Sep 132013
 

Beyond Peer’s Finger

Ready for another instalment of our series on odd campaign posters? Peer Steinbrück’s finger has raised the stakes quite a bit, but since a magazine cover is technically not a campaign poster, I’m not going to dignify this abomination with a link. Last time around, I have pondered the question if those people posing for the pirate party are indeed members/candidates, and @senficon has kindly clarified matters a bit.

Endorsement by Photoshop? 1

Together. Really?

This week, I’m focusing once more on the local candidate for the CDU. While the seat is open (the sitting MP is retiring), it has in fact never been won by the CDU, so a little endorsement from the boss can’t hurt, yes? Thinking along the same lines, our man has put up a large billboard picturing him and the Chancellor. But does it show him with the Chancellor?

 

How Much Time Does a Chancellor Have for Local Candidates?

Here is a simple calculation: A professional shooting would take at least 15 minutes per candidate. The CDU is contesting all seats outside Bavaria. That would be 244/4=61 hours. Even if the Chancellor would endorse only those 65 candidates who are running in non-Bavarian districts not won by the CDU in 2009, this would amount to two normal working days.

jm.jpg

On his own

That seems a bit excessive for a woman who – besides things such as popping over to meet the other G20 club members, messing up saving the Euro and running a national campaign – is busy ruling the country. Plus: He looks a lot less streamlined on his own posters: So I was wondering, just wondering if the very capable people at CDU headquarters have come up with a little Photoshop template that candidates may download from some internal server. By the way, “Gemeinsam” means “together”. Is that the CDU’s response to the SPD’s ingenious “It’s the ‘we’ that matters”, or a not-so-subtle  irony marker? Just asking.

Sep 082013
 

State of Play: The “TV-Duell” and Syria

In 335 hours, the campaign will be history, and it does not look good for the opposition parties. Last Sundays’ televised debate between Merkel and Steinbrück – aka the Duel –  was widely considered a very civilised draw. Merkel is not good at debating. Her answers were long-winded and evasive, but she managed to score a few points. Her gaffe-prone and sometimes foul-mouthed challenger carefully tried to avoid digging himself into yet another hole but consequentially lacked a bit of his usual zest.

The SPD claims that Steinbrück’s ratings amongst the undecided raters have improved, but by and large, the debate was clearly not a game-changer. Similarly, Syria remains a non-issue, as basically everyone who is anyone says that we don’t want to be involved in what ever military action the US might stumble into.

The Polls

majorparties-week-36.png

Predictions/Estimates for the Major German Parties, Week 36 (2013)

This round brings five new polls: two from week 35 that were conducted just before the debate, and three for which respondents were interviewed from Monday till Wednesday. After factoring them in, the model still predicts essentially no change for the two major parties. Both have been stable in the range of 41 per cent (CDU/CSU) and 25 per cent (SPD) for a while now and are not expected to move over the next two weeks.

One important qualification applies, however: The model assumes a constant trend since January as well as constant variance (on the latent scale). Campaign/reality-induced shocks to the parties’ latent support may well be bigger than what is implied by these two neat normal distributions. But I don’t really believe it.

minorparties-week-36.png

Predictions/Estimates for the Smaller German Parties, Week 36 (2013)

Findings for the smaller parties are more interesting. Both the FDP and the Left continue their respective slow ascent. The Left is safely above the electoral threshold, and it seems highly likely that the FDP could enter parliament under their own steam. If tactical voting by CDU supporters is factored in, it is virtually guaranteed that there will be an FDP delegation in the 18th Bundestag.

The probability of a viable majority for the current coalition is now 84 per cent (basically unchanged from 85 per cent last week). If tactical voting is taken into account, the coalition looks almost unbeatable at 97 per cent (up from 94). The probability of a red-green majority is constant at zero per cent. The probability of a (politically unviable) red-red-green majority is estimated at 16/3 per cent (with/without tactical voting for the FDP).

