Mar 282015

35 years’ worth of Politbarometer data show that partisan dealignment in Germany has slowed down considerably over the last decade. One reason for this is the increase in average levels of formal education: Somewhat counterintuitively, formal education is now positively linked to partisanship. The other reason is demographic change.

Demographic Change in Germany

To the average German, demographic change is something that will happen in some unpleasant but distant future, preferably to someone else. But the nasty thing about demographic processes is that they are sneaky, slow-running beasts. In Germany, demographic change got underway some 40+ years ago, and its impact is slowly becoming visible.

In my age cohort, there were always too many of us. When I entered secondary school, I was slotted into one of four ridiculously oversized parallel classes of 35+ kids each. When I enrolled in university, it was deemed perfectly normal that I should spend a whole day with hundreds of others in an overcrowded lecture theatre, waiting to be called forward. In between were twenty months of national service which turned into a two year gap in my education, because Germany could not accommodate all those young draft dodgers, and I actually had to wait four months for the privilege to start my spell.

But the reason for my class in secondary being ridiculously oversized was that ours was the first year that they went down to four parallel classes from five. Aggregate fertility feel dramatically in the early 1970s and has never recovered, while life expectancy has edged upwards. Surveys may tell us that Germans are by and large blissfully unaware of these trends, but demographic change is actually visible in the surveys. During the first five years of the Politbarometer series (1977-81), 29 per cent of all respondents were under 35, while 26 per cent of those interviewed were older than 60. For the 2008-2012 period, this balance has been reversed. Voters aged 35 to 59 currently make up 52 per cent of the sample, but their share is now peaking, while the oldest group is rapidly growing and already stands at 33 per cent in the 2012 data.

Demographic Change and Partisanship

My little model of partisanship in Western Germany over time shows that even when education is controlled for, age plays an interesting role. It did not matter much in the late 1970s and early 1980s but quickly became a factor over the course of this decade. Younger respondents (the solid line) were increasingly less likely than their older compatriots to report an identification with a party. Relevant segments of the new cohorts entering the political system either never acquired such an identification or did not retain it at the same rate as their predecessors. Given how steep the estimated decline of their partisanship is compared to the other groups, it seems safe to assume that the dealignment of the 1980s and mid-1990s that reduced the number of partisans by nearly a quarter must have been driven largely by this group.

Partisan Dealignment in Germany over Time by Age Group

Partisan Dealignment in Germany over Time by Age Group

However, once more the estimated attrition rate in this group began to fall appreciably around the turn of the century. Moreover, nearly everyone who belonged to this group in the 1980s had now moved on to the next age band (the dashed line), which exhibits a nearly linear pattern of decline that is currently steeper than that of the youngest group, although levels of partisanship are still noticeably higher.

Finally, the over sixties (the dotted line), who began at roughly the same level as the middle age group, did outstrip them in terms of partisans by the mid-1990s. Levels of partisanship have been essentially stable in this group for more than a decade now. Once more one must keep in mind that by the early 2000s, everyone who was in the middle group in the 1980s had moved on to this upper age band.

Demographic changes imply that the mean age of people belonging to an age group will somewhat fluctuate over time: From the 1940s until the mid-1960s, almost every birth cohort was bigger than the one before, but since then, this pattern has been reversed. Yet, even accounting for this effect and for the rising life expectancy, the changes in the impact of age on party identification are too big to be the result of stable life cycle effects. They point either at massive shift in what it means for partisanship to be young, middle-aged, or old, or, equivalently, at substantial cohort effects.

And so, for the time being, demographic change is helping German parties: The younger, less partisan group is getting smaller and smaller, while the older, largely partisan group keeps growing. Does that mean that parties will (and perhaps should) court the grey vote? Possibly, but not necessarily. The proof is left as an exercise to the reader.

Mar 222015
Putsch in the AfD?

