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Federal Elections in Germany

by nanne Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 04:46:42 AM EST

In the last days before today's election, excitement has finally come to the German elections, by virtue of tightening polls. That, and Steini-Girl.

The German Chancellery. Source: en.wikipedia.org
First the polls. The poll released by Forsa on Friday, which will have been the last, shows the christian-democratic CDU/CSU union at 33%, its lowest levels of the entire cycle. The social-democratic SPD has stabilised at 25%. The FDP gets 14%, the Left Party 11 and the Greens 10.

If this is the outcome of the elections, a potential coalition between the CDU/CSU and the free market liberals of the FDP will still command a comfortable majority in the Bundestag, as the christian democrats should get more overhang seats than the SPD in this election - an artifice of the current arrangement of the mixed member proportional system. But the race might tighten further in the last days.

The German electoral system causes a number of paradoxes. For one, the recent polling trend has been that the CDU/CSU loses ground, but the FDP holds steady. This is not exclusively positive news for the FDP, as the potential for it to enter the government will also depend upon the spread between the CDU/CSU and the SPD - the smaller that spread, the lower the advantage in overhang seats will be for the christian democrats.


It was not entirely unexpected that the race would tighten in the last week. It's what happened four years ago, and part of the dynamics of the electoral campaign. Still, it is surprising that it happens mainly through the CDU/CSU losing ground. 33% would be a poor outcome for Merkel, worse than what the party got in 2005. Steinmeier, at least, will be able to argue that he exceeded expectations and got his party out of a dry spell if the SPD gets more than 25%.

Majority with votes of the minority and constitutional law

The Federal Constitutional Court. Source: en.wikipedia.org
Given the more equal division of votes between the parties on the left side of the political spectrum than those of the 'bourgeouis camp', it is possible that with a small minority of the votes, say 46 to 47 percent, the CDU/CSU and FDP will still have a majority of the seats in the German Bundestag. This is constitutional as long as the overhang seats don't make up more than 5% of the total, according to an old judgment (de, see par. 101-102) of the federal constitutional court in Karlsruhe.

Another aspect of the overhang seat allocation under the current law can result in a negative weight for a 'second vote'. In Germany you vote for the direct candidate first and the party list second. Because of the allocation method for the overhang seats, it can occur that a second vote has a negative weight in an electoral district if the direct candidate of the same party doesn't win the district. This has been ruled unconstitutional by Karlsruhe in July last year. The deadline that it set for reforming the electoral law to fix this situation is in 2011, well past the current elections. However, there will have to be some freak scenario with a one or two seat majority for the CDU and FDP for this to decide the elections.

The current trend in polling shows the SPD gaining and the CDU losing, and as these two largest parties converge, the potential for a government representing less votes than the parliamentary opposition grows smaller. However, it is possible and if the CDU and FDP do go into negotiations on such a coalition there is a large opportunity for the opposition to characterise it as illegitimate with an eye on bringing it to a fall and having new elections as soon as the electoral law has been fixed.

It's not all federal, or, as Schleswig-Holstein goes...

In addition to the federal elections, there are state elections in Brandenburg and Schleswig-Holstein which have a potential impact on the federal level. The Brandenburg polls don't indicate a change of the grand coalition there and will hopefully be notable mainly for the greens getting represented and the far-right taking an exit.

In Schleswig-Holstein, the Minister President Carstensen decided to break up his grand coalition with the SPD a few months ago, hoping to be able to secure a government with the more pliable FDP. And perhaps looking to influence the federal elections. The CDU has however also been losing ground in Schleswig-Holstein, and should Carstensen be unable to form a coalition with the FDP, the left parties will get an effective majority to block federal legislation in the Bundesrat. This, in turn, will inform negotiations after the elections. If there is no longer a majority for the CDU/CSU-FDP in the Bundesrat and only a narrow majority in the Bundestag, the argument within the christian democratic parties for a continuation of the 'grand' coalition with the SPD will become a lot more powerful.

The Prussian House of Lords, seat of the Bundesrat. Source: de.wikipedia.org

Fittingly, Schleswig-Holstein has its own troubles (de) with overhang seats, which might mean that the parties will take the decision over the allocation of seats to court. This will further complicate calculations at the federal level.

Dauerwahlkampf?

Despite the article you could have read in DER SPIEGEL over the past four years, week after week, on the instability of the grand coalition and inquiet voices within the CDU and SPD, the coalition has held steady and is now not being dragged over the line in any sense. The 'election fight' is remarkably impersonal, and event in recent weeks ministers from the CDU/CSU and SPD have found opportunities (de) for being collegial.

