Sep 192017

German Elections: Three more polls

We Anoraks are all getting a little jittery here. It’s 134 hours until closing time and there will be only a small handful of polls coming in in the next couple of days, so is there anything new that may be divined from the latest crop, published today (Insa), on Saturday (Emnid), and on Friday (FGW)? Not really. First, the Emnid poll is not new, but new-ish: fieldwork began on September 7, almost a week before Infratest’s (alleged) shock poll. Second, the three polls mostly agree:

CDU/CSU 36 36 36
SPD 22 23 22
GREENS 8 8 7
FDP 9 10 9
LEFT 10 9 11
AfD 11 10 11

Third, they are broadly in line with the last (Friday) set of estimates. Of course, that does not mean that the pollsters have it right. It just means that public opinion as measured by the various survey houses seems to be rather stable at the moment.

The Christian Democrats are still leading

Support for the Christian Democrats has been flagging recently, but they still have a solid lead of about 14 points over the Social Democrats. The credible interval for the gap is 13-16 per cent. The current estimate for the Christian Democrats is 37 per cent [36-38], which would make them  the strongest party by far but would also imply a substantial loss compared to their result in the 2013 election (41.5%). The estimate for the SPD is 23 per cent [21-24], which is virtually identical to their worst ever result (in 2009).

The FDP and the Greens seem to be safely in


Speaking of virtual, it seems virtually impossible that these two minor parties will not clear the electoral hurdle. Then again, look at what happened in 2013. Right now, the FDP is ever so slightly ahead of the Greens, but the enormous attention they are currently getting from the chattering classes is not (yet?) reflected in the polls. Either way, their likely return from the electoral dead would be a significant event in German politics.

The Left and the AfD remain tied


Even the Wallstreet Journal is very excited about the idea of the AfD becoming Germany’s “third” party (technically, the CSU is competing for that title, too, but that is a different story). According to the model, however, the chances of the AfD ending up in this position are just 28%. Although predictions of support are almost identical – 9.5% [8.7-10.3] vs 9.7% [8.9-10.5] – the model gives the Left a much better chance (53%) of coming out tops. This is neatly illustrated here:


However, the relevant information (in my view) is still this: we are heading for a six/seven party parliament, with four minor parties of almost equal strength


Coalitions …

After factoring in the three latest polls, the options remain essentially the same: In all simulations there is a majority for both a Grand Coalition and a Jamaica arrangement. There is also tiny (0.5%) chance of a centre-right (CDU/CSU + FDP) coalition. If the polls are correct, nothing else will work. As I said before: Move on. Not much to see here.

Sep 152017

It’s just a single poll

Once more, repeat after me: It’s just a single poll. It’s also the time for horse-race journalism (and for horse-race blogging). In this specific case, the single poll is the most recent instalment of the “Deutschlandtrend”, a survey-series that Infratest-dimap runs for public broadcasting giant ARD. From the results (SPD: 20, AfD: 12), Focus Online has created a lovely headline: SPD in freefall, AfD at highest level of support in seven months. But is there really a story?

Horse-race blogging

Now for the horse-race blogging. Since my last blog (day before yesterday), three new polls have been published. Why bother to start the big and mysterious poll-pooling machine again? Because I can, because in a week or so, there will be no new polls, and because I want to see if there is anything to the Focus story.

First, a closer look at the Infratest-dimap poll, which is clearly the most recent piece of information: field time was only the last two days (September 12-13), and it was published immediately. The other two “new” polls are not really that new. They were in the field from September 8-11 (Insa) and September 4-8 (Forsa) and put the SPD at about 23 per cent and the AfD between 9 and 11 per cent for these slightly earlier time spans. Does that suggest some dramatic movement during the last couple of days? Not really. Infratest-dimap tends to produce somewhat low-ish estimates for the SPD, and rather high estimates for the AfD. The (estimated) house effects are -0.7 and +1.7 points, respectively. The house effects are not calibrated in any way, so Infratest-dimap’s estimates may be perfectly correct, but across all the polls in the model, their estimates for these two parties tend to be below/above average. This is neatly illustrated in the graph:


All Infratest-dimap polls (the hollow circles) put the AfD well above the model-based credible interval, and this one (the rightmost circle) is particularly far away from the envelope. The current credible interval for the AfD is 8.6-10.3%. The AfD’s mini-upward trend may be real, but this poll is probably exaggerating the development.

Infratest-dimap may also underestimate support for the SPD. The model currently puts the SPD between 21.4% and 23.6%. The Infratest-dimap poll (rightmost filled red circle) is well below the credible interval. Things don’t look great, but it’s not “freefall”. The credible interval for the gap between the the SPD and the AfD is 11.6-14.6 points, so the 8 point gap reported by Focus on the basis of a single poll looks like a bit of an over-dramatisation. The AfD is not (yet) catching up with the Social Democrats.




So what?

Will the AfD be Germany’s third party? In the model-based simulations, their chances have gone up from 18% to 39%, but that is still far from certain.In actual fact, according to the model, the Left has a better chance (50%) to become the largest of the minor parties. But that would be a far less dramatic story. And realistically, this is all by the by: the four minor parties enjoy virtually identical levels of support.


Coalition options are the same as they were three days ago. So what is the bottom line? This last poll (and the other two) make good headlines, but in terms of likely politically relevant outcomes, the situation has not changed at all.

