Cas Mudde and I talk about the 2021 German federal elections

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the ur-podcast must have been two blokes in the pub going on about politics for hours. Thankfully, the format has evolved somewhat. So if you are interested in German Politics, why not listen to Cas Mudde and me discussing the 2021 elections in just over 30 minutes?

I was much younger in this photo. He probably found it in a museum.

How good/bad were the 2017 German election polls?

In less than 43 hours, polling stations in Germany will close. The idea that the CDU/CSU is building momentum and could catch up with the SPD has been a conservative talking point for the last week or so. And right on cue, Allensbach has published a poll today that sees the SPD’s lead reduced to a single percentage point.

Over on twitter, people have been quite disparaging, pointing out that Allensbach has been perceived as close to the Christian Democrats for decades, uses methods that are now seen as outmoded, and considerably overestimated support for the CDU/CSU in 2017. While I tend to agree, I thought I might as well pass the time by having a look at how well the major pollsters did in 2017 using, you know, actual data.

For multi-party elections, the sum of squared differences between a pre-election poll and the final vote shares is a crude but intuitively plausible measure of accuracy. Thankfully, the good folks over at wahlrecht.de collect headline findings from the major houses going back all the way to the late 1990s. So I plugged the last surveys published immediately before the 2017 election into this shiny table and calculated the differences.

CDU/CSUSPDGreensFDPLeftAfDOthersSum of squared differences
BTW 201732.920.58.910.79.212.64
Insa342189111348.56
Kantar/Emnid3522891011514.56
FGW3621.58108.511515.96
Allensbach3622810.59.510419.56
Forsa362279.59.511520.56
Infratest37207.59.5912521.86
GMS372289910530.56
YouGov3623791010530.76

The numbers are not quite what I expected. Kantar/Emnid and FGW, who have been in the business for ages, are placed second and third with very similar deviations from the result. Fellow household names Allensbach, Forsa, and Infratest form a second, slightly worse performing but very homogeneous cluster. GMS and YouGov, on the other hand, were most (and similarly) off.

The best performer, and this is the surprising part, was INSA, who are, let’s say, are slightly less respected for both political and methodological reasons. According to wahlrecht.de, their final poll in 2017 was published on September 22, just two days before the election, with the data being collected on September 21/22. So it could be that they were simply interviewing closer to the event than the others and picked up some last minute swing away from the Christian Democrats. Or perhaps they were just lucky.

Coming back to Allensbach, the table shows that everyone overestimated the CDU/CSU (herding, anyone?), and that Allensbach was by no means an outlier. So if past (squared) performance can serve as a guide for the present, there is no particular reason to rubbish this latest Allensbach poll.

MLPD: the internationalist boys are back in town

Everyone who cares about German elections is very excited by now, because it’s just over a week until election day. And I realise that I have not blogged about this election at all. One reason is that I have not set up a poll aggregator this time round. There are enough better-run sites doing this now, and so I have taken all my polling enthusiasm straight to twitter. The other reason is that there is still a pandemic, and that there are so many other things to do.

But right on the campaign’s homestretch, I have discovered a whole (rather long and reasonably affluent) street covered in MLPD posters. “What, in the name of all that is unholy, is the MLPD?” I hear you cry.

The MLPD, or Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany, is the ultimate splinter party. It came into being in 1982 as the successor of the Communist Worker Association (KABD), itself the result of the 1972 merger of the KAB/ML and the KPD/ML-Revolutionary Path. The latter had been a breakaway from the KPD/ML, which in turn was a tiny Maoist party that moved on to the Albanian brand of communism. Somewhere along the way, some players had been expelled from the old Communist party (the KPD), which by then must have been illegal for a decade or so. Are you still with me?

MLDP Poster International Solidarity
Wait, what? I know that guy!

The MLPD, however, is still enamoured to Maoism and rejects the post-1950s Soviet Union as revisionist. According to the annual reports of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the MLPD is a left-wing extremist organisation. It is also surprisingly wealthy (thanks to some large donations), and sometimes successful in local politics in unexpected places (Swabian towns? Come on!), where it works with local groups to form lists with less offending names.

For the last couple of federal elections, it has formed an alliance (the internationalist list they put on the posters) with like-minded foreign organisations that have a presence in Germany. In 2017, they won just under 30,000 of the PR votes, equivalent to 0.1 per cent. Historically, that was an excellent result: they used to get about 0.01 per cent of the vote. According to the Office, the MLPD has 2,800 members, and one must really wonder what motivates them. Various colleagues have pointed out that the party looks and operates like a (political) sect.

MLDP Poster Environment Pensions
Save the environment by working less. Or something along those lines.

However tenuous, there is a bit of personal connection, too. Back in 1982, when the FDP changed sides, removed my hero Helmut Schmidt, and made Kohl Chancellor, I was outraged (and all of 13 years old). When Kohl manufactured a lost vote of confidence that winter so that he could get the 1983 election, I was earnestly listening to experts who claimed that this move was slick, but unconstitutional. The President and then the Constitutional Court disagreed. When Kohl then ran again in 1987 I would have loved to vote against him, but I was three weeks too young.

So my first chance to express my general dissatisfaction came with the 1989 European Election. Also, I was doing national service. That meant that I had a lot of spare time that I used for reading campaign materials, watch the party broadcasts, and think about how to best invest my shiny new vote. Everyone I talked to thought that the EP was as second order as it gets, and that one could and should freely experiment. So for a time, I toyed with the idea of sticking it to the man by voting for something seriously, hardcore left, like, you know, these MLPD chaps. This wonderful clip finally helped me make up my mind.

 
Europawahl 1989 - Wahlwerbespot MLPD