Some of the fundamental reasons behind this are the CDU's clear majority in the Bundesrat, and the SPD's unwillingness to even consider a coalition with the Left Party at the federal level.

These conditions may change after the next elections even if there is another grand coalition. There is a decent possibility of more coalitions between the SPD and the Left Party at the state level, even in configurations where the SPD is the minority party. There is also a good chance that these coalitions will include the Greens. There are elections in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, in Spring 2010, and then there is a slew of state elections coming up in 2011, when there will also have to be a new electoral law.

Regardless of the next German government, there is a good opportunity that the future will bring more contention and less stability in the federal politics of Germany.

Display:
For further stories, see the recent news coverage in the Salon of September 25th and 26th.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 07:57:49 AM EST
the discussion in the open thread, yesterday.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 09:20:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is it fear of a CDU/FDP Government that is driving the SPD rally and the CDU decline?  My sense is that many/most Germans don't like fixing things that are not broken and would have been quite happy for the Grand Coalition to continue.  With the drive for breaking up that coalition coming from the CDU rather than the SPD, it is the CDU which is being punished for this more radical stance - allied to a fear that the CDU/FDP would break up social protections at the very time when most people need them most.  

To what extent will differential turnout be a factor?  Is the left or the right more motivated to turn out?  It seems centre lefty voters have more choices than those on the right.  Will the far right also bleed votes from the CDU/CSU, votes which, ultimately won't lead to parliamentary representation and thus lesson any overhang effect?

What seems remarkable about these elections is the relative stability and lack of personal animosity at a time of crisis.  Germany has come of age?

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 08:03:14 AM EST
Is it fear of a CDU/FDP Government that is driving the SPD rally and the CDU decline?

I think that it's largely an artifice of the previously high number of undecided voters, but also caused to some extent Steinmeier's superior performance in the head to head television debate.
To what extent will differential turnout be a factor?  Is the left or the right more motivated to turn out?

We'll have to see on election day. My guess is that turnout will be relatively high, and that this will boost the share for the SPD and the Left Party and depress the share of the FDP and the Greens relative to the latest polls.
What seems remarkable about these elections is the relative stability and lack of personal animosity at a time of crisis. Germany has come of age?

Germany has come of age a long time ago. Still, I doubt that an overarching sense of responsibility that restrains the scope of contention in politics is necessarily a sign of political maturity.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 08:42:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that it's largely an artifice of the previously high number of undecided voters, but also caused to some extent Steinmeier's superior performance in the head to head television debate.

I'm assuming some of it has to do with the tradition of undecideds breaking a little more against the incumbent, too.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 08:52:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Could be, although Steinmeier is also an incumbent.

My idea on this is that it's the base. The CDU base is fairly loyal and if they break, they should first break to the FDP. Although the SPD has been running a fairly centrist campaign. The main base for the FDP and Greens, meanwhile, is rich and/or educated. These people make up their minds sooner.

The main base for the SPD has been less motivated to actually vote, which depressed their numbers in the European Parliament elections, but they should turn up for the federal elections. Additionally, the electoral system with a first vote for a direct candidate and a second vote for a party list should drive more votes towards the SPD, as they bring the only credible candidates to oppose the CDU in a lot of districts.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 09:02:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
nanne:
The CDU base is fairly loyal and if they break, they should first break to the FDP.

Is there not still a strong Catholic/Protestant split between (especially older) CDU/FDP voters which reduces cross-overs despite ideological similarities especially on economic policy?

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 09:18:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe in the South. Methinks by and large however, a Catholic/Protestant split is more between the CSU and the CDU...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 12:26:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You may have more up to date info, but in my parents time the FDP was the protestant party and the CDU/CSU both catholic.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 01:59:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thinking about it, I am definitely referencing recent times (and less recent times in Hessen): the North German CDU was not as powerful as it is today before they took the North from the SPD and Merkel took over the party, and Catholics extend up to the Ruhr Area.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 02:12:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and even Christian Wulff is Catholic? For some reason I thought he is Protestant.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 02:20:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Protestants used to vote for the SPD in majority, not the FDP, and it seems that they still do.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 02:52:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The FDP is a much smaller party - and so has less voters - but are they proportionately more Protestant than the SPD?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 10:57:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A lack of contention can also be a sign of bourgeois self-satisfaction, stasis, and a lack of vibrancy in society as a whole.  However, in this context I was referring more to the ability of the political system to deal with an economic crisis without an extreme lurch to the right a la Weimar.  There is plenty of contention in US politics, for example, but not much of it seems to provide evidence of maturity - see birthers, deathers, creationist, climate change deniers, and those looking forward to creating Armageddon...

