stalinist Marxist/Soviet rhetoric from the 1950s about the revolution, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The KKE has successfully retained a loyal electorate, providing it with a fairly high floor but also a very low ceiling because the KKE’s rhetoric lacks credibility in practice (besides pretending that the Soviet Union and Joe Stalin are still alive and well). Although the KKE’s support rose to 12-14%, it never surged. Instead, the main beneficiary of PASOK’s collapse was the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), traditionally a rag-tag coalition of New Left parties and ideologies (eurocommunists from the KKE (Interior), a moderate 1968 splinter from the KKE; democratic socialists, eco-socialists, social democrats, left-wing Eurosceptics, Trotskyists) which enjoyed a late surge in early 2012 on the back of the popularity of the anti-austerity message of SYRIZA’s young leader, Alexis Tsipras. Although one might expect common ground, there is intense hatred between the KKE and SYRIZA (in fact, it often appears as if the KKE hates SYRIZA more than any other party, fascists included), with the former considering the latter as ‘opportunists’ and a ‘bourgeois front’ to trick ‘the proletariat’ into perpetuating capitalism (the KKE is anti-capitalist, anti-EU and anti-Euro). The Democratic Left (DIMAR), a moderate 2010 splinter from Synaspismós (the largest component in SYRIZA) with a nominally anti-austerity but pro-Euro platform, also tried to benefit from PASOK’s failings.
On the right and left, several parties led by anti-austerity dissidents from PASOK and ND emerged, although only one, the right-wing populist Independent Greeks (ANEL), a nationalist anti-austerity party led by ND dissident Panos Kammenos and created in February 2012, has been electorally successful. Kammenos is famous for his rabble-rousing nationalist (often anti-German) and anti-austerity rhetoric, with a certain penchant for tinfoil hat conspiracy theories and defamatory statements about his opponents (he has branded ND as ‘traitors’ for accepting the austerity memorandum and has been sued for libel/defamation several times).
On the far-right, the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) – a nationalistic, anti-EU and anti-immigrant party (one which also believed in 9/11 truther theories and was originally anti-Semitic) founded in 2000 – waffled over austerity, voting in favour in 2010 but against in 2011 before joining Papademos’ cabinet in late 2011 but leaving in 2012 by voting against the second bailout. LAOS’ indecision crippled the party, and provided a political void to be filled by Golden Dawn (XA). XA was founded by Nikolaos Michaloliakos in 1993, but until 2010, XA largely operated in the mysterious underworld of far-right/neo-Nazi activism and never won over 1% in any election, although XA’s violent street gangs were active and dangerous (in 1998, XA’s deputy leader killed a leftist student). XA’s first electoral success came in the 2010 local elections, in which the party won 5.3% of the vote and one seat (for Michaloliakos) in Athens. XA lies at the fringe of the far-right constellation in the EU: while it is an intellectually lazy trope to throw the word Nazi at all far-right parties, such a label is fully accurate for XA. Although the party has toned down the open Nazi fanboyism and admiration of the Third Reich which was a mainstay of XA in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Michaloliakos penned articles and essays which heaped praise on Adolf Hitler) and once in a while denies that it is Nazi, the party uses Nazi symbolism regularly (the party’s logo is similar to the Nazi Swastika, XA members have often given the Nazi salute, XA MPs wear Nazi symbols) and XA leaders and MPs continue to deny the Holocaust (Michaloliakos recently denied the existence of gas chambers and XA spokesperson Ilias Kasidiaris, who has a Swastika tattoo, denies the Holocaust and has quoted from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion) or use explicitly racist and anti-Semitic language (describing immigrants as sub-humans). Nevertheless, X also draws inspiration and ideological references from Greek history: Michaloliakos was briefly a member of EPEN, a far-right party founded by former dictator Colonel Georgios Papadopoulous (1967-1973), XA has praised the Colonel’s junta (the authoritarian military regime which ruled Greece from 1967 and 1974) and openly admires Ioannis Metaxas’ authoritarian-nationalist 4th of August Regime (1936-1940).
XA is radically anti-immigration – immigration has been an increasingly important phenomenon in Greece (and, nowadays, traditional Albanian immigration is slowly replaced by increased immigration from Pakistan and other Asian or African countries), and immigrants have been an easy scapegoat with the crisis (seen and depicted as stealing jobs from Greeks). XA called on the deportation of all immigrants from Greece while XA’s thugs have regularly beat up immigrants and non-whites. XA is also strongly anti-austerity, anti-bailout and anti-Euro; the party’s broader foreign policy expresses support for Greek irredentism and a very hardline stance on the Macedonian naming dispute. In a society marked by the breakdown of public services and increasing poverty, XA has built a strong grassroots support base by offering charitable and social services (food distribution, support for the elderly, protection for victims of crimes) explicitly reserved to Greek nationals or even XA members. In stark contrast to Golden Dawn’s “humanitarian” work, the party is distinguished from other far-right parties in Europe by its use of violence – XA’s blackshirt vigilantes and street gangs have regularly beaten up and assaulted immigrants and leftists (and often with the police’s silent acquiescence, given that the police is alleged to be tolerant or even supportive of XA) and Kasidiaris famously physically assaulted two left-wing MPs during a TV debate in 2012.
The May 2012 election was an ‘earthquake elections’ which saw the old political system destroyed and several new forces achieve remarkable success. ND won only 18.9% of the vote, the party’s worst result in its history, although it still topped the poll in an extremely exploded and fragmented political scene. On the left, PASOK collapsed into third place, winning only 13.2% of the vote – over 30% lower than in 2009. Left-wing (or far-left) anti-austerity SYRIZA replaced PASOK as the main party of the left, with 16.8% of the vote (a remarkable result for a party whose original ceiling was 5%); KKE, on the other hand, won a decent but comparatively paltry result of 8.5% (only a 1% improvement on its 2009 result and nowhere near the KKE’s historic highs). ANEL won 10.6%, making it the fourth largest party. XA surged to 7% of the vote and 20 seats, while LAOS’ support collapsed to 2.9% and it lost all 15 of its seats. DIMAR won 6.1% of the vote. In addition, the parties below the 3% threshold combined to win 19% of the vote (more than the largest party!), divided between greens (2.9%), three unambiguously pro-austerity and right-wing liberal parties (including DISY, 2.6%), far-left outfits and Greece’s hilariously fragmented communist parties. Even with Greece’s 50-seat majority bonus for the winning party (which historically provided one-party absolute majorities), no party or obvious coalition came close to commanding support of a majority of Parliament – Samaras, Tsipras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos (Papandreou’s former leadership rival and his last finance minister) all quickly failed in their bids to form governments and there was no solution but to call for new elections in June.
The June elections quickly polarized into a contest between ND and SYRIZA, erroneously simplified to a ‘referendum on the Euro’ (implying that a SYRIZA government would default and withdraw from the Eurozone, which may have been the case but SYRIZA claims to support Eurozone membership and the EU in the abstract) or perhaps more accurately a ‘referendum on austerity’ (although ND didn’t campaign on austerity per se, it was widely understood to be a vote ‘in favour’ of the memorandum conditions). EU leaders quickly made clear that Greece would either need to respect the second bailout deal and associated austerity or be compelled to default and withdraw from the Eurozone – therefore voting for SYRIZA became a double-edged sword: a vote against austerity (SYRIZA promised growth through consumption, tax increases on the rich and businesses, raising social benefits and wages and nationalization of banks and strategic sectors; it also said it would suspend loan repayments until growth returned and would renegotiate the interest due) but also a high likelihood of a messy default and ‘Grexit’ (which, most predicted, would have wreaked havoc and thrown Greece into an even deeper depression). In the high-stakes contest, both ND and SYRIZA saw their support increase: ND won the election with 29.7% and 129 seats against 26.9% and 71 seats for SYRIZA. All other parties except DIMAR lost votes: PASOK receded even further to 12.3%, ANEL lost over 3% and fell to 7.5% and the KKE collapsed, losing 4% and winning only 4.5%. XA’s support proved surprisingly resilient despite intense media focus on the party, holding 6.9% of the vote. DIMAR won 6.3%. Parties below the 3% threshold fell to only 6%, with severe loses for the liberal right (DISY allied with ND, a liberal DX-Drasi won only 1.6%), LAOS, the Greens and the far-left.
ND and Samaras were able to form a ‘pro-memorandum’ and ‘pro-Eurozone’ cabinet with the support of PASOK and DIMAR (the latter, a small centre-left party, criticized SYRIZA for not giving guarantees on continued Eurozone membership and sought a national unity coalition), although at the outset both PASOK and DIMAR declined to directly participate in the government itself and instead opted to propose independents and technocrats for their portfolios (in other words, let ND deal with most of the crap). The finance ministry went to Yannis Stournaras, an independent economist.
Samaras’ government came in facing a new crisis: the Troika was demanding that Greece find a further €13.5 billion worth of austerity savings (spending cuts and tax increases) for them to release the scheduled disbursement, while Athens asked for a two-year extension of the deadline for the country to be self-financed (out of the bailout). The Troika, especially the EU and ECB, were in little mood to be accommodating, judging that Greece had failed miserably at implementing past legislated reforms and often exasperated at Greek politicians’ behaviour. Within the government, Stournaras (and Samaras) found themselves somewhat undermined by PASOK and DIMAR, which at times were more interested by their own political calculations (in PASOK’s case, a desperate bid for survival) while DIMAR quickly became rather reluctant to support tough austerity measures. As in the last Parliament, the need for further austerity measures divided the major parties and have steadily reduced the sizes of the ND, PASOK and DIMAR from their election day levels. On November 7, the Parliament approved the sixth austerity package (despite protests, DIMAR’s abstention and some dissidents from ND and PASOK), with €13.5 billion in cuts and tax hikes between 2013 and 2016. The package included more cuts on pensions, salary cuts (for public servants, academics, judges, doctors), cutting 110,000 public sector jobs by 2016, an increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67 and capping earnings in parastatals. In exchange, the Troika agreed to reschedule Greece’s debt and grant Athens two more years to reach a primary budget surplus of 4.5% of GDP.
Some economic indicators showed a very minor improvement in 2013, although unemployment hit a record high of nearly 28% (up from 24% in May 2012) and the public debt further ballooned to 175.1% of GDP (but should now begin falling, to 154% of GDP in 2017). Nevertheless, the recession was ‘less severe’ as the economy shrank by ‘only’ 3.9% in 2013 compared to 7% in 2012. The budget balance was -12.7% in 2013, due to the one-off costs of bank recapitalization, but Greece posted its first structural budget surplus in 2013 (+2% of GDP). Tourism was good in 2013, and the economy is expected to grow for the first time since 2007 in 2014, with a 0.6% growth rate in 2014 and 2.9% in 2015 according to EC estimates. The government’s structural reforms and labour market reforms have been said to significantly improve the ‘ease of doing business’ in Greece, although foreign investors remain very slow to test the waters. Unemployment has declined slightly to 26.8% in March 2014 and the EC projects it will fall to 24% in 2015. Yields on ten-year bonds have fallen below 8%, from a peak of well over 40%. In April 2014, Greece returned to the international bond market after four years with a €3 billion issue of five-year bonds. Nevertheless, the recovery remains very slow and extremely fragile. Furthermore, when it comes, it will take years for Greece to recover fully from a six-year long recession – for example, Greece’s nominal GDP is now €181.9 billion compared to €233.2 billion pre-crisis, in 2008. The crisis and austerity have pauperized a very large share of the population, with estimates that about 35% of the population lives in poverty or a precarious situation. The recession has wiped out millions of jobs, shut down thousands of businesses, put over three-fifths of young Greeks out of work (and forced thousands to emigrate to Germany and other countries) and public services will likely be in ruins for years.
The Troika has warmed up to the Greek government and Samaras (whom they initially disliked for his behaviour while in opposition and his reckless talk of renegotiating the bailout), and, prodded by the IMF, has come around to accept that Greece will not be able to repay all the money it owes. However, the government has continued to be weakened by corruption/tax evasion cases and difficulties at implementing its reforms. Since 2012, the government – and PASOK – have been embroiled in a corruption/tax evasion case surrounding the handling of a list with the names of thousands of suspected tax evaders, which France had handed over to the PASOK government in 2010. Now, former PASOK finance minister Giorgos Papakonstantinou is alleged to have removed the names of three family members from the list before transferring its contents to a USB while the tax authorities never received instructions to further pursue the investigation. Papakonstantinou faces a parliamentary inquiry. Evangelos Venizelos, PASOK’s current leader (and foreign minister since June 2013), who was finance minister from 2011 to 2012, is said to have kept the USB in his drawer for more than a year before sending it to Samaras and Stournaras. The government’s privatization program has continuously failed to meet its targets. They managed to sell Opap, the state gambling monopoly, to a consortium of Greek and east European investors but a Russian Gazprom bid for DEPA, the natural gas monopoly, fell through. This means that Greece has failed to meet the original privatization target of €50 billion and has been forced to scale back its privatization goals repeatedly. Greece still faces funding gaps in 2014 and 2015, requiring more bailout funds. Since late 2013, there has been talks in high circles that Greece will need a third bailout.