In line with previous posts, I assume that the SPD would in this case favour a Grand Coalition with a probability of 90 per cent. That brings the probability of a third term for Merkel (aka the Merkel-O-Meter) to a new high of 98.4/99.7 per cent. As always, these figures should be taken with a giant pinch of salt, but it seems safe to assume that a change in government (let alone a change of the CEO) is really very unlikely.

Are the Greens Plummeting?

In short: yes, but … The three polls from week 36 see the Greens at 9, 10, and 11 per cent respectively. The model says that 11 is realistic but points to a slump of two per cent or so over the last month. Looking back, it would also seem that ratings of 15 per cent and more were hardly ever realistic. The party is going from sky-high figures to a share that is still very good. If the model is right, it is also highly likely that the Greens will be the strongest of the three smaller parties.

Jürgen Trittin’s recent claim that the party would bounce back just before the election, however, seems over-optimistic. And they would have to bounce a very long way to make a red-green government viable.

Any Other Parties?

A year ago, the Pirates looked set to enter parliament, and in March, the newly founded eurosceptic AfD began to make waves. The model lumps these and all smaller parties together in a single “other” category, since none of them has polled five per cent or more over the last eight months.

Over the last week, the AfD has repeatedly claimed that their true level of support was in the double digits. They capped off their PR campaign by offering Angela Merkel coalition talks. How do you spell delusional?

We all know that extremist parties are often underestimated as a result of social desirability effects. But hardly anyone has so far claimed that the AfD is extremist. And a gap of at least six percentage points would require a level of stigma that makes you wonder how the AfD leaders see themselves.

Just for the fun of it, I have amalgamated 40 per cent of the simulated “other” votes into support for a single party, which seems generous (there are about 30 other parties, most of them tiny). The chance of such a party to overcome the electoral hurdle is 0.5 per cent. However, if one of the smaller parties did indeed enter parliament, that would almost certainly force a Grand Coalition.

The Outlook

My model is likely to be misspecified, plus there could be a lot of last-minute movement. Stay tuned to see me fail when I come back next week with new evidence.

Sep 032013
 
Do Minor Parties Employ Models? 2

Is this serious?

Many of the activities parties would have done in-house during a campaign in bygone times have now been outsourced to agencies. This was nicely illustrated last week by a mildly embarrassing incident: The liberal FDP and the right-wing extremist NPD were using the same stock video footage of a happy family. So was a Finnish dairy company.

But some of the smaller parties still put people on their posters who are most probably not professional models. Today’s exhibit is widely deployed by the Pirate party. The caption reads (in my clunky translation) “Not for sale. Just eligible”. The latter does clearly not apply to the two youngsters. But if their elderly companion was a real candidate, shouldn’t they put her name on the poster? So: Are these real rank-and-file party members, or is this another stock photo otherwise used for … whatever?

Sep 012013
 

The Polls

majorparties-week-35

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

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

Raw Figures, Estimates and Predictions

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

minorparties-week-33

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

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

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

The Outlook

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

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

Aug 302013
 
fdp-punctuation

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

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

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

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

 

Aug 282013
 
Aug 242013
 

The State of Play, Four Weeks Before the Election

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

What the Pollster Saw

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

majorparties-week-33

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

 

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

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

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

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

minorparties-week-33

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

 

What Does That Mean for September 22 and Beyond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Everyone Else Thinks

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

Stay Tuned

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

Aug 162013
 

The Polls Are Noisy

Just over five weeks before the Bundestag election, there is much merriment about the current state of play. Support for the Liberals has been consistently below the electoral threshold of  five per cent for months, which implies that Merkel’s coalition would not be able to continue after September. Consequently, everyone is very excited about a more recent series of polls, which put the party at exactly five per cent. But even with n=2000, an exact confidence interval would range from 4 to 6 per cent. Add multistage sampling, house effects, and the fact that people do not necessarily know how they will vote in September, and you end up with a lot of noise.

Support for Major German Parties (2013)

Support for the Two Major German Parties in 2013

How much noise exactly? The good folks at wahlrecht.de publish marginal distributions for six major companies that regularly conduct random polls. I wrote a little program to collects everything published since January (the exact election date was officially determined on February 8 but was negotiated between the parties in January). Here are the results (click to enlarge).

