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 Union seems to be doing very well in the Eastern lander constituencies. Every seat in Thuringia ! I guess this is a consequence of a split left and a destroyed FDP

  2. On the results of the last 2 elections there seems little chance of SDP ever regaining government until it either destroys die Linke or comes to some accommodation with it.

  3. Psephos
    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,

    That is like saying that if the National vote was removed from the Australian election, the ALP would have just won the 2PP

  4. OC

    [On the results of the last 2 elections there seems little chance of SDP ever regaining government until it either destroys die Linke or comes to some accommodation with it.]

    The latter seems the much wiser course. It’s not going to be easy, but the former course probably isn’t going to be viable on any plausible timeline, and would ensure the ongoing marginalisation/fragility of the SDP.

  5. The CDU has won every seat in the former East Germany except Brandenburg (SPD) and four in East Berlin (Left). They’ve also won every seat in the southern half of the country except Darmstadt and Kaiserslauten. The SPD is boxed into a belt of declining industrial areas in the north-west.

  6. Electorate results: CDU-CSU 239 (+21); SPD 55 (-9), Left 4 (-12), Greens 1. Total left: 60 (-21). So if this had been a Westminster election, it would have been a crushing victory for the CDU-CSU. But in the German system those results don’t count at all. All that counts is the “second vote” for the party lists. And since the FPD’s 4.8% and the AfD’s 4.7% are eliminated (not directed to the CDU as preferences as they would be in an Australian Senate election), the CDU-CSU’s 41.5% is set against the three left parties’ combined 42.7%. So Merkel loses her majority despite the CDU-CSU’s vote rising 7.7%.

  7. Psephos @59 – in the days of canvas sails a wet sail was said to hold the wind a bit better than a dry sail – probably no science to it but, the thought is that a wet sail drove a yatch faster than ones with dry sails enabling a yatch to sail through a fleet from behind to win.

  8. Current Au Paire is a Greens voter – because they proposed changes to schooling to take pressure off the students.

    Oh Well – that won’t happen and she’s finished school. She’ll come to her senses soon as she gets out in the real world.

  9. I blame the arbitrary 5% threshold for that rather than the MMP system. In any case the people will end up with a Government supported by a large majority of voters – and ones opinion polls have indicated they want.

  10. I get confused at times. All the news outlets are saying Merkel won easily and yet on PB it is a great victory for the left. Am I missing something?

  11. ‘Left’ parties will have a slim majority – which could be counted as a ‘victory’. However, given the SPD won’t go into a coalition with the Left, Merkel will carry on as Chancellor, likely in a grand coalition and from a very high base.

  12. Itep you mean the Left will have a majority but can’t organise themselves into a coalition to take advantage of it? My God it’s no wonder the left keeps messing things up 😉

  13. My guess is that what is most likely going to happen is that the SPD will agree, however reluctantly, to another grand coalition, taking up the position of junior partner to the CDU-CSU. If they do, there will be no difficulty in getting enough votes in the Bundestag to re-elect Merkel as Chancellor.

    However, in the (in my view much less likely) scenario in which the SPD does not agree to join a coalition and vote for Merkel as Chancellor, how does she get enough votes in the Bundestag? She needs not just a plurality or even a majority of votes cast, but the affirmative votes of a majority of Bundestag members. If the SPD won’t join a coalition, it seems unlikely that the CDU-CSU could get the support of the Greens or of the Left. Since the vote is by secret ballot, there is the possibility of Opposition members defecting to vote for Merkel, and just a few would be enough to get her across the line. Failing that, though, the constitutional procedure could progress to the stage where she gets the votes of a plurality of Bundestag members but not a majority, and the Federal President is then required to make the decision, either to appoint her as Chancellor or to dissolve the Bundestag for fresh elections. Appointing Merkel as Chancellor with a minority government seems the more likely outcome of that scenario to me, after which she would have to govern in the face of a Bundestag with a majority against her government.

    If anybody cared about my opinion, I would suggest that this is actually the better choice for the SPD for reasons both of tactics and of principle, but, as I started out by saying, I think they’re much more likely to end up going the other way.

  14. Not just the East but every seat in Saarland has gone to CDU. This was traditionally left but it shows what happens when the vote is split in a FPP system.

  15. A bit unfair davivwh the problem part of the left is a combination of ex-SED and the former extreme left wing of the SPD who could not stomach the last grand coalition. There is significant enmity between die Linke and SPD and it may still be too early to bring the ex communists into the fold without an electoral backlash. Having said that there have been successful SPD – Linke governments in some of the Eastern lander.

    East Germany was a terrible totalitarian state but at least it had a good anthem:

  16. Fran Barlow @50

    ‘… I still believe a PR-based system in Australia (ideally with single member constituencies to avoid having hundreds more politicians) …’

    I have failed to understand what you mean by a PR-based system with single-member constituencies. That sounds like a contradiction in terms to me.

  17. [Not just the East but every seat in Saarland has gone to CDU. This was traditionally left but it shows what happens when the vote is split in a FPP system.]

    If you divide Germany into four quarters, the CDU-CSU has won virtually all the seats in the north-east, south-east and south-west quarters. The three left parties have no seats in Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Mecklenberg or Saarland. They have one seat in Rhineland-Pfalz and one in Brandenburg. Nearly all the left’s seats are in the old heavy industry zone running an arc from Bonn through the Ruhr, Hannover and Hamburg to Lubeck and Kiel, with an outpost in Berlin.