In June 2013, Samaras unilaterally and peremptorily closed down ERT, the state broadcaster, and sacked its 2000+ employees; announcing that a much leaner organization will replace it. The government’s decision, likely made to impress Troika inspectors. Six days later, the Council of State suspended the government’s decision to interrupt broadcasting and shut down ERT’s frequencies while rebel journalists continued operating a rump channel on other frequencies. Although ERT was widely described as corrupt, mismanaged and politically subservient; Samaras’ unilateral decision, which was opposed by PASOK and DIMAR (in fact, only XA and LAOS supported the government’s shutdown of ERT), provoked a firestorm of opposition. DIMAR decided to withdraw from government in late June 2013, prompting a cabinet shuffle which saw PASOK politicians enter cabinet – with Evangelos Venizelos as deputy Prime Minister and foreign minister.
In late 2013, Parliament narrowly approved a 2014 budget with further austerity measures and a controversial new tax package and in March 2014, it approved structural reforms. In both cases, the government’s majority in Parliament was extremely narrow – at about 152 to 153 votes, just over the absolute majority threshold (151) and always vulnerable to more dissidents. SYRIZA has been clamoring for early elections for quite a while now, and may finally get its chance next year: in early 2015, the Parliament must elect a new President, a procedure which requires a three-fifths majority on the third ballot (two-thirds on the first two ballots), and if this majority is not met, mandatory new elections are held for Parliament. Together, ND and PASOK only have 152 seats left, in addition to 13 from friendly DIMAR and a large number of various dissidents sitting in a 17-strong independent caucus and 6 miscellaneous unattached independents. SYRIZA has said that it will not support any candidate for President, and if he and other parties (ANEL has never missed an opportunity to help SYRIZA undermine the coalition, while XA and the KKE would never offer support) and independents deny the government a 180-seat majority to elect a consensus president, new elections would be held by March 2015. The government insists that it will see Parliament to the conclusion of its constitutional term in 2016, but its majority is very shaky.
In a bid to increase its credibility and international support, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has attended several conferences and left-wing political rallies across the EU, becoming the posterchild for the EU’s fledgling anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal radical left. At home, SYRIZA has merged its many components in a single party (there was some question from the election law whether or not SYRIZA as a coalition rather than a united party would have been eligible for the 50-seat majority bonus at the polls) and broadened its base, welcoming ex-PASOK members or improving ties with Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church (still considered as the official religion and prominent in education). SYRIZA has not moderated its rhetoric, opposing austerity – promising to break ties with the Troika, audit Greece’s debt, undo many reforms and privatizations while still reassuring foreign audiences that SYRIZA does not want to leave the Eurozone. The KKE has continued to exist in its alternate reality, waging a war of words against SYRIZA (described as opportunists ‘making a systematic effort to rescue capitalism in the eyes of the working people’).
XA’s support has increased in polls since the last election, polling up to 15%. The party’s activities – charitable, violent and cultural (nationalist/fascist torch-lit rallies) – increased in 2012 and 2013, but the government, police, judiciary and Parliament dragged their feet on the question of XA – hesitating over which attitude to adopt against XA’s racist violence, hate speech (Holocaust denialism) and criminal activities. In September 2013, anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas was murdered by an XA member in Athens, unleashing a wave of condemnation from all parties (XA included) and the government, and finally pushed Samaras to take stronger anti-fascist/anti-XA stances. A police crackdown led to the arrest of several XA members, including XA leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, who remains in jail awaiting trial. Prosecutors are attempting to connect XA’s leadership to activities including murder, attempted murder, explosions, possessing explosives and robbery.
The EP elections were therefore fairly important in Greece, and they were tied to the runoffs in local and regional elections (the first round of those elections was held on May 18). SYRIZA topped the poll, as had been widely expected, with 26.6% of the vote, a result which is just below the party’s result in June 2012 (26.9%) and over 100,000 votes lower (turnout dropped from 62.5% to 60%, SYRIZA’s vote from 1.655 million to 1.518 million). While SYRIZA has been tied with ND or narrowly ahead in most polling for the next general election, the party has generally to consistently improve its predicted vote share on its June 2012 result. This may indicate that SYRIZA hit its new ceiling in June 2012, and now struggles to attract new voters from the rank of non-voters (the turnout in the EP election was high, but it was at an all-time low in June 2012) or other parties (the KKE has slightly improved on its disastrous 2012 result, to 6-8%, while DIMAR will likely fall below the 3% threshold in the next election). In the new open list system, SYRIZA’s most popular candidate (and MEP-elect) was 92-year-old war hero Manolis Glezos, who famously tore down the Nazi flag from the Acropolis in 1941 and then became a persecuted and later exiled icon of the Greek left. Since 1974, he has been a leftist writer and active in politics (for PASOK in the 1980s and Synaspismos/SYRIZA since the 2000s). He won more votes (448,971) than any other candidate.
ND, the senior governing party, did very poorly with only 22.7% and a bit less than 1.3 million votes, down from 29.7% and 1.825 million votes in June 2012. ND continues to poll much better – about at its 2012 levels or slightly below – in polling for the general election, but it may have done poorly at the EP and local elections as voters felt freer to oppose the government (without risking anything). Its coalition partner, PASOK, disguised itself as Elia (‘The Olive Tree’), an electoral alliance of PASOK and several new small parties (such as Agreement for a New Greece and Dynamic Greece, two small parties founded by former PASOK members). It won 8% and fourth place, down from 12.3% for PASOK in the last general election and a loss of nearly 300,000 votes. Nevertheless, 8% for Elia turned out to be a surprisingly strong performance from the moribund PASOK, which is polling at about 5-6% in national polls. Yet, a bad result is still a bad result, and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos’ hold on the fractious party was weakened by the weak result. Former Prime Minister George Papandreou, still a PASOK MP, seems to be organizing opposition to his old rival within PASOK, and Papandreou is said to have opposed PASOK’s transformation as Elia.
Some of PASOK’s lost support likely went to To Potami (The River), a new centre-left and pro-EU party founded in February 2014 by journalist and TV personality Stavros Theodorakis. The party can be placed on the centre-left of the spectrum (its MEPs have joined the S&D group, after hesitating with ALDE and the Greens) and it professes to be pro-European, but a lot about the new party is very vague – most of its talk revolves around meaningless buzzwords about reform, change and bland centrism/progressivism. Theodorakis toured the country with his backpack and gave low-key speeches on topics such as meritocracy and tax evasion. There have been claims that To Potami is financed by business interests to deny SYRIZA victory in the next elections, but Theodorakis denies such allegations. His party won 6.6% and two seats. The party did best in Crete (10.1%), an old Venizelist PASOK stronghold which has moved firmly into SYRIZA’s column since June 2012.
XA did very well, winning third place with a record 9.4% and 536,910 votes – in both cases, a marked improvement on its June 2012 result (6.92% and 426,025 votes). Although it no longer polls in the double-digits since the murder of Pavlos Fyssas and the crackdown on XA, the party has further expanded its base and retains a potential of up to 15-20% (based on polling regarding voters’ attitudes towards XA). Although the literature has often focused on XA’s activism in the populous central urban region of Attica (Athens-Piraeus), XA’s electorate is spread out across the country – it won 9.8% in the region of Attica (with results over 10% in all urban and suburban electoral districts of Athens and Piraeus) but its best prefecture was Laconia (15.5%), an old conservative stronghold in the southern Peloponnese, followed by the conservative Macedonian prefectures of Kilkis (13%) and Pella (12.8%).
The KKE expanded its support from 4.5% to 6.1% since the last election, which had been disastrous for the Communists, but 6.1% remains a weak result down on the KKE’s result in the pre-crisis 2009 EP election and on the low end of the Communist Party’s average range of support in the past. It has failed to regain a lot of the votes it had lost to SYRIZA in June 2012, when exit polls indicated that up to one-fifth of KKE’s May 2012 voters had voted for SYRIZA. In one of its terribly verbose and arcane Central Committee communiqués, the KKE announced that it would be leaving the GUE/NGL group (shared with SYRIZA) to sit as non-inscrits. It criticized the ‘altered nature’ of the group, which it claims has moved towards a single line (it blames Die Linke and, of course, SYRIZA for this development). The KKE had already been one of the least loyal members of the GUE/NGL, and the KKE’s 1950s-style Soviet-Stalinist silliness has been increasingly out of place in the GUE/NGL which has increasingly moved towards hip, New Left-style movements focused on immediate concerns (anti-austerity, anti-liberalism etc) and new ideologies (feminism, environmentalism).
ANEL did poorly, taking just 3.5% and narrowly clearing the threshold. This is down on 7.5% in the last general election (itself down on over 10% of the vote in May 2012) and a loss of nearly 265,000 votes. The party has been weakened by infighting and perhaps less interest in Panos Kammenos’ flamboyant antics; I presume that many of ANEL’s voters may have shifted to XA, although exit polls from June 2012 indicated that ANEL’s losses largely split between SYRIZA and ND with only limited loses to XA.
Several parties won significant support below the threshold. LAOS, defending two MEPs, won 2.7%, a weak result nonetheless up on the party’s June 2012 result (1.6%). ‘Greek European Citizens’ was a liberal list led by German FDP MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (German-born, but of Greek descent), whose Hellenophilia and opposition to Greek austerity had become a poor fit in Germany’s FDP. The right-wing liberal list (Bridges), an alliance of Drasi and Recreate Greece (DX), won only 0.9%. It won 1.4%, with very strong results in random prefectures (Grevena in West Macedonia – 12.5%, Lasithi and Heraklion in Crete – 14.4% and 7%). DIMAR won only 1.2%, a terrible result which is a poor sign for the party ahead of potential early elections in 2014/2015. The Union for the Homeland and the People (1%) is a new right-wing party led by former ND Minister of Public Order Vyron Polydoras (2006-2007), who voted against a tax bill in late 2013 and had previously called for ND to work with XA against the Troika, and ex-ND/ANEL MP Christos Zois. The Greens, defending one MEP, won only 0.9% of the vote.
One small party had tremendously local appeal: the Party of Friendship, Equality and Peace (KIEKF/ΚΙΕΦ), a small party representing the small Muslim minority in Thrace (Turkish and Pomak) and which had at least one MP in the Parliament between 1996 and 2012 in alliance with PASOK (or ND, in 2004) but lost its seats after supporting DISY in May 2012 and DIMAR in June 2012. The party won 0.75% nationally, but won 41.7% in Rhodope prefecture (which is majority Muslim) and 25.9% in Xanthi prefecture (which has a very large Muslim minority) in Thrace. Except limited support in Evros (1.5%), the party won only 172 votes (out of 42,627) outside of those three prefectures!
Local and regional elections were overwhelmingly (and, compared to 2010 result, unusually) dominated by local considerations with weaker results for SYRIZA but also ND, while independent candidates – often elected on PASOK’s ballot in 2010 – did well. The major races were the mayoral contests in Athens and Thessaloniki – both cities gained by PASOK-backed candidates against ND administrations in 2010, and the governorship of the region of Attica (won by PASOK in 2010, the first election for regional governments following a regional and municipal downsizing and restructuring plan passed by PASOK alongside austerity measures). In Athens, incumbent independent mayor Giorgios Kaminis – backed by PASOK and DIMAR – was reelected in a tight runoff ballot against SYRIZA candidate Gavriil Sakelaridis, winning 51.4% to 48.6%. In the first round, the incumbent won 21.1% against 20% for SYRIZA, 16.9% for ND, 16.7% for Ilias Kasidiaris (XA) and 7.4% for the KKE. However, SYRIZA narrowly won the Attica region, with 50.8% in the runoff against the independent (ex-PASOK) incumbent; in the first round, SYRIZA won 23.8% against 22.1% for the incumbent, with ND (14.1%), XA (11.1%) and the Communists (10.7%) trailing. With a population of 3.8 million and the largest GDP of all regions in the country, Attica is by far the most important of Greece’s 13 regions and the office of regional governor is one of the most important devolved government positions in Greece – therefore, it will be SYRIZA’s first chance to lead a government. In Thessaloniki, popular incumbent left-wing mayor Yiannis Boutaris was reelected with 58.1% in the runoff against a ND candidate (a former Minister for Macedonia and Thrace); in the first round, SYRIZA won only 10.6% against 36% for Boutaris (who was backed by PASOK, DIMAR and Drasi) and 26.2% for ND. XA won 7.7%. In the region of Central Macedonia, the second-largest region (1.87 million) in Greece, independent conservative governor Apóstolos Tzitzikó̱stas (backed by ANEL, LAOS and Vyron Polydoras’ Union for the Homeland and the People) was reelected over a ND candidate (a former Greek basketball player and coach turned politician), with 71% in the runoff; in the first round, Tzitzikó̱stas won 32.8% against 18.6% for ND and 11.7% for SYRIZA.