Most polls are in the field for two to seven days, so I anchored them at their midpoints. My current data set spans 31 weeks, with just under 4 polls conducted each week.

Polling the German Election Polls

It’s obvious that there is a lot of variation in these 120 data points, making claims that this party has declined while another one surges rather dubious (though they still make excellent headlines). Poll aggregation is one possible and increasingly way out of this conundrum, so I decided to get my hands dirty, install (r)jags and bite the Bayesian bullet (something I have meant to do for years).

Support for Smaller German Parties in 2013

Support for three of the Smaller German Parties (2013)

My model is rather simplistic (I’ll post the code once it has stabilised). I assume that reported voting intentions are distributed multinomial, and that they depend on a) latent party support and b) house effects. I further make the rather heroic assumption that house effects are random with a mean of zero. Latent party support, on the other hand, follows a random walk, possibly with a drift: This week’s support is last week’s support plus some random change due to political events, plus some constant that accounts for steady up- or downward trends.

The Bayesian framework seems particularly appropriate here as it is technically and conceptually easy to come up with predictions for September 22, but I refrain from incorporating any prior beliefs and put vague distributions on all parameters. As far as I can tell (and that does not mean a lot), the model seems to converge without problems.

Estimated Support for Major German Parties 2013

Estimated and Predicted Support for Major German Parties (2013)

Somewhat surprisingly,the 95 per cent credibility interval (the shaded area around the trend line) is rather narrow for both the CDU and the SPD, implying that we can learn a lot from pooling many noisy polls. Support for Merkel’s Christian democrats was largely stable over the last seven months at about 42 per cent. This would make them the strongest party by far, although they are far away from the lofty 50 per cent they reached in some polls in April and June. According to the model, support for the Socialdemocrats is similarly stable, though at a much lower level of 26 per cent.

The predictions (to the right of the vertical line that marks the beginning of the last week included in the model) are less precise than the estimates, and become more vague as they extend towards election day, but it seems almost certain that the CDU will be the strongest party in the new parliament by a fair margin.

Predicted Support for Smaller German Parties

Estimated and Predicted Support for Smaller Parties in Germany (2013)

The model is also very confident about levels of support for the smaller parties. Green support peaked in March, but current and predicted levels are still above 12 per cent, which would be an improvement on the 2009 result. But since the SPD is so weak, the probability of a “Red-Green” majority in the next Bundestag is estimated to be (much) less than one per cent.

Support for the Left is estimated at about seven per cent, well above the threshold (the dashed line), but also well below their very strong result in 2009.

Finally, the FDP has shown an upward trend over the last 10 weeks or so and is projected to cross the threshold just in time for the election. The model estimates the probability of the FDP returning to parliament at 67 per cent.

Predicting the Inevitable

In reality, a sufficient number of potentially CDU voters might support the FDP for tactical reasons, pushing up that number towards certainty. But the coalition could come to an end even if that manoeuvre succeeds: The odds that the coalition garners more votes than the three left parties together are only slightly better than even at 58 per cent.

A “Red-Red-Green” coalition (or rather a Red-Green government tolerated by the Left), however, seems politically infeasible, suggesting a return to a Great Coalition lead by Angela M. with a subjective probability of at least 90 per cent.

If (if!) I take these estimates seriously for just one moment, that means that probability of Ms Merkel retaining her office is roughly 96 per cent. Let’s see how the next batch of polls plays havoc with this figure, shall we?

Aug 112013
 
Trying to Rub off the Incumbency Advantage from the Old Guy

Trying to Rub off the Incumbency Advantage from the Old Guy

The local MP is stepping down after a mere 19 years, and the local mayor wants his job. The outgoing MP won his seat five times in a row on a plurality of the Erststimmen. Structural factors aside, this looks like an incumbency advantage (though the 2009 result was rather close).

Can he pass this on to the successor? In the 2010 UK General Election, party incumbency (as opposed to personal incumbency) did not make a difference for new candidates.  I’m not sure if it will play in the 2013 election over here, but I doubt that this poster will help.