Mar 132016
 

A mere three hours after the event, it’s obviously too early to write something coherent about the three state elections that were held in Germany today. So let’s try it anyway:Ballot - Vote

  1. For the time being, Germany has a viable Radical Right Populist Party. A result of ~24% in the Eastern state of Sachsen-Anhalt is a bit of a shock, but no huge surprise. The real clincher are the (low) double digit figures in the Western states of Rheinland-Pfalz and Baden-Württemberg. In the latter, the AfD is stronger than the SPD.
  2. The AfD cannibalised all the smaller right-wing parties including the NPD.
  3. This was not (just) a referendum on Merkel and her policies. While the issue dominated the campaigns, personalities and state-level factors were important. And the two CDU leaders who toyed with a (very tame) rebellion against Merkel did not gain from it.
  4. The volatility is shocking. Period
  5. German states have parliamentary systems, but popular minister presidents exerted an almost presidential effect. The contrast could not be more striking: In Baden-Württemberg, Kretschmann’s Greens are the strongest party (in itself something that is hard to believe), whereas their junior partner, the SPD, is heading for single-digit territory. One key reason is Kretschmann’s enormous popularity. In neighbouring Rheinland-Pfalz, minister president Dreyer has always been more popular than both her opponent and her SPD. But the latter steadily recovered in the polls over the last couple of weeks pull ahead of the CDU to become the strongest party with a respectable result. The Greens, on the other hand, lost two thirds of their support and might still end up without parliamentary representation. Being the smaller party in a coalition run by a popular minister president is not an attractive proposition these days.
  6. Turnout is up, yet it’s the non-established AfD that benefits from it. As a rule of thumb, right-wing outfits in Germany have always performed best in low-turnout, second-order elections. But this time, exit polls suggest that at least in the East, former non-voters gave the AfD a huge boost.
  7. And the Liberals are back.
Oct 112015
 

In the last couple of weeks, much has been said and written about the turning tide in German public opinion on refugees, the growing rift between Merkel and the CSU, the potential of a back-bench rebellion against the chancellor and party leader etc. But one of the most interesting (in my book) details is buried in the nitty-gritty details of Friday’s Politbarometer report, which I turned into a little bar chart to illustrate my point.

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Source: Politbarometer poll in early October 2015

So 64 per cent of the Christian Democrats’ supporters still approve of Merkel’s policies (and that includes the allegedly outraged CSU voters). But support is significantly lower amongst supporters of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Socialists (Left). This could be written off as coloured by partisan sentiment. It might even be the case that some lefties are unhappy because they want more generous policies. But compare this with the approval rating amongst supporters of the left-liberal Greens. Unlike the SPD and the Left, the Greens gun chiefly for the upper-middleclass lefty vote. Cue my article on competition between traditional left-wing parties and working class parties 2.0, i.e. the radical right.

Dec 072014
 

On Friday, the state parliament at Erfurt voted in Bodo Ramelow as Minister-President of Thuringia. He is the first member of the Left party to hold such an office, backed by the first ‘red-red-green’ (Left/SPD/Greens) coalition ever. 25 years after the fall of the wall, that is still a highly controversial constellation. Ramelow has been trying to diffuse the issue for months, and kicked off his reign with an apology to the victims of the former socialist state party SED, the pre-predecessor of the Left. His election also marks the end of a 24-year-spell during which the state’s Christian Democrats held the top executive job in this state.

The real significance, of course, lies beyond the woods of Thuringia. Taking over the office of the Minister-President is perhaps the most important step in the long game of normalising the Left that began in the mid-1990s, when the PDS (the predecessor of the Left) tolerated a red-green minority government in Saxony-Anhalt. Normalising red-red-green coalitions, on the other hand, is even trickier business. The Greens merged in the 1990s with what remained of  the East German dissident movement, and this legacy makes any co-operation with the heirs of the former oppressors highly unpleasant. The SPD, on the other hand, has two swallow the fact that at least in Thuringia, they are no longer the strongest force within the left camp. Moreover, the SED was the result of a forced merger between the East German SPD and the east German communist partner, and the final ingredient in today’s Left was a group of SPD dissidents who broke away from the SPD ten years ago. That is a lot of shared history overshadowing the present.

