Deutschland wählt

A quick overview and a place to discuss today’s German national election, at which Angela Merkel seeks a third term as Chancellor.

Voting is in progress as we speak in Germany, where Angela Merkel seeks a third term as chancellor, an office she assumed in 2005. The election night timetable in Germany looks pretty similar to our own, with polling stations to close at 6pm (2am Australian eastern standard time), followed immediately by the publication of exit polls. The first results should come in within half an hour, with a clear picture to emerge a few hours later.

Germany’s elections are conducted under the “mixed-member proportional” system that has more-or-less been copied wholesale by New Zealand, the upshot of which is that representation will be proportional among parties which clear a 5% threshold. Voters elect local constituency representatives to the Bundestag, but these seats are “topped up” with party list seats so as to produce a proportional result. As in New Zealand, there is a slight element of messiness in the system in that it is possible for a party to win more constituency seats than its national support entitles it to, resulting in what is known to German as überhangmandaten and to English as “overhang seats”. Their effect is to create variability in the number of seats in the Bundestag, the number after the 2009 election being 622 from a base of 598.

The parties which will most certainly clear the 5% threshold are the ruling Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union; its main opponent, the Social Democratic Party (whose candidate is Peer Steinbrück); and two parties of the left, the Greens and “Die Linke” (The Left). Straddling the exclusion threshold is the Free Democratic Party, who as free-market liberals are natural allies of the CDU/CSU, and the new Euro-sceptic party Alternative for Germany. The FDP has crashed badly over the past term and appears set for its worst performance since its establishment after the war. Die Linke is in part the descendant of the ruling party of East Germany, which makes it too “linke” for an alliance with the Social Democrats.

A clear change of government would thus involve the Social Democrats and the Greens collectively achieving a majority or something close to it, which with the Social Democrats polling in the low to mid-20s and the Greens looking at about 10% is fairly clearly not in prospect. Realistic outcomes are thus either a continuation of the current centre-right coalition between the CDU/CSU and the FDP, or a grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats such as was formed when Angela Merkel first came to power after the 2005 election, in which half of the sixteen cabinet seats went to the Social Democrats. With the CDU/CSU polling at around 40%, the clearance or otherwise of the threshold by the FDP could well decide the outcome between the two alternative scenarios. Given the state of the polling, it would take a big surprise for the Social Democrats to be in a position to assume seniority in a grand coalition.

My favourite online interactive toy in relation to the election is this effort from Der Spiegel, providing a constituency-level display of federal election results going back the first post-war election in West Germany in 1949. The best place to follow the results would look to be Deutsche Welle.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

106 comments on “Deutschland wählt”

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  1. The result now seems to be Left 319, Right 311. As this reality has sunk in, the election-night euphoria of the pro-Merkel press (ie, all of it) has faded. FAZ has a very sombre Merkel on its website.
    So we have a paradox. The SPD has been beaten, but it now holds some strong cards. A grand coalition is the only realistic option, so the SPD can set its terms, and put the onus on Merkel to accept them.

  2. If there is genuinely actually no alternative to a grand coalition; if both the CSU-CDU and the SPD must in the end accede to that; then neither has more bargaining power than the other.

    On the other hand, if failure to form a grand coalition is a possibility, then whichever side would be hurt most by that failure is in the weaker bargaining position in a theoretical sense, but not in practice if it’s not clear which side that is. The SPD might be in a position to hold over Merkel’s head a theoretical threat of failure to agree, in order to extract concessions, if failure to agree, with its consequences, could in some way be a palatable option for them. Conversely, Merkel can only try to extract concessions from the SPD if failure to form a grand coalition could in at least some circumstances be a palatable option for her. Of course, either side, or both, might try to bluff.

  3. Germany voted decisively for a Merkel government, both the SPD and Green’s votes are worst then the ALP and Greens are in Australia. The SPD have very little bargaining power in my opinion. If they forces another poll or try to form government, they will be decimated at the next election

  4. The question isn’t whether the SPD should try to force another election, because it isn’t within the power of the SPD to force another election, even if they wanted to.

    The question is whether the SPD should join the CDU-CSU in a coalition government–if asked, something which doesn’t seem to have happened yet. Saying that the SPD must join a coalition government if asked because the CDU-CSU won the election makes about as much sense as saying that the ALP must join a coalition government with the Liberals and Nationals if asked because the Liberals and Nationals won the election.

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