  18. @Psephos

    Germany is currently on summer time (daylight saving time), which puts it two hours ahead of UTC, meaning that the polls closed at 1600h UTC. This probably explains what you heard. (As the UK is also currently on summer time, current German time is still only one hour ahead of current UK time, with current UK time one hour ahead of UTC.)

  19. I’m hearing projections of 311 seats to the CDU/CSU (out of 630). So 5 short of a majority.

    Am I right that only 1 independent has ever won a seat?

  20. I do not believe a minority government is very likely to happen, since if the SPD does not go into a coalition with the CDU they could be labeled as the party of no and call new elections. It seems obvious that the votes on the right do exist and it would make sense to head back to the polls and try again. Truth be told I don’t know what the SPD’s choices are since getting into bead with former east German communist is likely to lead to a strong backlash from western Germany. I think Germany is going to way of Austria which has had a grand coalition 90% of the time since the second world war.

  21. Australian Sex Party supporter @84

    As I explained earlier, if the SPD refuses to go into coalition with the CDU-CSU, it doesn’t automatically mean that new elections have to be called. Instead, after the requisite preliminaries have been gone through, it is possible for the President to re-appoint Merkel as Chancellor on the basis of a plurality vote in the Bundestag. However, as I also explained earlier, I think that’s an unlikely outcome, and your projection of a grand coalition becoming the norm in Germany as it is in Austria strikes me as plausible (although by no means a certainty).

  22. Procedurally I minority coalition is possible, however I disagree with it being a better option for the SPD since the only way it could survive is if the SPD constantly backs it in votes of confidence. For the SPD it would mean getting all of the blame with non of the cabinet level positions. It makes more sense to at least get some of their members into cabinet and increase their portfolio if they plan on backing the government anyway. Just as a side note Hitler was the last chancellor to lead a minority government.

  23. Progressivism is a very vague term. The Canadian progressive conservative party, the Icelandic Progressive party, the Spanish Union, Progress and Democracy, and US Progressives all claim the mantle of being Progressive. At the end the terms Communist, socialist, Liberal, Conservatives, and Greens tend to be more concrete terms and even with them there is a great deal of wiggle room. If you asked a Republican if cutting taxes is progressive he would say yes since it still is progressing somewhere.

  24. Germans have a deep horror of political instability (see 1918 et seq), and they will not look kindly on a minority government. There will be a CDU-SPD coalition because that is the most stable government possible given the election outcome.

  25. There have been minority governments at the state level recently. In one of them the FDP actually ended up voting themselves out of parliament, giving the SPD a bigger majority with their preferred coalition partner.

  26. ltep you are incorrect there was a minority government in North Rein Westphalia but it was brought by the Linkspartei not the FDP. In Lower Saxony a minority government also existed which was also brought down by the Linkpartei leading to a CDU-FDP coalition.

  27. Went to a wedding to Lubeck.

    The food was inedible, the wedding interminable and everyone could waltz making my sideways shuffling a bit inadequate.

    Heaps of booze helped however.

  28. Their is another advantage of Grand coalitions in that they reduce political polarization. I wish Australia had a grand coalition, but it is unlikely with this voting system.

  29. Its not completely wrong the SPD Greens did offer the FDP a deal before new election were called so in some ways they may have caused their own demise, just not directly. Grand Coalitions also include the best talent of both parties.

  30. A CDU coalition with the SPD might also assist in getting legislation affecting the Länder through the Bundesrat.

    More broadly, given this mixed result, and since most of the Länder have left or left-right governments, it’s hard to see any major rightward drift in German policy-making at the moment. There will, nonetheless, no doubt be pressure from the international agencies for more neo-liberal reforms in areas such as labour regulation.

  31. [Their is another advantage of Grand coalitions in that they reduce political polarization. I wish Australia had a grand coalition, but it is unlikely with this voting system.]

    There’s no chance of any such thing because of the deep hatreds between right and left in Australia. German politicians don’t seem to hate each other (with a few exceptions). Also, all German politicians are deeply aware of German history, and make great efforts to maintain a civilised tone and to work together in the national interest. If Merkel asks the SPD to join a coalition, they will regard it as their national duty to accept. It’s hard to see any Australian politicians doing that.

  32. Psephos @89 and Australian Sex Party supporter @86

    I absolutely agree that a grand coalition is by far the most likely outcome. However, a minority government is still at least a theoretical possibility. It would not automatically require the SPD to support the government on votes of confidence, because there don’t have to be any votes of confidence. Legislation would get through the Bundestag if the SPD supported it–or abstained–but presumably the government would have to live with having some of its legislative proposals fail. Well, governments do that. In fact, the outgoing German government was already living with having some of its legislative proposals fails because of opposition from the Bundesrat. Some people would describe that negatively as ‘gridlock’ or perhaps even ‘instability’, but some people would describe it positively as ‘checks and balances’.

    Anyway, to be clear, I agree again that all this is probably academic, given the odds on a grand coalition as the outcome.

  33. Oakeshott suggested it in the 17 minute speech and was layghed out of town by the soon to be bankrupt Ray Hadley among others.

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