Political Interest Furthers Partisanship in England, Scotland, and Wales


1. Introduction

In the field of public opinion and voting behaviour, few concepts have stimulated as many analyses and have aroused as much debate as that of party identification. The idea of a durable “identification” with a political party has been a staple in American electoral studies since the 1940s and is at the core of the Michigan model of electoral choice (Campbell et al., 1960). But with the proliferation of Michigan-inspired voting studies during the late 1960s and early 1970s (see Miller, 1994) scholars tried to apply the concept to political systems other than the US and began to couch their analysis of voting behaviour in Western Europe in terms of stabilizing party attachments and disruptive short-term factors. Roughly about the same time, the concept came under criticism both in the US and abroad.

A first strand of this critique accepts the basic premises of the Michigan model but holds that their empirical findings were dependent on the unusually quiet and stable political setting of the 1950s. According to this school, the political unrest of the 1960s and 1970s greatly reduced the prevalence and electoral importance of partisanship (Abramson, 1976; Nie et al., 1976). A second and related line of argument questions the validity of the indicators, which is of particular importance for the application outside the US. Critics objected that in political systems other than the US indicators for party identification merely presented another measure for vote intentions (Schleth & Weede, 1971; Thomassen, 1976; LeDuc, 1981; Küchler, 1986). Other challenges focus on the fact that the original Michigan indicator was based on a single continuum spanned by the two relevant American parties, whereas the vast majority of European polities feature multi-party systems (Katz, 1979).

The third and most fundamental line of criticism addresses the meaning and theoretical status of party identification. The original Michigan model as outlined in the American Voter was firmly grounded in then-contemporary assumptions about human behaviour that have been subsumed under the label of a “homo sociologicus of sociological empiricism” (Lindenberg, 1985, p.102): Voters were perceived as actors who “form opinions about everything”, are “easily influenced by others”, and “act directly on the basis of … [their] opinions” (Lindenberg, 1985, p.102). Consequentially, the attachment to one of the major parties would have a powerful direct impact on one’s political behaviour and would operate as a “perceptual screen” that biases the reception and the processing of political information (Campbell et al., 1960, p.133).

According to the classic Michigan model of political behaviour, citizens do not apply an explicit decision rule to maximise their utility from voting but rather react in a semi-conscious and stochastic way to political stimuli. This runs against the grain of a competing “model of man” which holds that citizens act rationally, i.e. actively choose the political alternative that is optimal given their general preferences. Starting out from Downs’ instrumental interpretation of party identification (Downs, 1957), authors such as Samuel L. Popkin and Morris P. Fiorina developed a competing view of partisanship. According to them, party identification is nothing but a cost-saving device for voters in a situation where it would be irrational to gather too much political information (Popkin et al., 1976; Fiorina, 1977; Fiorina, 1981).

While the question of whether humans act rationally in politics or merely follow their attitudinal dispositions is obviously a deep and complex one, in the case of party identification both competing views have observable implications that lend themselves to an empirical test. While the Michigan school never claimed that party identification is perfectly stable (Campbell et al., 1960, pp. 135, 165), it follows from their presentation in the American Voter and subsequent accounts that one’s identification is normally acquired early in life and then retained for years if not decades unless the political landscape changes dramatically. On the other hand, the “revisionist school” claims that party identification is nothing but a “running tally of retrospective evaluations of party promises and performance” (Fiorina, 1981, p. 84) that is frequently updated and changes accordingly as new political information comes in (see Milazzo et al. 2012 for a more subtle development of this idea in the British context).

On the basis of panel data that track the party identifications of individuals over time, it should be fairly straightforward to establish which of the competing views more adequately reflects political realities: if many electors change their identifications over a comparatively short period of four or five years, that would constitute rather strong evidence of rational updating in the light of new information. If, on the other hand, identifications are more or less stable over this period, this would prima facie support the classic view, although proponents of the revisionist school could still argue that political circumstances have simply not changed enough to trigger significant updating.

The issue is further complicated by random measurement error: respondents will get tired and bored during the course of a lengthy interview and give an incorrect or random answer to get over with the procedure, and interviewers will mishear or mistype their utterances. Therefore, not all apparent changes in the answers to a survey question reflect a true shift in the underlying attitude. Put differently, the correlation between measurements at time t and time t+1 will be attenuated.i Therefore, results from panel analyses of partisan change and stability that do not account for random measurement error will be seriously biased in favour of the revisionist school (Green et al., 2002).

As regards party identification in Britain, to our best knowledge only the analyses by Clarke and his colleagues (Clarke et al. 2004, Clarke et al. 2009, Clarke & McCutcheon 2009) deal adequately with this problem. Their main finding is that even if measurement error is taken into account, the “substantial latent-level dynamics in party identification in recent years … [are] inconsistent with the high levels of partisan stability as argued by Green et al. and other proponents of Michigan-style partisanship” (Clarke et al., 2004, p. 193; see also Clarke et al. 2009, pp. 327330; Clarke & McCutcheon 2009).

While we agree with Clarke et al. that party identification in Britain is not completely stable, we disagree with some of their interpretations of their findings. More importantly, we argue that their model should be extended to include political interest as a key factor that can explain stability of partisan ties. This reflects the crucial role political interest plays in another strand of the literature that harks back to Dalton’s (1984) seminal contribution on cognitive mobilisation and partisan dealignment. Although both strands of the literature should obviously complement each other, they are by and large disjoint. Our own model aims to narrow this gap.

In the remainder of this paper, we first review very briefly the existing evidence on the status of party identification in Britain. Then, we present findings from a model that differs from the specification chosen by Clarke et al. by introducing one additional variable and by defining the analytical sample in a slightly more restrictive way. These two innocuous modifications lead us to substantively different conclusions that are much more in line with the classic model of party identification. Finally, we discuss how our findings relate to the broader discussion on the nature and stability of party identification.

2. Previous Research

The Michigan-inspired concept of party identification (labelled as “partisan self-image”) was introduced by Butler and Stokes (1969; 1974) to the analysis of public opinion and voting behaviour in Britain. While building on the American concept, the authors found considerable Anglo-American differences. Though highly stable in absolute terms, partisan self-images in Britain turned out to be much more likely than their American counterparts to travel in tandem with vote choice over time. Given these findings, some scholars discarded the concept arguing that in Britain party identification is not as independent from voting behaviour as implied by the Michigan school. Others related the Anglo-American differences to features of the political institutions or even to measurement problems and concluded that the concept could be applied to Britain in principle (LeDuc, 1981; Mughan, 1981; but also see Crewe et al., 1977, p. 141; Cain & Ferejohn, 1981). Following the latter account, many scholars used the concept of party identification to analyse public opinion and voting behaviour in Britain.

Subsequent analyses, however, yielded more and more evidence that seemed at odds with the traditional concept. Beginning in the 1970s, Britain underwent a period of partisan dealignment, i.e. the strength of party attachments decreased considerably (Crewe et al., 1977). What is more, the decline in intensity resulted from party attachments’ responsiveness to retrospective evaluations of party performance on salient political issues and party leader evaluations (Clarke & Stewart, 1984; see also Johnston & Pattie, 1996). Expanding on this line of research, Clarke and colleagues (e.g. Clarke et al. 1997, 1998) argue in a number of contributions that the directional component of British partisanship also responds to short-term forces like performance evaluations and party leader images. Summarising these findings, Clarke et al. conclude that this level of aggregate and individual volatility cannot be reconciled with the classic model. Therefore, party identification in the sense of the Michigan model should be replaced by the Fiorina-inspired concept of “valenced partisanship” (Clarke et al., 2004, p. 211; Clarke et al. 2009; Whiteley et al. 2013).ii Specifically, employing fractional cointegration methods (e.g., Box-Steffensmeier & Smith 1996), Clarke and his colleagues suggest that party leader images and personal economic evaluations exert effects on aggregate-level party support in Britain (Clarke & Lebo 2003; see also Lebo & Young 2009; Pickup 2009).

But this conclusion has not gone uncontested. Several scholars claimed that the apparent instability of party identification in Britain is the result of an inappropriate survey instrument. Since the traditional indicator prompts respondents with a list of party labels and does not offer them an explicit non-identity option, respondents who lack the sense of durable attachment that is implied by the concept will in all likelihood answer the question on the basis of their present (but not necessarily stable) party preference. This will result in an inflated figure for the percentage of partisans in Britain as well as in a deflated estimate of partisan stability.

Cross-sectional analyses have largely supported the view that the traditional indicator has problems (Brynin & Sanders, 1997; Bartle, 1999; Bartle, 2003; Blais et al., 2001; Sanders et al., 2002; see also Sanders, 2003; see for a similar argument on the effects of question order Heath & Pierce, 1992). When it comes to the stability issue, however, the findings are somewhat mixed. Comparing the traditional and a revised measure (the so-called “supporter question”), Clarke et al. can demonstrate that both indicators result in identical rates of stable responses. At the same time, the revised indicator leads to considerably lower rates of inter-party change than the traditional instrument (Clarke et al., 2004, pp. 196199).

A related methodological objection against the notion that party identification in the UK is merely a “running tally” was raised by Donald Green and his colleagues. Using a simple dummy indicator specification for party identification, Green et al. show that party attachments in Britain turn out to be very stable over time if one controls for random measurement error. What is more, they demonstrate that short-term forces do not seem to affect party identification in Britain if random error is accounted for. Accordingly, Green et al. conclude that evidence in favour of the running tally account of party identification is based on methodologically flawed analyses (Schickler & Green, 1997; Green et al., 2002).

Clarke and his colleagues (e.g. Clarke & McCutcheon 2009, pp. 711-714), however, argue that Green et al.’s approach to measurement error is methodologically flawed and suggest to take an alternative route based on Mixed Markov Latent Class (MMLC) analysis a more adequate method for dealing with categorical latent variables that estimates probabilities for transition from one latent group to another and obtain very different results. Their analyses of panel data collected between 1963 and 2006 reveals considerable change in party identification at the latent-variable level even when allowing for measurement error. Testing four different specifications, they find that a Mixed Markov Latent class model with time homogeneous measurement error rates fits the data for Britain (and also Canada and the USA) best. In such a model, the measurement of partisanship is assumed to be affected by random error that is homogeneous (constant) over time. Moreover, one group of respondents is assumed to have perfectly stable partisan orientations (the “stayers”), whereas members of a second group change their orientations randomly from one wave to the next (the “movers”). The model is related to Converse’s “black-white” model but differs in one important aspect: the assumption that these switches occur with equal probability is relaxed. In Britain, the estimated size of the “mover” group varies between 29 and 37 per cent (Clarke & McCutcheon 2009, pp. 721). Therefore, they suggest discarding the original Michigan concept in favour of the running tally model (Clarke et al., 2004, pp. 194195; Clarke et al., 1999, pp. 97-101; Clarke et al. 2009, pp. 327330).

Clarke et al.’s works are an important methodological and substantive step forward, although we think that they do not represent the final word on the “Michigan vs Running Tally” debate. To be sure, the probabilities for retaining one’s party identification do not equal unity. Perfect stability, however, is not implied by the Michigan model. Rather, this would be a feature of the “unmoved mover” caricature of the original concept (Converse, 2006, p. 5).iii The finding that about two thirds of the respondents in the UK are “stayers” with perfectly stable partisan orientation, combined with the fact that estimated retention rates amongst the “movers” are also relatively high could easily be read as an endorsement of the Michigan model.

However, the debate on the relative merits of both models has become somewhat stale. In reality, electorates are comprised of stable partisans, party switchers, and apartisans, and investigating the scale, the sources and the consequences of this unobserved heterogeneity seems to open up promising new avenues for research (Neundorf, Stegmueller & Scotto 2011). In this article, we suggest adding political interest as an explanatory variable into Clarke et al.’s model to re-examine the over-time stability of party identification in Britain in the late 1990s. This seemingly innocuous modification leads to an important new insight that helps us to discriminate more clearly between the traditional interpretation of partisanship and the revisionist one. In addition, it has some bearing on a related conflict within the traditionalist camp.

The rationale is simple: From the ideas of Downs, Fiorina and Popkin it follows that citizens who are interested in politics and hence exposed to political information will update their “running tally” more frequently than their compatriots with lower levels of political interest. Being interested in politics should therefore have a positive effect on the probability of being in the “mover” class. Moreover, since party identification is merely a function of prior information, interest in politics will raise levels of exposure to political information and should hence be associated with higher levels of partisanship.iv

From the point of view of the traditionalists, expectations regarding the role of political interest are less clear-cut. On the one hand, starting from ideas originally formulated in the American Voter, the thrust of Dalton’s (1984) seminal “cognitive mobilisation” thesis is that low-interest citizens will rely on partisan cues, whereas cognitively mobilised citizens have no need for these cost-saving devices. Cognitive mobilisation will therefore undermine partisan ties and contribute to dealignmant (e.g. Dalton 2014).v For individual respondents, this implies that political interest should once more increase the probability of being the mover group. Moreover, it follows that political interest should have a negative effect on the likelihood of identifying with a political party.

On the other hand, Campbell et al. (1960, p. 133) have famously argued that party identification acts as a perceptual screen that affects the way political information is selected, processed, and stored (see also Bartels 2002). This view is in line with modern theories of motivated reasoning, which suggest that voters with high levels of interest in politics and high levels of political knowledge already stored in their long-term memory are more likely to select information that bolsters their preferences and to counter-argue information that runs contrary to their existing preferences (confirmation and disconfirmation bias). In effect, additional information is likely to support, rather than undermine, existing preferences. Among low-interest voters, this effect is smaller (e.g., Taber and Lodge 2006; see somewhat relatedly Converse, 1962; Zaller, 1992). Political interest should therefore be associated with higher levels of partisanship (e.g. Albright 2009), as well as with a higher probability of being in the stayer class.

To summarise, the three different theoretical perspectives lead to diverging expectations regarding the effect of political interest:

– Table 1 about here –

3. Data and Model

It is not our aim to fully replicate the various analyses by Clarke and his colleagues or to refute their findings. Rather, we want to demonstrate how adding a single variable to their model can shed some new light on the heterogeneity of partisanship stability in Britain and beyond. We therefore focus on data that were collected for the British Election Panel Survey from 1997 to 2000. There are three reasons for re-analysing these data that were collected more than a decade ago. First, this was the last face-to-face panel study of the BES, which began to employ internet (access) panels from 2005 on. While these are cost-efficient and can offer comparable data quality, the bulk of the data analysed comes from traditional surveys, and we would rather avoid mode effects. More specifically, we are worried that “professional respondents” who participate in many surveys may be more interested in politics in the first place and will develop more consistent attitudes over time, which would bias the results in favour of the traditionalist camp. However, an additional analysis of the 2005-2009 internet panel (documented in the online appendix) leads to essentially identical findings.

Second, the 1997-2000 panel (just like the 2005-2009 study) is a “truncated” panel, as far as party identification is concerned, because the last measurement was taken well before the beginning of the election campaign in the following year. Hence, it will not be contaminated by any campaign effects that may prompt voters to revert to their initial identification (e.g. Finkel 1993), while still giving us the benefits of analysing four measurements that span almost the complete life of a parliament.

Third, and most importantly, Clarke & McCutcheon (2009, p. 721) flag up the 1997-2000 panel as the UK’s least stable in modern times. This is confirmed by our own analyses of the 1963-2009 BES panel data: While 80 per cent of the respondents reported the same identification in the last wave in 2000 as they did when they were first interviewed in 1997 (compared to 74 per cent in the 1992-95 and 84 per cent in the 2005-08 periods), the year-to-year changes (documented in the online appendix) are higher than most of those that have been previously observed. To summarise, re-analysing the 1997-2000 data stacks the odds against finding stable identifications of traditionalist lore and is therefore a sensible modeling choice.

The volatility of the 1997-2000 period does not come as a surprise. After all, “New Labour” won the 1997 election by a landslide following the abolition of the old Clause IV (that called for nationalisation) in 1995 and an “Americanised” campaign, which played down ideological differences between the parties. Subsequently, Labour implemented a flurry of constitutional changes, but carried on with many of the previous government’s fiscal and economic policies and established a leadership style that was widely seen as presidential and tried to appeal to the broadest possible constituency (Bevir & Rhodes, 2006). Therefore, the early Blair years should provide a litmus test for the hypothesis of (largely) immutable identifications: if identifications resist the momentum of these events, if they remain stable although Britain has, according to Clarke et al., entered an era of valence politics, this would constitute strong evidence in favour of the classic model.

Unlike Clarke et al., we analyse the 1064 respondents from the smaller nations (882 from Scotland and 182 from Wales separately). Since the 1970s, both Scotland and Wales have featured party systems that are clearly distinct from the national party system, with Labour as the dominant party (until 2014/15) and comparatively strong nationalist parties that represent the centre-periphery cleavage. Devolution of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly in 1999 has made these differences even more salient (Bohrer & Krutz, 2005; Lynch, 2007). In our view, pooling respondents from the three nations would lead to more unobserved heterogeneity instead of controlling for sources of heterogeneity, as the presence of the nationalist parties (taking seats in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh assembly from 1999) will alter the meaning and possibly the stability of the “other” category. Moreover, the stability of mainstream party identifications might be lower in the periphery because respondents may well hold diverging party preferences and loyalties at the national and the sub-national level (see for evidence on the US and Canada Niemi et al., 1987; Stewart & Clarke, 1998).

The second important difference between the analysis by Clarke et al. and our approach is the specification of the model: As outlined in the previous section, we introduce self-stated political interest as an additional variable, which is correlated with both the mover/stayer property and the initial latent identification. The model’s parameters were estimated with MPlus 7.11 assuming that data are missing at random (MAR). Apart from considering political interest, our model is identical to the Mixed Markov model championed by Clarke et al.: We distinguish between Labour identifiers, Conservative identifiers, and all others. Like Clarke & McCutcheon, we further assume that reliability of the indicator is stable across the 1997-2000 period but place no restrictions on the transition matrices within the mover group.

4. Findings

As outlined in the previous section, we set up the model separately for a) England and b) the devolved nations. To establish a baseline, we first estimate the model without considering political interest and its correlations with the latent classes. In line with our expectations, restricting the sample to English respondents results in a higher estimate for the proportion of stayers (75 per cent vs. 66 per cent). Like Clarke et al., we note that some (about one third) of those placed in the mover category do not actually change their identification, bringing the total number of respondents with perfectly stable party identification to 83 per cent. This finding alone is a powerful re-assertion of the idea of largely stable party alignments.

