Germany's election results point to a big win for the center-right

The results are in on Sunday’s elections in Germany, and the big news is that it is a big win for the center-right. In the vote for proportional representation (Zweitstimme), Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (the Christian Democratic Union and the Bavarian Christian Social Union, CDU/CSU) got 33.8% of the vote and the free-market Free Democrats (FDP), Merkel’s preferred coalition partner, got 14.6%, for a total of 48.4%. The Social Democrrats (SDP) got only 23.0%, their lowest share in history, while the Greens (Grüne) got 10.7% and the Left (Linke, more or less the former Communists) got 11.9%. The SDP has been willing to enter into a coalition with the Greens, as it did in 1998-2005, and with the CDU/CSU, as it has in the so-called Grand Coalition since the 2005 election, but not with the Left.

Both of the two largest parties got smaller percentages than in the last election, in September 2005, but the drop for the CDU/CSU was minimal, while the SDP share dropped from 34.2% to 23.0%–one out of its three voters went elsewhere. The percentages for the three minor parties all rose, with the FDP getting the largest percentage in the 60-year history of the Federal Republic. My sense is that voters in Germany, as in Britain, are engaging here in tactical voting.

The percentages for the CDU/CSU, for (in the former West Germany) the SDP and for (in the former East Germany) Left tended to be larger in the Erststimme (the vote for members in single-member districts) than in the Zweitstimme (the nationwide proportional vote). In the former, voters didn’t want to waste their votes on candidates who had no chance; in the latter, voters wanted to signal which direction they wanted policy to proceed. The increased Zweitstimme vote for the FDP thus shows an increased demand, compared to 2005, for free market policies. The somewhat smaller increases for the Greens and the Left show small increases in support for left-wing policies of various kinds.

The results thus tend to refute the assumption, widespread in the United States, that as I put it in my August 12 Examiner column, “the economic distress of the financial crisis and deep recession would create an appetite for larger government.” The election result in Germany suggests that, at least there, something more like the opposite is the case. Similarly, France and Italy in their most recent elections have voted for center-right parties, and in Britain the Conservatives have a very wide lead in the public polls over Labour in the runup to the general election that must be called by May 2010.
I can’t resist the impulse to examine the Erststimme (election district) results. This map from the Der Spiegel website (you may have to click on Wahlkreise and then on the drop-down menu Deutschland gesmat) shows the leading party in each district in the Zweitstimme results; you have to punch on each district to make sure the same party won the Erststimme results (as it did in 90%-plus of the districts).,5532,11922,00.html

Here is Der Spiegel’s similar map for the 2005 election, with a link to the map for the 2002 election. What strikes me as uncanny is that the CDU/CSU tends to win in the historically Catholic parts of Germany (the south, much of the Rhineland) while the SDP and, in 2009, the Left tends to win in the historically Protestant parts of Germany. The CDU/CSU, like the old Christian Democratic party in Italy, had links with the Catholic Church (though not as much as the Italian party) and is in some senses a descendant of the Catholic Centre party that existed from the Bismarck era until the Nazi dictatorship.

Thus in Germany, as in the United States and in so many other countries, cultural factors and attitudes on non-economic issues play an important part in party identification and political behavior even when, as in Germany’s cases, Christian convictions have pretty much faded out. One must add that the south is the most economically successful part of Germany these days (something that was not true a century ago) and also the most pro-CDU/CSU, and that the old factory towns of what was once West Germany remain strongholds of the SPD.

Working from the Der Spiegel 2009 maps, I have counted the number of seats won by each party in the Erststimme results. It is possible I have made a couple of errors in counting, and I would appreciate any correction. A number of interesting things emerge.
  1. The huge difference between regions. The CSU won all 46 seats in Bayern (Bavaria), for example, while in Nordrhein Westfalen, which includes the industrial Ruhr, the CDU/CSU beat the SDP by 37-25. The Left was competitive in the former East Germany but was only a splinter party in the former West Germany.
  2. The SDP won primarily in the old factory towns of the West; in the East the Left beat the SDP by 17-6. 
  3. The victorious coalition was surprisingly competitive in the former East Germany, increasing the CDU/CSU-FDP share of the Zweitstimme vote by 4% to 9% in each of the East German Lander, compared to 2% to 4% gains in each of the West German lander (except for a 1% decrease in Bayern, its strongest region).
  4. The competition in the former East Germany is mainly between the CDU/CSU and the Left, with the SDP muscled into third or even fourth place.
  5. In the former East the Left party is very strong in a couple of regions (Brandenburg, Sachsen Anhalt, Thuringen) but weak in the far north  (including Angela Merkel's district) and Sachsen (Saxony), which includes the historically prosperous cities of Leipzig and Dresden, as well as Chemnitz, known in the East German days at Karl-Marx-Stadt.
  6. Voters tended not to waste votes on the minor parties. The FDP won in just 1 district, Berlin-Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg-Prenzlauer Berg Ost, and the Grüne in 0.
  CDU/CSU SPD   FDP Linke Grüne
Deutschland 205 54 17 1
Former West 166 48
Former East 39 6 17 1
Bayern 46
Baden-Württemberg  38 1
Saarland 4
Rheinland-Pfalz 13 2
Nordrhein-Westfalen 37 25
Niedersachsen       16 13
Bremen   2
Hamburg         3 3
Schleswig-Holstein   9 2
Mecklenburg-Vorpom.   6
Brandenburg    1 4 5
Berlin          5 2 4
Sachsen-Anhalt   4 5 1
Thürirngen  7 2
Sachsen     5 2 4 1
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