ND won seven regions, SYRIZA won two while the remaining four regions were won by independent candidates. Besides Attica, the only other region won by SYRIZA were the Ionian Islands, where the radical left took 59.9% in the runoff against the ND incumbent. ND held Thessaly, while ex-PASOK independents incumbent held Crete and Western Greece in runoff battles against ND (by a very tight margin in the latter, by a landslide in the former). In mayoral contests, the KKE gained Patras (Greece’s third largest city), an independent (an ally of shipping tycoon and Olympiakos football club owner Vangelis Marinakis) gained Piraeus from ND, SYRIZA gained Larissa from ND while ND-DIMAR gained Heraklion from a PASOK independent.
Overall, according to an estimate by the pollster Public Issue, ND won 26.3% of the national local election vote on May 18 followed by SYRIZA (17.7%) and PASOK (16.2%). Independents and other parties won 11.5%, the KKE won 8.8%, XA won 8.1%, DIMAR won 3.8%, ANEL took 3.2% and far-left ANTARSYA won 2.3%. Compared to the 2010 local elections, ND’s support is down 6.3% and PASOK lost 18.5%, while SYRIZA gained nearly 13%. Compared to the last legislative elections in 2012, SYRIZA and ND are both down (-9.2% and -3.2% respectively) while PASOK is up (+3.9%) – as well as KKE (+4.3%) and XA (+1.1%). PASOK resisted well at the local and regional level, while SYRIZA’s performance was considerably weaker locally, but expectations for the radical left were low because SYRIZA lacks the local grassroots base of ND and PASOK. Therefore, SYRIZA was still counted as one of the main winners, while ND and PASOK both did comparatively poor. XA also did well, especially Ilias Kasidiaris in Athens, XA’s main local government base.
On June 9, Samaras shuffled his cabinet, changing several ministers and portfolios. Yannis Stournaras was replaced in finance by another technocrat, Gikas Hardouvelis, whose work will focus on structural reforms (liberalization of ‘closed professions’) and continuing the Troika’s reforms. Otherwise, the promotion of the right within cabinet was noted, with a new hardline conservative – Sofia Voultepsi (who claimed that refugees were ‘unarmed invaders’ controlled by ‘the Turks’) as government spokesperson while Makis ‘The Hammer’ Voridis, an hammer-wielding fascist and anti-Semite in his youth, returned to cabinet as health minister (a former member of LAOS, he was already a minister under Papademos and joined ND after LAOS left the Papademos cabinet).
Turnout: 28.97% (-7.34%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Closed list PR, no threshold (effectively 0.58%)
Fidesz-KDNP (EPP) 51.48% (-4.88%) winning 12 seats (-2)
Jobbik (NI) 14.67% (-0.1%) winning 3 seats (nc)
MSZP (S&D) 10.9% (-6.47%) winning 2 seats (-2)
DK (S&D) 9.75% (+9.75%) winning 2 seats (+2)
E2014-PM (G-EFA) 7.25% (+7.25%) winning 1 seat (+1)
LMP (G-EFA) 5.04% (+2.43%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Others 0.92% winning 0 seats (-1)
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s governing right-wing Fidesz won a landslide in the EP elections, a few months after Orbán was reelected to a second term in office in legislative elections back in April 2014. Orbán is a highly controversial leader in Europe, whose government and policies have been decried by foreign and local opponents as being dangerously autocratic and intolerant of criticism and democratic norms. Yet, fresh from a very comfortable victory to a second successive term in office back in April, Orbán is nevertheless still hugely popular at home and he is one of the EU’s strongest and most popular leaders. Orbán and his party have, since the fall of communism and the first free elections in 1990, evolved from an anti-communist and liberal/libertarian party of fiery student leaders to a conservative party with strong dirigiste inclinations on economic issues and a certain nationalist tint. Fidesz has been the strongest right-wing party in the country since 1998, traditionally the main rival to the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), which grew out of the old communist party into a very centrist and pro-European party which has often been keener than Fidesz on neoliberal economics or austerity polices. Orbán already served as Prime Minister between 1998 and 2002, before losing the 2002 and 2006 elections to a Socialist-Liberal (SZDSZ) coalition. However, the last MSZP-SZDSZ government, led by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány (2004-2009), led to the near-total destruction of the MSZP as a major party. Shortly after a narrow victory in 2006, a secret speech given by Gyurcsány was leaked; in this expletive-filled speech, Gyurcsány said that the government had been lying since he took office and that it had done nothing it could be proud of. Despite mass protests, Gyurcsány did not leave office until early 2009. In April 2009, Gyurcsány resigned and was replaced by Gordon Bajnai. A little-known politician, Bajnai cobbled together a coalition with the SZDSZ, and took office on a program of major spending cuts. The Hungarian economy was badly in crisis in 2009, with growth falling by nearly 7% and the country struggling to cope with a high deficit and the largest debt in Eastern Europe (80%). In 2008, the IMF and the EU granted Budapest a $25 billion loan, but Hungary needed to cut spending and implement painful structural reforms (pensions, most notably) to keep up with IMF guidelines. The government, despite resistance from sectors of the MSZP, cut spending by nearly 4% of GDP, cut social spending and public sector wages and cut social security contributions (to increase Hungary’s low employment rate). The government won plaudits abroad for its orthodox fiscal management, but with high unemployment (7.5% in 2006 to 11% in 2010), high corruption, criminality problems and the legacy of 2006, the MSZP remained deeply unpopular at home. In 2008, Fidesz, leading a policy of obstinate opposition to the government, had successfully organized and passed a referendum in which voters abolished healthcare user fees, daily fees for hospital stays and tuition fees introduced by the MSZP. The MSZP was defeated by Fidesz by wide margins in the 2006 local elections and 2009 EP elections.
The 2009 EP elections saw the strong performance of Jobbik, a far-right party which won 14.8% of the vote and 3 MEPs. Nationalism has been a key issue in Hungarian politics since 1920, and Hungary’s contemporary politics and political culture cannot really be understood without understanding the legacy of the Treaty of Trianon (1920) on Hungary. Defeated in World War I, Hungary lost 72% of its pre-war territory and 64% of its pre-war population; it also lost access to the sea and the country’s industrial base was separated from its sources of raw materials. Although the territory which Hungary lost had a non-Hungarian majority, large ethnic Hungarians minorities now lived outside the country’s border, especially in Slovakia and Romania. Since 1990, Hungarian governments have not sought a revision of the borders, but it has, from time to time, advocated for the rights of Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries – there are substantial Hungarian minorities in neighboring EU member-states Slovakia (8.5%) and Romania (6.2%) and this has severely complicated and, at times, poisoned Hungary’s relations with its neighbors (especially Slovakia). The economic crisis led to an upsurge in nationalist and anti-Semitic sentiment in Hungary. Politicians on the right, including many in Fidesz, lashed out at ‘foreign speculators’ and foreigners (and Jews) who allegedly controlled Hungary’s wealth, and irredentist visions of Greater Hungary also increased. Anti-Roma views, a favourite of the far-right across Eastern Europe (and now Western Europe), also gained steam. The Romas numbered around 309,000 in 2011 (3-4% of the population). The Hungarian far-right depicts them as criminals, stealing Hungarian jobs and leeching on welfare money.
Jobbik is a far-right and ultra-nationalist party founded in 2003; it is one of the EU’s most distasteful far-right parties, in a league of its own with the likes of XA. In 2007, Jobbik founded its own civilian militia/paramilitary group, the Magyar Gardá, a charming collection of uniformed thugs and fruitcakes. The Magyar Gardá was ordered to be disbanded by a court order in 2008. Jobbik has the traditional populist, anti-establishment, anti-globalization, ethno-nationalist, socially conservative anti-European rhetoric of much of the far-right, but it adds irredentism and particularly virulent anti-Israeli/anti-Semitic ramblings (it denies claims that it is anti-Semitic, claiming to be anti-Zionist/anti-Israeli, but denunciations of Israel/Jews as ‘conquerors’ and greedy capitalists is commonplace; and many Jobbik politicians have said anti-Semitic things in the past, and in 2012 a Jobbik deputy leader famously asked for the Jews in Parliament and government to be ‘tallied up’).
Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz roared to a tremendous landslide victory in the 2010 legislative elections, ending up with 52.7% of the vote and 263 out of 386 seats while the MSZP was absolutely obliterated, being reduced to only 19% and 59 seats. Jobbik won 16.7% and 47 seats. With a two-thirds majority, Fidesz and the very strong-headed Orbán quickly moved to shore up their own power over Hungarian politics. The result has been extremely contentious, giving Orbán (to outsiders, and many Hungarians) all the trappings of a Vladimir Putin-like autocratic leader who crushes independent institutions. Orbán quickly moved to dismiss the heads of several government agencies and institutions while a Fidesz drone was elected to the presidency. The government confronted the Constitutional Court after the highest judicial body invalidated a law which would impose a 98% tax to all public sector severance payments over $10,000, backdated to January 2010. Fidesz reacted with legislation which removed the Court’s power over the state budget, taxes and other financial matters; a few months later, it was the independent budget watchdog (the Fiscal Council) which was axed in favour of a new council stacked with Orbán allies.
In 2010 and 2011, a new media law attracted significant controversy, especially as debate coincided with Hungary’s presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2011. The new law forced all media outlets (print, broadcast, online) to register with a new media authority, which can revoke licenses for infractions and a new media council, which can impose fines for violating some very vaguely defined content rules, allegedly to protect the people’s ‘dignity’ or for ‘inciting hatred’ against minorities, majorities and so forth. The members of these new bodies are all nominated by the ruling party. The furor it raised caused Fidesz to temporarily retreat. In 2011, the Constitutional Court excluded print and online media from the scope of the media authority’s sanctioning powers and struck down clauses which limited journalists’ ability to investigate (confidentiality of sources etc). However, in 2012, the EU still felt that amendments to the law had not addressed most of its problems with Hungary’s law. Fidesz and its allies control most of the domestic media, and government is the largest advertiser in the country. In 2011, the media council did not renew the license of an anti-Orbán radio station. Under new media rules, the funding for the public media is now centralized under one body, which had laid off over a thousand employees as part of a streamlining process. There have been major concerns with regards to self-censorship by journalists and the pro-government sycophancy of much of the media. In 2013, Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report rated Hungary as ‘partly free’.
In April 2011, the Parliament adopted a new constitution to replace one written by the communists in 1949 (but obviously heavily amended since 1989). The new constitution, described as socially and fiscally conservative, beginning with preamble references to the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen, God, Christianity, the fatherland and family values, a constitutional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman and a ‘golden rule’ limiting the public debt to 50% of GDP. Certain policy areas, such as family policy, taxation, pensions, public debt, morality, culture and religion were classified as areas of ‘cardinal law’ which may only be altered with a two-thirds majority. Clauses about ethnic Hungarians abroad, which opened the door to voting rights in Hungarian elections, irked Slovakia. The opposition MSZP and the green-liberal Politics Can Be Different (LMP) walked out of the drafting process, dominated by Fidesz, demanding a referendum on the matter and decrying the lack of consultation. However, with a two-thirds majority, Fidesz easily adopted the new constitution despite the opposition of the centre-left and far-right and protesters outside Parliament.
In 2013, new controversial amendments removed the Constitutional Court’s ability to refer to judicial precedent predating the January 2012 enactment of the constitution and may no longer reject constitutional amendments on matters of substance (only on procedural grounds). The amendments also included other laws struck down by courts in the past, including strict limits on advertising during election campaigns (a rule seen as favouring Fidesz).
A judicial reform placed significant power over the judiciary in the hands of the new National Judicial Authority, whose head is the wife of a Fidesz MEP who drafted most of the new constitution and whose powers include nominating many local and higher-court justices.