In 1997, 40 per cent of the respondents were Labour identifiers, and 32 per cent identified with the Conservatives. Amongst the initial Labour identifiers, only one quarter are movers. For the Conservatives, the rate is even lower (one fifth), but for the “other” group, it approaches one third. Across all respondents, the probability of retaining one’s identification from one wave to the next varied between 0.94 and 0.99 for Labour and between 0.86 (between 1997 and 1998) and 0.97 for the Tories. For the heterogeneous “other” group, the retention rate is markedly lower (0.74) in 1998 and somewhat lower (0.92) in 1999 and 2000.

For Scotland and Wales combined, the estimate for the stayer group is also somewhat higher than 70 per cent and thus tends to exceed the figure reported by Clarke & McCutcheon. While this difference is small and within the margin of error, the discrepancy underlines that it is worthwhile to disaggregate the data. Once more, about one third of the “movers “(most of them Labour identifiers) retain their initial identification over the four waves, bringing the total number of stable partisans close to 80 per cent. Across all respondents, retention rates are slightly lower than in England and vary between 87 per cent (Labour from 1998 to 1999, the year of the first elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly) to 97 per cent (the Conservatives 1999 to 2000).

Next, we introduce political interest as an additional variable. Interest was measured in every wave using a five-point scale. While we could have constructed another latent variable from these four measurements (see, e.g., Prior 2010), this would have made the estimation prohibitively expensive in terms of computation, and would have led to a further proliferation of parameters. Instead of trying to purge random measurement error from this variable, we simply use the single measurement from the first wave as a rough indicator for general political interest. This is actually a conservative modelling strategy: Any random noise in the 1997 measurement (which could be due to higher levels of interest during the campaign) will dilute the relationship between political interest on the one hand and partisanship and its stability on the other.

  • Table 2 about here –

Including political interest in the model involves estimating three additional parameters – one for membership in the mover group, and two for initially identifying with Labour or the Conservatives, respectively. The change in the Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC) shows that this additional complexity is well-warranted: The BIC (which aims to strike a balance between model fit and parsimony) drops from 11,024 to 10,996 in England and from 4,386 to 4,378 in Scotland/Wales, which indicates a modest improvement over the pure Mixed Markov model (see Table 2).

  • Table 3 about here –

In both regions, including political interest in the model has hardly any effect on the estimated sizes of the mover/stayer classes. However, higher levels of political interest seem to reduce the probability of being a mover. The effects are sizable at about -0.2, meaning that each one-point increase in interest will reduce the odds of being a mover by roughly 18 per cent, but are not statistically significant by conventional standards (p=0.06 in England, 0.09 in Scotland/Wales). Hence, the findings (narrowly) fail to support the “motivated reasoning” perspective on partisan stability, but also clearly contradict the “running tally” and “cognitive mobilisation” perspectives, which predict a positive coefficient.

Regarding the effect of political interest on partisanship, the results are less equivocal. Political interest has a statistically significant and substantial positive effects on both identification with the Labour and the Conservative party (see Table 3). They are equivalent to changes in the odds ranging from 19 to 43 per cent. The somewhat weaker effects in the devolved nations are compatible with a lower number of apartisans in the “other” category due to the relevance of the nationalist parties.

  • Table 4 about here –

Moreover, there is a strong correlation between membership in the mover/stayer groups and the direction of the (initial) party identification. In England, stayers are considerably more likely to identify with one of the two major parties (see Table 4) than movers. From the relative size of the groups it follows that only about 19 per cent (a quarter of 75 per cent) of the respondents remain in the “other” group over the course of the survey. In Scotland and Wales, however, stayers predominantly identify with none or one of the nationalist parties, whereas more than two thirds of the movers identified with Labour in 1997 but may have changed their allegiance further down the line.

  • Table 5 about here –

Taken together, the results imply that overall retention rates are high in some, but not in all circumstances as Table 5 reveals. In particular, we can see that Labour experiences a significantly lower rate of retention outside England while the situation is reversed for the Tories and to a lesser extent for the “other” parties, both of which see a higher levels of loyalty among supporters in Scotland and Wales than in Englandvi These findings suggest that some of the late-1990s support for Labour in Scotland and Wales may have been rather instrumental in nature, and that devolution may have facilitated and accelerated the emergence of subnational party systems in the devolved nations.

5. Conclusion

In many ways, the discussion between proponents of the Michigan model (that has been updated and revised many times since its first inception in the 1950s) and their revisionist critics could be described as a dialogue of the deaf. This is in part because both models will lead to very similar empirical findings under most circumstances. In this contribution, we have tried to bring some fresh air to this otherwise stale debate by taking a closer look at the role of interest in politics in affecting the prevalence and stability of party attachments. Relying on this perspective, we derived three models with clearly distinguishable predictions: the “running tally” model, the “cognitive mobilisation” model, and the “motivated reasoning” model, which is well in line with the traditional notion of party identification.

The evidence gleaned from the 1997-2000 BES panel survey suggests that in Britain the traditional model is better suited to describe the role of interest in politics in affecting the prevalence and stability of party attachments than its contenders. Rather than providing evidence for a frequent “updating” of identifications amongst those who are interested in politics, our results for England and Scotland and Wales support the classic view that a change in party identification is a comparatively rare event amongst both high- and low-interest citizens, and it is even rarer among the former than among the latter. Our findings thus support the classic notion of party identification (Campbell et al., 1960; see also Bartels 2002), which implies that party attachments serve as perceptual screen. In particular, they suggest that the affective nature of party identification is conducive to motivated reasoning and thereby lends considerable stability to party attachments. In line with recent findings in political psychology (e.g., Taber and Lodge, 2006), these self-stabilizing effects of party attachments are particularly strong among high-interest citizens. This finding in turn fits nicely into Zaller’s (1992) RAS model which posits that high levels of political awareness is valuable in identifying and refuting information that contradicts existing predispositions.

In accordance with the latter model, our findings also have implications for the dynamics of party identification at the aggregate level, the so-called macro-partisanship (e.g., MacKuen et al. 1989; Clarke et al. 2001; Clarke & Lebo 2003). They suggest that the dynamics in the aggregate-level distribution are primarily driven by voters who are not heavily interested in politics. To be sure, this finding on voter heterogeneity does not imply that these dynamics are indicative of some kind of irrationality (see on this debate, e.g., Page and Shapiro 1992). However, it contradicts the notion that it is highly involved voters who cause shifts in macro-partisanship, a notion that would appear to be desirable from a democratic accountability perspective. Thus our findings can be seen as supportive of the well-known paradox whereby individuals with less than ideal citizenship traits actually seem to make important contributions to the functioning of democratic political systems (Berelson et al. 1954: 316; Neuman 1986).

As is the case for most empirical studies of political behaviour, this paper is subject to several limitations.vii First, we studied the stability of party attachments in a specific period in time. The 1997-2000 period is probably atypical in that citizens were provided with much information that could make them switch party allegiances. While this characteristic made a good test case for the hypotheses it also limits the generalizability of our findings, although our additional analysis of the 2005-2009 data leads to essentially identical results. Also, we did not take into account the durability of changes in party attachments. With data from multi-wave panel surveys covering longer time periods, future research may also be able to distinguish short-term fluctuations from more permanent changes in party attachments and hence explore whether political interest affects the durability of shifts in party attachments. Moreover, we have to keep in mind that we simplified our model by treating political interest not as latent variable. Yet, this strategy is likely to have diluted the impact of political interest on the stability of party attachments. Utilizing more sophisticated techniques would probably yield evidence that supports our conclusions even more strongly. So, we are confident that our evidence lends considerable support to the classic notion of party identification in Great Britain.


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i While it is possible that random measurement error masks some true changes at the micro-level, the correlation of measurements at occasions t and t+1 will underestimate stability in the aggregate.

ii Similarly, Richardson (1991) claimed that in Britain partisanship did not resemble affective-laden identifications but rather cognitive partisanship.

iii Campbell et al (1960, p.135) proposed non-recursive rather than recursive effects between party identification and short-term attitudes, though they found party identification to be the predominant factor in the 1950s.

iv As Fiorina (1981: 90) suggests that party identification may also have non-political roots, this relationship might be attenuated.

v Dalton’s original measure of of cognitive mobilisation is an additive index of political interest and levels of formal education. We focus on political interest because it is more closely related to Fiorina’s idea of updating one’s identification based on the influx of new information, and also because average levels of formal education have risen sharply in Britain so that educational attainment is now closely linked to birth cohort membership.

vi It should be noted that the retention rates reported here refer only to those respondents who (net of any measurement error) were deemed to hold a perfectly stable identification across all four years. While this is a more conservative measure than looking just at consistency over the two ‘end’ points it does mean we exclude those too young to be included in all waves which may lead to some under-estimation of volatility levels, given the higher rates of switching commonly found among younger voters.

vii More recently, social identity theory has become quite popular in addressing party identification (e.g., Greene 2004), but we obviously have to rely on the traditional BES indicator..


Table 1: Theoretical Perspectives on the Expected Effects of Political Interest




Running tally”


Cognitive Mobilisation”

Motivated Reasoning”



Table 2: Model Fit


Free Parameters


Adjusted BIC


Mixed Markov




Mixed Markov + Interest




Scotland & Wales

Mixed Markov




Mixed Markov + Interest




Table 3 Effects of Political Interest






On Mover




On Lab-Identification




On Con-Identification




Scotland + Wales

On Mover




On Lab-Identification




On Con-Identification




Table 4: Mover/Stayer Property and Initial Party Identification (row percentages)

















Scotland + Wales











Table 5: Estimated Retention Rates 1997 → 2000 (per cent)









Scotland + Wales




Another Dog that didn’t Bark? Partisan De-alignment and Voting in the 2013 Election.


Another Dog that didn’t Bark? Partisan De-alignment and Voting in the 2013 Election.


1 Introduction

For the last twenty-five years or so, party identification has been said to be in decline in Germany. And yet, those two parties which are most closely associated with traditional concepts of partisanship, i.e. the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) on the right and the Social Democrats (SPD) on the left – are once more jointly governing Germany, with the CDU/CSU coming tantalisingly close to an outright majority in parliament. This paper tries to shed some light by re-visiting the major stations of the debate before considering new longitudinal data and finally turning to the 2013 Bundestag election.

2 The controversy over partisan dealignment in Germany

The question whether Michigan-style identifications do exist in West Europe, where politics was shaped along the lines of ideologies and cleavages, was hotly debated in the 1970s (see Dalton, Flanagan, and Beck, 1984 for a useful summary). However, towards the end of the decade a consensus emerged that the concept could indeed be transplanted to the polities on the old continent including Germany, conditional on an operationalisation that caters for multi-party systems (Falter, 1977). Such an operationalisation has been employed since the first Politbarometer surveys (dating back to the late 1970s) and has been replicated in Germany’s general social survey (ALLBUS), in the national election studies, and in countless other opinion surveys.

Yet, the late 1970s may very well have marked the height of partisanship in Germany. Mutually re-enforcing processes of socio-economic modernisation, secularisation, and value-change began to undermine the cleavage base of the German party system, which in turn facilitated the rise of the Green party in the 1980s. Moreover, according to one very influential account (Dalton, 1984), the expansion of higher education and the increase in the availability of political information reduced the heuristic value of party identification as a device that reduces cognitive costs.

The political crises of the 1980s and early 1990s, on the other hand, had very little effect on levels of party identification in Germany: The decline in partisanship was never sudden but rather glacial and concentrated in those social groups whose loyalties have shaped the modern German party system: working class voters, catholics, and churchgoers more generally (Arzheimer, 2006).

More recently, Dassonneville, Hooghe, and Vanhoutte (2012) have argued that the decline in partisanship has accelerated and is now most prevalent amongst voters with low levels of formal education, which could in the long run lead to an underrepresentation of vulnerable socio-economic groups in the German party system. Moreover, a positive correlation between formal education on the one hand and party identification on the other goes against the grain of Dalton’s original argument about cognitive mobilisation and dealignment (see also Albright, 2009 and Dalton, 2014).

Nevertheless, unlike many other studies on dealignment in Germany (but see Schmitt-Beck and Weick, 2001 and Arzheimer and Schoen, 2005) Dassonneville, Hooghe, and Vanhoutte’s work is based on the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), an annual survey of more than 12,000 households that has been running since 1984. While the SOEP provides unrivalled insights into the individual dynamics of partisanship, it also suffers from a number of drawbacks. First and foremost, after three decades in the field, panel mortality is a serious issue. While the SOEP team claims that they can compensate for attrition by recruiting new households, the structure of the data set and the attached weights have become unwieldy to say the least. Second, the research agenda of the SOEP is primarily driven by economists. Its questionnaire contains very items with genuinely political content and therefore lacks the priming context that is provided by ordinary opinion surveys. Finally, field work for the SOEP is usually drawn out over a lengthy period of time, whereas polling for other surveys that are used to study partisanship is either continuous or focused on campaigns, i.e. periods of intense political mobilisation.

While none of these issues rule out the SOEP as a valuable data source for analysing dealignment in general and issues of attitude stability at the micro level in particular, the SOEP is less than ideally suited for plotting the long-term levels of partisanship in Germany, or its importance in any given election. Therefore, the next section will rely on the monthly Politbarometer survey series to chart the decline of partisanship, while the penultimate section will make use of the German Longitudinal Election Study (GLES) to assess the relevance of party identification for voters in the 2013 Bundestag election.

3 Is partisanship in (Western)Germany in decline?

Forschungsgruppe Wahlen have been tracking German political attitudes with their monthly Politbarometer surveys since the golden age of party identification in the late 1970s. The Politbarometer follows a classic repeated cross-sectional survey design, where each group of interviewees is sampled independently and thought to be representative for the German population in the respective year and month.

Although Forschungsgruppe is a commercial operation, their raw data are made available for secondary analysis after an embargo of two to three years. Previous analyses of these data for the 1977-2002 period have shown that in line with theories of secular dealignment, party identification in Western Germany declines fairly slowly and steadily at a rate of less than one percentage point per year (Arzheimer, 2006).

Since then, Forschungsgruppe has released ten years’ worth of new data, which cover the upheaval caused by the ‘Agenda 2010’ following the 2002 election and the onset of the second Grand Coalition (2005) as well as the merger between the Eastern PDS and the Western WASG (2007) and the short but meteoric rise of the FDP (2009).


Figure 1: Partisanship in West Germany, 1977-2012

Source: own calculation based on Politbarometer series, ZA2391

The series is rather noisy with a standard deviation of 5.4 percentage points. This is to be expected, as sampling error alone should result in a standard deviation of roughly 1.5 percentage points, disregarding any additional error due to multistage sampling. Even after applying a moving average smoother using a five-month (2 1 2) window, the series is rather jittery (see Figure 1), with some of the noise probably being the result of campaign effects (the diamond-shaped symbols mark the dates of federal elections). However, it also seems clear that the downward trend of the 1980s and 1990s has slowed down considerably in the new millenium, with the average yearly attrition rate falling well below 0.5 percentage points.

As the micro data are readily available, it is possible to model the decline in partisanship directly without resorting to the aggregated time series (see Arzheimer, 2006). A simple descriptive model would start with a logistic regression of holding a party id (a dichotomous variable) on calendar time, controlling for campaign effects. For simplicity’s sake, only federal elections and Land elections in Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg, and North Rhine-Westphalia – the three most populous states which are collectively home to more than half of the West German population — were considered, and campaigns were assumed to uniformly run for three months, including the month in which the election was held. Logistic regression enforces an S-shaped link between partisanship and its predictors, which given the empirical distribution of party identifications in the sample (between 59 and 84 per cent) will result in a nearly linear relationship. To accommodate the apparent non-linear decline of partisanship, following Royston and Sauerbrei (2008) a number of fractional polynomial transformations of calendar time were included in a bivariate model (not shown), with an additional square root transform providing the best fit.

Since the purpose of the model is descriptive, only two variables were included to account for changes in the composition of the population that occurred over the 35-year period: Formal education (people who were educated beyond Mittlere Reife vs. everyone else), and age. As outlined in section 2, formal education is interesting in itself, but it also serves as a useful proxy for not belonging to the working class and not attending church frequently, rendering a durable affiliation with either the SPD or the CDU/CSU much less likely.

Age, or rather the time at which person was born will affect partisanship in two ways. On the one hand, partisanship is partly a habit, which is reinforced over the course of one’s life (Converse, 1969). Therefore, older voters should be more likely to identify with a party. On the other hand, dealignment theory suggests that independent of individual age and across the span of their lives, members of younger cohorts are less likely to identify with a party compared to those who were socialised into the largely stable German party system of the 1960s and 1970s.

Life cycle and cohort effects are notoriously difficult to separate (Oppenheim Mason et al., 1973). Because age is only recorded in a categorised fashion in the Politbarometer surveys anyway, no such attempt was made. Instead, respondents were split into three broad categories (under 35, 35 to 60, and over 60) to control for the slow but momentous demographic changes Germany is undergoing. Finally, the effects of age and education were allowed to vary over time to account for generational replacement and the new relationship between education and partisanship postulated by Dassonneville, Hooghe, and Vanhoutte (2012).

Although the additional complexity introduced by the interaction terms is a setback, model comparisons (not shown) based on the Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC) demonstrate that such a fully interactive model fits the data much better than either a non-interactive variant or a model that regresses partisanship on calendar time and campaign effects alone.


Figure 2: Estimated overall levels of partisanship in West Germany, 1977-2002 (adjusted predictions at representative values (APR))

Source: own calculation based on Politbarometer series, ZA2391. Predictions derived from parameter estimates shown in Table 1.

Party ID
Sqrt(Time) -0.481∗∗∗
Time 0.00912∗∗∗
Campaign (all) 0.0400∗
Age: 35-59 -2.923∗∗∗
Age: 60- -3.117∗∗∗
Educ: high 0.0941
Age: 35-59 × Sqrt(Time) 0.317∗∗∗
Age: 60- × Sqrt(Time) 0.299∗∗∗
Age: 35-59 × Time -0.00747∗∗∗
Age: 60- × Time -0.00579∗∗∗
Educ: high × Sqrt(Time) -0.0210
Educ: high × Time 0.00134
Constant 6.340∗∗∗

Observations 439120

Table 1: Micro Model of Partisanship in West Germany, 1977-2012

Source: own calculation based on Politbarometer series, ZA2391.

Table 1 shows the results. However, since the substantive meaning of logit coefficients is hard to grasp, particularly in the face of additional non-linearities and interactions, the interpretation will focus on a graphical representation. Figure 2 shows that the decline of partisanship has slowed down considerably indeed. In theory, anything could have happened in the nine months between the current end of the time series and the election, but the graph makes it abundantly clear that dealignment has effectively halted during the last decade under study. The estimated attrition rate for the five-year period from December 2007 to December 2012 is a mere 0.8 percentage points, just over the estimated yearly average for the 1980s.


