Nov 032014
 

Even the Washington Post has woken up to the fact that 25 years after the uprising in the GDR, Germany stubbornly remains divided economically, politically, and socially. In the great scheme of things, this may matter less than you might think: In Western Europe alone, the UK, Spain, Belgium, or Switzerland – countries that have been around as nation states for much longer than Germany’s current iteration – are similarly diverse.

But it keeps the German Politics crowd busy enough. I’m currently working on a piece that looks at the latest federal election in comparative (east vs west) perspective – something that I have done previously for the 1998, 2002, and 2009 elections (2005 was someone else’s turn). The biggest difference is of course in the results of the Left party, which, compared to the West German districts, is about four times as successful in the East (this figure is down from a 20:1 rate in the 1990s). But here is another Bundestagswahl fun fact: The Liberals – not longer represented in the federal parliament for the first time since 1949, because their national result was just below the five per cent electoral threshold – barely scraped beyond this threshold in the old West, where they garnered 5.1 per cent of the valid votes. Based on the western results, the former Christian Democrats/Liberal coalition could have continued. Once more, the Easterners brought about political change.lonesome politician East Germans Killed the FDP

 

May 242014
 

Those old enough to remember that Bill Murray had a career before Lost in Translation (or to remember Bill Murray) will instantly recognise this scene: Punxsutawney Phil is predicting six more electoral cycles of political misery for Germany’s Liberal Democrats. Granted that the animal is a bit on the small side, but first, This is not America, and second, the choice of rodent is rather apt: Aren’t we all guinea pigs when it comes to policy making?

rodent e1400933785803 222x300 The Weirdest Campaign Poster Yet (Groundhog Day Edition)

Punxsutawney Phil predicting six more cycles of electoral Misery

The hopeful candidate molesting the furry bugger promises  that he will listen, not ignore (whom?). He might change his mind once the beast sinks its front teeth into that yummy finger.

May 172014
 

There may be a European election on, but around here, the big one is the local elections. In the plural: On my last count, I will have to vote for town mayor, town council, municipal mayor, municipal council, district council and perhaps even leader of the district council, though I’m not 100 per cent sure re the last one.

Important as they may be, local elections are the domain of the amateurs, as the old saying goes amongst German Political Scientist.1 To make things slightly worse, councillors are elected under an open list system (with not threshold), so there are some incentives to cultivate a personal vote, and quite some margin for error. So far, I have spotted few real howlers but then the Liberal Democrats (FDP), wiped out in the last Bundestag election and poised to do badly in the EP2014, decided to go for this year’s Bad Pun Award.

fdp 211x300 The Local Liberal Democrats Illustrate Some German Idioms for Us

Another Campaign Poster from Hell

So the guy on the poster is literally fishing (or at least holding a rod while wearing a suit) in clear water (im Klaren, which, if you push it, could be read as a pun-within-the-pun on alcohol), as opposed to fishing in murky waters (im Trüben fishen). The latter used to mean “cheating” but has also acquired connotations of being lost. Say what?

But there is more. The candidate is also “ortsnah” (local, in a technical sense that never, ever applies to persons), as opposed to “weltfremd” (unworldly, stuck inside an ivory tower). One might argue that, on some level loosely attached to logic “ortsnah” and “weltfremd” are not exactly opposites but rather awkwardly related concepts. But quite possibly someone sensed a tension between “ort” (the local place) and “welt” (world) and decided that nothing says “local guy” quite like a misguided rhetorical flourish. With PR guys like this, who needs political enemies?

Footnotes:

1

I’ve made that one up.

Mar 312014
 

Party system change, illustrated. Germany’s FDP was represented in the federal parliament from 1949 until 2013. During this time, they were part of various government coalitions for more than four decades. In 2009, they managed to attract more than 14 per cent of the vote, their best national result ever. Many voters did not like them, but they served a purpose.

 German Liberal Democrats (FDP) Officially off the Public Opinion Radar

Today, FGW’s monthly newsletter reported public opinion on Russia, broke down by party leaning of the respondents. They could not provide information on FDP supporters, because they did not have enough cases for that.

Sep 232013
 

It’s been a bit of a nailbiter yesterday, and every single pundit in the country must be rubbing their bloodshot eyes. So it’s obviously not a brilliant idea to blog about it just now. But there seems to be a largish elephant in the room (not related to sleep deprivation) that nobody seems to have noticed so far.

A Historical Result

lonesome politician Why Merkels Refusal to Help the Ailing FDP Will Come back to Haunt Her
FDP: Going Nowheremicagoto / Foter / CC BY-NC

Without doubt, this is a very exciting result that warrants a lot of superlatives or near-superlatives. Merkel’s Christian Democrats have bounced back from their second-worst result since 1949 to heights they have not seen since the highly unusual 1990 (re-unification) election. At 41.5 per cent, they came awfully close to an outright majority, something they have not achieved since 1957 (although then they had a much bigger share of the vote ).