Upon taking office, the new government alarmed investors when some Fidesz leaders mentioned the word ‘default’ and warned that Hungary could become Greece. Foreign investors went into a frenzy, badly hurting confidence in the Hungarian economy even if its fundamentals were much stronger than those of Greece. Orbán quickly moved to smooth out the crisis by announcing new economic measures in June 2010: cuts in income and corporate taxes, the introduction of a 16% flat tax on incomes, a temporary windfall tax on banks, banning mortgages in foreign currencies and cuts in public spending. The government promised to reduce its budget deficit to 3.8% of GDP, a target agreed upon with the IMF and EU in 2008; its economic program aimed to reduce corruption, common petty scams and corrupt dealings in Hungarian businesses and create jobs.
The windfall tax on banks, aimed to raise 0.5% of GDP ($560 million), worried foreign banks in Hungary. In July 2010, the EU and IMF broke off talks with Budapest over the renewal of a $26 billion loan. The EU-IMF were worried about the windfall tax on banks, and demanded stronger commitments to spending cuts and structural reforms in state-owned enterprises. With talks broken off, Budapest announced new economic measures in October 2010: temporary ‘crisis taxes’ on largely foreign-owned telecommunication, energy and retail companies, renegotiation of public-private partnerships, a tax break for families with children and redirecting private pension fund contribution to the state. Orbán said that it was time for those with profits to ‘give more’. The main victims of the ‘crisis taxes’ on telecommunication, energy and retail were foreign companies. The government announced that those in the private pension system who didn’t opt back into the state pension fund would lose all rights to a state pension.
In 2011, the government detailed its spending cuts to reduce the budget deficit to a targeted 1.9% of GDP in 2014. These included an extension of the bank tax, but also cuts in state subsidies for disability pensions, drugs and public transportation and a postponement of corporate tax cuts (from 19% to 10%) until 2013. The government refused to call these measures ‘austerity’. In November 2011, after disappointing economic results, the government reopened talks for assistance (which it called ‘a safety net’) from the IMF. Although the government successfully cut the deficit in 2011, growth remained low, the forint fell and bond auctions failed. The government’s opponents gloated at the failure of Orbán’s ambitious gamble of ‘economic independence’ from the major global financial institutions. In December 2011, the EU and IMF once again broke off preliminary talks, over concerns over new legislation which weakened the powers of the governor of the central bank at the expense of the Prime Minister.
In early 2012, the European Commission launched legal action against Budapest on three issues (independence of the central bank, independence of a new data protection authority, the forced retirement of over 200 judges who were older than 62), a decision which led to more nationalist flourish from Fidesz but did force Orbán to be a bit more conciliatory.
Hungary’s economy faces challenges – the country slipped back into recession in 2012 and growth was only 1.1% in 2013 and Hungary remains Central/Eastern Europe’s most indebted country (79% of GDP) – but the deficit has fallen to only 2.2% of GDP and unemployment has recently declined below 10% (9.1%) and the overall economic performance has not been all negative. Furthermore, many aspects of Orbán’s populist and nationalist economic policies (denouncing the IMF/EU, high taxes on banks and largely foreign-owned companies, cuts in income taxes for families, a law allowing Hungarians to repay their mortgages in foreign currency at very good terms while banks are forced to swallow the difference) have been very popular with Hungarian voters. To the crowds, Fidesz plays very heavily on nationalist sentiments – with speeches from Orbán and his stooges decrying ‘colonization’, lashing out at foreign bankers, European bureaucrats and IMF technocrats, but is far more polished when actually working with said technocrats.
Fidesz’ case has also been helped by the centre-left’s increasing fragmentation and its troubles at picking up all the pieces from its historic defeat in 2010. The MSZP, led by the rather hapless Attila Mesterházy, has faced competition from two new parties led by former Prime Ministers: Ferenc Gyurcsány founded the Democratic Coalition (DK), a centre-left liberal party slightly to the right of the MSZP in 2011; Gordon Bajnai founded Together 2014 (E14) in collaboration with anti-Orbán civil society movements and later teamed up with Dialogue for Hungary (PM), a party founded by dissidents from the green LMP over the LMP’s refusal to ally itself with E14 and later the MSZP and DK. The MSZP, DK, E14-PM and a new Liberal Party formed a common front – Unity – for the April 2014 elections.
Despite a very anti-Orbán campaign from the centre-left, it was no match for Fidesz, which was easily reelected with a reduced majority. Fidesz won 44.9% against 25.6% for Unity and 20.2% for Jobbik; but thanks to Hungary’s mixed-member system (lacking a compensatory element) and Fidesz’s changes to it, Fidesz was able to narrowly retain its highly important two-thirds majority in Parliament. During the campaign, the ruling party was also unduly advantaged by “restrictive campaign regulations, biased media coverage and campaign activities that blurred the separation between political party and the State” (citing the OSCE’s report) which resulted in Fidesz’s domination of the airwaves. Nevertheless, the election was still won fair and square by Orbán, while the liberal and pro-European centre-left barely improved its result from 2010. Offering clear and tangible benefits to a large mass of voters and a simple populist-nationalist message, Fidesz blew the centre-left – mostly reliant on sophisticated attacks on Orbán’s autocratic tendencies and purported threats to democracy – out of the water. The far-right, which also has a clear and simple message (the vilification of enemies, real or imagined, the creation of scapegoats and a campaign more populist than extremist), also did well. Orbán, like Jobbik to a lesser extent, has created and mobilized a mass following for himself, with supporters who worship him as a nationalist icon fighting for freedom and national sovereignty.
Cultural arguments, as I had explained in my post on the Hungarian elections back in April (see link above), would posit that Orbán (and Jobbik’s) popularity in Hungary stems from the absence of a long experience with democracy (under Miklós Horthy in the interwar era and then under communist rule during the Cold War) and a tradition of strongmen who still retain some amount of goodwill (Miklós Horthy, who remains a controversial icon for nationalists, and communist-era dictator János Kádár), which has in turn created a yearning for ‘strong leaders’ (like Orbán) who embody national unity and express some sort of ‘siege mentality’ (particularly powerful in Hungary, which continues to struggle with the Trianon trauma/tragedy). Additionally, what experience Hungary has with democracy since 1989 has been tainted by corruption (although Orbán is no cleaner himself and a new camarilla of petty oligarchs dependent on Fidesz largess has replaced an old petty oligarchy who prospered under the MSZP) and unpopular neoliberal/capitalist policies. The economic reforms in the 1990s did not produce the sense that things are looking up, breeding a lingering current of negative views towards ‘capitalism’. The claim is that the neoliberal reforms resulted in foreign intrusion, the cheap selling out of Hungary’s wealth and businesses, unemployment, corruption, inefficient government and increased criminality. The left has accepted capitalism as the doxa or dominant paradigm, but to voters instinctively angry at the ‘capitalist’ system, only Jobbik and, to a lesser extent, Orbán present appealing alternatives. The left, in part due to its own failures and in part thanks to a pro-Fidesz media, has been associated with neoliberal reforms and corruption (indeed, during the April campaign, a MSZP stalwart was arrested for tax evasion – $1,000,000 in a secret account in Austria); it has additionally failed to renew its leadership (Gyurcsány is damaged goods, Mesterházy’s competence is limited and only Bajnai seems more solid) or its base (it has an aging electorate, while Jobbik eats up young anti-system voters).
In a very low turnout and low-stakes election, Fidesz performed very well, taking 51.5% of the vote. It was one of the largest victories for a ruling party in these EP elections (after Malta, which has a very stable two-party system), although the record low turnout means that Fidesz’s raw vote was quite poor (1.19 million, down from 2.26 million in April 2014 and the lowest vote for Fidesz in an EP election). For the centre-left, after uneasy unity in April, the EP election was to be a ‘safe’ chance for each party to measure its forces and prove itself independently. The result was an absolute disaster for the MSZP, which won 10.9%, the party’s lowest result in its history (with only 252,000 votes). It ended up in a terrible third place, placing behind Jobbik. While Jobbik’s second place showing, the first time it has come second in a national election, is highly symbolic and only intensifies the blow to the MSZP, the far-right’s result was fairly paltry: Jobbik’s popular vote share is down significantly on its historic 20.2% it took in April 2014 and down from its 2009 EP election result. I suppose, in a low turnout election, its poor showing can be attributed to Jobbik’s base of protest voters in low-income small town regions not showing up. Turnout was indeed below average in many of Jobbik’s strongholds in the east of the country, and significantly above average in Budapest (38.8%), where Jobbik has its worst results in the country.
Jobbik’s second place showing owes to the division of the left. The MSZP remained the largest centre-left party, but its three rivals had strong showings: Ferenc Gyurcsány’s DK won 9.8% and proved to be a strong challenge to the MSZP not only in urban Budapest but also in rural areas (12% in the metro districts and county towns, 9.3% in cities and 6.6% in villages; Gordon Bajnai’s E14-PM won 7.3% with a strong performance in the largest urban areas (10.5%) but poorer results in towns and villages (5.6% and 3.7% respectively) while the green-liberal LMP, which had saved its parliamentary presence by a hair in April (5.3%) barely passed the threshold this time again (5.04%). In Budapest, the traditional redoubt of the left (especially in this era of Fidesz hegemony), the MSZP placed fourth behind Fidesz (43.8%), DK (13.1%) and E14-PM (13.1%) with only 11.5%. Jobbik won only 9.9% in the Hungarian capital, and the LMP won 7.9%. The MSZP did best in Csongrád County (16.7%, including the university town of Szeged) and the poor eastern counties of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg (14.6%) and Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén (13.2%); the DK and E14-PM both had their best results in Budapest, although DK also did well in Komárom-Esztergom County (11.6%) and Baranya County (10.6%). The far-right’s best result came from Heves County (22.9%), a poor eastern county home to Jobbik leader Gábor Vona (he is from Gyöngyös). Jobbik also broke 20% in neighboring Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén and Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok counties.
Next: Italy – complex and confusing as always, but so fascinating every time, requires its own separate post to clearly break down a very significant EP election result.
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.
Regional elections were held in the German land of Lower Saxony on January 20, 2013. The Landtag of Lower Saxony has at least 135 members, of which 87 are elected in single-member constituencies and the rest are allocated proportionally to parties winning over 5% of the vote in the state. In the German MMP system, the proportional element (second votes) seeks to correct disparities between votes and seats which may be created by the single-member system (first vote). There are additional seats in the legislature if a party wins more single-member seats than it is entitled to in the proportional distribution of the seats. After this election, the Landtag will have 137 seats, 15 less than the outgoing legislature, elected in 2008.
Lower Saxony is the fourth most populous state in Germany. The state is fairly important in German federal politics. Not only as it produced prominent national politicians such as Gerhard Schröder, Christian Wulff, Sigmar Gabriel and Ursula von der Leyen; it is also seen by some as a good bellwether for the rest of the country. Lower Saxony is a mix of rural and urban/industrial, Protestant and Catholic. The southern region of the state is a working-class Protestant region where the Social Democrats (SPD) have traditionally been very strong, in some cases since the days of the Kaiserreich. The SPD has always performed strongly in Hanover but also industrial towns such as Salzgitter, Peine, Wolfsburg (the home of Volkswagen) and Holzminden. In this regards, it is similar to the neighboring poor, rural or working-class Protestant regions of northern Hesse or Lippe (NRW). In the north, along the coast, the industrial harbours of Wilhelmshaven and Cuxhaven Since the end of the war, the rural and isolated Protestant region of East Frisia has also been one of the SPD’s strongest regions in the whole of Germany. On the other hand, the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) often win some of their best results anywhere in Germany in the rural and devoutly Catholic Oldenburg Münsterland, around Cloppenburg and Vechta.
Lower Saxon politics used to have a strong rural, conservative and Protestant regionalist movement, which existed from 1869 until the 1950s. At the outset, a German-Hanoverian Party during the Empire and Weimar represented the dethroned House of Welf, the dynasty which ruled the Kingdom of Hanover until it was annexed by Prussia in 1866. After the war, the German Party (DP) briefly carried on with this tradition, winning a few direct seats in the first three federal elections. In large part, this rural, conservative Protestant support has gone to the CDU. Post-war, the state’s politics were also heavily influenced by the Heimatvertriebene population (ethnic Germans displaced from the east after the war), who made up around 30% of the state’s population. The heimatvertriebene‘s impact of the state’s politics nowadays is more limited, but they have played a large role in the state CDU.