Figure 3: Estimated levels of partisanship in West Germany by formal education, 1977-2002 (adjusted predictions at representative values (APR))

Source: own calculation based on Politbarometer series, ZA2391. Predictions derived from parameter estimates shown in Table 1.

Including education, age, and their interaction with time in the model makes it possible to look into group-specific trends in dealignment. Figure 3 shows that partisanship has fallen much more rapidly amongst those with higher formal qualifications, leading to a gap that has become increasingly wider in recent years, as dealignment has essentially petered out amongst those with higher levels of educational attainment. Yet, dealignment has slowed down for the lower attainment group, too: The change from e.g. 2000 to 2010 is much less dramatic than the development for the 1990 to 2000 period, hinting once more at stabilisation on a lower level.


Figure 4: Estimated levels of partisanship in West Germany by age group, 1977-2002 (adjusted predictions at representative values (APR))

Source: own calculation based on Politbarometer series, ZA2391. Predictions derived from parameter estimates shown in Table 1.

One intriguing aspect of this pattern is that levels of formal education are negatively correlated with age as a result of the ongoing expansion of education. Figure 4 offers a more direct look into the age-specific trajectories of dealignment. One first insight is that – at least according to the underlying model – age did not matter much in the late 1970s and early 1980s but quickly became a factor over the course of this decade as younger respondents 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.

However, once more the estimated attrition rate in this group began 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, 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, 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 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.

One final aspect that must be considered is the relative size of the three age groups. During the first five years of polling, 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. The share of older citizens has risen to just under 30 per cent, and only 18 per cent of all respondents are younger than 35. 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. In essence, this means that dealignment in Germany is slowed down by demographic change, because the combined shares of middle aged and older voters, who are more likely to be partisans, is growing.

Either way, party identification has neither collapsed nor withered away in West Germany. Assessing the state and trajectory of party identification in the former East Germany is less straightforward. First, theories of dealignment do not apply because there should not have been any alignment in the first place. After all, Easterners had not been exposed to the West German party system before 1990 and, more generally, had had no experience with free elections since the (partially free) Land elections of 1946. While it has been argued that many Easterners had access to West German TV and hence could form “quasi-attachments” to West German parties (Bluck and Kreikenbom, 1991), these attachments can hardly have been comparable to Michigan-type identifications. After all, the latter are the result of socialisation effects in the family and intermediary associations, exposure to fellow partisans, party members and party communication, first-hand experience of policies and policy outcomes, and last not least the habit-forming experience of repeatedly voting for one’s party. Accordingly, the number of self-reported partisans in the East was lower than in the West all through the 1990s, while attachments were weaker and less stable.


Figure 5: Partisanship in East Germany, 1991-2012

Source: own calculation based on various Politbarometer samples

Second, the East German subsamples of the Politbarometer poll are often relatively small. Until 1995, East Germans were massively overrepresented in the polls: Essentially, Easterners were sampled separately and in numbers approaching those for West Germany (roughly 1000 per month and region) to account for the idiosyncratic and very fluent nature of public opinion in the post-unification East. From 1996 to 1998, Forschungsgruppe used a single sampling frame, interviewing about 1000 respondents per month in total. In 1999, Forschungsgruppe reinstated separate regional subsamples of roughly equal size, but from the early 2000s on, they considerably reduced Eastern sample sizes for most months, boosting it occasionally to cover election campaigns. As a result, the Eastern time series is very noisy even after applying the moving average smoother (Figure 5).

Despite these fluctuations, it is clear that the massive decline of self-reported identifications in the early 1990s was a temporary phenomenon. From the mid-1990s on, the number of identifiers moved up, although in fits and starts. This pattern is at least compatible with a process of social-political learning, during which East Germans became familiar with the party system and wider liberal-democratic political system. Then, for the last decade or so, levels of partisanship in East Germany have been by and large stable in the 55-to-65 per cent range, roughly five percentage points below West German levels.

Given the relatively small East German sample sizes (particularly for younger and highly educated voters), the comparatively short time series, and the absence of any clear trends, I refrain from modelling developments in subgroups. At this stage, the more important point to note is that partisanship was clearly still an important at the time of the 2013 election. While the group of non-partisans is large, in both regions, more than half of the voters report a party identification, and there is no sign of a sudden and imminent decline.

4 The role of party identification in the 2013 election

4.1 Party identification and party choice

Just because respondents report identifications, they need not necessarily be politically meaningful. In this section, a simple model of voting in the 2013 election is presented in order to assess the political relevance of party identification.

Modelling electoral choice in multi-party systems is not entirely straightforward. Perhaps the most commonly employed statistical model is the multinomial logit (MNL). One problem of the MNL, however, is the large number of parameters which must be estimated, because each possible outcome (minus a reference category) is given its own set of coefficients: For k parties and l variables, the total number of parameters is (k − 1) × (l + 1). Even if CSU voters are lumped together with voters of the CDU, and non-voters and voters of “other” parties are disregarded, there were are at least five relevant choices (Christian Democrats, SPD, FDP, Greens, and the Left) that need to be considered, so that even simple models become unwieldy very quickly.

Fortunately, there is another option. The Conditional Logit Model (CLM, Alvarez and Nagler, 1998) has only a single parameter for the effects of each variable that varies across alternatives within voters. This includes many variables which are deemed to affect electoral behaviour: evaluations of candidates, policies, and parties. The CLM resembles the MNL in that it can be extended to also incorporate variables that are constant across alternatives (Long and Freese, 2006, p. 307), like more general attitudes, or socio-demographic variables, but for these, the number of parameters is once more proportional to k − 1.

west east

PI 1.885∗∗∗ 2.906∗∗∗
(0.177) (0.366)
Evaluation: Candidate 0.555∗∗∗ 0.625∗∗∗
(0.0600) (0.155)
Ideolocal Distance -0.374∗∗∗ -0.423∗∗∗
(0.0679) (0.101)
Union 0.0797 0.621
(0.620) (0.908)
FDP -1.190 -1.066
(0.914) (1.655)
B90Gruene 0.733 -0.0441
(0.761) (1.267)
Left 0.528 2.077∗
(0.787) (0.872)
Union × Tax vs Welfare -0.00368 -0.121
(0.103) (0.165)
FDP × Tax vs Welfare 0.259∗ 0.220
(0.110) (0.213)
B90Gruene × Tax vs Welfare -0.0118 0.224
(0.111) (0.277)
Left × Tax vs Welfare -0.0122 -0.0614
(0.115) (0.155)
Union × Immigration -0.0750 -0.0729
(0.0731) (0.117)
FDP × Immigration -0.0658 -0.176
(0.0812) (0.290)
B90Gruene × Immigration -0.124 -0.260
(0.0807) (0.152)
Left × Immigration -0.151 -0.379∗∗
(0.0791) (0.131)

Observations 3887 1711

Table 2: Micro Model of Electoral Choice in the 2013 Bundestag Election (East vs. West)

Source: own calculation based on GLES 2013 pre-election cross-section, ZA5700. “Observations” are observed choices. The number of cases is 888 for the West and 206 for the East. Standard errors take into account the nesting of choices within electors and the complex survey design, including the weights supplied by the GLES team.

Table 2 shows the estimates for the parameters of a very simple conditional logistic model of electoral choice in the 2013 election. Data come from the pre-election cross-sectional survey component of the German Longitudinal Election Study (GLES). The model itself is built around the Michigan triad of party identification, candidate evaluations, and issue considerations. The latter are operationalised in multiple ways. For the “ideological distance” measure, respondents were asked to place themselves and the main parties on a standard left-right scale to gauge the general agreement between voters’ preferences and the parties’ policy proposals. To get a more rounded impression of the impact of policy considerations, preferences on two more specific positional issues that were deemed to be important in the 2013 election were included as well: lower taxes vs. more welfare spending, and immigration.1

While respondents were asked for their perceptions of party positions on these issues so that alternative-specific measures of distance could be calculated, the number of missing values for these items is quite high. Hence, only voters personal preferences regarding immigration and tax/welfare enter the model. Including such case-specific variables in a CLM of electoral choice requires one to include a series of party specific constants and interaction terms (Long and Freese, 2006, p. 305), which pick up the effect of a change in the case-specific variables on the chance of choosing the respective party vs. some arbitrary baseline alternative (in this case, the SPD).

To account for any differences between East and West Germany, parameters were estimated separately for both regions.2 While the interpretation is slightly complicated by the presence of multiple interaction terms, it is clear from Table 2 that such differences played a role in the 2013 election. To see why this is the case, consider a voter who is both in favour of raising welfare spending (0) and facilitating immigration (0). For these persons, all interaction terms drop out of the equation so that the constant reflects the odds of voting for the respective party vs. voting for the SPD. In the West, the odds seem to favour the Left (e0.528≈ 1.7), but the coefficient is not statistically different from zero. In the East, however, the Left’s advantage is significant, and massive (e2.077≈ 8). Even for Eastern voters who hold a more centrist position (5) on the immigration scale, the Left will be slightly more attractive, ceteris paribus, whereas in the West, the balance is tilting towards the SPD.

While these differences are certainly interesting, the main concern of this section is the role of party identification. From the first line of Table 2, it can be gleaned that in both regions, identifying with a party has a very strong effect on the odds of actually voting for this party even after controlling for specific issue positions, general ideological distance, and candidate evaluations.

The latter two do certainly matter, too. Because of the range of the underlying scales (0-10 and 1-11, respectively), their potential effect is even bigger than that of party identification. But in practice, the perceived ideological distances between voters and parties are relatively small, with a median of 2 points and a mean of 2.3. Candidate evaluations display more variation with a mean of 6.2 and a median of 6, implying that a plausible candidate could possibly compensate for a lack of attachment to the party.

Yet, one should bear in mind that for candidate evaluations (and ideological distances), only the differential is relevant, because all candidates will appeal to some degree. If a voter likes or dislikes all candidates in equal measure, their joint effect on her voting behaviour is nil. For the average voter, the standard deviation of candidate evaluations is just 1.9 points, suggesting that in many cases, the differential and hence the candidate effect will be considerably smaller than the potential effect. Having a party identification, on the other hand, will be definition benefit only a single party, to whom the maximal potential effect will apply.

One intuitive (though potentially problematic, see Long and Freese, 2006, p. 111) approach towards assessing the relevance of party identifications is to compare actual electoral choices to those expected given the data and the parameter estimates. In both areas, about 85 per cent of voters are classified correctly.3 However, simply assuming that those who hold an identification will vote in accordance with it works just as well, with a 85 per cent of the subgroup correctly classified in the West and 92 per cent in East. Accordingly, the match between party identification and model-derived predictions is almost perfect (98 per cent) for identifiers.

This shows that at least in this election, candidate evaluations and policy concerns were rarely able to offset the effect of longstanding loyalties amongst those who have an identification and turned out to vote. Nonetheless, they will shape voting decisions amongst the slowly growing group of those who do not identify with a party.

4.2 The importance of being left: Ideology, party identification and choice amongst left parties

In German Politics, one of the most interesting developments in recent years has been the breakaway of the WASG from the SPD following the enactment of the “Agenda 2010” reforms, and the ensuing PDS/WASG merger (Hough, Koß, and Olsen, 2007). As a result, the left camp is now more fragmented than the right, at least for the time being. Moreover, the (ongoing) conflict over the “Agenda” and its legacy has re-asserted the importance of distributional issues (which were over-shadowed by moral questions, at least in many academic analyses) for party competition.

The question of whether this new divide within the left camp has already become entrenched in the guise of (new) party identifications has rarely been addressed. After all, it is not implausible that the vote for the Left (particularly in the West) could be driven by policy concerns alone or even by more generalised “protest”.

Yet, the short answer to the question is that this does not seem to be the case. Admittedly, voters of the Left party position themselves significantly closer to the left end of the political spectrum than voters of the SPD or the Greens. This even holds when the analysis is restricted to the subsample of voters who self-identify as leftists by reporting position on the continuum that is clearly left of the centre (4 or less). Moreover, voters of the Greens are slightly more in favour of immigration than voters of the other two parties. Again, this holds for both regions, and for the general population and the leftist subsample (not shown as a table).


SPD -2.529∗∗∗
B90Gruene -2.866∗∗∗
Left -2.415∗∗∗
East -2.439∗∗∗
SPD × East 1.606∗
B90Gruene × East 1.987∗
Left × East 1.296
Constant 7.003∗∗∗

Observations 1839

Table 3: Leftist Voters’ Positions on Taxes/Welfare Spending as a Function of Party Choice and Region

Source: own calculation based on GLES 2013 pre-election cross-section, ZA5700. The size of the subpopulation is 333. Standard errors take into account the complex survey design, including the weights supplied by the GLES team.


no/other 6.561 (0.337)
SPD 4.323 (0.276)
B90Gruene 4.055 (0.275)
Left 4.381 (0.446)
West 5.589 (0.243)
East 4.051 (0.236)
no/other × West 7.003 (0.400)
no/other × East 4.564 (0.436)
SPD × West 4.474 (0.332)
SPD × East 3.641 (0.280)
B90Gruene × West 4.137 (0.315)
B90Gruene × East 3.685 (0.525)
Left × West 4.588 (0.540)
Left × East 3.444 (0.349)

Observations 1339

Table 4: Leftist Voters’ Positions on Taxes/Welfare Spending (Adjusted Predictions at Representative Values)

Source: own calculation based on GLES 2013 pre-election cross-section, ZA5700. Adjusted predictions derived from model presented in Table 3. The size of the subpopulation is 333. Standard errors take into account the complex survey design, including the weights supplied by the GLES team.

But on the crucial tax/spending issue, there are hardly any differences between the supporters of the three parties. Here, the real difference is that between Easterners and Westerners, and this gap is particularly pronounced amongst those who consider themselves to be left-wing. Table 4 lists the adjusted predictions derived from a simple linear model (Table 3) that regresses tax/spending preferences amongst leftist (self-placement on scale points 1-4) voters on region and electoral choice. Lines 1-4 shows national estimates by party choice. Clearly, the differences between the respective supporters of the SPD, the Greens, and the Left are small and statistically insignificant, whereas any other voters position themselves more than two points closer to the “lower taxes” pole of the scale on average.

Perhaps even more striking are the estimates for the overall difference between East Germans and West Germans given in the next two lines. Although all respondents in this subsample consider themselves to be on the left, Western respondents lean slightly towards the “lower taxes/fewer benefits” pole of the continuum. Eastern respondents, on the other hand, position themselves 1,6 points closer to the “higher taxes/more benefits” pole.

The rest of the table breaks down the preferences of leftist along party lines and region. Because of the small sample sizes, the regional differences within electorates are not statistically significant, but the clearly show that within each region, the voters of the three parties hold broadly similar views on taxation and welfare.


no/other SPD B90Gruene Left

no/other 0.844 0.0812 0.0552 0.0846
(0.0958) (0.0327) (0.0286) (0.0402)
SPD 0.156 0.847 0.193 0.0735
(0.0958) (0.0511) (0.0553) (0.0450)
B90Gruene 0 0.0717 0.723 0.110
(0) (0.0427) (0.0643) (0.0815)
Left 0 0 0.0291 0.731
(0) (0) (0.0177) (0.0891)

N  1282

Table 5: Party identification of leftist voters in West Germany by vote choice

Source: own calculation based on GLES 2013 pre-election cross-section, ZA5700. The size of the subpopulation is 254. Standard errors take into account the complex survey design, including the weights supplied by the GLES team.

While policies seem hence to matter less than one would have expected, party identification once more plays a prominent role. Table 5 shows the party affiliation of Western leftist voters by electoral choice. From the main diagonal, it can be seen that between 72 and 85 per cent report a party identification that is congruent with their electoral choice. Crucially, this also holds for the Left party, which is still relatively new by West German standards. Here, 73 per cent of the voters claim to be longstanding supporters. Although the sampling error is relatively large for this small group, one can be confident that more than half of the Left’s Western voters are identifiers.

In the East, the results are virtually identical (not shown as a table). Flipping the perspective demonstrates that similarly high numbers of identifiers vote for the “correct” party, and again, this holds for both regions (not shown as a table). Taken together, these findings suggest that the fragmentation of the left electorate has indeed become entrenched. Obviously, this does not bode well for any attempts of the SPD to win (back) voters from the Left.

5 Conclusion: Party identification in Germany: not Dead yet

The notion of party decline in Western countries is as old as the post-war political order (Reiter, 1989). But at least for the old Federal Republic, and then for the Western states during the first decade after unification, there is no evidence of any sudden collapse of the party loyalties. Instead, the available data from the Politbarometer series point to an almost glacial process of dealignment that is driven by social and generational change (Arzheimer, 2006).

This article expands on earlier contributions by first extending the study of the Politbarometer series by a full decade to the whole 1977-2012 period. The most important finding from this analysis is that dealignment in Western Germany has slowed down even further, coming to a virtual halt in recent years.

One reason for this is the emerging positive relationship between formal education and partisanship, coupled with the ongoing expansion of the German education system. This positive effect of education (which confirms some of Dassonneville, Hooghe, and Vanhoutte (2012)’s finding using a less idiosyncratic data base) is both unexpected and remarkable, because it contradicts classic cleavage theory as well as the original argument about cognitive mobilisation. Whether it hails a new age of “cognitive partisans” (Dalton, 2014, p. 140) remains to be seen, although the results are certainly suggestive.

Demographic changes play an important part, too. While it is not quite clear whether this is primarily a result of life-cycle or of cohort effects, late-middle-aged voters and younger pensioners are more likely to be partisans than younger voters, whose share of the electorate is rapidly shrinking.

Turning from the longitudinal to a cross-sectional perspective, it could further be demonstrated that in both East and West Germany, party identifications are a very strong predictor of voting intentions, even if the other elements of the Ann-Arbor-Model – candidate evaluations and issues orientations – are controlled for in various ways. Those voters who identify with a party rarely report diverging voting intentions so that issues and candidates matter almost exclusively for the apartisans.

Although the analysis was restricted to the pre-election survey to avoid any post-hoc rationalisations on behalf of the respondents, the spectre of endogeneity obviously looms large in any such model. After all, it is reasonable to assume that at least some respondents cannot distinguish between their current voting intentions and any long-term loyalties they may or may not harbour. However, measures of candidate evaluations and issue orientations are equally or even more so prone to contamination by voting intentions. Therefore, the estimate for the relative importance of party identification should be unaffected even if the absolute size of its effect may be overstated.

Finally, a detailed analysis of leftist voters interviewed for the GLES showed that even in the (small) subgroup of Western voters of the Left party, most respondents claimed to be identifiers. Again, this is a significant and largely unexpected finding. The formation of the WASG and ultimately the WASG/PDS merger were triggered by the SPD’s shift to the right on social and economic policy, yet the leftists amongst the voters of the SPD and of the Left take broadly similar positions on these issues while claiming to identify with their respective parties. This suggests that the fragmentation of the left camp has become entrenched and cannot be easily overcome by another programmatic shift of the SPD.