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 09:23:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
SPD rally and the CDU decline?

I think this was overblown in the media: there was equal or more movement within the camps rather than across them. You should also consider tactical voting: a vote for the FDP could also be a conservative's a vote for a CDU-FDP coalition, and a vote for the SPD could also be a desperate commie's vote against the FDP in government. (How the former could backfire, was highlighted by nanne in the diary; I note this also led to a mini-war between the CDU and the FDP on first vote recommendations.)

My sense is that many/most Germans don't like fixing things that are not broken and would have been quite happy for the Grand Coalition to continue.

In coalition preference polls, the CDU/CSU+FDP came out on top (though still well below 50%), and the Grand Coalition only second. I suspect SPD voters are the only group favouring a continuation by a majority.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 12:36:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What seems remarkable about these elections is the relative stability and lack of personal animosity at a time of crisis.

Lack of personal animosity? Well, maybe not between the heads of the main parties (who are suspected to secretly hope for continuing the Grand Coalition, whatever their public declarations to the opposite). But there was reportedly [sadly I missed it] lively discussion in the TV debate between the leaders of the three smaller parties; and environment minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) fought his lone war, too.

And then there is the far-right NPD who mailed letters to politicians with foreign descent telling them to emigrate.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 12:39:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Brandenburg polls don't indicate a change of the SPD/Left Party coalition there

You mean Grand Coalition.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 08:15:04 AM EST
Thanks. I somehow had the idea that there was a SPD/Left Party coalition in my head and didn't check.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 08:28:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One name: Jörg Schönbohm.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 12:23:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A little write-up on the parties. The campaign may have been super-boring thanks to the two big parties, but it's interesting that it seemed there are now not 5 but 7 independent campaigns. Loosely from right to left:

NPD (National Democrats, neo-Nazis): they are strong in Saxony, which held regional elections a month ago; and want to take over from another far-right party in Brandenburg -- thus, even if they have no chance at 5% in the federal elections, they made plenty of noise in the campaign, with open xenophobia and threats. What worries me in this context is the latest poll in Berlin, which shows 12% "other".

CDU (Christian Democrats): officially, they hate the Grand Coalition and want the FDP. Which would unleash their neolib wing, which was thwarted 4 years ago. Unofficially, Merkel may prefer the Grand Coalition because it is with a known partner, and the FDP may strengthen inner-party rivals; and that seems one reason for leading a non-campaign (the another to sustain her fake presidential above-party-politics image).

The CDU is also hoping for potential partnerships with the Greens -- less alone ("black-green") than in an untested three-partner variant with the FDP too ("Jamaica").

CSU (Christian Socialists): the CDU's Bavarian counterpart (the CDU runs in 15 federal states, the CSU in the one remaining, but they have a joint faction in the federal parliament [and the EP]). The CSU always tries to emphasize its independent existence and relevance in campaigns, but this time, fed up with Merkel's non-campaign and the slide in the polls, they really had the wheels off. And led a very contradictory campaign.

On one hand, true to their more social roots, for two weeks the CSU attacked the desired future coalition partner FDP for neoliberalism. Who knows, maybe they played themselves up as guarantors that the FDP's batshit insane policies won't be implemented. However, in the next two weeks, they switched to another traditional theme, tax cut populism -- and suddenly emphasized the commonalities with the FDP.

FDP (Free Democrats, neolibs): beneficiaries of the bourgeois vote fed up with the SPD in government. Hence, desired partner: CDU/CSU, but they kept up a mirage of independence until last week when they declared the preference -- and rejected everyone else. True to ideology, they expend most rhetorical ire on the "reds", that is the SPD and Left Party; however, their biggest enemy seems to be the Greens, whom they strangely enough compete with for some of the same voters (urban, educated).

SPD (Social Democrats): in public, they too declared that they are fed up with the Grand Coalition. But want to govern. With whom? They admit the Greens would not be enough, but reject the Left Party as third partner ("red-red-green") -- so only one choice remains, lobbying the FDP ("traffic lights") -- who doesn't want.

Greens: sitting on the sidelines are the Greens, the only ones who would coalition with anyone, though they criticise everyone to various degrees -- the FDP and then the CDU most. Though last or before-last in the polls, they are heading for their best-ever result. Their fear is a loss of tactical voters to the SPD.