The SPD governed the state between 1946 and 1955, 1959 and 1976 and most recently between 1990 and 2003. Gerhard Schröder, who became Chancellor of Germany in 1998, was the state’s Minister-President between 1990 and 1998, he was succeeded shortly thereafter by Sigmar Gabriel, who is now the SPD’s federal leader. The CDU’s Christian Wulff won the 2003 elections, defeating a worn out and unpopular SPD government. Since then, the state has been ruled by a black-yellow right-wing coalition with the liberal FDP, the same coalition which is in power federally with Angela Merkel. The black-yellow government was reelected with a reduced majority in 2008. Christian Wulff resigned to become Germany’s President in 2010, but he was forced to resign from the presidency in disgrace in 2012. The state’s current Minister-President is David McAllister, a dual British-German citizen with a Scottish mother.
McAllister is described as a rising star in the CDU and a potential successor to Angela Merkel. As premier, he is quite popular – according to the exit polls, his approval rating was 68%. Like Merkel, who is personally very popular in Germany, his government itself is considerably less popular. A bit less than 40% approved of the state government. The SPD’s top candidate was Stephan Weil, the mayor of Hanover.
Education, particularly college tuition fees (the state is one of the few in Germany to still charge tuition fees), was the most important issue for voters in this election. 45% rated it as the biggest issue, against 24% who were concerned about unemployment and 13% about the economy. Family policies and nuclear energy closed the list, with 12% and 10% respectively.
These state elections have been painted as a first test for Angela Merkel before the September 2013 federal elections, in which she will be running for a third term. It was a high stakes election for the federal government, because Lower Saxony is ruled by the same coalition as the federal government (CDU/FDP). Most said that a black-yellow victory in the state would confirm that Merkel’s victory in September is a near-certainty, but a victory by the red-green opposition could indicate a more disputed contest federally.
As is the case federally, the CDU itself remained quite popular and its vote was holding up. The danger, however, for the CDU laid with its junior partner, the liberal FDP, which has been in dire straits for some two years now. Most polls, for now, show that it is polling below the 5% threshold for seats in the Bundestag. In government, the party had hoped to push Merkel’s economic policies to the right and promote its own low-tax agenda, but it has been outmaneuvered all the way by the Machiavellian Merkel, who is quite talented at shifting her policy to meet the current mood. It has been weakened by infighting, unpopular low calibre leadership at the federal level and a series of policy blunders and miscalculations which has caused it to lose most of its 2009 support to Merkel’s CDU. In Lower Saxony, the polls had shown the CDU polling well – roughly 40% – which was about 2.5% less than what it won in 2008. On the other hand, the polls showed the FDP hovering at the 5% threshold, which meant that there was a serious risk that the FDP would not get in. If the FDP had not passed the threshold, even if the CDU itself had done quite well; the red-green (SPD-Greens) would certainly have won a majority on their own. To ward off this possibility, McAllister and the CDU more or less openly called on right-wing voters to “lend” their second vote to the FDP, to allow the party to break the threshold and retain representation. A FDP clearing the threshold and a rather healthy CDU result would, they hoped, allow McAllister to win reelection.
Turnout was 59.4%, up from 57.1% in 2008. The results were:
CDU 36.0% (-6.5%) winning 54 seats (-14)
SPD 32.6% (+2.3%) winning 49 seats (+1)
Greens 13.7% (+5.7%) winning 20 seats (+8)
FDP 9.9% (+1.7%) winning 14 seats (+1)
Linke 3.1% (-4.0%) winning 0 seats (-11)
Pirates 2.1% (+2.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FW 1.1% (+0.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.5% (-0.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)
David McAllister’s incumbent black-yellow coalition was defeated in a race which went down to the wire and provided for lots of nail-bitting suspense on election night. The red-green opposition won 69 seats, the incumbent black-yellow coalition won 68 seats; giving the new government a one-seat majority.
The government’s defeat can be attributed to a wide array of factors. The SPD had a clear advantage over the CDU on the important topic of education, campaigning with the Greens on a promise to do away with college tuition fees. Exit polls showed that 45% of voters preferred the SPD on education, against only 33% for the CDU. Discontent with the federal government (which is not that popular, unlike Merkel) also played a role; state elections in Germany often double as opportunities for voters to register disapproval of the federal government. However, McAllister’s strategy to save his government by encouraging his voters to loan their second votes to the FDP backfired spectacularly on him and his party.
The CDU lost over 6% of the vote compared to the 2008 election, and won 36% – which is about 4-5% less than what the final polls had predicted. The loan strategy certainly worked out very well, given that the FDP not only managed to clear the 5% threshold easily but also managed to increase its support compared to the 2008 election by nearly 2% (amusingly, 9.9% is also the best state election result for the FDP…). The FDP has been able to save its skin quite well in recent state elections (NRW and Schleswig-Holstein in 2012), but in this case it owes its miraculous result to McAllister’s strategy of propping up the FDP in a bid to save his government. The exit polls confirm that the FDP’s ‘strength’ in this election came, in large part, from CDU/right-wing voters who voted for the FDP to save the CDU/black-yellow government. 91% of FDP voters said they could just have well voted CDU, 68% (!) said that their vote for the FDP was a classic “borrowed vote”. Only a minority of the FDP’s voters cited reasons which indicates that the FDP is their natural home: only a third of the party’s voters said the FDP was the party they felt closest to. One can also notice the nature of FDP second vote support by looking at the direct votes: the FDP won 3.3% in the direct votes, which in this case is down from both 2008 (5.6%) and 2003 (4.4%).
The result of McAllister’s FDP vote loaning campaign was that the CDU’s vote fell considerably and that the FDP did way better than anybody could have predicted. Certainly, the government was sunk by other factors, but the FDP vote loaning campaign backfired badly on McAllister and the CDU. It is questionable whether or not McAllister’s strategy, regardless of its actual outcome, was actually a good strategy. If he had not said anything about propping up the FDP, would the FDP have scraped together enough voters to clear the threshold? It is quite possible. The FDP was polling 4.5% or 5% in all the final polls, which would probably have been enough for it to save face. In addition, there were enough CDU voters to pull them over the threshold if they did not do so “on their own”. If the FDP had won 5% or so, enough to retain its foothold in the legislature, the CDU would not have lost 6.5% support; making the reelection of the black-yellow government slightly more likely (though still a tough fight).
Germany’s ‘vote transfer’ analyses are always quite interesting, even if they need to be taken with a grain of salt. According to the analysis for this election, the CDU gained 49k votes from 2008 non-voters, and 10k (?!) from the Linke. They lost a non-negligible amount of support to the SPD and Greens (37k and 20k respectively), but they bled a full 104 thousand votes to the FDP – strong movement which shows the ‘loaned votes’ to the FDP. The SPD lost 6000 votes to the Pirates and a more hefty 49k to the Greens, but they gained from non-voters (90k), the CDU (37k), FDP (20k), Linke (15k) and others (7,000). This means that black-yellow was also sunk by non-negligible direct loss of support to SPD (and Greens, as noted above). The higher turnout also helped the SPD quite a bit, the analysis says that they gained 90k votes from non-voters.
The FDP lost votes to all parties (even Linke?!) but the CDU, accounting for 42,000 votes altogether – but that was more than compensated by the loaned votes (104k from CDU) and some 9,000 non-voters who voted for the FDP this year. The Linke’s most substantial loses were to the ranks of abstention – 40,000 voters who had backed the party in 2008 did not vote this year. It also lost significantly to the Greens (17k), SPD (15k) and even CDU (10k).
The SPD and the Greens had a good night, especially the Greens. The SPD were not hurt by the SPD’s troubles federally in the past few weeks, after a series of blunders and gaffes from the party’s unpopular hapless chancellor-candidate, Peer Steinbrück. Its positions on education and family policies, as well as the relative popularity of its top candidate (Stephan Weil) helped the party increase its support compared to the last election, in which the party won its worst result in any state election. Nevertheless, in a longer historical perspective, 32.6% isn’t all that great – it is lower than 2003 (33.4%, a very bad result for the party already) and worse than every other state elections besides the last one. This reflects, in part, the Greens’ success. They won 13.7%, by far their best result in a state election (the first time they break 10% in a state election as well). Their support increased by over 5 percent. Nationally, the Greens have been benefiting from the uninspiring and mediocre leadership and opposition of the SPD. The collapse of the 2012 Pirate surge should also help them recover lost support. The lingering importance of nuclear energy in German politics, post-Fukushima, has also helped the party. In Lower Saxony, they benefited from controversy surrounding the proposed nuclear waste dump site in Gorleben (they won 20.4% in that constituency).
On the other hand, the Linke, which had won 7% in the 2008 elections (on the back of the SPD, in good part), fell below the threshold and lost all its seats. This result confirms Linke’s downswing in those western states where it had entered state legislatures in 2007-2009. As noted above, many of the party’s lost voters did not turn out, others returned ‘home’ to the SPD. Its brief foray outside of East Germany (and Saarland) will have proven quite short-lived.
The Pirates won 2% and fell far short of winning seats. This result confirms that the Pirate surge, which began after the Berlin state elections in September 2011 and lasted until the summer/early fall of 2012, is over. The Pirate surge carried over to state elections in Saarland, NRW and Schleswig-Holstein in 2012, but the party’s support has since collapsed. The Pirate surge was destined to be a fad, which still lasted for a surprisingly long time. It attracted politically disoriented or ‘homeless’ voters, non-voters, first time voters and a lot of more working-class youths who did not identify with any of the parties. Its surge was not based on any concrete political ideology, platform or ideas (besides the vague appeal of direct democracy, privacy and left-libertarianism). The party’s general lack of a defined platform and policy played a major role in its collapse. In the exit polls, 83% of voters agreed with the statement that the Pirates lacked positions on important issues.
Der Spiegel has a map of the results here. As expected, the CDU did best in rural areas, but particularly the rural Catholic Oldenburg Münsterland, where the CDU won over 50% of the vote – including 57.6% in Cloppenburg and Vechta. It also performed well in the Catholic Eichsfeld, and the rural Protestant areas between large metro areas. Likewise, the SPD’s support was quite traditional. It did very well in its East Frisian and southeastern strongholds, peaking at 46.4% in Emden (East Frisia) and hovering above 40% in its working-class bases in the southeast. The SPD performed quite well in Hanover, though its performance in other cities (Göttingen, Brunswick, Wolfsburg, Hildesheim, Osnabrück, Oldenburg) was weaker because of the Greens’ strong performance. The Greens peaked at 28.5% in the university town of Göttingen, and naturally their strongest results came from cities – 25.1% in Lüneburg, 25.8% in central Oldenburg and 25.3% in central Hanover. As noted above, in the Elbe constituency (20.4%), they benefited from controversy around the nuclear waste dump site in Gorleben. The FDP’s support was strongest where the CDU’s support was also strong, with some differences (they were not as strong in the Oldenburg Münsterland, though they still did quite well). Their strongest constituencies were some peripheral suburban areas, and a rural Protestant area to the west of Bremen.
What are the implications for the federal election in September? The CDU-FDP’s defeat is unwelcome negative media coverage for the CDU and Merkel. David McAllister, like her, was a very popular premier himself but his government was unpopular and most voters were eager for a change in government. Could Merkel suffer a similar fate in September? It is more doubtful, given that the federal SPD is not in the best of shape and their current candidate (Steinbrück) doesn’t measure up to Merkel. The CDU would like to insist that its defeat in Lower Saxony was due to local state issues, and does not indicate anything for the federal election. Nevertheless, her black-yellow finds itself in a similar position. Her CDU is polling very strongly (40-42%, against 33.8% in 2009) while the FDP is polling 2-4% support, which would shut it out of the Bundestag. The consensus is that she would form a grand coalition with the SPD; a red-red-green left-wing federal coalition with the Linke still seems a long way away. The disastrous result of McAllister’s FDP vote loaning campaign will scare CDU/CSU politicians away from endorsing such deals in September; the CSU has already said that it would not encouraging vote loaning for the FDP in the Bavarian state elections this fall. The FDP had some tense closed-door meetings after the election, ultimately Rainer Brüderle will be the FDP’s top candidate for the federal election but his rival, and incumbent party chairman, Philipp Rösler will keep his spot as party leader. Is the federal election more open than expected?
State elections were held in the German state of Saarland on March 25, 2012. All 51 seats in Saarland’s state parliament, the Landtag were up for reelection. The state is divided into three electoral districts (Saarbrücken, Neunkirchen and Saarlouis) and there is a 5% threshold for representation.