Albright, Jeremy J. (2009). “Does Political Knowledge Erode Party Attachments? A Review of the Cognitive Mobilization Thesis”. In: Electoral Studies 28.2, pp. 248–260. DOI: 10.1016/j.electstud.2009. 01.001.

Alvarez, R. Michael and Jonathan Nagler (1998). “When Politics and Models Collide. Estimating Models of Multiparty Elections”. In: American Journal of Political Science 42, pp. 55–96.

Arzheimer, Kai (2006). “’Dead Men Walking?’ Party Identification in Germany, 1977-2002”. In: Electoral Studies 25, pp. 791–807. DOI: 10. 1016/j.electstud.2006.01.004.

Arzheimer, Kai and Harald Schoen (2005). “Erste Schritte auf kaum erschlossenem Terrain. Zur Stabilität der Parteiidentifikation in Deutschland”. In: Politische Vierteljahresschrift 46, pp. 629–654.

Bluck, Carsten and Henry Kreikenbom (1991). “Die Wähler in der DDR: Nur issue-orientiert oder auch parteigebunden?” In: Zeitschrift für Parlamentsfragen 22, pp. 495–502.

Converse, Philip E. (1969). “Of Time and Partisan Stability”. In: Comparative Political Studies 2, pp. 139–171.

Dalton, Russell J. (1984). “Cognitive Mobilization and Partisan Dealignment in Advanced Industrial Democracies”. In: Journal of Politics 46, pp. 264–284.

— (2014). “Interpreting Partisan Dealignment in Germany”. In: German Politics 23.1-2, pp. 134–144. DOI: 10.1080/09644008.2013.853040.

Dalton, Russell J., Scott C. Flanagan, and Paul Allen Beck, eds. (1984). Electoral Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies: Realignment or Dealignment. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Dassonneville, Ruth, Marc Hooghe, and Bram Vanhoutte (2012). “Age, Period and Cohort Effects in the Decline of Party Identification in Germany: An Analysis of a Two Decade Panel Study in Germany (1992-2009)”. In: German Politics 2, pp. 209–227.

Falter, Jürgen W. (1977). “Zur Validierung theoretischer Konstrukte – Wissenschaftstheoretische Aspekte des Validierungskonzepts”. In: Zeitschrift für Soziologie 6, pp. 349–369.

Hough, Dan, Michael Koß, and Jonathan Olsen (2007). The Left Party in Contemporary German Politics. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Long, J. Scott and Jeremy Freese (2006). Regression Models for Categorical Dependent Variables Using Stata. 2nd ed. College Station: Stata Press.

Oppenheim Mason, Karen et al. (1973). “Some Methodological Issues in Cohort Analysis of Archival Data”. In: American Sociological Review 38, pp. 242–258.

Reiter, Howard L. (1989). “Party Decline in the West. A Skeptic’s View”. In: Journal of Theoretical Politics 1, pp. 325–348.

Royston, Patrick and Willi Sauerbrei (2008). Multivariable Model-building: A Pragmatic Approach to Regression Analysis Based on Fractional Polynomials for Modelling Continuous Variables. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Schmitt-Beck, Rüdiger and Stefan Weick (2001). “Die dauerhafte Parteiidentifikation – nur noch ein Mythos? Eine Längsschnittanalyse zur Identifikation mit den politischen Parteien in West- und Ostdeutschland”. In: Informationsdienst soziale Indikatoren 26, pp. 1–5.

1Taxes/spending: “And what is your own opinion regarding taxes and social welfare services? 0 – lower taxes, even if this means a reduction in the benefits offered by the social state; 10 – lower taxes, even if this means a reduction in the benefits offered by the social state”. Immigration: “And what is your opinion regarding immigration? 0 – Immigration should be facilitated; 10 – immigration should be restricted”.

2Obviously, it would have been possible to estimate a single model for all of Germany by including appropriate interaction terms, but this would have introduced an additional layer of complexity.

3The correction presented by Long and Freese (2006) yields a slightly lower rate of 72 per cent.

‘Dead Men Walking?’ Party Identification in Germany, 1977-2002


1. Introduction

Since 1949, German political parties have apparently operated under very favorable conditions. One of the foremost articles of the Federal Constitution (which was framed almost exclusively by former party politicians who survived the terror of the Nazis) secures them a guaranteed role in the political process and grants them special privileges.1 More important for their day-to-day business is an extensive system of state-funding2 and their de-facto control over access to the electoral arena.3 Last not least, they have gained much more than a foothold in the higher ranks of the civil service, including the public broadcasters that still control a large share of the radio and TV-market. Despite the traditional anti-partisan affect that had troubled the German polity since the 19th century, the Federal Republic clearly evolved into a party state during the 1950s.

While parties as institutions flourished, there is empirical evidence that citizens took a skeptical view of parties and party politicians during the post-war period (see Kepplinger 1998: 23-26 for an overview). But by the 1970s, the new arrangements were widely accepted by the public. Not only had the Christian Democrats4 (CDU/CSU), Social Democrats (SPD) and Liberal Democrats (FDP) – the only parties represented in the federal parliament from 1961-1983, collectively known as ‘Bonner Parteien’ after the former seat of the federal government – gained sizable numbers of new members by then. They also had managed to attract a combined share of 99 per cent of the vote all through the 1970s, with turnout exceeding 90 per cent of those eligible to vote. Given the considerable degree of fragmentation in the Weimar Republic’s and the early Federal Republic’s party system and the fact that Germany’s electoral system is basically proportional, this success is even more impressive. Looking back, the 1970s were obviously a golden age of party government in Germany.

This not withstanding, the late 1970s also gave rise to a new discourse of crisis, not unlike the older discourse on ‘ungovernability’, in which political scientists, politicians, and citizens alike have been involved ever since then. This discourse centers on the notion of ‘Verdrossenheit’ in its numerous varieties, among which ‘Politikverdrossenheit’, ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’, and ‘Politikerverdrossenheit’ (disaffection with politics, parties, and party politicians, henceforth simply Parteienverdrossenheit; see Eilfort 1996 for an attempt to translate this terminology) are the most notorious. More than 180 chapters, refereed articles, and scientific monographs have been published on the subject since 1977, with their numbers still growing (Arzheimer 2002).

Ironically, the unexpected unification of East and West Germany in 1990, which was meant to be the biggest success of the established West German parties, has apparently boosted this disaffection. Not only had the mere existence of the GDR helped to curb political criticism and desire for fundamental change. Moreover, political decisions and statements made in the transformation process fueled public discontent in the years after 1990. Instead of preparing Germany for ‘blood, toil, tears, and sweat’, the government lead by Helmut Kohl had promised that East Germany would turn into ‘flowering landscapes’ within ten years, and that every German citizen would be better off than before unification. As the economic upswing failed to materialize and the unemployment rate in East Germany soared up almost immediately after unification, parties and politicians were framed in public discourses more often than not as cheats that would promise anything to anyone to get elected.5 Therefore, it is not surprising that West Germans’ satisfaction with the performance of the political system, which had been very high for at least 15 years, declined markedly after unification (Fuchs et al. 1995: 338; Fuchs 1999: 141). Economic and political troubles after unification and the widespread disaffection with the way the Kohl-government handled these issues may well have alienated citizens from parties and party government in general. This change in the public’s mood was reflected in a debate on the role of parties within the political system and an unprecedented number of publications on ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’ in the years of 1993/1994 (Arzheimer 2002: 102).6

Although a certain vagueness seems to be a part of the concept’s attractiveness, quantitative analysis of the literature shows that it clearly refers to a loss of long-standing support for and stable attachments to political parties (Arzheimer 2002: 125). Hence, much of what was written on ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’ may be seen as a German contribution to the already very large literature on the alleged decline of parties in general and partisan alignments in particular (see Reiter 1989 for an overview and critique). There is, however, one important difference between proponents of dealignment and scholars of ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’. Dealignment theories assume that partisan ties decline because:

  1. With rising levels of education, partisanship loses its ‘functional value’ for the average person (Dalton 1984).7 Citizens who have a good knowledge of political concepts and facts and are able to process this information do not rely on the framing of politics that parties provide. This is the effect of cognitive mobilization.

  2. Traditional groups (workers, Catholics, church-goers) shrink, while new groups that are not aligned to a particular party (e.g. the ‘new middleclass’) grow in size (Gluchowski and Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1998). Therefore, fewer and fewer citizens live in a context where social norms structure individual support for parties. This is the effect of changing composition of the society.

  3. Old cleavages decline in salience. The reasons for this are manifold:

    1. the elites within the relevant social groups (e.g. trade union bosses or church leaders) give fewer cues as to which party represents that group in the political arena and/or

    2. the rank-and-file members of these groups are less likely to follow the cues (Dalton et al. 1984), since welfare-state policies have reduced the tensions between social groups, individual (Crouch 1999: 20-26) and value based concerns (Inglehart 1984; Kitschelt 1994; 1995) become more relevant, and special-interest groups and the media assume some of the parties’ functions (Dalton 2000: 29).

    3. For the same reasons, new generations born into those groups are less likely to internalize the groups’ norms and traditional loyalties during their formative years.

Regardless of the precise mechanism, this is the effect of a weakening of traditional social ties.

Of course, this catalogue is not necessarily exhaustive, and complex interactions between these three effects are conceivable, but the general thrust of these arguments suggests a slow and gradual decline of partisan ties because dealignment is by and large a consequence of secular changes and population turnover.

On the other hand, authors who are concerned about ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’ often assume that a rather swift and permanent breakdown of party attachments has already occurred.8 Surprisingly, from the literature on ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’ it remains largely unclear whether there is any empirical evidence for such a fundamental change in the relationship between citizens and parties. Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberal Democrats have survived the onslaught of the Green party that was founded in the early 1980s as well as the attacks by the new parties of the Extreme Right and the post-communist PDS in the years after German unification. Despite a substantial loss in their membership and increased public criticism, they still attracted roughly 85 per cent of the vote in the 2002 Bundestag election – more than 25 years after the first papers on ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’ appeared. Therefore, the (reiterated) reports of their deaths may be slightly exaggerated.

Conversely, their continuing rule does not imply that the supposed change in the citizen-party-relationship has failed to materialize. Some authors (e.g. Kepplinger 1998: 24) argue that the situation in the 1990s resembles the setup of the 1950s in a remarkable way. After all, parties may very well prosper although they are detached from the public (see Katz and Maier 1995 for a radical version of this argument).

The relative electoral success of the established parties does not rule out this possibility. It is entirely plausible that partisanship is declining – either gradually or swiftly – and that citizens simply keep voting for the same old parties for entirely different reasons. The point is, if one wants to know whether partisanship in Germany has actually declined over the years and if so, which pattern this decline has followed, the literature is at best inconclusive, because authors working in this field rarely employ appropriate data. While scholars concerned about ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’ often hypothesize that support for parties has dropped over the course of a couple of months or maybe years, their vast majority relies solely on data from cross-sectional studies. If trend data are employed, these time-series typically encompass six to seven time points at the maximum. Although cross-sections and short time trends may provide interesting snapshots of political reality, they are clearly inadequate for the research question at hand: One can simply not assess long-term change if one has no information regarding the past level and dynamics of the respective variable.

– table 1 about here –

Fortunately, such information exists and is accessible to the scientific community. Since 1977, ‘Forschungsgruppe Wahlen’ (FGW), a company from an academic background, has conducted its monthly ‘Politbarometer’ polls on behalf of the public broadcaster ZDF. This survey includes what has become the standard question (Falter et al. 2000b: 241)9 for tapping party identification (henceforth PID) as conceived by the social-psychological model (Campbell et al. 1960) and is therefore ideally suited for investigating whether and how the relationship between citizens and parties might have changed since the late 1970s when the discussion on ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’ began.

2. Data

The Politbarometer series of surveys started in January 1977, and information on PID has been collected since March 1977. Prior to August 1988, respondents were selected from the population entitled to vote by multi-stage probability sampling and were interviewed face-to-face. From August 1988 on, respondents were interviewed by telephone, with the phone numbers created by RDL. Since 1990, citizens from Berlin and from East Germany were interviewed as well, but the PID question was introduced in East Germany as late as April 1991. Due to deficiencies in the East German telephone system, respondents were interviewed face-to-face until 1994. Since there are vast and persistent differences between the political cultures of East and West Germany (see e.g. the chapters in Falter et al. 2000a), East German respondents were excluded from the analyses in this article.

The Politbarometer poll is usually conducted every four weeks, but until 1998, FGW would regularly skip one of the summer months. Conversely, during the weeks preceding an election FGW normally polls the public’s opinions every fortnight, so that there are 11 to 14 samples per year. For the period from January 1977 up to December 2002, these data were harmonized and partially cumulated by the Central Archive at the University of Cologne.10 After deleting respondents who claimed to be East Germans but were included in the West German data sets, 280,732 citizens from West Germany who had answered the PID question remain.

3. Analysis

Figure 1 shows the percentage of party-identifiers in Germany from 1977 to 2002 as measured by the Politbarometer series of opinion polls. From the literature on ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’, one would expect PID to fall dramatically (say by 20 percentage points or more over a short period) and never to recover. But the time series seemingly fails to exhibit such behavior. While it is readily seen that PID has somewhat declined in West Germany – the share of identifiers is clearly higher in the late 1970s than in the late 1990s – there is no indication of a sharp, sudden and permanent ‘drop’ in this figure.

Figure 1: Party identification in West Germany (1977-2002)

For instance, the largest month-to-month decrease of 9.5 percentage points occurred in August 1981. However, in July 1981 the number of identifiers had risen by 4.2 points and it rose again by 4.6 points in October. If one looks at the whole year of 1981, the net change is a mere -0.004 percentage points. Moreover, the longest spells of consecutive negative changes persisted for only four (November 1995 to February 1996) and five months (July to November 1998) and amounted to a net change of no more than -3.1 and -2.2 points respectively. Rather than being swept away, party identification seems to decline slowly and constantly, random noise and short-time fluctuations of a mostly moderate size which might be due to political events notwithstanding.11 Thus, the Politbarometer series seems to speak against crisis theory.

Of course, instead of jumping to conclusions one would seek to formally model a trend and then test which of the three hypotheses in table 1 is supported by the data. Surprisingly, the Politbarometer polls have been largely ignored by most scholars interested in ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’, and only two amongst the publications surveyed by Arzheimer (2002) have formally analyzed the series. Both Maier (2000) and Falter and Rattinger (first published in 1997; updated in 2001) employ OLS to extract a trend from the aggregated series, i.e. they regress the monthly share of identifiers on time. By comparing the coefficient for the whole series with a coefficient estimated for the post-unification period separately, they conclude that PID is declining slowly but significantly over time, and that this decline has accelerated after 1990 (Falter and Rattinger 2001: 487-490).12 Since this procedure yields an R2 in the range of some 40 percent, they assume that their model adequately captures what is going on.

Given the recent developments of sophisticated methods for studying aggregate partisanship (see e.g. Lebo and Clarke 2000 and the contributions in that issue of Electoral Studies), this approach may look a bit blunt, but more important are several obvious shortcomings and drawbacks:

  1. The sample sizes vary between 805 and 2,971 observations with an average of 988. Analyses of the aggregated series should take the greater reliability of the larger samples into account, e.g. by weighting or by Kalman filtering (Green et al. 1999).

  2. The expected monthly and even yearly change in the share of identifiers is tiny, especially when compared with the rather huge variation that arises from sampling error alone. Consequently, the question whether the regression coefficients are significantly different from zero becomes crucial.13

  3. Time series are usually fraught with serially correlated errors (see note Error: Reference source not found), which will in turn lead to overoptimistic confidence intervals and significance test.

  4. Informally comparing the overall coefficient with a coefficient calculated for a specified period is mere eyeballing.14 An appropriate test for a structural break would specify variables that encode the assumed change.

  5. By aggregating over time, all individual information that could explain why some citizen at some point in time identifies with a party or not is discarded.

Fortunately, these problems can be avoided because there is actually no need to analyze the aggregated time series. Rather, one can make use of the data in their original form, i.e. pool the samples and model the individual probability for registering a PID (or rather the logit of this probability) depending on time and other factors.

Table 2 shows the coefficients for four alternative specifications of such a logit model. Model 1a corresponds to the dealignment hypothesis and can serve as a baseline: In this formulation, the logit of the probability for stating a PID depends simply on a constant (that is the log-odds of the estimated probability for holding a PID in March 1977) and a trend that captures the monthly decline in these log-odds.15 Model 1b is an individual level reformulation of the aggregate model proposed by Falter and Rattinger, which assumes that the probability for stating a PID as well as the velocity of partisan decline have changed after unification. If a structural break has indeed occurred, it will be captured by the dummy variable and the product term that were added to the equation.16 Model 1c is basically identical with 1b but assumes that the break occurred one year later, when the general public became fully aware of the political and economical problems induced by unification, ‘Politik- und Parteienverdrossenheit’ was chosen as ‘word of the year’ by the German language society and – with a delay of one year or so – a huge number of articles on this phenomenon were published. Last not least, Model 1d assumes that a break occurred much earlier, namely in 1982 – a year of intense political conflict (which eventually led to the break-down of the SPD/FDP majority in the Bundestag and the highly controversial formation of the new CDU/CSU/FDP government) that witnessed a first peak (Arzheimer 2002: 102) in the number of publications on ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’.

– table 2 about here –

First and foremost, the results confirm that the number of identifiers is indeed declining since the trend-terms in all four models are negative and significantly different17 from zero. Therefore, the hypothesis of no change can be rejected. Moreover, the negative coefficients for the dummy variables show that the early 1980s as well as the early 1990s witnessed indeed some ‘drop’ in the number of identifiers. Apart from that and contrary to the findings by Maier, Falter and Rattinger, the downward trend was a bit shallower after unification than before since the coefficients for the product terms in models 1b and 1c are positive.

More important, however, is the fact that these structural changes have very little substantive impact. Once the results are converted back from the logit-form to the quantity of interest (that is the probability for holding a PID), all four specifications yield virtual identical18 predictions, which amount to a slow19, almost perfectly linear decline in the share of identifiers, and rather small ‘drops’ of less than 2 percentage points (see figure 2).20 In view of that, Model 1a is probably a reasonable yet parsimonious approximation of what is going on. Moreover, even for the late 1990s, the estimated share of identifiers is still in the range of about two thirds of the adult population.

Figure 2: Predicted share of party identifiers in West Germany (1977-2002)

Taken together, these figures are much more in line with the idea of a gradual and fairly constant dealignment than with the notion of a swift breakdown of the link between citizens and parties that is implied by the discourse of ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’. But which of the three effects discussed in the introduction – cognitive mobilization, change in the composition of society, or weakening of social ties – is most likely to have caused this dealignment?