Strife within the AfD

In my recent West European Politics Article on the AfD (ungated pre-print still here), I argue that the party’s official position (i.e. their EP 2014 manifesto, their website and their social media activities) is soft-eurosceptic and not right-wing populist: For them, the enemy is Athens and the profligacy of the Greeks, not Islam, Turkey, or the Roma. I also argue that this official party line is very much shaped by party co-founder and co-chair Bernd Lucke, and that others disagree, not least because many AfD voters are (or were) not particularly concerned about the Euro and orthodox economics, but very much in favour of restrictions on immigration.

Putsch in the AfD?

The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.

Like any new party, the AfD is made up of various groups, wings, and tendencies. Christian fundamentalists mingle with economic liberals; disappointed conservative Christian democrats mix with former members of Germany’s extreme right parties (although the AfD tries to enforce a ban on those). A year or so ago, we used to talk about “liberals”, “conservatives”, and a third faction in the middle which tried to build bridges. But now, we’re apparently down to two “wings”: Lucke’s economic liberals (who are also socially conservative), and those who want a tougher, more nationalist party. Incidentally, this split seems to be reinforced by an East-West conflict within the AfD, with the electorally successful Eastern chapters more inclined to play the right-wing populist card.

The AfD Putsch: State of Play

A week ago, the state party in Thuringia drew up the “Erfurter Resolution”, a manifesto that aims to drum up support for a more nationalist orientation of the party. So far, they have collected more than 1,500 signature by party members (the total number is about 21,000), and roughly the same number of “likes” on Facebook. The latter figure seems a bit disappointing, and Facebook’s statistics actually show a rapidly falling rate of new likes. Why the right-wingers chose to call themselves “der Flügel” (the wing, or tendency) when they claim to speak for the centre of the party is anyone’s guess. Once, more, it must have been Amateur Night in Erfurt.

Counterstrike: The “Germany Resolution”

On Wednesday, Arch-Economic Liberal (TM) Hans-Olaf Henkel and three of his MEP colleagues have published another manifesto, the “Deutschland-Resolution” (“Germany Resolution”), which calls for unity, but attacks the Erfurt Manifesto. This is much cleverer framing, as “Germany” embodies unity and refers to the party name. But for all purposes and intents, we are now looking at two wings clustered around two manifestos, with the letter apparently being less popular (just 388 likes so far). They haven’t published anything on the number of signatories yet.

A split in the AfD in Thuringia

But the who could be more relevant than the how many in this case, and the short list Henkel and friends have put online is interesting for two reasons: First, there is a number of second-tier party functionaries from the West, further hinting at a regional split, and second, there are the signatures of three state-level MPs for the AfD from Thuringia, who were expected to sign the Erfurt declaration last week, but did not. That means that the AfD delegation in the Thuringia state parliament is effectively split down the middle.

Commercial Break: And Then, There is Always Marcus Pretzell

pretzell photo

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In my article, I have singled out Marcus Pretzell, another AfD MEP, as a representative of the more right-wing populist wing. He rose to prominence (well, amongst us spotters) when – against Lucke’s express wishes – he invited Nigel Farage to address the party faithful. Now Pretzell, a lawyer and property developer, is making headlines again, because he owes the tax man a lot of money. Apparently, Pretzell would not answer the increasingly urgent letters, and the Man could not find Pretzell at his address, so the authorities decided to dock some money from the AfD’s account (Pretzell is also state party chair in North Rhine-Westphalia). While the monies have been returned to the AfD, and while this could eventually reduce Pretzell’s role as a troublemaker, it is not exactly great publicity for the party and may, as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung shrewdly observes, mess up their credit rating for ages.

Stay Tuned

Meanwhile, Bernd Lucke has signed neither declaration, which seems wise. Frauke Petry, currently his co-chair and his most plausible competitor for the future single leadership post, is biding here time, too. I don’t think that this is the beginning of the end for the AfD, but the tensions have become much more visible in recent months, and a split of the party is beginning to look like a distinct possibility. Of course, rifts in the AfD are nothing new, but so far, they were framed as clashes between personalities, or as conflict over the future structure of the party (read: power struggles). The public debate about conflicting manifestos and the ideologies they represent may mark the point at which voters begin to wonder what the party actually stands for.