The heavily industrialized and largely Catholic working-class Saarland has usually been fought over by the CDU and SPD. The SPD, led by Oskar Lafontaine, governed the state between 1985 and 1999 until Lafontaine’s successor was defeated in 1999 by the CDU’s Peter Müller who governed without coalition allies between 1999 and 2009. In 2009, in state elections held a bit more than a month before the federal elections, Peter Müller’s CDU lost 13% support and ended up with 34.5% and 19 seats. At the same time, the SPD, which was in dire straits throughout Germany in 2009, won its worst result since 1955 in the state with only 24.5% (down 6% on an already terrible result in 2004). The SPD suffered a lot from the emergence of the post-communist socialist Left Party (Die Linke) in the home-state of one of its top leaders, Oskar Lafontaine. Lafontaine led the party to a dramatic result for the heavily GDR-based party in the western state: the Left took 21% of the vote. The FDP also did well, taking 9% of the vote. While a left-wing red-red-green coalition could have been formed with the SPD, Left and Greens, the usual problems with such a coalition combined by bad blood between the two main left-wing parties prevented the formation of a left-wing government. Ultimately, Peter Müller formed an historic ‘Jamaica’ coalition uniting the CDU, FDP and the Greens.
Müller resigned in August 2011 and was replaced by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. The coalition collapsed in January 2012 following internal wranglings in the FDP. Following the failure of talks with the SPD to form a Grand Coalition, snap regional elections were called. The results were:
CDU 35.2% (+0.7%) winning 19 seats (nc)
SPD 30.6% (+6%) winning 17 seats (+4)
Left 16.1% (-5.1%) winning 9 seats (-2)
Pirates 7.4% (+7.4%) winning 4 seats (+4)
Greens 5% (-0.9%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Familie 1.7% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDP 1.2% (-8%) winning 0 seats (-5)
NPD 1.2% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FW 0.9% (+0.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The CDU ended up winning by a fairly comfortable margin, while the SPD underpolled quite a bit compared to pre-electoral expectations – the party was tied or ahead of the CDU in most of the last polls with roughly 34% support. According to the ARD’s vote transfer analysis for the SPD, while the party gained 7000 voters from the CDU and Left (and 8000 from the FDP and 6000 from the Greens) it lost 7000 voters to abstention – turnout fell by a full 6% since 2009 – and 3000 votes to the Pirates.
The Pirate Party had been the sensation of the state elections in Berlin last year, where they emerged as the fifth largest party with nearly 9% of the vote and 15 seats in the state parliament of Germany’s particularly left-wing capital. Berlin was a perfect territory for the Pirates, made all the more appealing by a terrible Green campaign. They took most of their support from young males who had not voted in previous elections or young left-wing voters who had voted for the Greens, Left or SPD in past elections. I ended up being wrong on the assumption that the Pirate Party’s success in Berlin would prove a fad and peter out quickly. The Pirate success in Berlin has had repercussions across Germany, with the party polling over the 5% threshold for seats in the Bundestag and registering support in a good number of other states.
The main reason for the Pirate Party’s success in expanding beyond their original base in Berlin seems to be the state of the German left. Pathetic would be a fair descriptor, as would divided. The Greens have fallen back considerably from their monumental surge(s) last year, as they lose some more left-wing young voters eager for a more radical and hip alternative to the Pirates. The Left is polling much lower than what it won in 2009, the SPD’s gains from 2009 probably coming largely on the back of the Left’s loses. Fortunately for the left, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner – the liberal FDP – is in a state which is best summarized as ‘lol FDP’. The party has been averaging 1-2% at most!
In Saarland, the Pirates probably benefited from a local factor: left-wing Green voters punished the Greens for their unwise choice of entering a coalition with the right – a proven recipe for disaster for the Greens.
Exit polls are always interesting to analyse the Pirate phenomenon. The Pirates won 23% of first-time voters (27% of male first-time voters), and obviously did best (22%) with the youngest cohort (aged 18 to 24) and worse with the oldest cohort (2% with those over 60). As in Berlin, the Pirates also appealed to a not-so-artsy left-wing electorate (which are not Green voters): unemployed voters and working-class voters. The Pirates won 9% with the unemployed (against 30% for the SPD and 26% for the left), and 11% with ‘workers’. The Pirates, in this respect, have a wider potential base than the Greens, given that they carry an appeal to unemployed or low-income youths which the Greens certainly do not have.
The German tradition of vote transfer analyses is also quite instructive, as in Berlin. The party gained 8,000 votes from non-voters and 7,000 voters from 2009 Left Party voters. It took 4000 votes apiece from the CDU and FDP, and 3000 votes apiece from the Greens, SPD and other parties. The Greens had not done very well in the state in 2009, which might explain why their loses to the Pirates were less pronounced. The FDP, obviously, gained no voters, but lost a full 12,000 votes to the CDU and an additional 9,000 to abstention. The CDU’s gains from FDP voters compensated the CDU’s loses to abstention and other parties.
A grand coalition, CDU-SPD, seems to be the most likely option.
Legislative elections were held in the German state of Berlin on September 18, 2011. All seats in Berlin’s state legislature, the Abgeordnetenhaus or House of Representatives were up for reelection. There are 78 members elected in single-member constituencies through what is called in Germany the ‘direct vote’ while the remaining are elected through party-list proportional representation with a 5% threshold for representation (this is called the ‘second vote’). If a party wins more constituency seats than its overall size of the vote, the size of the legislature increases from the minimum 130 because of these overhang mandates.
Berlin is and has traditionally been a left-wing stronghold. During the Weimar Republic, Berlin, the industrial and political centre of Germany, voted heavily for the Communists and SPD. West Berlin was governed by the SPD between 1957 and 1981. Today, Berlin’s economy is dominated by the service sector. The city has a diverse and vibrant cultural scene, it is ethnically diverse (27% have immigrant backgrounds) but also quite poor as it has the highest percentage of people living on social benefits in all 0f Germany. There remains a marked distinction both socially and politically between West Berlin and East Berlin. West Berlin is more affluent, while East Berlin remains largely poor and its skyline has a lot of East Germany’s stereotypical plattenbauten blocks (especially in Marzahn-Hellersdorf borough). Politically, West Berlin is still rather left-wing but the CDU is stronger, the Greens are stronger while Die Linke polls quite badly (though it won 11% in the 2009 federal elections, it polled only 4% in the last state elections). East Berlin is far more left-wing, and Die Linke is if not the first party then surely the second party. It has won direct seats in the Marzahn-Hellersdorf area (and beyond) in all federal elections since 1990 and won 34% of the vote in East Berlin in the 2009 federal elections. Between 1991 and 2001, the CDU was the largest party in the state legislature and the government was formed by a Grand Coalition led by the CDU’s Eberhard Diepgen. In 2001, a CDU scandal led to the collapse of the coalition and snap elections which saw a massive collapse of the CDU benefiting all other parties especially the SPD (29.7%) and the Left (22.6%). A rather rare red-red coalition of the SPD and Left was formed under the leadership of mayor Klaus Wowereit of the SPD. The coalition was reelected in 2006, with the SPD gaining marginally while the CDU collapsed to another low (21%). The Greens did well (13%) but the Left lost many votes (13.4%). Wowereit, who is gay, is a key figure in the national SPD and is generally seen as being on the party’s left. He is a potential candidate for the chancellorship in the next federal election.
Given Berlin’s left-wing nature and the Green surge of 2011 in all of Germany, Berlin’s election was expected to be a close battle between the SPD’s Wowereit and the Greens’ Renate Künast. Berlin is the strongest state for the Greens, who won 17% in the last federal election (and 11% federally). The Greens also hold their only direct seat in the Bundestag in Berlin, in the constituency taking in the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, a young, diverse and very hip district in downtown Berlin. Because the Greens polled up/are polling up to 18-20% in most polls, then it was normal to expect that they could be a very serious rival to Wowereit and be in good position to overtake the SPD for first place and form a green-red coalition (like that which won in Baden-Württemberg this spring). Polls between April and June showed the Greens either ahead, tied with or close behind the SPD in the race for first. However, Künast’s generally terrible campaign running to the right of the SPD did the Greens in and they gradually fell back from the highs of 27-31% to the low 20s and in the final days, down to 18-19%. In doing so, it collapsed into third place and generally at 2009 federal election levels – which is good, but considering that the Greens are not polling 11% federally but rather up to 20% is pretty poor for the Berlin Greens. Simply put, there is no excuse for the Greens to be placing third in Berlin when they’re on such an upswing everywhere. Final polling had the SPD comfortably ahead, with 30-32% while the CDU placed second with 21-22% and the Greens third with 18-20%. The Left polled poorly (11-12%) while the FDP, which won 7.6% in 2006, was barely registering – in line with the FDP’s total and utter pathetic collapse throughout Germany.
Turnout was 60%, marginally above 2006 levels (58%).
SPD 28.3% (-2.5%) winning 47 seats (-7)
CDU 23.4% (+2.1%) winning 39 seats (+2)
Greens 17.6% (+4.5%) winning 29 seats (+5)
Left 11.6% (-4.6%) winning 19 seats (-5)
Pirates 8.9% (+8.9%) winning 15 seats (+15)
NPD 2.1% (-0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDP 1.8% (-5.8%) winning 0 seats (-13)
Animals 1.5% (+0.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 4.7% (-5.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
- West Berlin: CDU 29.5% (+1.8%), SPD 28% (-3.4%), Greens 20.4% (+5.6%), Pirates 8.1%, Left 4.3% (+0.1%), FDP 2.3% (-7%), NDP 1.6% (-0.1%)
- East Berlin: SPD 28.8% (-1%), Left 22.6% (-5.5%), CDU 14.2% (+2.8%), Greens 13.5% (+3%), Pirates 10.1%, NPD 2.9% (-1.1%), Animals 1.5% (+0.5%), PROD 1.4%, FDP 1.2% (-3.7%)
I am too lazy to make a map, but the offical site has some Java maps which freeze old computers, election.de has maps down to the precinct level, Der Spiegel has its usual cool maps and there is a basic map of direct seat winners here and a good map of list votes by party here.
Wowereit’s SPD won the elections but did quite a bit worst than originally expected. This is Wowereit’s poorest result at the helm of the SPD in Berlin, and he himself lost his direct seat, though admittedly his direct seat is a right-leaning place. The overall discourse in the days leading up to the vote was that Wowereit’s SPD was basically undefeatable and that it was almost certain that whatever happened, he would remain mayor and the new coalition would be a left-leaning coalition though with the Greens replacing the Left. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the SPD ended up doing poorer than originally expected. There was little motivation for the SPD base to go out and vote given that the end result was basically a certainty. The SPD actually was defeated in West Berlin by the CDU, which scored minimal gains, which is nice for them but considering how low they were in 2006 and the FDP’s utter collapse is actually not all that impressive or surprising. In East Berlin, the SPD picked up six constituency seats from the Left, but otherwise they lost five to the Greens and six to the CDU.
The Greens did well when the result in set in a much broader perspective (it’s their best state election in Berlin ever, for example) but as aforementioned when you place their result in a narrower perspective and take in things such as the Green surge or the fantastic results won earlier this year in other state, their result is a bad result. They could have expected a much stronger result and at the very least second place. They did score five direct seat gains off of the SPD, the bulk of them in downtown West Berlin. They performed very well (30%) in their Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg stronghold (the CDU finished fifth there) and made gains across the board. But all things considered, it is a very disappointing result for them but one which they brought upon themselves with a poor campaign. They should, however, form a coalition with the SPD, a coalition which would have a tiny one-seat majority. It is unlikely that Wowereit will govern in a Grand Coalition and the incumbent red-red government has lost its majority.
The sensation here and the shot heard around the world was the shocking 9% for the Pirate Party. After the Pirate Party’s first shot in the 2009 EU elections in Sweden (7%), this is the second such Pirate victory in an election and the best result for a Pirate Party in any election. The Pirate’s strong showing was not entirely unexpected as some apparently think: the last polls had all shown strong support for them, with up to 9% depending on the poll. Their surge, however, was very late in the campaign. What caused the Pirates’ surge and who are “the Pirates” who voted for them?