-table 3 about here-

Cognitive mobilization can be quickly ruled out since the relationship between education and partisanship was statistically insignificant during the late 1970s and became significantly positive towards the end of the period under study (see table 3).21 Given that the average level of educational attainment has risen considerably since the 1970s, the so-called ‘educational revolution’ must have hampered the decline of partisanship. On the other hand, since the correlation between education and PID is very weak even towards the end of the series – for 2002, the estimated difference in the share of partisans between the high (‘Abitur’) and low education group is a mere four percentage points – its net effect is almost negligible.22

Consequently, one must assume that partisanship is in decline because of a change in the composition of society or a weakening of traditional social ties. This becomes even clearer if one looks at which parties the respondents identify (or rather stop to identify) with: The decline affects basically the two major parties – Social Democrats and Christian Democrats – which represent the two most important cleavages in German society, namely class (Pappi 1973) and religion (Pappi 1973; Roberts 2000). Together, these two parties still make up for roughly 90 percent of all party-identifiers. But while the small share of citizens who feel attached to one of the minor parties has been stable or even slightly growing over the 26 years covered by the Politbarometer, it is the decline in the number of citizens who identify with either Christian or Social Democrats that is responsible for the overall change. Therefore, it is highly plausible that partisanship has declined because the traditional social groups have lost some of their political significance.

Since the social groups that have disproportionally supported the major parties are well known – workers on the one hand, Catholics and (since ca. 1970) regular churchgoers in general on the other – these conjectures are readily tested. First, it must be noted that all three groups indeed suffered numerical losses between 1977 and 2002: the share of Catholics fell from 44 to 39 percent, the number of frequent churchgoers23 was reduced from 23 to 16 percent, and the share of workers24 plummeted from 39 to 21 percent.25 This change in the composition of German society alone would have led to a substantial decline in partisanship, provided that Catholics, workers and churchgoers kept their traditional loyalties.

To see whether this is indeed the case, citizens who identify with one of the minor parties were excluded from the analysis so that the dependent variable is 0 for no PID at all and 1 for identification with either Social or Christian Democrats.26 Then, model 1a was augmented with two dummy variables that indicate whether a respondent is a worker or not, and whether he or she is a Catholic. A six-point-scale measuring church attendance ranging from 0 (never) to 5 (every Sunday) was added, too. All three corresponding coefficients should initially have positive signs.

To test whether the strength of the respective effects is stable or fading over time, interaction terms between these three variables and time were formed and inserted into the model as well. If group memberships lose their political significance over the years, these interactions will have negative signs.

Another interaction was included because it seems unlikely that the effects of being a Catholic and being a worker simply sum up to an even higher probability of having a PID. Rather, one would assume that membership in two groups with different political norms leads to cross-pressures that will in turn somewhat reduce the probability of stating a PID.27

For similar reasons, an interaction between being Catholic and church attendance was created. Here, the idea is that being Catholic may or may not be political relevant to persons who have lost contact with the church. Lastly, because the magnitude of both interactions may change as well over the course of years, two three-way-interactions with time were formed.28

The results, which are largely in line with the expectations, are shown in table 4. Their interpretation is somewhat complicated by the presence of interaction terms but becomes straightforward once the usual rules are applied (see e.g. Jaccard 2001). First, the constant represents the predicted log-odds for the reference group of citizens who lack the traditional social ties, because they are not workers, are not Catholic and do never attend church. As can be seen by reversing the logit transformation, even within this group, the predicted probability for identifying with either Social or Christian Democrats was about 72 percent in March 1977. The coefficient for time presented in the first line of the first block is an estimate of the (negative) trend within this group. By multiplying this figure with the number of months between the first and the last survey (310), it is easily shown that the log-odds for this group fall to 0.362 over the period under study, which is equivalent to a predicted share of 59 percent party identifiers.

-table 4 about here-

Second, the coefficient for (non-Catholic) 29 workers which is shown in the second line of the first block indicates that the log-odds for this group were – as one would expect from cleavage theory – somewhat higher than for the reference group in 1977. The negative sign of the interaction between being a worker and time (first coefficient in the third block) tells us that this difference gets significantly smaller every month. It actually becomes significantly negative from about 1991 on.

Being a (non-practicing)30 Catholic did not significantly raise the log-odds of holding a PID compared to the reference group in the late 1970s, as can be seen from the coefficient in the third line of the first block, and again, even this weak effect fades and then reverses over time (see the coefficient in the second line of the third block): From ca. 1984 on, non-practicing Catholics were less likely to identify with a major party than the reference group.

The interaction between being Catholic and being a worker (shown in the first line of the second block) is significantly negative. In line with the considerations on cross-pressures, the effects of being a worker and being Catholic do not sum up but rather seem to cancel each other out, at least for those Catholics who do not attend church. This negative interaction does not significantly vary over time, as can be seen from the coefficient for the first of the three-way interactions in the last block of the model.

The picture changes markedly once church attendance comes into play. Even for marginal churchgoers, the log-odds of identifying with one of the major parties rise substantially (last line of the first block). Besides that, the coefficient for the interaction between Catholicism and church attendance (in the second block) indicates that the effect of Catholicism becomes statistically and substantially significant once a citizen practices his or her faith. Both the main effect of church attendance and interaction with Catholicism are largely stable over the years as can be seen from the non-significant coefficients for the interaction between church attendance and time and the second three-way interaction respectively.

To further facilitate the interpretation, the logits were transformed back to predicted probabilities for a number of groups which are of theoretical interest:

  1. Catholic workers that attend church several times per year and should consequently face substantial cross-pressures

  2. Non-Catholic workers who never attend church and therefore represent the traditional electorate of the SPD

  3. Catholic and

  4. Non-Catholic citizens who are not workers, attend church every Sunday and hence represent the core of the traditional electorate of the Christian Democrats

  5. Catholic and

  6. Non-Catholic citizens who are not workers and attend church several times per year. These are the two largest groups in the sample. Together, they account for nearly one quarter of the sample and are accordingly representative for the ‘average’ West German citizen

  7. The reference group of citizens who are neither Catholic nor working class and does never attend church.

The results are shown in figure 3. The overall picture is quite clear: Partisan loyalties are fading within all social groups. Even among those Catholic non-workers who attend church every Sunday (group 3), the predicted share of party identifiers has fallen from 84 percent in 1977 to 69 percent in 2002. This does, however, not imply that the effect of church attendance itself is waning. Rather, over the whole period under study frequent churchgoers (represented by solid lines) have a higher probability to identify with a major party than occasional churchgoers (dashed lines), who in turn are more likely to be identifiers than those who never attend church (dotted lines). This is the substantial meaning of the stable coefficient for church attendance.31

Figure 3: Predicted share of party identifiers (CDU and SPD combined) in West Germany depending on class, religion, and church attendance (1977-2002)

Catholicism still has an effect, too, but only for those citizens who attend church very often, as can be seen from the gap between groups 3 and 4. This gap amounts to a difference of about five percentage points for the whole period. On the other hand, for those comparatively large groups of citizens who are not workers and attend church only occasionally (i.e. for Christmas, Easter, baptisms, and weddings), it makes almost no difference whether they are Catholic (group 5) or not (group 6). Among group 5, the estimated share of identifiers was roughly four points higher than among group 6 in 1977, but this margin has considerably shrunken over they years. Since the mid-1990s, both groups are almost indistinguishable.

As mentioned above, the effect of being a worker has been reversed during the period under study. Put another way, the fading of partisan loyalties among workers has outpaced the general decline of partisanship by a considerable margin. This is especially evident for those workers who are not Catholic and never attend church (group 2). The predicted share for these citizens fell from 75 percent in 1977 to 55 percent in 2002. Since the early 1990s, they have been less likely to register a PID than even group 7, which moved from 72 to 59 percent as mentioned above. Last not least, the findings for group 1 are quite similar. Potential cross-pressures notwithstanding, the predicted share of partisans in this group was about 80 percent in the late 1970s, the second highest among all groups depicted in figure 3, but fell to less than 57 percent in 2002, which is the second lowest share. This massive decline is almost completely due to the reversed effect of social class.32

Wrapping things up, we can conclude that the relationship between membership in traditional social groups and PID is indeed weakening. This is least obvious in the case of church attendance, since the respective shares of partisans among frequent, occasional and non-churchgoing citizens move down in unison. Things are more complicated in the case of Catholics, because the effect of religion depends on the level of religious practice: While being a Catholic still makes a difference for those who attend church frequently, it hardly affects the likelihood of having a PID among less devout citizens. Lastly, the political effect of class on partisanship which was still present in the late 1970s has not only faded but reversed.

This leaves the question of whether change in the relative size of groups has substantially contributed to the overall decline of partisanship between 1977 and 2002. After all, it might well be the case that the decline in the number of workers, who are now less likely to identify with one of the major parties than the average citizen has canceled out the decline in the number of frequent churchgoers, who still have a disproportionally high share of identifiers among them. In short, this might be precisely what is going on here: In 2002, the predicted share of citizens identifying with one of the two major party, found by averaging over the individual predicted probabilities for holding such a PID, is 60.6 percent.33 If this procedure is repeated after weighing the data so that the groups defined by religion, class, and church attendance have the same relative sizes as in 1977, the predicted share of citizens identifying with either SPD or CDU/CSU is virtually identical, namely 60.0 percent. Essentially, this means that change in the composition of society has virtually no net-effect on the level of partisanship in Germany. The observed decline of partisanship is almost solely due to the weakening of traditional social ties.

4. Conclusion

The task of this paper was to investigate whether and how partisanship in West Germany has declined since the late 1970s. While the various strands of dealignment theory suggest an almost glacial decline in the number of identifiers, many scholars of ‘Parteienverdrossenheit’ uphold that political crises, scandals, and other deficiencies of the established parties led to a rather sudden change in the relation between citizens and parties. Individual-level analyses of the Politbarometer polls which have been conducted since 1977 on a monthly base show that there is no empirical evidence for such a swift breakdown of partisan loyalties. Partisanship has not suddenly evaporated but is – some short-time fluctuations notwithstanding – slowly and constantly declining. This decline, which amounts to an estimated loss of 16 percentage points, is neither a consequence of the cognitive mobilization effect proposed by Dalton nor can it be explained by the shrinking of traditional social groups. Rather, it is caused by a weakening of traditional social ties that is especially pronounced within the remains of Germany’s once-proud working class, which has traditionally supported the Social Democrats.

As discussed in the introduction, the processes that might bring about this weakening are manifold, and it is beyond the scope of this article to explore which of them prevails. However, given the almost perfectly linear pattern that has governed the dealignment process for 26 years (cf the lowess smoother in figure 1) and the fact that most of these explanations assume that the weakening of social ties is in turn caused by other long-term trends, partisanship in West Germany will probably continue to wane over the next years. Theory predicts that the short-term effects of issues and candidates will become more relevant under these circumstances, and there is ample evidence that this is already happening (Dalton and Bürklin: 65-71). Therefore, the secular decline of partisanship should further change the electoral landscape of West Germany and could thereby help to lessen the gap between West Germany and the new Länder in a rather unexpected way: For once, the East, where the level of partisanship is already lower while issue- and candidate-centered voting, vote-switching, and abstention are considerably more frequent, might serve as a model for the West. Electoral politics in Germany may therefore very well become even more diverse and fluid (Dalton and Bürklin 2003: 73) than they already are.


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Figure 1: Party identification in West Germany (1977-2002)

Figure 2: Predicted share of party identifiers in West Germany (1977-2002)

Figure 3: Predicted share of party identifiers (CDU and SPD combined) in West Germany depending on class, religion, and church attendance (1977-2002)



probability of partisanship

which parties are most affected

level of partisanship in the late 1990s


slow and linear decline

traditional cleavage parties

somewhat lower than late 1970s


swift and step-like decline

established parties’

much lower than late 1970s

no change

fluctuating or constant

not much different from late 1970s

Table 1: Hypothesis regarding the development of partisanship in West Germany














post 1990



time post 1990



post 1991



time post 1991



post 1981



time post 1981

















adjusted pseudoa) R2





Robust standard errors adjusted for clustering on survey in parentheses

* significant at 5%; ** significant at 1%

a) Mc Fadden

Table 2: Individual-level models for trend of partisanship over time




education: high



time education








adjusted pseudoa) R2


Robust standard errors adjusted for clustering on survey in parentheses

* significant at 5%; ** significant at 1%

a) Mc Fadden

Table 3: The effect of formal education on partisanship over time










church attendance



catholic worker



catholic church attendance



worker time



catholic time



church attendance time



catholic worker time



catholic church attendance time








adjusted pseudoa) R2


Robust standard errors in parentheses adjusted for clustering on survey in parentheses

* significant at 5%; ** significant at 1%

a) Mc Fadden

Table 4: Individual-level determinants of partisanship (CDU and SPD combined) over time

1 Unlike other political or non-political associations, a party can only be dissolved if a super-majority in the Federal Constitutional Court rules that it works against democracy. This has happened only twice during the Federal Republic’s early years when both the neo-fascist Sozialistische Reichspartei (SRP) and the communist Kommunistische Partei (KPD) were banned.

2 While in theory up to 50 percent of their income may come from the treasury, this share is quite often even higher once tax and other benefits are considered.

3 The last successful independent candidates for the federal parliament ran in 1949.

4 There are actually two Christian democratic parties: The Christlich Soziale Union (CSU), which is restricted to the Land of Bavaria, and the larger Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU), which runs candidates in all other Länder. Since the two parties do not compete and have always formed a common delegation in the federal parliament, they are treated as one single party to which I refer to as CDU/CSU for brevity’s sake.

5 Even worse, the East German economy slumped although the Kohl-government, who had effectively reduced public spending through its first two terms (Goldsmith 1995: 36-38), initiated an unprecedented transfer of public money to the East. Between 1991 and 1999 alone, the net transfers from the federal government and the West German Länder governments amounted to a sum of more than 1.2 trillion Deutschmarks (Ragnitz 2001: 87). This transfer is one of the main reasons for the massive budget deficit that Germany has build up since the early 1990s, which in turn substantially restricts the leeway for political decisions and necessitates a substantial reduction of public spending, with more severe cuts to come.

6 Roughly one third of all the publications surveyed by Arzheimer (2002) were published during these two years.

7 For similar outlines of these propositions see e.g. Dalton and Rohrschneider (1990), Gluchowski and Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1998), Zelle (1998), and Mair et al. (1999).

8 See Zelle (1998: 57-58) for a similar distinction between ‘social dealignment’ and ‘political frustration’. The idea of a swift breakdown is especially prominent in the literature that focuses on the period immediately following unification. Examples include Heitmeyer et al. (1990: 197-198), who claim that there is a ‘rapid’ decline of PID and an ‘enormous growth’ in voting for the (non-established) extreme right, Neu and Zelle (1992: 5), who discuss a recent decline in political trust and political satisfaction and state that trust in parties has fallen to ‘record lows’ since the late 1980s, Arnim (1992: 14), who holds that disaffection with the established parties is now ‘by far exceeding the usual level of resentment’, Gabriel (1992: 10), who claims that the federal government and the Bundestag as well as several other ‘institutions of the party state’ faced a substantial decline in confidence between 1991 and 1992, and Betz (1994: 55), who saw ‘a dramatic rise in … Parteien- and Politikverdrossenheit … which was sweeping the country’. Looking back, even Maier (2003: 8-10) still claims that disaffection with democracy has ‘substantially’ grown between 1991 and 1993, and that disaffection with parties grew ‘very fast’ after unification. While most of these authors actually take a cautious stand and couch the idea of a swift and sudden decline of party identification in terms of a working hypothesis, it was often presented as a given fact by many politicians, journalists and pundits in the public discourse.

9 The proliferation of election studies that adopted the model outlined in Campbell et al. 1960 sparked a lively debate in Germany on the application of the concept in general as well as on the appropriate measurement of party identification. While some authors (e.g. Küchler 1985; 1990) claim that the standard question is nothing more than an alternative measure for voting intention, the arguments in favor of the standard question presented by Falter 1977 have settled the matter for the majority of scholars. Falter et al. 2000b give a useful summary of the debate and present convincing evidence on the validity of the concept in the German concept.
The question used by FGW reads: ‘In the Federal Republic, many people lean towards a political party for an extended period of time although they vote for a different party now and then. How about you: Do you –generally speaking – lean towards a political party? And if so: Which party?’

10 Of course, neither the Central Archive nor the principal investigators bear any responsibility for the analyses reported in this article. The combined data set for the years from 1977 to 2001 is available from the Central Archive under filing number 2391. A Stata do-file that can be used to replicate the results is available from the author upon request.

11 As one would expect in the case of public opinion time series data, the residuals show a substantial degree of positive serial correlation. The first-order autocorrelation is estimated as 0.46 in a Prais-Winsten regression of the share of identifiers on time. While it is tempting to interpret the resulting sine-like pattern as evidence for an effect of the electoral cycle on (aggregate) partisanship, this is conjecture not borne out by the data: In 1987 and 1998, the share of identifiers rose only after the respective general elections, while a phase of (relative) decline set on in 1990 clearly before election day. A formal test for effects of the electoral cycle requires the inclusion of variables measuring the number of months passed since the last and the number of months remaining until the next election. But while both coefficients exhibit the expected negative sign, they are neither on the aggregate nor on the individual level significantly different from zero. The minimum of both variables, i.e. the proximity to either the last or the next general election, has a significant effect, but its substantial impact is negligible. The probabilities for holding a PID predicted from aggregate as well as individual-level models change by a maximum of less than two percentage points, with a mean difference of 0.2 percentage points on the aggregate and .0004 percentage points on the individual level (as estimated by model 4). Since such tiny differences are not visible in the plots presented later on, and the intention was to keep the models parsimonious, none of these variables were included in the final models. Moreover, note that the amount of ‘noise’ is modest (the linear trend captures slightly more than 90 per cent of the total variance in the Prais-Winsten regression), and is for most of the surveys within the range of what is expected to arise from (multi-stage) sampling error.

12 Falter and Rattinger as well as Maier apply the same methodology to a whole host of aggregate measures (e.g. share of citizens with intention to vote, average ‘feeling’ towards several parties etc.), which are of no immediate interest here.

13 Given that the true share of identifiers is constant (say 70 percent) over the course of four weeks, 95 percent of the observed differences between two surveys of a monthly poll with n=1000 apiece would still fall within an interval as big as ±4 percentage points. This interval gets even wider if (a) the share of identifiers comes closer to 50 percent and (b) the multi-stage sampling design is taken into account. Therefore it becomes difficult to separate systematic change from random noise.