The Social Democrats, on the other hand, have hardly recovered from their devastating 2009 result. 25.7 per cent is still the second-worst result since the war. But the combined vote share of the two major parties – often described as ‘former major parties’ by pundits – has gone up for the first time since 2002.

Both the Greens (at some stage projected to garner 15 per cent) and the Left have lost more than 20 per cent of their support compared to their 2009 results, and for the first time since 1990, the number of parties in parliament has gone down. And that is of course because the FDP has gone from 14.6 per cent (their best result ever) to 4.8 per cent (their worst result ever) and is not represented in parliament for the first time since 1949.

To put this in perspective, let me remind you that during the 64 years, the FDP was not holding government positions only from 1956 to 1961, from 1966 to 1969, and from 1998 to 2009. In other words, they were in government for roughly 70 per cent of the time, usually holding key positions (Foreign Affairs, Economy, Justice) and punching far above their electoral weight. For most German Politics aficionados, it will take some time to get used to the idea of them not having a national presence. Moreover, their result, combined with the relatively strong showing of the AfD means that the number of wasted votes must be near its all time high, with proportionality going out of the window.

But there is something else.

The Coalition Could Have Had a Viable Majority in Parliament

In the past, the FDP has survived (and some times thrived) on a diet of tactical considerations. Their loyal supporters are few and far between, but often, supporters of the CDU would give them with their list votes to bring about a centre-right majority. Most of the time, the CDU would not openly encourage this behaviour but would also refrain from discouraging it. Sometimes, the two parties even came up with joint position papers for future governments, signalling that they were not exactly a pre-electoral alliance but very much part of the same camp.

But this year (following the FDP’s defeat in Bavaria only a week before the General election), the CDU sent out a clear, high-profile “everyone for themselves” message to their voters. I can see three reasons for that. First, recent electoral reforms designed to make the system more proportional mean that the CDU would not benefit from a by-product of tactical CDU/FDP voting, the so-called ‘surplus seats’. Second, the ‘loan vote’ strategy has recently backfired in Lower Saxony, leaving a weakened CDU on the opposition benches. Third, the CDU may well have anticipated a Grand Coalition after Bavaria, and in that case, bolstering the FDP would not have made sense.

But this was probably a self-fulfilling prophecy. Though it looked very close yesterday night, Merkel did not win an outright majority. Christian Democrats and FDP together, on the other hand, are stronger than the three left parties combined: 46.3 vs 42.7 per cent. That would have been enough for Merkel to continue the centre-right coalition (her preference), with the added benefit of having a much more docile, dependent partner.

Negotiating a coalition with the Social Democrats will be tough. The party is licking its wounds and is highly reluctant to enter such an arrangement after the 2009 disaster that followed their last co-operation with the Christian Democrats. A CDU/Green coalition, while arithmetically feasible, seems highly unlikely at the moment, so the SPD will try to extract a large premium from the Christian Democrats for going into government with them. In the end, coalition talks could fail, and Germany could go to the polls again.

Without doubt, this result is a great triumph for Merkel. But I think the CDU leadership may have outwitted themselves, and the stern, slightly grumpy expression Merkel wore as she left the celebrations seems to confirm it.

Sep 012013
 

The Polls

majorparties week 35 300x225 German Bundestag Election: Six New Polls, Little Change

Support for the Major German Parties, Estimates and Predictions (Week 35, 2013)

Exactly three weeks before the 18th Bundestag election, it’s time for another look at the polls. This weekend brings six new entries: One late result from week 33 that was only published a week ago, three polls from week 34, and two that were conducted this week, with fieldwork done from Monday/Tuesday to Wednesday. For all purposes and intents, that means that any possible fallout from the Western (non-)intervention in Syria will not be reflected in the polls.

Raw Figures, Estimates and Predictions

As always, there is a good deal of variation in the published figures. The range for Merkel’s Christian Democratcs, for example, is 41 to 46 per cent. But for what it is worth, the model is ever more confident about the outcome of the election: The estimated probability of victory for the governing coalition is now 85 per cent (up from 78 per cent) even if one ignores tactical voting by CDU supporters. If this “loan vote” is factored in, the probability of a coalition victory is 94 per cent (up from 90). Unsurprisingly, the probability of a Red-Green majority is still estimated as zero.

minorparties week 33 300x225 German Bundestag Election: Six New Polls, Little Change

Support for the Minor German Parties, Estimates and Predictions (Week 35, 2013)

The  one remarkable change is the modest slump in support for the Greens, which have lost about two points over the last four weeks and are now well below their peak support of about 15 per cent in March. The slow upward trend of the Liberals is unbroken, and the Left is safely above the electoral threshold. Support for the two major parties is perfectly stable.

