On the 24th of September, Germans will head to the polls to elect a new parliament.
Each voter has two votes, one to elect one of 299 members of the Bundestag in single member constituencies (like the UK’s electoral system), and another to elect a further 299 (or more) members to make the result as proportional to the number of votes each party attains as possible. On the second vote, only parties which earn more than 5% of the vote win seats.
Throughout the entirety of this year, opinion polls have consistently suggested only six parties will win seats to the Bundestag.
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a centre-right party led by current Chancellor Angela Merkel, is unsurprisingly one of them. The party won the last election (2013) with 41.5% of the vote, just as it won the previous two. Merkel, who has led the party since 2000, is once again the party’s candidate for Chancellor. The party’s support has been fairly steady; it experienced a slight drop at the height of the refugee crisis, but gained most of it back. For the last few months, it has been almost consistently polling at 35-40%.
The centre-left Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) is the other main party in Germany. The party’s support has been mostly stable since the 2013 election, in which it obtained 25.7% of the vote. A notable exception was earlier this year, when the party announced its Chancellor candidate, former EU Parliament President Martin Schulz (pictured below). The party rose in the polls, and at one point was close to tying with the CDU. However, this support evaporated as quickly as it came, and over the past month, they have been polling between 21-25% – even lower than in 2013.
Consequently, it seems inevitable that the CDU will triumph once again. After the 2013 election, the CDU and SPD entered a coalition together – despite being roughly equivalent to an unthinkable Conservative-Labour coalition in the UK. It wasn’t the first, either; there have been three such ‘Grand Coalitions’ in Germany since World War 2.
With the CDU polling nowhere close to 50%, it is inevitable that they will have to form a coalition to make a government, due to the proportional nature of German elections. This is no surprise – all governments of the Federal Republic of Germany (the former West Germany and the successor unified Germany) have been coalitions.
Of the other 4 parties likely to win Bundestag seats, 2 also won seats in 2013. The left-wing, democratic socialist Die Linke (The Left) was one. Die Linke was formed in 2007 from SPD dissidents and the Party of Democratic Socialists, which in turn was the successor party to the Socialist Unity Party, de facto the only legal party in the former East Germany. The party is most successful in the former East with its performance of 20% of the vote share in 2013 in the former East state of Saxony dwarfing elsewhere. The centre-left, environmentalist Die Grünen (The Greens) also won seats. The two parties achieved 8.6% and 8.4% of the vote respectively, in 2013, and look likely to perform similarly this year.
The two other parties only narrowly missed out on the 5% threshold in 2013. The economic liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) had 4.8% of the vote. The party had been in a coalition with the CDU prior to the 2013 election, but lost two-thirds of its vote share. This drastic change in the party’s fortunes wasn’t due to entering a coalition with the CDU – in fact, 9 out of 18 governments of the Federal Republic have been CDU-FDP coalitions. Rather, it was poor performance and decision-making made by the party in the coalition that led to their disastrous election result. Currently, the party is polling at between 6% and 11%.
The other party was the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party. The party was founded in 2013 as a reaction to the Eurozone crisis, advocating for German withdrawal from the Eurozone. Overall, it was softly Eurosceptic, and to the right of the CDU, especially with regards to economics, but also socially. The party won 4.7% of the vote. The fact that AfD was a more right-wing alternative to the CDU, without links to Neo-Nazism, meant it gained support from people with strong anti-immigrant and anti-Islam tendencies. This ‘wing’ of the party grew in size, and eventually dominated the party, resulting in the party’s founder to leave in 2015 and launch his own party (ALFA, later LKR). This initially had some support, but quickly faded in to irrelevance. Due to the refugee crisis, the new direction of the AfD gained sizeable support – at one point it was polling at 15% and above, but recent polls suggest that it is unlikely to win more than 10% of the vote – in part due to CDU ‘backtracking’ with regards to some immigration policy.
Due to the nature of German elections, the resulting coalition needs close to 50% of the vote to have a majority. Another CDU-SPD coalition will surely have this, but both parties would prefer a different option. A CDU-FDP coalition seems like a sensible outcome, but it remains uncertain whether they will win enough votes to form a majority together.
If it didn’t have a majority, and the SPD refused to make another coalition, then a CDU-FDP-Greens coalition will probably have a majority – this combination has worked on the state level. However, the Greens and CDU will certainly be hesitant, and the FDP will surely be stringent on the conditions of any coalition, given their disastrous result last time.