14 In fact, this is a specifically crude instance of eyeballing, since the period after unification is used for the calculation of both the overall and the post-unification coefficient.

15 Time was measured in months passed since March 1977.

16 The former GDR became part of the Federal Republic in October 1990, but the ‘founding election’ of the unified German was held two months later. Therefore, the dummy variable takes a value of 0 for all months prior to January 1991 and a value of 1 from thereon.

17 For model 1d, only the sum of the trend term and the interaction significantly differs from zero, i.e. the downward trend is significant only from 1982 on. For models 1b and 1c, both the trend term (i.e. the slope before the alleged structural change) as well as the sum of trend and interaction (i.e. the slope after the change has occurred) are significantly different from zero.

18 For 75% of the months, the difference between the highest and the lowest of the four predictions is less than 1.7 percentage points. The maximal difference between the highest and the lowest prediction is 2.2 percentage points (October/November 1981).

19 The mean per-year change estimated by Model 1a amounts to a decline of 0.7 percentage points per year. The estimated mean yearly changes for Models 1b-d are 0.6, 0.6, and 0.7 percentage points respectively.

20 To add an additional margin of safety, a specification search was run. Every month from March 1978 on was in turn treated as a potential watershed for PID. This yielded a maximal estimated drop of 6.1 percentage points as early as in the winter 1980/1981, and a positive slope up to that point. Both the increase in partisans and the following drop in their number are probably due to the immensely polarizing campaign for the general election of 1980, which ended in October. However, from the early 1980s on, this specification and the trend-only model yield again almost identical predictions.

21 With a subset of the Politbarometer data that includes only the years 1977 and 1995, Dalton (2000: 33) finds a very weak positive relation between education and PID for 1977 and a negative interaction between education and time that is not statistically significant.

22 This is only a partial test of the cognitive mobilization hypothesis, because the original concept involves education and political interest. Unfortunately, information on political interest is not available in the vast majority of the Politbarometer surveys. Moreover, the wording of the respective question was altered in a major way in 1992, rendering the item useless for the analysis at hand. However, since there is usually a sizeable correlation between education and political interest, substantial effects of cognitive mobilization should be detectable even though only education is considered here.

23 In this context, frequent churchgoers are respondents who claim that they attend church ‘every Sunday’ or ‘almost every Sunday’.

24 This variable is based on a self-assessment of the respondent’s current or (in the case of pensioners and unemployed people) last occupation. Therefore, ‘workers’ are those respondents who see their current/last occupation as a working class job, ‘non-workers’ are all those who do not subscribe to such a statement. Although more elaborate classification schemes exist, this simple variable is quite appropriate for the research question at hand since a person’s social-psychological identification will rather be related to a subjective self-assessment than to objective criteria of class membership that are derived from current occupation. This still leaves the problem of a small group of respondents who were never in employment but might see themselves as members of the working class, because they their spouse is a worker or because they grew up in a working class family. Unfortunately, information on these variables is extremely scarce or non-existent in the surveys.

25 There is some evidence that part of the decline in the share of workers is due to a change from personal to telephone-based interviews. This notwithstanding, official sources (i.e. social security records) show that the number of workers has massively declined over the last decades.

26 After excluding those who identify with a minor party, the number of cases is 267,797. However, respondents who did not provide complete information on class, religion, and church attendance had to be excluded as well, which effectively reduced the sample size to 184,848. Although it would have been preferable to use multiple imputation techniques (see Little and Rubin 1989; Schafer and Olsen 1998), given the large number of cases, these computationally-intensive methods were simply not feasible.

27 At least, a kind of ‘ceiling effect’ is expected to occur because membership in these two groups incites citizens to identify with two competing parties, while the measure of PID does not allow for dual identification.

28 Adding a lot of interaction terms is likely to result in a problem of multicollinearity. Indeed, for five of the variables, the Variance Inflation Factor (VIF) exceeds the threshold of 10, with a maximum value of 25.3 for the three-way-interaction. The amount of multicollinearity could be substantially reduced by centering the time variable at its mean. However, since (1) even a value of 25 is not excessive, (2) no problems occurred during estimation and (3) multicollinearity does neither effect the likelihood nor the quantities of interest (i.e. the predicted probabilities), the original scale of the time variable was retained so that the coefficients can be interpreted analogously to the ones given in tables 1-3.

29 Since there is an interaction between being a worker and being Catholic in the equation, the main effect applies to non-Catholic workers only.

30 Again, the main effect of Catholicism applies to non-churchgoing Catholics only, because there is an interaction between Catholicism and church attendance in the equation.

31 If the share of party identifiers among frequent churchgoers had been stable between 1977 and 2002, the effect of church attendance would have become stronger over time, i.e. the interaction with time would be significantly positive and of a non-trivial magnitude.

32 The predicted share of identifiers among non-Catholic workers who occasionally attend church was about 1.3 percent lower in 1977 and roughly 0.6 higher in 2002. Therefore, the changing effect of Catholicism among occasional churchgoers did not substantially contribute to the decline in partisanship within this group.

33 This is reasonably close to the empirical figure of 61.2 percent.

Mikrodeterminanten des Wahlverhaltens: Parteiidentifikation


Im sozialpsychologischen Modell gilt die Parteiidentifikation (PI) als wichtigste Determinante der Wahlentscheidung. Das Gefühl, einer politischen Partei in besonderer Weise verbunden zu sein, so die Theorie, ist auf individueller Ebene über Jahre, wenn nicht über Jahrzehnte hinweg stabil und wirkt bei der Wahrnehmung der aktuellen politischen Lage wie eine Art Filter. Nur dann, wenn die eigene Partei bezüglich der Kandidaten und Sachthemen im Vergleich mit dem politischen Gegner besonders schlecht abschneidet, wird sich ein parteigebundener Bürger der Stimme enthalten oder sogar für eine andere als die eigentlich präferierte Partei stimmen.

Das Konzept der Parteiidentifikation wurde ursprünglich im US-amerikanischen Kontext entwickelt. Die Frage, ob und in welcher Form es auf die politischen Systeme (West-)Europas übertragen werden kann, wurde jahrelang kontrovers diskutiert. Inzwischen ist die Annahme, dass es auch in Europa neben den ideologischen Präferenzen langfristig stabile parteibezogene Einstellungen gibt, die einen Einfluss auf das Wahlverhalten haben, weitgehend akzeptiert.

Aktuell werden in der Forschungsliteratur vor allem drei Aspekte diskutiert. Erstens wird das Konzept von Vertretern des Rational-Choice-Ansatzes radikal uminterpretiert. Autoren wie Popkin (1994) gehen davon aus, dass Wähler ihre Erfahrungen mit einer gegebenen politischen Partei in Form einer permanent aktualisierten Kosten-Nutzen-Bewertung (“running tally”) zusammenfassen. Dieser “running tally” entspreche der Parteiidentifikation des sozialpsychologischen Ansatzes. Von Anhängern des ursprünglichen Modells wird diese Lesart als “Revisionsmus” bezeichnet.

Zweitens behaupten Vertreter dieses Ansatzes selbst, dass durch die in den 1940er Jahren begründete Tradition des standardisierten Interviews mit einer großen Zahl zufällig ausgewählter Befragter der kollektive Charakter sozialer (Partei)Identifikationen zu sehr in den Hintergrund getreten sei. Deshalb müsse der auf soziale Bezugsgruppen bzw. die Zugehörigkeit zu diesen Gruppen bezogenen Aspekt der PI wieder stärker ins Zentrum der Betrachtung rücken (Greene 2004).

Drittens wird in jüngster Zeit argumentiert, dass das auf der PI basierende Modell der Wahlentscheidung den Kenntnis- und Entwicklungsstand der Sozialpsychologie der 1950er Jahre reflektiere. Inzwischen habe sich diese Ursprungsdisziplin im Sinne des “cognitive turn” jedoch sehr stark weiterentwickelt. Die politische Psychologie, die sich u.a. mit der Verarbeitung politischer und sozialer Informationen durch die Bürger befasst, habe diesen Wandel bereits nachvollzogen. Deshalb sei es nun an der Zeit, das Konzept der PI besser in die allgemeine politische Kognitionsforschung zu integrieren (zuletzt Dancey/Goren 2010).

Trotz dieser internen und externen Kritik im Detail steht die Bedeutung der Parteiidentifikation als Determinante der Wahlentscheidung für die meisten Wahlforscher außer Frage.

2. Parteiidentifikation in der alten Bundesrepublik 1977-2008

2.1 Grundlagen

Voraussetzung für den von der empirischen Forschung festgestellten dominanten Einfluss der Parteiidentifikation auf das Wahlverhalten ist allerdings selbstverständlich, dass eine derartige Einstellung im Verlauf der politischen Sozialisation erworben und in späteren Lebensjahren beibehalten wird. Vertreter der Dealignment-These (u.a. Dalton 1984, Dalton 2000, Dalton/Bürklin 2003) behaupten, dass diese beiden Bedingungen in allen westlichen Demokratien und somit auch in der Bundesrepublik in zunehmend geringerem Maße erfüllt seien: Durch gesellschaftliche Wandlungsprozesse lösten sich die ehemals klar definierten sozialen Großgruppen (für Deutschland vor allem die Arbeiterschaft und der politische Katholizismus) auf. Da Parteiidentifikationen in Deutschland und in vielen anderen westeuropäischen Gesellschaften über die Zugehörigkeit zu solchen Gruppen vermittelt worden seien (Dalton et al. 1984), müsse infolgedessen mit einem Rückgang der parteigebundenen Wähler gerechnet werden.

Hinzu kommt ein zweiter Faktor. In der Vergangenheit war es eine wesentliche Aufgabe der Parteien, den politisch oft wenig interessierten und schlecht informierten Bürgern Interpretationshilfen für das Verständnis politischer Vorgänge und Streitfragen zu bieten. Je eher aber eine Bürgerin aufgrund ihres Bildungsstandes in der Lage ist, sich selbst ein Bild von der Politik zu machen, desto geringer sollte ceteris paribus ihre Nachfrage nach solchen Deutungsangeboten sein. Dieses Phänomen wird im Anschluss an Dalton als “kognitive Mobilisierung” bezeichnet.

Die seit der Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts zu beobachtende Ausbreitung höherer Bildungsabschlüsse entfaltet somit eine doppelte Wirkung: Zum einen führt sie dazu, dass sich traditionelle Milieus auflösen, zum anderen reduziert sie auf der individuellen Ebene das Bedürfnis nach stereotypen Erklärungsmustern für politische Vorgänge, denen die Parteiidentifikation zuzurechnen ist. Als Indizien für ein solches Dealignment gelten u.a. der Aufstieg der Grünen seit den frühen 1980er Jahren, die Erfolge der extremen Rechten in den 1990er Jahren, die gegenüber den 1970er Jahren gesunkene Wahlbeteiligung sowie die zu Beginn der 1990er Jahre zu beobachtende Unzufriedenheit mit den etablierten Parteien (u.a. Dalton/Wattenberg 2000).

2.2. Die Entwicklung des Anteils der Parteiidentifizierer

Diese Argumentation erscheint auf den ersten Blick durchaus überzeugend. Ob es in der Bundesrepublik jedoch tatsächlich zu einem Rückgang des Anteils der Parteiidentifizierer gekommen ist, lässt sich letztlich nur empirisch klären. Glücklicherweise steht mit der von der Forschungsgruppe Wahlen im Auftrag des ZDF durchgeführten Politbarometer-Studie1 ein Instrument zur Verfügung, das zur Klärung dieser Frage in idealer Weise geeignet ist: Im Rahmen der Politbarometer-Erhebung wird seit 1977 in (zumeist) monatlichem Abstand eine jeweils repräsentativ ausgewählte Stichprobe von Wahlberechtigten zu einer Reihe von allgemeinen und spezifischen politischen Themen interviewt. Zum Kern des Frageprogramms gehört dabei auch eine Reihe von drei Items, die sich auf Vorhandensein, Richtung und Stärke einer möglichen Parteiidentifikation beziehen. Konkret wird den Befragten dabei zunächst folgendes Item vorgelegt: “In Deutschland neigen viele Leute längere Zeit einer bestimmten politischen Partei zu, obwohl sie auch ab und zu eine andere Partei wählen. Wie ist das bei Ihnen: Neigen Sie – ganz allgemein gesprochen – einer bestimmten Partei zu?”. Wenn die Respondenten diese Frage bejahen, wird nach der betreffenden Partei gefragt. Abgeschlossen wird die Erhebung mit der folgenden Frage: “Wie stark oder wie schwach neigen Sie – alles zusammengenommen – dieser Partei zu?”

Der Umfang der Stichproben schwankt zwischen rund 800 und bis zu 3000 Befragten, so dass recht genaue Anteilsschätzungen möglich sind. Da die Daten der wissenschaftlichen Öffentlichkeit mit einer zeitlichen Verzögerung von ein bis zwei Jahren zur Verfügung gestellt werden, lassen sich für den Zeitraum vom Frühjahr 1977 bis zum Dezember 2008 Schwankungen im Anteil der Parteiidentifizierer präzise und engmaschig verfolgen. Da die 1970er Jahre mit ihren sehr hohen Wahlbeteiligungsraten und der starken Konzentration auf drei bzw. vier etablierte Parteien als die Hoch-Phase der Bonner Parteiendemokratie gelten, müssten grundlegende Veränderungen im Verhältnis zwischen Bürger und Parteien in den Politbarometer-Daten extrem gut zu erkennen sein.

Bei einer ersten Betrachtung dieser Zeitreihe zeigt sich allerdings rasch, dass von Monat zu Monat deutliche Schwankungen auftreten, die sich in einem Bereich von 3 Prozentpunkten bewegen und auf Stichprobenfehler sowie aktuelle politische Ereignisse zurückgehen. Bei einer Analyse des Anteils der Parteiidentifizierer über einen Zeitraum von über 30 Jahren sind solche kurzfristigen Schwankungen außerordentlich lästig, weil sie wie ein hochfrequentes Rauschen etwaige langfristige Trends überlagern, die dadurch nur schwer zu erkennen sind.

Für Abbildung 1 und alle weiteren Grafiken wurde deshalb zunächst ein so genanntes „fünfgliedriges gleitendes Mittel“ gebildet. Bei diesem Verfahren wird für jeden Monat der Durchschnitt aus dem tatsächlich gemessenen Wert, den Anteilswerten der beiden vorangegangen sowie den Messwerten der beiden folgenden Monate errechnet. Diese gleitenden Durchschnittswerte wurden dann an Stelle der ursprünglichen Werte in die Grafik eingetragen (Chatfield 2004). Die Vorteile des Verfahrens liegen auf der Hand: Kurzfristige zufällige Schwankungen – der Anteilswert nimmt beispielsweise im April um 3,1 Prozentpunkte zu, fällt im Mai um 2,9 Punkte ab um dann im Juni wiederum um 3 Prozentpunkte zu steigen – heben sich durch die Durchschnittsbildung gegenseitig auf und verschwinden deshalb fast vollständig aus der Zeitreihe. Langfristige systematische Veränderungen hingegen treten nach der Glättung deutlicher hervor.


Abbildung 1: Entwicklung der Parteiidentifikation in den alten Bundesländern 1977-2009

Der Verlauf der aus der Glättung resultierenden Trendlinie ist eindeutig: In der alten Bundesrepublik ist während der vergangenen drei Dekaden von einigen relativ kurzen Mobilisierungsphasen einmal abgesehen der Anteil der Parteiidentifizierer langsam, aber fast kontinuierlich um etwa 0,6 bis 0,7 Prozentpunkte pro Jahr gesunken (vgl. dazu auch Falter/Rattinger 1997; Maier 2000; Arzheimer 2002, Falter/Schoen 2005, Rattinger et al. 2007). Seit etwa Mitte der 1990er hat sich das Tempo dieses Rückgangs allerdings verringert – während dieser Zeit nahm der Anteil der Parteiidentifizierer nur um etwa 0,3 Prozentpunkte pro Jahr ab. Seit Beginn des neuen Millenniums schließlich ist der Dealignment-Prozess praktisch zum Stillstand gekommen. Gegenüber den späten 1970er Jahren, als sich rund achtzig Prozent der Bundesbürger mit Union, SPD oder FDP identifizierten, hat sich die politische Landschaft durch diesen Prozess beträchtlich verändert, auch wenn immer noch eine deutliche Mehrheit der Befragten eine derartige Identifikation aufweist.

Damit stellt sich als nächstes die Frage, ob dieser Abschmelzungsprozess alle Parteien in gleicher Weise betrifft. Der untere Teil von Abbildung 1 zeigt, dass dies keineswegs der Fall ist: Vielmehr haben vor allem die SPD und die Unionsparteien an langfristiger Unterstützung verloren. Der Anteil derjenigen, die sich einer der hier aus Fallzahlgründen zusammengefassten kleineren Parteien (d.h. in erster Linie Grüne und FDP) verbunden fühlen, ist hingegen geringfügig angestiegen.

2.3. Die Intensität von Parteibindungen

Auch die Intensität der Parteiidentifikation hat über den Untersuchungszeitraum hinweg leicht nachgelassen. Während der späten 1970er Jahre lag das arithmetische Mittel für die auf einer fünfstufigen Skala gemessene Stärke der Parteiidentifikation derjenigen Bürger, die eine Parteiidentifikation aufwiesen, noch bei etwa 3,6 Punkten, sank aber in den folgenden Jahren erkennbar ab. Einen Tiefpunkt markierten die frühen 1990er Jahre: Auf dem Höhepunkt der Debatte um die angebliche Politikverdrossenheit der Deutschen fiel die durchschnittliche Intensität der Parteiidentifikation innerhalb vergleichsweise kurzer Zeit um etwa 0,3 Punkte ab. Seit Beginn des neuen Jahrtausends hat sich dieser Trend dann partiell umgekehrt. Insgesamt ist diese Entwicklung aber als undramatisch anzusehen. Wichtiger als die Intensität der Parteiidentifikation erscheint zumindest momentan noch die Frage, ob die Bürger überhaupt noch eine solche Einstellung aufweisen.