Since my interest here is (mostly) academic, I also began comparing past predictions (from week 33) with current estimates. The differences are small, but there is one interesting exception: Support for the Greens is now estimated to be 0.8 points lower than it should have been, given the information that was available two weeks ago. So it would seem that their support is indeed suffering from some random shock.

The Outlook

Today is the day of the televised debate between Steinbrück and Merkel (in Germany, known as “the Duel”). While we are professionally obliged to watch it, I don’t think that it will make much of a difference. Both candidates are extremely well known knowns. I also don’t think that Syria will matter for this campaign.

Have I just shot myself in the foot? Probably. Come back next week for the latest batch of surveys.

Aug 302013
 
fdp punctuation 225x300 We. Liberals. Love. Punctuation. Marks.

The Liberals Hired an Agency Famous For Their Ability To Split Waffle With Gratuitous Interpunctuation Marks

Responsibility. Performance. Freedom. Pointless. Full. Stops.

It is still silly campaign season in Germany, and the new exhibits just keep coming. Here is another one brought to you by the Party Formerly Known As The Guys Who Almost Stood Up Against The Bloody Spelling Reform Back In The 1990s.

Incidentally, the party also upset a lot of German teachers back in 1968 when they began styling their logo as F.D.P. (a violation of clause 102, subsection 2 of the German spelling code). They shed the dots back in 2001, when a youngish Guido Westerwelle took over and transformed the party. So possibly, just possibly, Regained. Full. Stops. Between. Buzzwords. Are. The. Message.

 

Aug 242013
 

The State of Play, Four Weeks Before the Election

Last week’s post on Merkel’s very good chances to win a third term created a bit of a stir. This week, I’m back with nine new polls (conducted between August 6 and August 19 by six different companies), which all point into the same direction.

What the Pollster Saw

On average, polls are in the field for five days (with a standard deviation of three days), so I continue to anchor each poll to a specific week in the calendar. Along with the raw data, the graphs show estimates for the true support for each party over 32 weeks, starting from Monday, the 31st of December. Eight of the new polls cover week 31 and week 32, while one is a late addition to estimate for week 30.

majorparties week 33 300x225 Nine New Polls Say Merkel Will Still Be Chancellor in October

Estimated/predicted Support for Major German Parties (2013 election). Click for Larger Image.

 

Support for Merkel’s Christian Democrats is between 39 and 47 per cent. The model, which accounts for previous levels of party support and variation across pollsters, puts them at 41 per cent. Findings for the major opposition party, the Social Democrats, are less variable at 22 to 25 per cent. The model places them at the upper limit of these current polls.

Results for the Greens are even more unanimous (12-13.5 per cent). The model agrees, confirming that their support has come down a tick or two over the last weeks.

The same cannot be said for the Left, which is almost static at seven per cent (polls: 6-8.1). That is well below their 2009 result, but also well above the electoral threshold of five per cent.

Finally, for the Liberals, Merkel’s coalition partner, things have improved ever so slightly. While the polls vary from three to seven per cent, the Liberals’ true level of support is currently estimated at 5.2 per cent. More importantly, after months of continuous near-death experiences, there seems to be an upward trend.

minorparties week 33 300x225 Nine New Polls Say Merkel Will Still Be Chancellor in October

Estimated/predicted Support for Smaller German Parties (2013 election). Click for Larger Image.

 

What Does That Mean for September 22 and Beyond?

This is my first shot at pooling the pre-election polls, so all predictions should be taken with a very generous pinch of salt. The model is possibly misspecified and rests on an number of questionable assumptions. The most obviously problematic amongst these is that polls are, on average, unbiased over the whole January-September timeframe. But hey, this is a blog, so let’s ignore this (and all other) problems for a second and believe that the trend-lines and credible intervals for the next four weeks are indeed credible.

Once we make this leap of faith, the probability of a return to a Red-Green coalition is approximately zero. Amongst 10000 simulations of week 38/39 (the election is on a Sunday), there is not a single one that gives a parliamentary majority to this prospective coalition.

The FDP, on the other hand, makes it past the electoral threshold in 83 per cent of my simulations, and in 78 per cent, there is a parliamentary majority for the present coalition. The true probability will be higher, as some CDU supporters will vote strategically for the FDP to help them across the threshold. If we assume that this behaviour is virtually guaranteed to succeed (it would be enough if about one in 40 CDU would cast a “loan vote”), the probability of a majority for the present coalition goes up to 90 per cent.

Put differently, the probability of a Red-Red-Green coalition (SPD, Left, Greens) is between 22 per cent (no loan votes for FDP) and 10 per cent (loan vote strategy works perfectly). But even if there was a majority for the three opposition parties, a coalition (or rather a toleration arrangement with the Left) would be highly unlikely (say p=0.1), making a Grand Coalition led by the CDU the default option. That again means that the probability of any government not being headed by the present chancellor is between one and two per cent (down from four per cent last week).