If one thing about the Pirates in Berlin is certain, it is that they are very much left-leaning and emphasized the ‘left’ part of their left-libertarian platform more (stuff such as free public transit). Another thing which is certain is that they are a youth party: 16% support from 18-24s, 17% support from first-time voters. The Pirates, to put it simply, did well because the Greens and the Left did poorly. The Greens’ poor campaign, attacking the SPD from the right, drove its young more left-wing and radical voters into the arms of the Pirates who are very much a young party – the average year of birth for their MPs in 1977, over ten years after the average year for the others. The Left, which in Berlin is still very much a neo-SED party rather than a New Left-type socialist alternative (most Left-voters in Berlin are old East Germans), was in a state of disrepair in Berlin this year and the Pirates became an attractive protest option. A vote transfer analysis from Infratest dimap gives us a good guess of who the Pirate voters actually are. Most of them (23,000, or a quarter of all) did not vote last time and nearly as many (22,000) voted for other parties in 2006 – most likely the WASG (now merged in the Left) or the far-right. The 55% or so of Pirate voters who voted for one of the big parties last time did so for the left: 17,000 voted Green, 14,000 voted SPD and 13,000 voted Left. Only 10% or so of all Pirate voters came from the right: 6,000 from the FDP and 4,000 from the CDU. It might surprise some to see the little overlap between the FDP and the Pirates because of the libertarian leanings of both (although one is right-libertarian, the other is left-libertarian, both rather strongly emphasizing the first part these days). But in terms of voter base, there is little overlap: FDP voters are predominantly affluent suburbanites and not young radicals or young libertarians. Of the FDP voters in 2006, according to the same exit polling, most either voted CDU this year (30,000) or did not vote (14,000).
In terms of electoral geography, the Pirates do not necessarily have the electoral geography we might assume for such a left-libertarian party. Whereas we might think they would be entirely an inner-city party in the trendy, bohemian, young and artsy neighborhoods; they have a more diverse base of support beyond that base (the same thing can be seen in Sweden 2009, though the Pirate vote was remarkably homogeneous nationally between 5-8%). In fact, in Berlin, the Pirates performed best in the East than in the West (10 vs. 8%). In both cases, they performed better in the inner-city areas of east and west (12.6 vs. 11.1%) than in the suburbs (7.9% in all Berlin suburbs, east or west). Generally, their support is tightly correlated with Green support (performing best with 14.7% in the Green stronghold of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg). In the eastern boroughs of Lichtenberg and Marzahn-Hellersdorf (edit: and Spandau, which is in the west), however, the Pirate vote has little correlation with the Green vote. While the Pirate voters can be stereotyped as young, left-wing, radical and artsy-bohemian types, some of their votes – especially in the East – are poorer unemployed youths who voted for the Pirates as a trendy, radical anti-system protest party. This type of protest voting from poorer, not too artsy youths is very similar to the broader European phenomenon of strong far-right support from younger voters. Exit polls show that 12% of the unemployed vote Pirate, as did 11% of those receiving many Hartz-IV social benefits (only 6.8% of those not receiving those benefits voted Pirate).
The Pirate phenomenon in Sweden proved to be a one-time fad (less than 1% in the 2010 elections), hardly surprising given that the 2009 EU elections took place right after the Pirate Bay website was shut down by the state. There is no such event this year, but it is hard to see the Pirates be able to become a parliamentary force outside Berlin. They might have a chance if the Greens weaken or lose some of their young, radical base by entering government federally; but for now it is hard to see them as anything else than a one-time fad or at best a protest party with a more stable base but not a true political force.
This election marks the end of a superwahljahr in Germany, which saw six state elections. The winner of these elections is the left, which is in good position to form a left-wing government excluding the CDU after the 2013 federal elections. The SPD governs five of the seven states which voted this year and is a member of the governing coalition in all seven state. Overall, in these seven elections, the SPD won 35.5% against 32.5% for the CDU. The SPD’s biggest success was the February 20 elections in Hamburg, where the SPD won an overall majority on its own and increased its vote share by 14% to win 48% in a left-wing stronghold that had been governed by the right since 2001. Results in both Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate weren’t as good: the party lost nearly 10% in the latter (that being said, it had performed abnormally well in 2006) and 2% in the former. Bremen and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania saw good results for the SPD, especially the latter where the party’s vote increased by over 5%.
The big winner, though, was the Green Party. Overall they won 18.7% in the seven states. They entered the legislatures of Saxony-Anhalt, Rhineland-Palatinate and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. In all but Hamburg, they won their best results ever. In Bremen and Baden-Württemberg, they are now the second largest party ahead of either the CDU or SPD. In Hessian local elections also held this year, they became the largest party in Darmstadt. Baden-Württemberg was an historic election for the German Greens, Germany and the whole global green movement. With 24%, it was probably the best green result in any national or regional election anywhere in Europe/the world, and for the first time in Germany (and one of the first times in the world) the Greens took control of government. The performance of the historic green-red coalition in the state will be very important for the German Greens. Only Hamburg and Berlin are the disappointing results for the Greens this year.
The biggest loser was the FDP. Calling them “the losers” probably is an understatement. They took a massive thumping. They were dumped or kept out of the legislatures in all seven states but Hamburg and Baden-Württemberg. Only in Hamburg did they gain votes (+1.9%), enough to enter the legislature, but that was a byproduct of local circumstances and a CDU collapse (-20.7%). In all other states, they lost between 2.8% and 7% support. Federally, the FDP has been oscillating around the 5% threshold for representation in all polls for a year now. Their ability to win seats in a federal election if it was held soon is low at best after their thumpings. The FDP’s leadership is in perilous position. They won 5.04% in all seven states.
The Left won 7.45% overall. The results are mediocre. They held their ground (or lost or gained a tad) in Hamburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. They lost more significantly in Bremen and Berlin. This isn’t all that bad when you consider the Left now polls 8% federally rather than 11.9% in the 2009 elections. It is still quite a break from the Left’s 2007-2009 winning streak when the ex-East German communists “invaded” the west by entering the legislatures of Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Hesse, Schleswig-Holstein, Saarland and North Rhine-Westphalia (in 2010). They failed to enter any new western legislature this year.
If there are no snap federal elections in 2012 or any other early state elections, the only 2012 election in Germany will be a May state election in Schleswig-Holstein. Schleswig-Holstein voted on election day 2009, and thanks to CDU domination of constituency seats there was massive overhang (26 seats) in the CDU’s favour (despite it losing 8.6% support, it gained 4 seats). This overhang gave the CDU-FDP a tiny majority, 48/95, despite having lost the popular vote to the SPD/Greens/Left/SSW coalition. The Greens and SSW took the matter to court, which decided in favour of the plaintiffs and ordered new elections in 2012 with a new electoral law (cutting the direct seats from 40 to 35). The likely result seems to be SPD/Green/SSW majority with the Left hovering slightly below the threshold. The FDP, which won 15% in 2009, is polling at 4% and should probably receive another slap from voters. That should very well do in the CDU government.
It is a very, very dire time for the German right: current polls show that, in theory, left-wing coalitions including the SPD, Greens and Left would have enough support to form government in every state but Saxony and Bavaria if state elections were somehow held today. Even in Bavaria, the last poll shows that SPD/Green/FW could form a government!
A state election was held in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in German) on September 4, 2011. The Landtag of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania currently has 71 members (72 after the election), of which 36 are elected through first-past-the-post in single-member districts and the rest of which are elected through party-list proportional representation with a 5% threshold. The direct and list votes in the Rügen-I constituency was delayed for two weeks after the death of the CDU candidate before the election.
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is a large but very sparsely populated state on Germany’s Baltic seashore. This old East German region is composed of Mecklenburg, one of the few regions of northern Germany to never come under Prussian control; and Western Pomerania, the western region of the old Prussian Province of Pomerania most of which now lies in Poland. Mecklenburg and Pomerania were two predominantly rural and poor provinces. Following World War II, Western Pomerania was extensively re-settled by Germans who used to live in eastern Pomerania (which became Polish). Today, the region’s population is in decline and it is one of the poorest states in Germany. Politically, Mecklenburg and Pomerania are something of two distinct entities. Mecklenburg has a long left-wing history, being a strong SPD state since the Weimar era and maintaining that (more or less) since then, unlike Saxony for example. The shipbuilding city of Rostock has been a SPD stronghold since the Kaiserreich. Pomerania, in contrast, has long been a very conservative area. It was the land of the Prussian junkers, with little industry (except the navy in Stralsund). While Mecklenburg voted SPD during Weimar, Pomerania was a DNVP and later Nazi stronghold. To this day, western Pomerania remains a CDU stronghold at all levels, even though it is heavily Protestant. Angela Merkel has represented the Pomeranian constituency of Stralsund–Nordvorpommern–Rügen since 1990 even though she isn’t originally from the area. At the state level, the SPD has governed since 1998, first in a red-red coalition with the PDS until 2006 and since then in a Grand Coalition with the CDU. The Minister-President since 2008 is the SPD’s Erwin Sellering.
SPD 35.7% (+5.5%) winning 28 seats (+5)
CDU 23.1% (-5.7%) winning 18 seats (-4)
Linke 18.4% (+1.6%) winning 14 seats (+1)
Green 8.4% (+5%) winning 6 seats (+6)
NPD 6% (-1.3%) winning 5 seats (-1)
FDP 2.7% (-6.9%) winning 0 seats (-7)
Pirates 1.9% (+1.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Family 1.6% (+0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.2% (±0%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The results proved an almost spotless success for the left. The SPD was reelected with an increased majority, and won its second best result in state elections since 1990. It is a pleasing success for the SPD, which after a very bad through in 2009 is starting to see its fortunes perk up slowly but surely despite the Green surge. A recent poll placed it at 30% federally, a level it has not seen since at least 2010 if not long before then. It finally seems to be able to profit from the federal government’s unpopularity. The Greens continued their string of success with their best result in any election in the state since 1990 and making their first entrance in the Landtag ever. The Greens are now represented in every Landtag. Even the Left, which is going through a bad stint right now with its share of internal divisions and the like, had a good night. In sharp contrast, the right was crushed. The CDU won by far its worst result in any state election, and lost nearly 6% of its vote share. More important and striking is the FDP’s utter and total collapse. The FDP had done very well in 2006 with over 9% in a state which is not particularly friendly to the FDP, so a setback was to be expected. But not only was the FDP thrown out of the Landtag, it collapsed to a mere 2.7% of the vote. The neo-Nazi NPD held all but one of its seats despite falling back slightly. Turnout fell to 51.4% from 59% in 2006.
The Spiegel has a nice interactive map of the result. The SPD won 23 direct seats against 12 for the CDU (in 2006, the CDU won 20, the SPD 15 and the Left 1). In the list vote, the CDU won only two constituencies. The bulk of the CDU’s direct seats are in western Pomerania.
The special election in Rügen-I is a funny situation now. The CDU’s candidate died, and its replacement candidate was dropped when it was revealed that he had been a member of the far-right DVU. He will remain on the ballot on the CDU line, but without the CDU’s support. In 2006, the CDU won the direct vote in Rügen-I with 31.6% to the SPD’s 25%. This year, the CDU held the Rügen-II seat with 29.8% against 27.6% for the SPD. It seems as if the most likely outcome is a SPD victory. The result will not change much: the Greens could gain a seat from the NPD if it won 18.5% of the vote.
Start reading my Guide to the 2011 Spanish Elections, all you’ve ever wanted to know and more about Spanish history, political issues, political parties, regions and more in one huge thing. Still under permanent construction.
A state election was held in Bremen on May 22, 2011. All 83 seats in the Bremische Bürgerschaft were up for re-election. The parliament’s 83 members are split between 68 members from Bremen and 15 members from the city of Bremerhaven, which is an exclave of the city-state of Bremen. A party must win over 5% of the vote in one of the two constituent cities of the city-state in order to win representation. This means that a party winning 6% in one but 4% in the other will still be represented. This year, voters have five votes which they cast as they wish in favour of candidates or a party list as a whole. Voters aged 16 and over are allowed to vote in Bremen.
Bremen, one of northern Germany’s most important industrial cities, has been a SPD stronghold for the vast majority of the last hundred years. The SPD has been the strongest party in Bremen since 1945, and was the strongest party for almost all the duration of the Weimar Republic. The SPD has governed in the city-state since 1945, governing alone between 1971 and 1991, but following an unsuccessful traffic-light (SPD-FDP-Green) coalition in 1991, a grand coalition was formed with the CDU in 1995, an election which saw major SPD loses and the CDU almost becoming the largest party. The CDU-SPD Grand Coalition continued in 1999 and 2003 despite the existence of a red-green majority, but following the 2007 election which saw the Greens win what was, until 2011, the best state election result for them (16.5%), a SPD-Green coalition was formed with Jens Böhrnsen as Mayor.
SPD 38.6% (+1.9%) winning 36 seats (+4)
Green 22.5% (+6%) winning 21 seats (+7)
CDU 20.3% (-5.3%) winning 20 seats (-3)
Linke 5.6% (-2.8%) winning 5 seats (-2)
BIW 3.7% (+2.9%) winning 1 seat (nc)
FDP 2.4% (-3.6%) winning 0 seats (-5)
Pirates 1.9% (+1.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)
NPD 1.6% (+1.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 3.4% (-2.6%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Given the left-wing nature of Bremen, nothing in all this should be too surprising. Furthermore, given the unpopularity of the federal CDU-FDP coalition, a third-place showing for the CDU and a rout for the FDP shouldn’t surprise much. But it’s still, as far as I know, the first third-place showing for the CDU in a West German state since the 1950s or so.