2.4. Sozialstrukturelle Ursachen für den Rückgang der Parteibindungen

Für diese Entwicklung gibt es mehrere mögliche Erklärungen. So wäre es denkbar, dass jene gesellschaftlichen Gruppen, auf die sich Union und SPD stützen, d.h. die Katholiken, die kirchengebundenen Christen beider Konfessionen sowie die Arbeiterschaft, rein quantitativ an Bedeutung verlieren. Abbildung 2 zeigt jedoch, dass die jeweiligen Anteile dieser Gruppen am Elektorat seit 1977 relativ stabil bleiben. So hat der Anteil der Katholiken an den befragten Wahlberechtigten nur um einige wenige Prozentpunkte abgenommen hat. Gleiches gilt für jene Bürger, die intensiv am kirchlichen Leben beider Konfessionen teilnehmen: Die Zahl derjenigen, die angeben, jeden oder fast jeden Sonntag den Gottesdienst zu besuchen, ist ebenfalls nur um einige Prozentpunkte zurückgegangen. Lediglich der Arbeiteranteil scheint drastisch und innerhalb kürzester Zeit gesunken zu sein. Dieser Eindruck basiert jedoch auf einem Artefakt: Im August 1988 ist die Forschungsgruppe Wahlen dazu übergangen, die Politbarometer-Umfrage nicht mehr als face-to-face Interview sondern vielmehr als telefonische Befragung durchzuführen. Da Arbeiter sich anscheinend eher mündlich als telefonisch interviewen lassen – parallel zum Wechsel des Erhebungsformates fiel der Arbeiteranteil im Politbarometer um elf Prozentpunkte ab – wurde durch diese Umstellung ihre ohnehin bestehende Unterrepräsentation im Politbarometer weiter verstärkt. Die gestrichelte rote Linie, die einen Versuch darstellt, diesen Effekt zu kompensieren, in dem zum tatsächlich gemessenen Arbeiteranteil elf Prozentpunkte addiert wurden, dürfte deshalb einen etwas realistischeren Eindruck vom Rückgang des Arbeiteranteils geben.

Abbildung 2: Anteil von Katholiken, Arbeitern und kirchengebundenen Angehörigen beider Konfessionen unter den Bürgern der alten Länder 1977-2008


Angesichts dieser nur schwach rückläufigen Tendenzen ist es unwahrscheinlich, dass sich der Rückgang der Parteiidentifikation mit Union und SPD allein aus dem Schrumpfen der Kernklientel beider Parteien erklären lässt. Plausibler ist es vielmehr, davon auszugehen, dass die Zugehörigkeit zu den erwähnten sozialen Gruppen im Laufe der Zeit an Einfluss auf die Parteiidentifikation verloren hat.

Ein solcher Effekt lässt sich in der Tat nachweisen: So sank der Anteil der SPD-Identifizierer unter den Arbeitern über den Beobachtungszeitraum von rund 50 auf unter 30 Prozent, während der entsprechende Wert unter aller anderen Befragten zunächst anstieg, in den 1980er Jahren absank und sich seitdem auf einem in etwa konstanten Niveau eingependelt hat. Dementsprechend unterscheiden sich heute Arbeiter und Angehörige anderer Berufsgruppen bezüglich ihrer SPD-Neigung nur noch geringfügig (vgl. Abbildung 3).

Abbildung 3: SPD-Parteiidentifikation nach Berufsgruppe, alte Bundesländer 1977-2008


Ein ähnlicher Befund zeigt sich für die Konfessionszugehörigkeit: Am Ende der 1970er Jahre betrachteten sich noch bis zu 50 Prozent aller Katholiken als langfristige Anhänger der Unionsparteien. In der Folgezeit sank dieser Wert – von einigen Mobilisierungsspitzen einmal abgesehen – auf ca. 40 Prozent ab. Damit unterscheiden sich die befragten Katholiken zwar immer noch deutlich von den Angehörigen anderer Konfessionen und den Konfessionslosen, unter denen sich relativ konstant nur 20 bis 25 Prozent mit einer der beiden Unionsparteien identifizieren. Der Abstand zwischen beiden Gruppen hat sich über die Zeit hinweg aber stark verringert (Abbildung 4).

Abbildung 4: Unions-Parteiidentifikation nach Konfession, alte Bundesländer 1977-2008


Ein ähnliches Bild ergibt sich, wenn man die kirchengebundenen Angehörigen beider Konfessionen mit allen übrigen Befragten vergleicht: Während der Anteil der Unionsanhänger unter den nicht-kirchengebundenen Befragten während des gesamten Untersuchungszeitraums um die Marke von 30 Prozent pendelt, sinkt er bei denjenigen, die intensiv am kirchlichen Leben teilnehmen, von rund 60 auf circa 50 Prozent, so dass es tendenziell zu einer Annäherung zwischen beiden Gruppen kommt (vgl. Abbildung 4). Dies steht im teilweisen Widerspruch zu den Befunden älterer Studien, die gezeigt haben, dass der Zusammenhang zwischen religiöser Praxis und Wahlverhalten weitgehend stabil ist (Jagodzinski und Quandt 1997). Insgesamt gesehen bestehen bezüglich der Unionswahl allerdings nach wie vor substantielle Unterschiede zwischen kirchentreuen und religiös ungebundenen Bürgern.

Zusammenfassend lässt sich somit festhalten, dass der Anteil der parteigebundenen Bürger in den alten Ländern seit Ende der 1970er Jahre langsam aber stetig sinkt. Dieser Rückgang betrifft vor allem die beiden Volksparteien und erklärt sich in erster Linie daraus, dass sich – zumindest was die Parteiidentifikation betrifft – die attitudinalen Unterschiede zwischen deren Kernklientel und der übrigen Bevölkerung zunehmend abschwächen. Dies gilt vor allem für die ohnehin geschrumpfte Gruppe der Arbeiter. Vergleicht man diese mit den Angehörigen anderer Berufsgruppen, so lassen sich kaum noch Hinweise auf eine überdurchschnittliche SPD-Neigung finden.

Von etwas größerer Bedeutung ist bislang noch der konfessionelle Konflikt, der letztlich auf den „Kulturkampf“ im letzten Drittel des 19. Jahrhunderts zurückgeht: Immer noch erhöht die Zugehörigkeit zur katholischen Kirche die Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass sich ein Bürger mit den Unionsparteien identifiziert in bemerkenswertem Umfang. Auch hier ist es jedoch in den vergangenen Jahrzehnten zu einer deutlichen Annäherung zwischen Katholiken und Nichtkatholiken gekommen.

Als resistenter erweist sich der Zusammenhang zwischen der Unionsidentifikation und einer intensiven Bindung an eine der beiden großen Kirchen. Zwar nähert sich das Ausmaß der Unterstützung für die CDU/CSU auch in dieser Gruppe langsam an das Niveau der Bevölkerungsmehrheit an. Dennoch bleibt festzuhalten, dass der säkular-religiöse Konflikt, der in der Bundesrepublik an die Seite des alten konfessionellen Konfliktes getreten ist, nach wie vor einen erheblichen Einfluss auf die Identifikation mit den Unionsparteien hat.

Alle drei Effekte, die hier graphisch veranschaulicht wurden, lassen sich mit so genannten logistischen Regressionsmodellen nachweisen und sind in einem statistischen Sinne signifikant, d.h. mit großer Sicherheit nicht auf Stichprobenfehler zurückzuführen. Die logistische Regression ist ein Verfahren, mit der sich die Wirkung verschiedener unabhängiger Variablen (z.B. der Kirchenbindung oder der Berufsgruppe) auf eine dichotome Variable (in diesem Fall Parteiidentifikation mit den Ausprägungen „ja“ bzw. „nein“) ebenso modellieren lässt wie mögliche Veränderungen dieser Einflüsse über die Zeit. Da solche Modelle jedoch nicht ohne weiteres nachvollziehbar sind, wird hier und im Folgenden auf eine tabellarische Ausweisung verzichtet.

3. Parteiidentifikation in den neuen Ländern 1991-2008

3.1. Ausgangslage

In den neuen Ländern ergibt sich für die Entwicklung und Bedeutung von Parteiidentifikationen ein ganz anderes Bild als in der alten Bundesrepublik. Hier verloren die protestantischen Kirchen bereits sehr früh an Einfluss (Pollack 2003: 80-81) – eine Entwicklung, die nach der Teilung Deutschlands durch die Politik des SED-Regimes forciert wurde. Der Katholizismus spielte in diesem Teil Deutschlands – von einigen Enklaven einmal abgesehen – ohnehin keine Rolle.

Zugleich spricht einiges dafür, dass unter der Herrschaft der SED durch Ereignisse wie die Niederschlagung des Aufstandes vom 17. Juni und die erzwungene Fusion von KPD und SPD auch die traditionellen Bindungen der Arbeiter an die Parteien der Linken zerstört wurden. Hinzu kommt, dass die meisten der ehemaligen DDR-Bürger echte Parteienkonkurrenz und demokratische Wahlen aus eigener Erfahrung gar nicht mehr kannten. Etliche Forscher gingen deshalb davon aus, dass das Konzept der Parteiidentifikation auf Ostdeutschland überhaupt nicht anwendbar sei. Deshalb wurden die entsprechenden Items erst spät, nämlich im April 1991, in die Politbarometerstudien aufgenommen.

Andere Autoren argumentierten hingegen, dass die Menschen in der DDR häufig die westdeutschen Fernsehsender nutzten und auf diese Weise gleichsam virtuell am politischen Geschehen in der Bundesrepublik teilnahmen. Auf diese Weise hätten sich bereits vor der Wende Bindungen an die westlichen Parteien entwickeln können (Bluck und Kreikenbom 1991).


Abbildung 5: Entwicklung des Anteils der Bürger mit einer Parteiidentifikation in den neuen Bundesländern 1991-2008


3.2 Die Entwicklung des Anteils der Parteiidentifizierer

Empirisch zeigen sich deutliche Unterschiede zwischen Ost und West: Im Jahr nach der Wiedervereinigung betrachteten sich im Westen immer noch etwa 70 Prozent der Bürger als langfristige Anhänger einer Partei, während der entsprechende Anteil im Osten zunächst nur bei rund 60 Prozent lag und dann sogar auf weniger als 50 Prozent absank, so dass sich die Kluft zwischen Ost und West nochmals vertiefte. Seitdem ist, wie oben gezeigt, der Anteil der Parteiidentifizierer in den alten Ländern weiter zurückgegangen, während im Ostenkein systematischer Trend festzustellen ist (vgl. Abbildung 5). Abgesehen von dem raschen, aber kurzlebigen Anstieg während des „Superwahljahres“ von 1994, ist es bislang nicht zu einer nennenswerten Zunahme der Parteibindungen gekommen. Vielmehr schwanken hier die monatlich gemessenen Werte unsystematisch und mit relativ großen Ausschlägen um den insgesamt niedrigeren Mittelwert. Angesichts der Entwicklungen in anderen europäischen Demokratien ist dies einerseits nicht besonders überraschend. Andererseits hätte man vermuten können, dass die nunmehr zwanzigjährige Auseinandersetzung mit dem ehemals westdeutschen Parteiensystem bei einigen Ostdeutschen zur Neubildung dauerhafter Bindungen führen könnte.

Anders als manchmal vermutet, lässt sich auch kein systematischer Zusammenhang zwischen dem Anteil der Parteiidentifizierer und den Bundestagswahlkämpfen nachweisen: Die bislang höchsten Werte wurden vielmehr 1991 (April und August), 1992 (im Februar), 1995 und 1996 (Dezember bzw. Februar) und 1999 (im September und Oktober) beobachtet, aber nicht in den Wahljahren.

Die relativ große Spannweite des Anteilswertes könnte ein Indiz dafür sein, dass einmal erworbene Parteibindungen im Osten rascher wieder aufgegeben werden als in den alten Ländern. Alternativ ließe sich vermuten, dass das Instrument in Ostdeutschland gar keine echten Bindungen, sondern vielmehr bloße Wahlabsichten erfasst. Ein großer Teil dieser Schwankungen dürfte jedoch auf die relativ geringe Zahl von Walberechtigten zurückgehen, die für die in Ostdeutschland befragt wurden. Auf Grund dieses geringeren Stichprobenumfangs ist die Messung des Anteils der Parteiidentifizierer im Osten mit größeren Zufallsfehlern behaftet als in den alten Ländern, was zu entsprechenden größeren monatlichen Schwankungen führt.

Auch in den neuen Ländern lohnt es sich, den monatlichen Anteil der Parteiidentifizierer nach der jeweiligen Richtung aufzuschlüsseln. Im Ergebnis zeigt sich, dass der oben angesprochene Rückgang der Parteiidentifikationen während der frühen 1990er Jahre zu Lasten der SPD, der kleineren Parteien und vor allem der Union ging. Letztere hat allerdings seit der Bundestagswahl 1994 wieder deutlich an Unterstützung gewonnen. Alles in allem bleibt aber festzuhalten, dass die Zahl der Bürger, die sich mit einer der beiden großen Parteien identifiziert, in den neuen Ländern auf niedrigem Niveau stagniert. Bemerkenswert ist darüber hinaus die Entwicklung der PDS/LINKE, die in der ersten Dekade der Einheit den Anteil ihrer langfristigen Anhänger von etwa fünf auf rund zehn Prozent verdoppeln konnte und sich inzwischen auf die Marke von 20 Prozent hinbewegt.

Schwankungen in der mittleren Stärke der PI sind ähnlich wie im Westen im wesentlichen unsystematisch. Eine weiterführende Diskussion erübrigt sich deshalb an dieser Stelle.

3.3. Determinanten der Parteiidentikationen in den neuen Bundesländern

Bezüglich der Determinanten der Parteiidentifikation ergibt sich ein komplexes Bild: Über den gesamten Analysezeitraum hinweg betrachteten sich etwa 37% der Katholiken, 28% der Protestanten, aber nur 13% der Konfessionslosen als langfristige Anhänger der Unionsparteien, wobei sich diese Differenzen zwischen 1991 und 2008 nur unwesentlich abschwächen, wie sich mit Hilfe logistischer Regressionsmodelle zeigen lässt. Obwohl man angesichts der jüngeren Vergangenheit annehmen muss, dass in der früheren DDR bereits die bloße Zugehörigkeit zu einer christlichen Kirche das Ergebnis einer bewussten Entscheidung mit potentiell negativen Konsequenzen darstellte, hat der Zusammenhang zwischen Konfessionszugehörigkeit und CDU-Neigung damit eine ähnliche Stärke wie im Westen. Selbst die Prozentwerte entsprechen fast exakt den Verhältnissen, die in den alten Ländern am Ende der vergangenen Dekade zu beobachten waren. Allerdings ist zu beachten, dass die Konfessionslosen in den neuen Ländern mit etwa zwei Dritteln die große Mehrheit der Bevölkerung ausmachen. Allein deshalb ist damit zu rechnen, dass der Anteil der langfristigen Unionsanhänger im Osten deutlich niedriger sein muss als im Westen.

Ähnliche Beobachtungen ergeben sich sinngemäß für den Einfluss der Kirchenbindung auf die Neigung zur CDU: Wie in den alten Ländern neigen in der Gruppe derjenigen, die sich intensiv am kirchlichen Leben beteiligen, deutlich mehr Menschen der Union zu als in anderen Bevölkerungsschichten. Dadurch, dass diese Gruppe aber sehr klein ist, ist ihr Einfluss auf die Verteilung der Parteiidentifikation im Gesamtelektorat vernachlässigbar klein. Auf eine graphische oder tabellarische Darstellung kann deshalb verzichtet werden.

Abbildung 6: SPD-Parteiidentifikation nach Berufsgruppe, neue Bundesländer 1991-2008


Der Zusammenhang zwischen dem (in den neuen Ländern immer noch deutlich häufigeren) Merkmal„Arbeiter“ und der Parteiidentifikation unterscheidet sich hingegen deutlich von den aus dem Westen bekannten Verhältnissen. Anders, als man vielleicht vermuten könnte, finden die linken Parteien bei den Arbeitern in den neuen Ländern keineswegs besonders große Zustimmung. Über den gesamten Untersuchungszeitraum hinweg bezeichneten sich nur etwa 20 Prozent der Arbeiter als langfristige SPD-Anhänger; ein annähernd gleich großer Anteil fühlte sich der Union besonders verbunden. Eine knappe Mehrheit von rund 51 Prozent gab an, keine Parteiidentifikation zu haben, nur 5 Prozent neigten der PDS/LINKE zu. Diese Zusammenhänge bleiben über die Zeit hinweg im Wesentlichen stabil: So unterscheiden sich Arbeiter und Angehörige anderer Berufsgruppen bezüglich ihrer Identifikation mit der SPD nicht substantiell (vgl. Abbildung 6); gleiches gilt sinngemäß für die Union. Auch an der generell etwas geringeren Neigung der Arbeiter, sich überhaupt mit einer Partei zu identifizieren, hat sich seit 1991 im Grunde nichts geändert.

4. Der Einfluss der Parteiidentifikation auf das Wahlverhalten im vereinten Deutschland

Aus den bisher präsentierten Analysen ergibt sich, dass der Einfluss der Parteiidentifikation auf das Wahlverhalten heute insgesamt geringer sein muss als in den 1970er Jahren: Im Westen behaupten derzeit etwa 40, im Osten sogar rund 50 Prozent der Bürger von sich selbst, keiner Partei in besonderem Maße verbunden zu sein. Für die Wahlentscheidungen dieser (wachsenden) Gruppe kann die Parteiidentifikation naturgemäß keine Rolle spielen. Offen ist allerdings noch, in welchem Umfang das Wahlverhalten derjenigen, die sich als langfristige Anhänger einer Partei betrachten, von ihrer Identifikation gesteuert wird.

Die einfachste Möglichkeit, sich dieser Frage anzunähern, besteht darin zu ermitteln, wie viele Parteiidentifizierer zu einem bestimmten Zeitpunkt für eine andere als die eigentlich bevorzugte Partei stimmen würden. Die Ergebnisse einer solchen Analyse müssen allerdings mit einer gewissen Vorsicht betrachtet werden: Schließlich besteht die Möglichkeit, dass ein Bürger zwar in Übereinstimmung mit seiner Parteiidentifikation wählt, diese Entscheidung aber tatsächlich von den Kandidaten und Sachthemen abhängig macht und dabei zufällig zu einem Ergebnis kommt, dass mit seiner Parteiorientierung übereinstimmt. Im Ergebnis ist ein solches Votum nicht vom Verhalten eines Bürgers unterscheidbar, der schweren Herzens für die Partei stimmt, mit der er sich identifiziert, obwohl ihm das programmatische und personelle Angebot einer anderen Partei als überzeugender erscheint. Ein hohes Maß an Übereinstimmung zwischen Parteiidentifikation und Wahlentscheidung kann deshalb nicht unbedingt kausal interpretiert werden. Sollte der Anteil derjenigen, die für die „eigentlich“ bevorzugte Partei stimmen, im Laufe der Zeit jedoch sinken, dann wäre dies ein starkes Indiz für einen rückläufigen Einfluss der Parteiidentifikation auf das Wahlverhalten auch bei denjenigen, die überhaupt noch eine entsprechende Identifikation aufweisen.