What About the Smaller Parties (AfD, Pirates, etc.)

For several months, most pollsters did not publish separate results for smaller parties such as the eurosceptic AfD or the internet-centric Pirates. Some have resumed giving itemized counts for “other” parties, and it currently seems safe to assume that neither will enter parliament. If they did, the Pirates would probably take away votes from the left parties, whereas the AfD would most likely weaken the two major parties. In either case, a Grand Coalition would become more likely.

What Everyone Else Thinks

The July issue of PS has two short pieces on forecasting models for the September election. Both pick Merkel as winner. So do Bundewahltrend (average over the six most recent polls), pollytix (weighted average of 15 most recent polls), and wahlistik (a poll aggregator run for the Zeit weekly). Las weekend, politicians in both major parties began floating the idea of a Grand Coalition, but given the latest polls, four more years of centre-right government seems to be the most likely option by far.

Stay Tuned

This post comes with lots of health warnings attached. In the past, forecasts have failed, faces have turned red, majorities have collapsed well before election day. I’ll be back once I have collected the next batch of polls.

Jun 042012
 

German politics never fails to amaze: After the Left parties successful attempt to condemn itself to irrelevance without actually splitting the party, the ball is back in the ruling coalition’s court. Today was the day of the ‘coalition summit’, i.e. a formal meeting of the respective leaders of the three parties in the chancellery. The main purpose of these summits is not normally to have a frank exchange of ideas, or to draw up grand designs – it’s a bit late for that in the electoral cycle anyway. Rather, they are shows of unity and determination. As such, they would normally end with a joint press conference or some other public display of sympathy and dynamism. Today, the three leaders left the chancellery in their limousines, denying us any comments, which of course looks like a statement in its own right.

Apparently, however, they have agreed on two things: After months of quarrelling, the coalition will initiate legislation on the ‘Betreuungsgeld’, a pet project of the Bavarian CSU. Over the last years, the government has invested heavily (by West German standards) in the development of state-run and state-sponsored day nurseries, and will have to invest a lot more to meet its targets. This is not exactly a Christian-conservative priority, and so the CSU wants an extra subsidy for parents who do not use these subsidised facilities. Large parts of the CDU are lukewarm at best, and the FDP says it’s nonsensical, but they will go ahead with it nonetheless because they accepted the idea in principle in the 2009 coalition talks. As a reward for them, the government will also initiate legislation on an FDP project: a subsidy/tax credit for private long-term care insurance contracts that complement the state-run long-term care insurance program. Experts disagree how much extra money will be needed for care, and it seems a little roundabout and not very liberal to tax people so that the government can then hand that money back in the form of subsidies to private companies that provide a service which the state cannot provide, but I trust that some people in the industry are very happy tonight. And yes, this is the very same government that insists on austerity and balanced budgets.

Back in 1951, Lasswell and Lerner defined policy as ‘a systematic attempt to shape the future’. But that was before the discipline invented symbolic politics, and I’m sure the coalition summit is exactly what they had in mind.

 German Coalition Summit: How not to kill any birds with a considerable number of stones
Jun 012012
 

You may or may not be aware that the EU commission has announced yesterday that it will take Germany to court over the country’s failure to transpose the data retention directive into national law. The commission also proposed that the ECJ should impose a fine of € 315 036.54 per day on Germany. And no, I have no idea where the 54 cent come from, in case you wanted to ask that question.

While this sounds serious, infringement procedures are rather common. The commission’s press release specifically mentions Austria and Sweden, who also failed to implement the directive. Moreover, the commission alone initiated several hundred infringement cases in every single of the last fifteen years, on top of thousands of complaints by third parties.

What makes the recent case unusual is its domestic background: First, Germany agreed to the original directive, which regulates the retention of traffic and location data, in 2006. In 2010, however, Germany’s powerful Federal Constitutional Court declared the German law that implemented the directive unconstitutional and therefore null and void, which chimes with last week’s seminar session on the perpetual conflict between European law and the German idea of constitutional review. The commission is used to this kind of trouble with the Germans and was prepared to wait a year or two for the Germans to draw up and vote on a constitutional implementation of the directive.

But, to use the rather indignant phrase from the commission’s statement the “German authorities have not indicated how and when they will adopt new legislation that fully complies with the Directive”. More specifically, the government cannot make up its mind. The home office, led by the centre-right CSU, complains that Germany must fulfil its obligations and urgently needs a law that implements the directive. The ministry of justice, which is controlled by the liberal FDP, blankly refuses to draw up such a bill, claiming that data retention is ineffective, and that the EU will soften up the current directive anyway. Yesterday’s sole comment from the ministry was that they “were not surprised” by the commission’s move. And so, Germany remains on its collision course because of a deadlock within the coalition.