From the SPD’s point of view, however, there is clearly a ray of sunshine to this story: The SPD is now part of 14 (out of 16) state governments and has 9 Minister-Presidents amongst their number, four more than the Christian Democrats. That certainly makes governing as Merkel’s junior partner in Berlin a little more bearable.

bodo ramelow photoPhoto by DIE LINKE. Thüringen

Dec 112013
 

SPD votes on the coalition agreement

It’ another slow week for German politics, what with the Mandela Memorial, near-civil war in Thailand, the standoff in Ukraine and the South Korean/Japanese Chinese skirmishes. BUT: a small-scale CDU party conference of some 180 delegates has approved unanimously of the CDU/CSU/SPD agreement (a ‘Coalition Treaty’ in German parlance, though it can not be challenged in/enforced by the Constitutional Court). Delegates at a similar CSU conference have done their bit a month ago. Much more interesting is of course the case of the SPD, which put the agreement to a referendum by their 472,000 rank-and-file members.

The all-postal ballot will end tomorrow at midnight, and we will know the result on Saturday. So far, more than 300,000 people have voted. That alone is remarkable.

What if?

Last weekend, a conference of the party’s youth organisation passed a resolution that recommends members should vote against the agreement. The party leadership was less than delighted.

No one knows exactly what the rest of the members think. It’s entirely conceivable that a majority votes against, while it is inconceivable that the current leadership (broadly defined) that negotiated the agreement could survive such an embarrassment. The most likely outcome would be elections in February, though I’m sure that Merkel and the Greens would have another series of fireside chats if push came to shove. And if there were elections, the SPD would tank.

I’m sure the SPD members will bear this twin scenario in mind when they make their choice.

Nov 262013
 

Coalition Talks: Not Quite as Speedy as Papal Election (and less fun)

It’s crunch time in Berlin: A mere two months after the election, both the SPD and Merkel’s CDU have announced that they want to resolve all remaining issues during yet another sleepless night of haggling (the Bavarian CSU is more reluctant). Tomorrow, they want to present the ‘coalition treaty’, a 170+ page agenda for the next four years. If the SPD’s restless rank-and-file will approve of this document is (quite literally) a question for another day.

The SPD kicked-off the talks with the announcement that they would no longer unconditionally rule out coalitions with the Left at the federal level (“but hey, no pressure”). It took the CDU some time to respond to this, but they did so with a vengeance: In Hesse, which held a land election on the day of the Federal election, the CDU has now entered coalition talks with the Greens. If these talk succeed, it would be the first CDU/Green coalition in a large non-city state (a coalition in Hamburg broke down relatively quickly, and so did a CDU/FDP/Green coalition in tiny Saarland).

Kanzleramt in Berlin
Werner Kunz / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

First and foremost, this is a remarkable development in itself: Hesse has possibly one of the most polarised subnational party systems. Just a few years ago, then CDU leader and long-term minister president Roland Koch quite happily campaigned on the fact that the leaders of the SPD and the Greens had foreign-sounding names. But after the inconclusive election and four full rounds of sounding exercises involving all parties, a CDU/Green coalition is not longer unthinkable.

The Real Result: Less Segmentation?

But the Hessian regrouping also has a long-term, two-level strategic element (although all parties deny it): If the FDP does not rebound, the CDU needs an alternative. And much by the same token, the Greens don’t want to tie themselves too closely to the ailing SPD.

Black-green coalitions have been the stuff of political war games and academic debates for the last two decades. Now, they could become a reality. I’m not sure if the September election and this long, protracted negotiations in Berlin will indeed bring about a viable agreement between Christian Democrats and the SPD. But at any rate, they seem to have quickly reduced segmentation in the German party system.

Nov 182013
 

This weekend, the SPD held their regular (bi-annual) party conference in Leipzig. In some alternate reality, this conference would have approved of the SPD/Green coalition agreement. Short of a resounding victory of the left, however, the leadership took a very interesting gamble when they decided in September that the party base should have a vote on the CDU/SPD agreement when (and if) the current negotiations with the Christian Democrats come to a happy conclusion.