Sep 122017

With less than two weeks until the election, we now have 153 surveys from seven different companies to pore over. The bulk of these (104) were produced by Emnid, Forsa and Insa. GMS and Allensbach have delivered only a handful of polls (seven and nine, respectively), while FGW (15) and Dimap (18) occupy the middle ground. Although this is the so-called “hot phase” of the campaign, with TV debates, tours of the country and whatnot, there is still very little movement in the (averaged) results. Unless my model is filtering out too much noise, or the polls are off, which are two entirely plausible and not mutually exclusive ideas.

The AfD and the Left are perhaps gaining some ground


Estimates for both parties have shown an upward trend for the last couple of weeks, but the gains are very moderate (a point apiece or so), and given the credible intervals, the movement is not necessarily real. But the AfD is probably doing a bit better than they did in late June, which marked their low point during the campaign.

Support for the Liberals and the Greens is mostly stable


The respective upward trends for the other two minor parties are even less pronounced. More importantly, both parties seem to have stabilised well above the electoral threshold

The tiniest of declines for the major parties.


Conversely, support for the two major parties may have fallen a bit. But the credible interval for the Christian Democrats is particularly wide because there is a lot of variation in their results, whereas numbers for the SPD are all very close to the credible envelope. Spare a thought for them: It’s abundantly clear that even with their recent relative weakness, the CDU/CSU are much stronger than the Social Democrats.

Overall estimates and possible coalitions

With about a fortnight to go (polls are published with a delay, and the model assigns each poll a notional date in the middle of the actual field phase) and many postal votes already cast, the overall picture looks very much like it has for weeks now. Support for all four minor parties is virtually identical and above the electoral threshold. The SPD is hovering somewhere between 20 and 25 per cent, while the Christian Democrats are located somewhere in the high thirties.

The Guardian may daydream about a black-green coalition, but that is not very plausible at the moment: not in a single one of 60,000 simulated outcomes would such a coalition achieve a majority. Obviously, a red-green coalition is even less probable, and a red-red-green majority is out of the question, too.

Nine days ago, there was at least a chance (23%) of a traditional centre-right majority, but with the (moderate) decline in support for the Christian Democrats, this looks highly unlikely (0.1%) now. However, both a “Jamaica” coalition and a Grand coalition are feasible in all simulations. So once more, a fourth term for Merkel seems to be inevitable.

Sep 022017

Eight months of polling

While I was doing other stuff, elsewhere, the German polling industry has been busy. Over the last eight months, the big seven have published results from 144 surveys with a total of 266,715 respondents. With just three weeks to go until election day (and postal voting well underway, what can they tell us?

They AfD is good at spinning

Much in line with the tenor of the international press, a British journalist asked me the other day how the AfD had managed to “bounce back”. Well, they have not. The height of their popularity was arguably in 2015/16, when they were solidly in double-digit territory for a while. Since the beginning of the long campaign in January (when the AfD did better than now), they have been stuck between seven and ten per cent in the polls. This pattern still holds. The AfD gets 10/11 per cent in two recent polls, but these were conducted by companies that tend to produce rather high estimates for the party’s support. In other equally recent polls, companies that tend to give lower estimates for the AfD put them at nine / eight per cent, respectively. Unsurprisingly, the credible interval for current AfD support ranges from 7.8 to 9.3 per cent.


Another object of rather intense media focus has been the question whether the AfD will be Germany’s third-strongest party on September 24. The aggregation model is not sure: In 10,645 of 60,000 simulated outcomes of the election, the AfD is the strongest of the minor parties. That’s 18 per cent of all runs, which roughly translates to “rather not”.


Either way, the question is quite irrelevant. The real issue here is that all minor parties enjoy very similar levels of support. If this support translates into real votes, there will be four minor parties in parliament, and coalition building is going to be a difficult, but not impossible (see below).


The Christian Democrats will be the strongest party (bloc) by a fair margin

Long gone are the days of the “Schulz Effect”, this dreamy moment early in the campaign when support for the SPD and the Christian Democrats became indistinguishable. For weeks on end, the CDU/CSU have been roughly 15 percentage points ahead of the SPD. One must admire the dedication of the SPD’s campaigners, but closing that gap looks like a very unlikely feat.


A look at possible coalitions

So far, the field has changed very little over the last weeks:


While tactical voting can mess with support for the FDP (that’s the way I burnt my fingers four years ago), not a single simulation out of 60,000 suggests that the FDP will remain below the electoral threshold. All four minor parties are currently well above the electoral threshold, and their respective levels of support are indistinguishable. Take that, media people.

In terms of possible coalitions, that means (amongst other things) that right now, there is no chance for a leftist (red-red-green) government: the combined vote share for the three left parties is in the range of 39-41 per cent. This implies that there is no majority for an SPD/Green coalition, too. There is also no majority for a “traffic light” (SPD/Green/FDP) government. In sum, on current polling the probability of an SPD-led coalition (and hence the probability of a Schulz chancellorship) is nil.

But there is a not-too-shabby chance for a traditional centre-right coalition. Thanks to the strong support for the Christian Democrats, the CDU/CSU and the FDP have a (narrow) majority in 23 per cent of the simulations. A “Jamaica” (CDU/CSU+FDP+Greens) coalition would have a solid majority in all of the simulations. And of course, there is always the prospect of yet another Not-so-Grand coalition.

So it looks that I was right to sell in May and go away: If the polls reflect the reality of German politics, and if that reality remains reasonable stable for another three weeks, there are 2.23 viable coalitions that would be led by Angela Merkel, and not a single one that would be headed by Martin Schulz.