Mar 172015

“Der Flügel” (the “wing” or “tendency”) within Germany’s AfD that drew up the Erfurt manifesto, which calls for a more radical rightist approach to politics, claims that more than 700 people have signed the declaration within the first 24 hours. Taking a leaf out of the social-media savvy main party’s book, they have created a Facebook page, which has attracted 1,300 likes so far.

Update on the Afd

Photo by sludgegulper

The Thüringer Allgemeine newspaper reports that at least initially, only five of the party’s eleven delegates in the state parliament of Thuringia have signed the declaration, and that the CDU state party’s maverick leader has offered the others a new political home with the Christian Democrats. Meanwhile, Lucke and Petry seem determined to wait and see what comes out of this (if anything).

Photo by sludgegulper

Mar 152015

In a recent research paper, I conclude that judging by their EP 2014 manifesto, the ‘Alternative for Germany’ is currently not a right-wing populist party. But I also argue that some members of the party elite “represent less savoury brands of right-wing politics that could ultimately prove more attractive to voters than Lucke’s polite exercises in economic theory. Just how long the party resists that temptation remains to be seen.” It would seem that we may have reached that point.

lucke gauland photo

Going different ways? Bernd Lucke & Alexander Gauland

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The struggle for the AfD’s heart and soul is of course an ongoing process, but developments have sped up a bit in recent weeks. A month ago, the AfD did well, but not too well, in a regional election in the city state of Hamburg, Lucke’s hometown. Their local campaign had highlighted the pro-capitalist, market-liberal elements in the party’s ideology, avoiding references to Islam and Pegida. At the press conferences, the local party chair was sidelined by Lucke, who applauded this course, as well as by grumbling representatives of the electorally more successful Eastern state parties, who had not been invited to support their Western brethren’s campaign.

Yesterday, a conference of the AfD state party in Thuringia voted for the ‘Erfurt Declaration’, a strong-worded manifesto that expresses concern about the normalisation/moderation of the party. Without naming names, the manifesto criticises ‘technocracy’ (that’s a reference to Lucke), ‘cowardice’ and even – gasp – the ‘selling out of our national interest’ – anathema to every right-winger worth his/her salt, and another not too subtle reference to Lucke’s performance in the European Parliament. The signatories reject the official, sceptical party line on Pegida (a ‘civic movement’, according to the manifesto), demand a ‘fundamental political change in Germany’ and claim to give voice to widespread disappointment within the party, ‘particularly in the East’.

The manifesto even aims to bring together all those who represent a ‘true alternative’ to the established party system (as opposed to the Ersatz liberalism that Lucke is delivering). The authors of the manifesto have also set up a facebook page and website called ‘der Flügel’ (the wing, or tendency) for the manifesto. More importantly, Alexander Gauland, party leader in Brandenburg, party founding father and one of the more prominent representatives of the nationalist wing within the party, has signed up.

So a true (and Eastern) alternative within the Alternative is stirring. Is this the Putsch already? Stay tuned.

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Mar 062015
Dealignment in Germany by Formal Education (Model-Based)

Last week, I showed you that partisan dealignment in the Western federal states of Germany has slowed down considerably, and essentially came to a standstill during the last decade. But what are the mechanisms behind this trend? I think that one part of the puzzle is the changing role of formal education.

More Formal Education, Less Party Identification?

In the quaint olde world that was Western Germany, formal education and party identification were supposed to be negatively correlated. One reason for that is simple: Voters with higher levels of formal education were less likely to belong to the working class, and less likely to be frequent churchgoers, hence less likely to belong to the respective core constituencies of the two major parties. A second, more intriguing reason is cognitive mobilisation (Dalton 1984). In this view, party identification serves as a heuristic that reduces the cognitive costs of processing political information. Educated, more interested voters, however, face lower cognitive costs and have therefore fewer incentives to develop partisan attachments. Thus, the rising level of educational attainment should undermine partisanship.

Formal Education and Party Identification: A Changing Relationship

More recently, doubts have been raised about the merits of cognitive mobilisation theory, as there is growing evidence that politically sophisticated voters are more, not less likely to be partisans (Albright 2009, Dassonneville et al. 2012). One possible reason for this is the changing role of educational attainment in Germany. Three or even two decades ago, the vast majority of voters had spent ten years or less in school, but for the younger generations, the Abitur is slowly becoming the norm. Low levels of attainment are now increasingly associated with political and social marginalisation.