But the event was nonetheless interesting for a number of reasons. First, even before the conference began, the leadership announced that the party would abolish their long-standing policy of non-cooperation with the Left party in the Western states and on the national level (the SPD had no such qualms in the East). This vow of abstinence had proved more and more problematic over the last years, and getting rid of it well ahead of the next election looks like a clever move. But making such a move during the ongoing negotiations was not exactly a subtle hint and also opens up the (very theoretical) possibility of changing sides during this parliament’s lifetime, what ever that may be.

Because I love you...........(EXPLORE)
kakeyzz—- / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Second, the current leadership was re-elected as planned, but the results were “honest”, which is SPD-speak for lousy. The party’s middle elites happily used the opportunity to vent their anger over the lost election and their frustration with the emerging coalition agreement. Third, the negotiations went on during the conference, but it was leaked that cordial agreement and professional respect had once more turned into shouting matches, and that impasses had been reached after weeks of seemingly smooth progress.

It doesn’t take my inner Machiavelli to smell a ruse within a feint within a plot. After Merkel has basically accepted the introduction of a national minimum wage (she rather disarmingly quoted a survey which showed 78 per cent support for the policy amongst her voters), the SPD more or less openly demand at least two major concessions which are symbolically charged and highly visible while being cheap in economic terms: gay marriage and dual citizenship. Moreover, the leadership hint that the members could still vote against the agreement. This is the classic board strategy (“Personally, I fully agree with you, but the board will never approve the deal if you don’t accept X”). That is one nice stratagem.

But unlike the rank and file members, parts of the SPD middle elites and probably the Christian Democrats, the SPD leadership is afraid of new elections in January. Given the current state of public opinion, the party might lose some more, which would cost them their offices. And Merkel’s CDU has a “board” of their own: their Bavarian sister party, which must also approve of any coalition agreement. German politics will remain interesting (by German standards) for weeks to come.

Sep 012013
 

The Polls

majorparties-week-35

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

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 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

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

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.

Mar 182012
 

Events in North Rhine-Westphalia are quickly becoming the stuff of legends. The end of the red-green minority government on Wednesday has triggered a series of reshuffles that would make Machiavelli dizzy.

First, Christian Lindner is back. In December, he stepped down from his job as secretary-general of the FPD for no apparent reason, declaring that he would rather dabble in local and state politics. Using latest remote-sensing techniques, political witchdoctors of all persuasions agreed that the prospect of showing up daily at FDP HQ for the foreseeable future (4-6 months) had become too depressing. Now, in one feel swoop, he replaced state party chair Daniel Bahr (who has a daytime job as federal minister for health) and sidelined the listless chair of the state parliamentary group (who is widely held responsible for the political disaster) to become the party’s frontrunner in the upcoming election. And yes, the three men took great care to let the public see that they had bypassed federal party chair Philipp Rösler.

Second, Norbert Röttgen, the reasonably popular federal minister for the environment (CDU) – yes, I combined these last three attributes in a rather unusual way – who was elected chair of the state CDU in November 2010 after winning a ballot amongst party members by the barest of majorities, decided to lead his party’s campaign. He could not have done anything else, but this move puts him and the federal government in a bit of a pickle, as everyone wonders whether he will take up his seat in the state parliament if he cannot become minister president. Not making a credible commitment at the outset will hurt his campaign before it has begun in earnest, so most probably he will have to give up a job he seems to like, and Merkel will lose a minister who was instrumental in selling her U-turn on nuclear energy. Bummer.

Third, Hannelore Kraft has overnight become a possible contender for the chancellor job. That, of course, was floated by her opponents to weaken her campaign, but the idea has gained such momentum over the weekend that she had to explicitly deny any ambitions to stand for chancellorship “before 2017”. Cometh the hour, cometh the woman.

Meanwhile in a rare turn of events, a (very implicit) prediction of mine is coming true. The centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that some law professors who specialise in constitutional law have called into question the legal advice on which the budget plan was declared failed in the second reading. Now, if the FPD had deemed it possible to delay the proceedings for further negotiations, the minority government would most certainly still be in office. In politics, just as in criminology, the most relevant question is usually “cui bono”.