Left Party (hard left): officially, negating the CDU's scaremongering about a red-red-green coalition, they are writing off a coalition with SPD and Greens, for their stance on Afghanistan and Harz IV -- and are explicitly comfortable with their Overton Window effect from opposition.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 01:20:57 PM EST
DoDo:
What worries me in this context is the latest poll in Berlin, which shows 12% "other".

Other can be more parties, I have not seen many polls that breaks down "other", but this one from august put Piraten at the same level as the far right.



Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 03:59:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And are these polls normalized, or are there no significant numbers of "undecideds", no-votes, blank votes and refusals?

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 04:11:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They're normalised.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 04:29:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah! Now that you say it, after that rally a few weeks ago, the Pirates could be behind that increase. You made me less worried :-)

(Now if only it were Pirates rather than fascists at 12% in my own country, and above in my own ward...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 04:39:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Pirates are probably under-represented in phone polls, they'll definitely come in sixth. IMHO, since they draw both from FDP and Greens, they won't be a deciding factor.
Anyway, my guess is Schwarzgelb (CDU/CSU+FDP) wins less votes, but more seats than the others. Could be a long evening.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Sat Sep 26th, 2009 at 05:56:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Chancellery and Constitutional Court are really incredibly ugly, enough to make the Palast der Republik look attractive.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 01:35:02 AM EST
The Palast der Republik has, however, already been torn down.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 04:52:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What do you think of its planned re-replacement, the reconstruction of the Prussian-era City Palace?

I think it was monolythic and ugly, too -- no need to rebuild THAT. It would be funnier if they'd rebuilt it in an earlier form...



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 07:14:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The palace may be a typical Prussian-era building, but so are the surrounding buildings on the Museumsinsel, on Unter den Linden, as well as the Dom. So recreating the older castle, even if it is far prettier, would be an anachronism.

In that sense I favour the reconstruction. Berlin has enough diversity in its architecture and the Schloss should provide a somewhat coherent frontier between the Alexanderplatz/Fernsehturm area and the old Prussian centre of Unter den Linden up to the Friedrichstraße and the Gendarmenmarkt.

But I care more about finishing the U5 than any of this.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 07:51:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OTOH, it sends... mixed signals, shall we say, to reconstruct an Imperial-era building in the centre of Berlin. It strikes me as being vaguely similar to reconstructing the East India House in London.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 08:30:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The history of Germany (and Berlin) is not as continuous as the British. The memories of Communism and Nazism are more prominent than those of the Prussian Kingdom and then German empire.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 08:57:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The palace may be a typical Prussian-era building

To emphasize, I don't have a problem with Prussian-era architectural style per se, even if I am aware of the politico-cultural trench warfare behind the reconstruction. But this one building... just strikes me as ugly. Bad ratios, little detail, and it's one big block.

anachronism.

Well, it wasn't a serious proposal :-) But, if the architect is gifted enough, an anachronism can fit in -- see the Reichstag dome.

BTW, I remember, but couldn't find an on-line trace of, a study a few years ago saying that the palace would block air movements and car-polluted air would get stuck -- do you recall anything?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 11:03:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, I realise that it may not be immediately clear that on that photo from Wikipedia, the building with pillars on the canal shore is not part of the palace: it is the Kaiser Wilhelm National Monument. It was a thoroughly imperialistic and pretentious monument, but, IMO it's good architecture, unlike the palace behind it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 11:19:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Never heard about the blocked air movements. I can't imagine it, looking at the map. In my experience, most of the traffic is on the Spandauer Str. and the Mühlendamm.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 12:01:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hm, looking at the map, it would block Northwest-Southeast air movements along the Breite Straße and West-East ones along Rathausstraße, so both could be affected, as well as Karl-Liebknecht-Straße. I don't know what's the locally predominant wind direction.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 12:55:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The air quality also depends upon the amount of traffic, and the traffic mainly goes between the Grunerstraße and the Leipziger Straße and the Spandauer Straße and the Karl-Liebknecht-Straße towards the east - there isn't enough traffic elsewhere to cause serious air quality problems, I think.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 01:58:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The old 19th century castle is very beautiful, and rebuilding it is a great idea. It's not like we don't need stimulus projects, and Peak Architecture was reached about 150 years ago... ;)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 09:25:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You think THAT's beautiful? The one on the B&W photo?... Tastes differ :-)

BTW, apart from the dome, the palace on the B&W photo is start-of-18th-century. And it looks this Spartan because of austerity measures at the time of construction :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 11:09:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And good riddance!

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 09:22:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Methinks the chancellery is at least funny -- but maybe that's the effect ofits nickname on me: "Bundeswaschmaschine" = Federal Washing Machine.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 07:09:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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