Abbildung 7 Wahlabsicht zugunsten der Union und der SPD unter ihren jeweiligen Anhängern, alte Bundesländer 1977-2008


Abbildung 7 zeigt, dass es bei den Anhängern der Union in den alten Ländern durchaus Evidenzen für eine solche Lockerung der Parteibindungen gibt: Vom Frühjahr 1977 bis zum Sommer 1988 äußerten stets zwischen 94 und fast 100 Prozent derjenigen Bürger, die sich mit der Union identifizierten, die Absicht, bei der nächsten Bundestagswahl für die Christdemokraten zu stimmen. Im Mittel lag die Unterstützung der C-Parteien in dieser Gruppe bei etwa 97 Prozent. Gegen Ende der 1980er Jahre erfasste die zunehmende Unzufriedenheit mit der Regierung Kohl jedoch auch die Unionsanhänger, und die Wahlabsicht fiel zeitweise auf unter 80 Prozent, was in Relation zu den Werten der vorangegangenen Dekade als ein dramatischer Einbruch erscheinen muss. In den 1990er Jahren stieg die Wahlabsicht zugunsten der Union zwar wieder an, unterlag nun aber deutlich größeren Schwankungen und bewegte sich mit einem Durchschnittswert von nur noch 89 Prozent auf einem erkennbar niedrigeren Niveau: War im ersten Drittel des Untersuchungszeitraumes die Identifikation mit den Unionsparteien ein (fast) perfekter Prädiktor der Wahl der Christdemokraten, so erklärten nun rund ein Zehntel derjenigen, die sich selbst als langfristige Anhänger dieser Parteien betrachteten, nicht für die Christdemokraten stimmen zu wollen.

Für die Anhänger der SPD ergibt sich im Grunde ein ähnliches Bild. Auch hier hat die Wahlabsicht zugunsten der eigenen Partei seit den späten 1980er Jahren um etwa fünf Prozentpunkte von 95 auf rund 90 Prozentpunkte nachgelassen. Zugleich begann der Anteil derjenigen SPD-Anhänger, die für die Sozialdemokraten stimmen wollten, stärker zu schwanken. Allerdings war unter den SPD-Identifizierern die Volatilität der Unterstützung für ihre Partei bereits in der Vergangenheit recht groß gewesen. Deutlich zu erkennen ist auch die Unzufriedenheit etlicher SPD-Identifizierer mit der Agenda-Politik, die die Wahlabsicht zugunsten der SPD zeitweise auf nur noch ca. 80 Prozent reduziert hat.

Die Bedeutung der Parteiidentifikation für das Wahlverhalten scheint also in der Tat etwas nachgelassen zu haben, ist aber immer noch deutlich zu erkennen. Dies zeigt sich insbesondere, wenn man die Anhänger der Volksparteien bezüglich ihrer Wahlabsicht mit der Gruppe derjenigen vergleicht, die sich keiner Partei verbunden fühlen: Die Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass ein Bürger, der sich mit der SPD bzw. der Union identifiziert, die entsprechende Partei auch wählt, ist über den ganzen Untersuchungszeitraum hinweg mehr als doppelt so hoch wie für die Gruppe der Ungebundenen.

Für die neuen Länder ergibt sich auch hier wieder ein differenziertes Bild. Unter den Anhängern der Union geben im Mittel nur etwas mehr als 80 Prozent an, bei der nächsten Wahl für diese Partei stimmen zu wollen. Dieser Wert unterliegt erheblichen Schwankungen, die zum Teil jedoch auf die wiederum vergleichsweise geringen Fallzahlen zurückzuführen sind (Abbildung 8). Die Parteibindung scheint also einen etwas geringeren Einfluss auf die Wahlentscheidung zu haben als im Westen.

Abbildung 8: Wahlabsicht zugunsten der Union und der SPD unter ihren jeweiligen Anhängern, neue Bundesländer 1991-2008


Ähnlich liegen die Verhältnisse im Falle der SPD. Hier äußerten zunächst sogar nur etwa 75 Prozent der langfristigen Anhänger die Absicht, die Partei wählen zu wollen. Seit 1994 begann dieser Wert jedoch deutlich zu steigen und erreichte in der Mitte des Untersuchungszeitraumes im Mittel eine Höhe von ca. 85 Prozent, um dann im Kontext der “Agenda-Politik“ der Regierung Schröder in den Jahren 2002 bis 2005 dramatisch einzubrechen. Auch die Wahlabsicht der SPD-Anhänger scheint großen Schwankungen zu unterliegen, wofür aber wiederum die relativ niedrigen Fallzahlen zumindest partiell verantwortlich sind. Eine alles in allem recht ähnliche Entwicklung zeigt sich schließlich auch bei der dritten großen Partei in den neuen Ländern, der PDS/LINKE (nicht graphisch ausgewiesen).

Als Ergebnis bleibt festzuhalten, dass Parteibindungen in den neuen Ländern nicht nur seltener sind, sondern offenbar auch als weniger verbindlich empfunden werden, da ein beträchtlicher Teil derjenigen, die sich selbst als Anhänger einer Partei bezeichnen, nicht die Absicht hat, für die entsprechende Partei zu stimmen. Parteibindungen haben also eine geringere Prägekraft und eine andere Bedeutung als im Westen. Diese Faktoren sind (mit) dafür verantwortlich, dass die Zahl der Wechsel- und Nichtwähler in den neuen Bundesländern höher ist als im Westen und es immer wieder zu deutlichen Abweichungen im Wahlergebnis beider Regionen kommt (Arzheimer/Falter 1998; 2002, Kaspar/Falter 2009). Zwar scheint in den letzten Jahren die Neigung, tatsächlich für die präferierte Partei zu stimmen, im Osten leicht zuzunehmen, während sie im Westen leicht gesunken ist, so dass es hier ähnlich wie beim Anteil der Parteiidentifizierer mittelfristig zu einer Annäherung zwischen Ost und West kommen könnte. Im Ergebnis traten aber auch bei der Bundestagswahl 2009 wieder deutliche Ost-West-Unterschiede auf, die sich auf die unterschiedlichen Sozialisationsbedingungen während der Zeit der Teilung, die Differenzen in der sozio-ökonomischen Situation seit der Vereinigung und in die nach wie vor beträchtlichen Differenzen bezüglich der intermediären Organisationen (Kirchen und Gewerkschaften) zurückführen lassen.

5. Die Bedeutung der Parteiidentifikation im westeuropäischen Vergleich

Die bisherigen Analysen haben gezeigt, dass sich in den alten Ländern nach wie vor mehr als die Hälfte der Bürger im Sinne des sozialpsychologischen Modells mit einer Partei identifizieren. Allerdings ist dieser Anteilswert seit den 1970er Jahren vor allem im Bereich der starken Identifikationen erheblich zurückgegangen und wird vermutlich auch in Zukunft weiter sinken. In den neuen Ländern hat sich der entsprechende Wert seit Mitte der 1990er Jahre nicht mehr substantiell verändert und liegt heute mit etwa 50 Prozent der Wahlberechtigten rund zehn Prozentpunkte niedriger als in Westdeutschland. Diese Gegenüberstellung beider Landesteile ist aufschlussreich, sagt aber zunächst nichts darüber aus, ob die jeweiligen Anteilswerte als hoch oder niedrig gelten müssen. Derartige Fragen lassen sich nur durch den Vergleich mit ähnlichen politischen Systemen klären. Als besonders geeignet für einen solchen Vergleich erscheinen auf Grund der langen gemeinsamen Geschichte sowie der engen wirtschaftlichen, sozialen und politischen Verflechtungen die westeuropäischen Partnerländer, mit denen Deutschland in der Europäischen Union zusammengeschlossen ist. Zudem steht hier mit den von der Europäischen Kommission initiierten Eurobarometer-Studien eine Datenbasis zur Verfügung, die eigens für derartige Analysen entwickelt wurde und bis in die 1970er Jahre zurückreicht2.

Die Verwendung der Eurobarometer-Daten ist allerdings nicht gänzlich unproblematisch: Im Gegensatz zum Politbarometer finden die Erhebungen nicht monatlich, sondern ein- bis dreimal pro Jahr statt. Zudem wird die Parteiidentifikation nicht in jeder Erhebung abgefragt und wurde seit Mitte der 1990er Jahre gar nicht mehr erhoben. Dementsprechend ist die Gefahr, dass aktuelle politische Ereignisse die Messung beeinflussen, viel größer als bei der dichten Politbarometer-Zeitreihe, in der sich zufällige Fehler gegenseitig ausgleichen. Zudem unterscheidet sich der verwendete Fragestimulus zur Messung der Parteiidentifikation mehr oder minder stark von den in den betreffenden Ländern üblicherweise verwendeten Items. Im Falle Deutschlands weichen die mit dem Eurobarometer ermittelten Anteilswerte deshalb um einige Prozentpunkte von den auf der Basis des Politbarometers errechneten Werten ab. Andererseits hat der Eurobarometerdatensatz gegenüber nationalen Studien den Vorteil, dass die verwendeten Items in möglichst identischer Weise in die Sprachen der untersuchten Länder übertragen wurden. Für die Frage nach dem relativen Niveau der Parteiidentifikation in Westeuropa ist der Eurobarometer deshalb wesentlich besser geeignet als nationale Erhebungen, die teilweise sehr unterschiedliche Fragestimuli verwenden, so dass die Ergebnisse kaum miteinander vergleichbar sind.

Abbildung 9 zeigt den Anteil der Parteiidentifizierer in Belgien, Deutschland, Frankreich, Griechenland, Großbritannien, Italien, den Niederlanden, Portugal und Spanien. Entsprechende Daten für Dänemark, Irland (Republik und Nordirland) sowie Luxemburg stehen im Eurobarometer ebenfalls zur Verfügung, wurden aber nicht in die Grafik aufgenommen, um die Darstellung einigermaßen übersichtlich zu halten.

Abbildung 9: Entwicklung des Anteils der Bürger mit einer Parteiidentifikation in ausgewählten Mitgliedsstaaten der EG/EU 1975-1995


Im Ergebnis zeigt sich, dass das Niveau der Parteiidentifikation in den meisten Ländern im Zeitverlauf erheblichen Schwankungen unterliegt. Lediglich in den Niederlanden bewegt sich der Anteil der Parteiidentifizierer konstant auf sehr hohem Niveau. Die dramatischen Verschiebungen und insbesondere das sehr gute Abschneiden der neugegründeten Lijst Pim Fortuyn bei der Parlamentswahl von 2002 deuten allerdings darauf hin, dass sich inzwischen auch hier die Parteibindungen gelockert haben dürften.

In Großbritannien und Frankreich hingegen lagen die entsprechenden Anteilswerte bereits in den 1970er Jahren weitaus niedriger als in den Niederlanden und sind seitdem weiter gesunken, während es in Belgien nach den auf den Sprachenstreit zurückgehenden Krisen der 1970er Jahre zunächst zu einer deutlichen Erholung kam, auf die dann ein sehr langsamer Abschwung folgte.

Die alten Bundesländer und Italien nehmen unter den hier betrachteten Ländern eine Mittelstellung ein – der Anteil der Parteiidentifizierer lag hier zunächst höher als in Belgien, Frankreich und Großbritannien, ohne jedoch das niederländische Niveau zu erreichen. Der Rückgang der Parteiidentifikation in den 1980er und 1990er Jahren vollzog sich dann weitgehend parallel zu den Nachbarländern, so dass Italien und Westdeutschland was die Verbreitung von Parteiidentifikationen angeht auch nach heutigem Kenntnisstand im Mittelfeld liegen.

Besonders interessant ist der Vergleich der neuen Bundesländer mit Spanien, Portugal und Griechenland, drei Ländern also, die seit Mitte der 1970er Jahre ebenfalls erst zur (Parteien-)Demokratie zurückfinden mussten. In Portugal und Griechenland erreichte die Verbreitung von Parteiidentifikationen erstaunlicherweise bereits rund zehn Jahre nach dem Ende der jeweiligen Diktatur einen vergleichbar hohen und inzwischen sogar höheren Stand als in der alten Bundesrepublik und in Italien. Spanien hingegen wies in den 1980er Jahren den niedrigsten Anteil an Parteiidentifizierern in der damaligen EG auf. Erst zu Beginn der 1990er Jahre begann die Zahl der parteigebundenen Bürger deutlich zu steigen und erreichte zur Mitte der Dekade den gleichen Stand wie in den neuen Ländern. In gewisser Weise nimmt also auch die ostdeutsche Region eine Mittelstellung ein: Parteiidentifikationen sind zwar seltener als in den Transformationsgesellschaften Griechenlands und Portugals, haben aber bereits unmittelbar nach der demokratischen „Wende“ eine Verbreitung gefunden, wie sie in Spanien erst zehn Jahre nach der Rückkehr zur Demokratie erreicht wurde.

Bedauerlicherweise gehört die Parteiidentifikationsfrage seit 1996 nicht mehr zum Frageprogramm des Eurobarometers. Für die zweite Hälfte der 1990er Jahre und den Beginn des neuen Jahrhunderts liegen deshalb keine vergleichbaren Daten mehr vor.

Abbildung 10: Wahlabsicht zugunsten der eigenen Partei in ausgewählten Mitgliedsstaaten der EG/EU 1989-1994 (kumuliert)

Ähnlich stellt sich die Situation dar, wenn analog zum Vorgehen in Kapitel 1.3 der Grad der Übereinstimmung zwischen Parteiidentifikation und Wahlabsicht untersucht wird (Abbildung 10). Auch hier liegen beide Regionen Deutschlands im Mittelfeld; allerdings ist die Streuung zwischen den untersuchten Ländern generell recht gering. Eine Ausnahme bildet lediglich Spanien, wo die (wie oben gezeigt ohnehin nicht sehr weit verbreiteten) Parteiidentifikationen einen deutlich geringeren Einfluss auf das Wahlverhalten haben als in den übrigen Staaten.

Insgesamt deuten die Ergebnisse darauf hin, dass die Parteien gerade in den etablierten Demokratien Westeuropas (außer den Niederlanden) an Rückhalt in der Bevölkerung zu verlieren scheinen. Dort, wo Parteibindungen vorhanden sind, haben diese aber immer noch einen beträchtlichen Einfluss auf das Wahlverhalten.

Auch in den USA, wo das Konzept der Parteiidentifikation zuerst angewendet wurde, lässt sich seit den 1950er Jahren ein deutlicher Rückgang des Anteils der Parteiidentifizierer nachweisen (Dalton 2000: 25-26). Vergleichbare Trends zeigen sich in den demokratischen Industrieländern außerhalb Westeuropas wie Australien, Japan, Kanada und Neuseeland (Dalton 2000: 26-27). Dennoch bleibt festzuhalten, dass sich in diesen wie in den westeuropäischen Ländern nach wie vor mehr als die Hälfte der Wahlberechtigten mit einer Partei identifiziert, wobei die genauen Anteilswerte wegen der unterschiedlichen Frageformate nur schwer miteinander vergleichbar sind.

Zudem deuten neuere Ergebnisse darauf hin, dass gerade in den USA die Parteiidentifikation seit einiger Zeit wieder an Bedeutung gewonnen hat. Die Zahl derjenigen, die sich als langfristige Anhänger von Demokraten oder Republikanern betrachten, ist seit den 1980er Jahren wieder angewachsen. Zugleich hat – insbesondere bei Präsidentschaftswahlen – der Einfluss der Parteiidentifikation auf die Wahlentscheidung zugenommen (Bartels 2000 , für einen umfassenden Überblick über die Diskussion in den USA vgl. Fiorina 2002).

6. Fazit

Die in diesem Kapitel vorgestellten Analyseergebnisse zeigen, dass die wichtigste Einstellung des sozialpsychologischen Modells für das Wahlverhalten in Deutschland seit den 1970er Jahren langsam aber stetig an Bedeutung verloren hat. Die Zahl der Bürger, die überhaupt eine solche Bindung aufweisen, ist seit dem Beginn der Politbarometeruntersuchungen 1977 erheblich, wenn auch nicht kontinuierlich abgesunken. Zugleich zeigt sich, dass die Stärke der verbliebenen Bindungen ebenso deutlich abgenommen hat. Darüber hinaus bestehen auch rund zwanzig Jahre nach der Wiedervereinigung deutliche Unterschiede zwischen Ost- und Westdeutschland: In den neuen Ländern sind Parteibindungen nach wie vor seltener, im Mittel schwächer ausgeprägt und haben einen etwas schwächeren Effekt auf das Wahlverhalten als in der alten Bundesrepublik. Bislang gibt es wenig Hinweise auf eine fundamentale Abschwächung dieser Differenzen.

In den politischen Entwicklungen der vergangenen Jahre spiegeln sich die Konsequenzen dieser gesunkenen Bedeutung von Parteibindungen wider: Der Rückgang der Wahlbeteiligung, die gestiegene Zahl der Wechselwähler und die zunehmende Ausdifferenzierung des Parteiensystems stehen alle im Zusammenhang mit den oben skizzierten Veränderungen.

Ähnliche Tendenzen wie in der Bundesrepublik lassen sich auch in vielen der westeuropäischen Partnerländer Deutschlands, den USA, Australien, Japan oder Kanada nachweisen. Dennoch hat die PI für diejenigen Bürger, die sich nach wie vor mit einer Partei identifizieren, eine wichtige Orientierungsfunktion. In Deutschland wie in den meisten anderen der hier untersuchten Staaten ist die PI, sofern sie denn vorhanden ist, der wichtigste Prädiktor des Wahlverhaltens. Dies gilt interessanterweise auch und gerade für jene hochgebildeten und gut informierten Bürger, die “eigentlich” keine PI benötigen, um eine Wahlentscheidung zu treffen (Albright 2009). Auch auf der Ebene der politischen Orientierungen lässt sich deshalb abschließend festhalten: “The Party ain’t over yet”.


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Weiterführende Literatur


Arzheimer, Kai/Schoen, Harald. 2005: Erste Schritte auf kaum erschlossenem Terrain. Zur Stabilität der Parteiidentifikation in Deutschland. In: PVS 46, 629-654.

Campbell, Angus/Converse, Philip E./Miller, Warren E./Stokes, Donald E., 1960: The American Voter. New York u. a.: Wiley.

Dalton, Russell J./Flanagan, Scott H./Beck, Paul Allen (Hrsg.), 1984: Electoral Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies. Realignment or Dealignment. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

1 Siehe http://www.gesis.org/dienstleistungen/daten/umfragedaten/politbarometer/ .

2 Siehe http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/ und http://www.gesis.org/en/data_service/eurobarometer/index.htm . Für zwei ältere Analysen von Parteibindungen, die auf dem Eurobarometer basieren vgl. Schmitt 1989 sowie Schmitt und Holmberg 1995, für neuste Ergebnisse Albright 2009.