Dealignment in Germany by Formal Education (Model-Based)

Dealignment in Germany by Formal Education (Model-Based)

At any rate, education has an increasingly positive effect in my individual-level model of partisanship in the Western states for the 1977-2012 period. Controlling for age group, time and a lot of nifty interactions, it would seem that in recent years, dealignment has mostly been confined to the lower-education strata, while in the growing upper educational echelons, the downward trend in partisanship has petered out for the time being, slowing down the overall decline.


Feb 272015

Update: 542 in favour, 32 voting against, 13 abstentions. Nays & abstentions all from CDU, CSU, Left, apparently. See you in June.

In about an hour, Germany’s parliament will have a debate on the extension of the bailout program for Greece that is scheduled to take all of a cool 90 minutes. It will be followed by a roll call vote. Although about 30 CDU/CSU dissidents including the deputy of the Christian Democrats’ parliamentary  will vote against the government’s proposal or abstain, some North Korean-sized super majority is virtually guaranteed: The SPD and the Greens are almost unanimously in favour, and even the Left, who normally votes against the “neoliberal” EU stuff will support their comrades in Athens this time ’round.

Then, it’s back to normal. Expect a similar procedure four months down the line, just in time for the next instalment of the Great Greek/European Drama Series (TM). In the meantime, don’t forget that V is for Varoufakis.



Feb 242015

Almost a decade ago, I published an article with a cutesy title on the decline of party identification in Germany, of which I am inordinately proud. The main message of this piece was that party identification in Germany has not collapsed, but is rather declining at the glacial rate of 0.7 percentage points per year, give or take. Here is the relevant graph:

Party Identification in West Germany, 1977-2002

For a more recent project, I have extended the time-series to cover the whole 1977-2012 period, right up to the begin of the 2013 federal election campaign. As it turns out, de-alignment in the West has come to a virtual halt during the last decade – see here:

Partisan Dealignment in West Germany

Decline of party identification in West Germany, 1977-2012

If you think that this is still too noisy, have a look at this trajectory, which is derived from a binary logistic model that regresses identifications on time, age, education, and campaign effects. More on this soon – stay tuned.

Estimated overall levels of partisanship in West Germany, 1977-2012 (adjusted predictions at representative values (APR)

Estimated overall levels of partisanship in West Germany, 1977-2012 (adjusted predictions at representative values (APR)

Feb 072015

The good people at Taylor & Francis have kindly ungated my AfD article in West European Politics, after a fashion. If you don’t have an institutional subscription for WEP, you may click here to gain access to the full text anyway. However, this link is limited to 50 clicks, so if your institution has subscribed to WEP, be a good egg and rather use this ordinary DOI-based link through the paywall. And failing all that, the ungated author’s version is here.

afd photoPhoto by

Feb 012015

The AfD’s national party conference has approved a change to the party’s constitution will give the party a simplified leadership structure, which will more closely resemble those of the dreaded ‘Altparteien’ (‘old’ or established parties) CDU, CSU, FDP, and SPD. After a period of transition, the AfD will have a single ‘Vorsitzender’ (party chair), supported by a ‘Generalsekretär’ (a subordinate managerial role). Currently, the party has three ‘speakers’ (chairs), all with equal powers and responsibilities, and so is closer to the model chosen by the Left and the Greens who each employ two party chairs to give equal representation to both sexes (as well as to various factions).

Bernd Lucke, one of the current speakers who has very much been the party’s public face since the 2013 campaign, has tried to push through this change for at least a year. At the conference, he rather undiplomatically complained that the other two were creating confusion and delay, and that he was often left with the task to clean up after them. He also hinted that he wants this job – but so does Frauke Petry (who has recently become very cosy with Pegida). This is not just a clash of personalities – rather Lucke and Petry seem to represent different trajectories for the future development of the party.

lucke petry photoPhoto by