The far-right populist Bürger in Wut won 7% and one seat in Bremerhaven, where far-right outfits such as the BIW or prior that the DVU have always enjoyed relative success. There were interesting gaps between swings in both constituent cities, which saw broadly similar overall results. In Bremerhaven, the SPD vote dropped 0.6% while the Green vote skyrocketed by 9.8%; but in Bremen the SPD vote increased by 2.2% and the Green vote by a more modest 5.2%.
The state elections we were all waiting for in Germany were held on March 27 in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Baden-Württemberg made history by electing the first Green head of government in Germany.
The southern German state of Baden-Württemberg is a traditional stronghold of the centre-right: the CDU has always been the strongest party, was held under 40% in only five elections, has held the top office in the state since 1953 and has governed in a traditional black-yellow coalition with the liberal FDP since 1996. The FDP has traditionally been quite strong in Baden-Württemberg, taking nearly 19% in the 2008 federal election and nearly 11% in the 2006 state election. It used to be much stronger at the state level in the 50s and 60s (when the party had a strong Protestant base). On the left, the SPD is generally weak but the Greenies have been quite strong in Baden-Württemberg, taking 14% in the 2008 federal election and 12% in the 2006 state election. The university and green city of Freiburg has been one of the Greens’ strongest spots anywhere in Germany.
Incumbent CDU Minister-President Stefan Mappus has been rather unpopular. The Stuttgart 21 project which aims to completely revamp Stuttgart’s central railway station through demolition of some old buildings has been very controversial and the Green’s opposition to it has helped them significantly. In late 2010, the Greens were polling extremely high (peaking at 36%) but their votes came down and risked falling back to third behind the SPD. But as the Greens were fading away and risked falling back into third, their second boost came from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Nuclear power is very controversial in Germany and a major issue particularly in Baden-Württemberg which has a number of nuclear power plants. Exploiting the issue, the Greens shot back ahead of the SPD. The federal government’s attempt to open the nuclear debate was seen as an electoral ploy and FDP Economics Minister Rainer Brüderle was dumb enough to admit it in public. Green-SPD relations are very good in Baden-Württemberg, and the SPD had already agreed to an unprecedented Green-Red coalition if the Greenies pipped them for second (the CDU was taking first in all polls). And they did, and broke all records. Turnout was 66%, up from 53% in 2006.
CDU 39% (-5.2%) winning 60 seats (-9)
Greens 24.2% (+12.5%) winning 36 seats (+19)
SPD 23.1% (-2.1%) winning 35 seats (-3)
FDP 5.3% (-5.4%) winning 7 seats (-8)
Linke 2.8% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 2.1% (+2.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 3.5% (-1.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
With 24.2%, the Greens won their best result in any German state election and probably one of their best if not their best in any regional or national election anywhere in the world (I believe the previous record was 22% or so for the Flemish Groen! in 1999). In doing so, they became the second largest party and because the left took 71 seats to the right’s 67, it will be able to form the first green-red coalition in Germany with Green leader Winfried Kretschmann as Minister-President. This isn’t the first Green head of regional government, the French Greens, for example, held that spot in Nord-Pas-de-Calais between 1992 and 1998; but it is probably the first Green head of government who has won that office by being the biggest party on the left or overall (the Green presidency in 1992 in NPDC was a compromise between left and right to solve a deadlocked legislature).
The Greens took nine direct seats. It won three seats in Stuttgart, two in Freiburg and one in Mannheim, Heidelberg, Konstanz and Tübingen. All of these places have universities of some kind. The SPD won one seat in Mannheim, seemingly in the most working-class part of the city.
A victory for the left is a major setback for both the local and national CDU and the black-yellow CDU-FDP federal coalition led by Angela Merkel. The FDP won its worst result ever (as did the SPD). The Left might have been a victim of the Green surge, as it failed to make any impact.
The vote in Rhineland-Palatinate wasn’t as much of a big deal. The SPD has been in office in 1991, and has governed alone since 2006 under Kurt Beck who has been holding the top spot since 1994. The state CDU seems particularly inept despite the state’s traditional conservatism. Kurt Beck is popular and is a potential contender for the federal Chancellorship in the next federal election.
SPD 35.7% (-9.9%) winning 42 seats (-11)
CDU 35.2% (+2.4%) winning 41 seats (+3)
Greens 15.4% (+10.8%) winning 18 seats (+18)
FDP 4.2% (-3.8%) winning 0 seats (-8)
Linke 3% (+0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FW 2.3% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 4.1% (-0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The Green surge even touched down big in Rhineland-Palatinate, where the Greens have always been weak. They broke through to win 15%, their best ever in the state (obviously) but also up there with the best Green performances anywhere in Germany. Aside from them being the clear winners, the CDU got a positive record out of this one but the SPD and especially the FDP are the clear loses. Kurt Beck, however, will still have a comfortable majority with a red-green coalition.
Religion seems to be an important divide on the map here. The Catholic areas went for the CDU, while the Protestant areas (and urban areas) went for the SPD.
Next stop is Bremen, the previous record holder for best Green state election performance in 2007. It votes on May 22.
A general election for the 105-seat Landtag of the east German state of Saxony-Anhalt was held on March 20. These elections were rather under the radar and not too suspenseful, because all eyes are set on Baden-Württemberg which votes next Sunday, March 27, in a very important state election.
Saxony-Anhalt is a rather artificial state with little historical tradition, being composed of parts of various traditional states, and people in the state feel little attachment to the actual state. All in all, the state shares the poverty and social problems of all other ex-GDR states, but is more diverse than we’d like to think. The north of the state is covered by very fertile land, whereas the southern Saal and Elbe valley with the old GDR chemical industry centered in Halle, Merseburg and Bitterfeld and mining areas is far more industrial. The CDU has been in power in the state since 2002, in power with the FDP until 2006 and since then as part of a Grand Coalition. A SPD minority administration tolerated by Die Linke, a setup styled the Magdeburg Model, governed between 1994 and 2002. Aside from 1998, the CDU has always been the strongest party in the state while Die Linke has placed second since 2002. The far-right DVU won a shocking 13% in 1998, but the far-right has lacked representation since 2002.
Turnout went up to 51.2%, which is roughly 6.7% over the historically low 44% turnout in 2006.
CDU 32.5% (-3.7%) winning 41 seats (+1)
Die Linke 23.7% (-0.4%) winning 29 seats (+3)
SPD 21.5% (+0.1%) winning 26 seats (+2)
Green 7.1% (+3.6%) winning 9 seats (+9)
NPD 4.6% (+4.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDP 3.8% (-2.8%) winning 0 seats (-7)
The result will likely be a continuation of the old CDU-SPD coalition which seems to please both parties, even though there are the seats for a left-wing majority red-red-green, but again, the timeless issue of whether or not the Linke should be allowed to get their hands on the office of Minister-President.
The results are pretty mediocre for all three major parties, which have all either lost votes or stagnated. The results for the FDP are disastrous, and unlike in Hamburg they are in line with the FDP’s dire straits nationally. In reality, only the Greens can unambiguously be said to have come out of the election better than it entered it. Its 7% showing is its best showing ever in one of the party’s weakest states (poor, east German and industrial do not breed well for the Greens, normally). Given that the Greens polling well nationally is nothing new, it’s been visible since 2010, it is hard to say how much of this result is due to national circumstances and how much is due to the “Fukushima nuclear effect” in the wake of the potential nuclear disaster in Japan and the disastrous tsunami there. Certainly Fukushima has reignited the nuclear debate in Germany, where nuclear power is very unpopular, and where the Greens poll very well on the nuclear issue.
Baden-Württemberg (and Rhineland-Palatinate) votes next week in an election which is the highlight of German elections this year. The two questions in Baden-Württemberg are, first whether or not the CDU-FDP government will lose its majority and second which of the Greens or SPD will top the left-wing vote. If the right loses its majority in a traditionally conservative state and CDU stronghold (of sorts), it will be bad news for Merkel. Further, if the Greens top the left-wing vote (as polls indicate) and the right loses its majority, the Greens will have a shot at an historic Green-SPD coalition. In Rhineland-Palatinate, the SPD will lose its overall majority but a SPD-Green coalition is very likely to come out victorious.
Hamburg held a snap election for its 121-seat Parliament, the Bürgerschaft on February 20. The last election had been held in 2008, and resulted in the first ever black-green (CDU-Green) coalition at the state level. Relations between the CDU and the Greens progressively worsened and got really sour following the retirement of popular CDU mayor Ole von Beust in favour of Christoph Ahlhaus. The CDU-Green coalition was finally dissolved in November 2010, making for snap elections this year.
The industrial northern German Hanseatic city-state of Hamburg is a traditional stronghold of the left-wing SPD, governing the city uninterrupted between 1957 and 2001. The SPD won over 50% six times since 1946, peaking at 59% in 1966. In 2001, the CDU’s Ole von Beust managed to form a coalition with a right-wing protest party, the PRO of former judge Roland Schill. Schill’s populist outfit managed 19% and 25 seats in 2001, but collapsed spectacularly to a mere 3.1% in 2004. His party, in the meantime, had split and Schill had been booted from the coalition in 2003 though not before insinuating von Beust was gay in a revenge press conference. Schill has since fled to South America. The CDU won an absolute majority alone in 2004, but lost it in 2008 leading to the black-green coalition. Obviously, Ahlhaus never enjoyed von Beust’s personal popularity and he has further been hurt by the relative unpopularity of Angela Merkel’s federal CDU-FDP coalition. The SPD was led by former labour minister Olaf Scholz.
Hamburg elected a new electoral system in 2009 which is slightly confusing. The city is divided into 17 constituencies electing between 3 and 5 state MPs for a total of 71 constituency MPs and 50 city-wide MPs. Voters have ten votes, five to split between candidates or lists at the constituency level and the five others to split between candidates or lists at the city level. For example, at the constituency level, voters may award all five of their votes to one candidate, or all five to the entire party list or he/she may split it between different candidates of different parties. On election day, all votes are accumulated and seats are split between parties winning over 5% of the vote. Priority is given to candidates elected in constituencies and other most-voted candidates.
SPD 48.32% (+14.2%) winning 62 seats (+17)
CDU 21.94% (-20.7%) winning 28 seats (-28)
GAL 11.18% (+1.6%) winning 14 seats (+2)
Linke 6.65% (±0.0%) winning 8 seats (nc)
FDP 6.41% (+1.8%) winning 9 seats (+9)
Pirates 2.09% (+1.9%)
Turnout was 57%.
The map is a boring one, the election results are not exciting but they’re quite phenomenal. The SPD has won an unambiguous victory, an outright majority and the best result since 1982. The party’s vote has increased by nearly 15% since the 2008 state elections and by nearly 20% since the 2009 federal elections. This comes at the expense of the CDU, which has won a pitifully low result of 21.9%, its worse showing ever. It lost votes to the SPD, obviously, but also bled a good number of votes to the FDP, which won a surprisingly good result, even entering Parliament, which is good considering the dire straits the FDP is in federally. The Greens have certainly been hurt by their participation in black-green, which means that the Greens will now shriek away from such combinations. Considering how well it is apparently doing federally, a mere improvement of 1.6% over an election which was pretty poor for them (2008) is bad, very bad in fact, for the Greens. They probably bled some votes to the Left, which further cemented its position in Hamburg. The Greens also lost votes to the Pirates, who did well, and the smaller joke party Die PARTEI (The Party). Die PARTEI notably supports rebuilding the Berlin Wall and war against Liechtenstein. Both did well in areas where Greens do well. The SPD easily topped the poll by over 10% in every constituency, with its strongest results in the centre of the city (around the industrial areas in the harbour) while doing poorer in the wealthier suburbs at the extremities of the city which traditionally vote for the right but obviously abandoned the CDU in droves. For example, the gentrified Docklands-like HafenCity in the core of the city saw the CDU vote collapse by 34% (from 62% to 28%) with the SPD improving by 24.3% and the FDP improving its 2008 result by 6%. Such seems to be a good example of where the CDU vote went. The SPD’s top candidate and mayor-elect Olaf Scholz is a Schröderite on the party’s right, which might have helped the SPD considerably in picking up centrist swing voters.
The next elections in Germany are in Saxony-Anhalt on March 20 but the real fun comes on March 27 in Baden-Württemberg, where the Greens hope to form the first ever green-red coalition in a stronghold of the right currently governed by a traditional black-yellow coalition.