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. Ok. I’m not engaging in the Grman language discourse! But thought I might as well add a fourth voice to this thread… So you don’t feel too alone!!

    This is a useful link explaining what’s going on:

    What I have net seen explained anywhere is the reason for the crash in the FDP support – down from 14.6% at the last election to (evidently) somewhere close to the 5% cutoff.

    Whilst perhaps a trite observation, an MMP system does produce interesting contests!! Perhaps William you might care to model, at some point, the political landscape we would now be faced with under a German/NZ style MMP system in Australia. I realize it’s a very abstract exercise…. I am Guessing we would have ended up with a Labor/Greens and Lib/Nat stalemate with the glorious Clive Palmer, as kingmaker, delivering an Abbott Government. Also, at least in NZ, electorate voting is still on a first past the post basis, with the offset being via the list seats.

    I have no idea what kind of outcome this system would have produced in Australia…. Far too complex for me to work out on a Sunday night!!

    But I suppose it is this very issue that makes the German election an intriguing one. As I read the situation, whilst Merkel must be favorite to continue as Chancellor, the different vagaries of MMP mean this cannot be guaranteed.

    Having said all of that, I would be quite keen to see MMP in Australia – so that minority governments become the norm, rather than the exception. I quite liked the way our last Parliament worked!!

  2. The German system is far more complicated than the New Zealand system because, apart from the national 5% threshold, it is really 16 MMP elections (in each of the states). New Zealand also has by-elections (Germany does not) and has a 1 seat requirement to be exempt from the 5% threshold, rather than the German 3 seat requirement.

  3. There is also the possibility that the SPD`s minimum wage policy is bringing out lower income voters who the pollsters do not expect to turn up.

  4. I think any kind of PR system in Australia would result in the break-up of both major parties. The Liberals would split between social conservatives and free-market libertarians, and Labor would split between socialists and centrists. We’d also get a new right-populist party which would probably clear the 5% threshold.

  5. The German unions have been quite happy to trade off wages against a secure safety net and security of employment. Germany still has a very large manufacturing working class and they intend keeping it.

  6. Psephos. Do you see such a likely break up as a good thing or a bad thing?

    And sorry for the double post. The first one mysteriously disappeared then reappeared!

  7. Good night from me. Those planning an all-nighter watching the results – stay away from the red wine!!

    I will be eagerly checking the news when I wake up.

    Thankfully, as this thread does not raise any asylum seeker issues, Sean Tisme is mercifully absent……

  8. A third exit poll gets the FDP to 5%, but it clearly rounds to the nearest half a per cent.

    electionista ‏@electionista 2m
    Germany – Forsa exit poll: CDU/CSU 42%, SPD 25.5%, Greens 8.5%, LINKE 8.5%, FDP 5%, AfD 4.5% #btw13

  9. Looks like a big win for Merkel, her vote up almost 10%, but she could still have to form a coalition with the SPD if her liberal allies fail to get into parliament. The eurosceptic AfD may yet squeeze into parliament

  10. One pollster’s projection has the CDU/CSU one seat short of a majority in its own right:

    electionista ‏@electionista 7m
    Germany – Infratest dimap projection: CDU/CSU 42.1%(299 seats), SPD 25.8%(183), LINKE 8.2%(58), Greens 8.1%(58), AfD 4.9%, FDP 4.7% #btw13

  11. I doubt she would want to form a one-party government with a majority of one or two, although some in her party would. A grand coalition would allow her to govern from the centre and play off left against right, which is what she likes.

  12. AfD have knocked out the FPD, but have fallen just short themselves. That effectively takes 9.5% of voters out of the Bundestag, which is why the three left parties are close to a majority with 43% of the vote. So PR has its peculiarities too.

  13. The FAZ now gives Merkel 302 to the combined left’s 304. Very painful result for the SPD, although their vote is up. They could form a government, but they can’t.

  14. This is the second election out of the last three at which the centre-left has won but can’t take office. They are completely hamstrung because 8% of voters continue to support the Left rather than vote SPD or Green.

  15. Psephos – The Left has not ‘won’ by any stretch of the imagination, the combined centre-right vote (CDU 42.2, FDP 4.6 and AFD 4.8 is 51.6%) the combined centre-left vote (SPD 25.7, Linke 8.6, Greens 8.1 is 42.4%). The CDU is more than 15% ahead of the SPD in terms of voteshare and Merkel’s party has 307 seats to SPD’s 187. I guess the centre-left has ‘won’ in the sense that Kevin Rudd ‘won’ in still having a significant presence in parliament, but no more!

  16. Yes, but as I said above, the peculiarities of PR mean that the FPD and the AfD have knocked each other out, removing their 9.4% from the count. So the combined left has slightly more votes than the CDU-CSU, and will therefore probably win a slight overall majority of seats. In a PR system, that is a win.

  17. The SPD, Greens, and Linka may form a majority government but it would be a death sentence for them since removing a popular chancellor with around a 5 seat majority in a 600 member parliament would actually not even be such a bad deal for the CDU. I think it would never work.

  18. Psephos – It is not a ‘win’, because the SPD has ruled out any deal with the Linke and the CDU could still yet win an outright majority or the AfD scrape into parliament. As I said the SPD have ruled out any deals with the Left Party, but if they did try and do a backroom deal having clearly lost the popular vote because the Afd and FDP fell just below the threshold for parliament there would be outrage, which is why they won’t. In any case, Merkel is the Germans choice for chancellor in every poll and as clearly shown by her big lead tonight, the only issue is whether she wins outright or forms a deal with the SPD!

  19. Psephos Well I suppose we can agree in usual German style a few more days of horse trading will now commence before the final shape of government is know.

  20. FTR, I still believe a PR-based system in Australia (ideally with single member constituencies to avoid having hundreds more politicians) would be a substantial step towards a parliament that resembled the diversity of opinion in this country, and would, at least in the longer run, improve the quality of debate around public policy.

    It’s not my preferred model of course, but still a step forward and supportable on that basis.

    As to the centre-left failing to achieve government in Germany — if currently most Germans are centre-right, or prefer a centre-right regime — then so be it. It’s up to their rivals to make the case that a non-centre-right regime is preferable.

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