Oct 272019
 

LEFT30.4%
AfD23.5%
CDU22.1%
SPD8.1%
GREENS5.1%
FDP5.1%

Source: FGW projection, 8:10pm

Why waste my life writing lengthy books that no-one is going to read? Why go through the pain of peer review? Why, in fact, wait for the actual election results to come in? So here is my list on hot takes on the Thuringia state election.

  1. Everyone is talking about the AfD, but the real story of this election is the Left. Bodo Ramelow was the first member of the Left to become Minister President of a federal state. His red-red-green coalition was defeated, but only because his partners lost electoral support. The Left’s vote share actually increased a bit so that for the first time since 1990, the Left has become the strongest party in a Land election. Ramelow himself is even more popular than his party and may be able to continue, either as a caretaker/minority Minister President or at the helm of some new (and very complicated) coalition.
  2. Single-digit SPD results are almost normal now. The SPD has always struggled in Thuringia. Now, the SPD has once more dipped into single-digit territory (after Bavaria and Saxony). A few years ago, that would have been unthinkable. Now, it’s not really a huge surprise.
  3. Germany is not yet the Netherlands, but we are getting there. Journalists and pundits still talk about the “Volksparteien” – the CDU/CSU-SPD duopoly – as if this were the normal state of affairs in Germany. But it seems unlikely that were are going back to a two-dominant-and-some-minor-parties arrangement any time soon. If the FDP makes it past the electoral threshold, there will be six parties in the new state parliament. Just like in the Bundestag, the Bavarian state parliament, and the Landtag in Brandenburg, to name a few. For the time being, fragmentation and volatility are the new normal.
  4. The Green Wave has not reached Thuringia. Nationwide, the Greens are still the second party and poll between 20 and 25 per cent. They have made some inroads in the eastern states, where they have struggled for most of the last three decades. Opinion polls looked moderately good for them, but in reality, they came dangerously close to the threshold. In fact, it is still not clear whether they will make into parliament. This does not mean that the wave has ended today. Thuringia is a small state that is in no way representative and was always a difficult arena for them (think lots of wood and history, few universities/cities).
  5. The most extreme flavour of the AfD remains popular in the (south-)east. It’s not a secret that the AfD is much stronger in the eastern states than they are in the west. Currently, a result in the 20s seems to be normal in the southern part of the former GDR, with some pockets were they go even beyond 30 per cent. The result in Thuringia is well within that range. The interesting point is that the AfD in Thuringia is led by a man who pushes the envelope of being a right-wing populist, a man whose rhetoric, policies and associates are more in line with traditional German right-wing extremism. Höcke has voiced support for rank-and-file members of the NPD when the AfD was still a polite bunch of Eurosceptics. He has spread racist tropes about Africans, has marched with Neo-Nazis and campaigned for a U-turn in Germany’s approach to its traumatic past. He infamously called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame in the heart of our capital”. And yet, only days after a Christchurch-style attack on a synagogue, Höcke’s AfD won about a quarter of the vote. Some may have cast their vote in spite of him (he was not exactly popular in pre-election surveys), but at least fraction must have known what they were doing. Which is a very scary notion.

Jan 182015
 

With all that is going pear-shaped in the world, you would be forgiven not to be aware of the latest instalment in the Great Greek Political Drama Series. It actually had a rather long lead: The current president’s term was coming to an end, and Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the radical left opposition faction Syriza had made it clear from at least last summer that he would use the provisions of the constitution to bring down the current centre-right/centre left coalition government.

How was that possible? After various defections, the current government is supported by 156 of 300 MPs, still a workable and reasonably stable majority of 52 per cent. But although the office is largely ceremonial, electing a new president requires a super majority: two thirds of the MPs in the first two rounds or 60 per cent (180 votes) in the third and final round.

greek parliament photoPhoto by ARKNTINA

That alone is an unusual arrangement, as a surprisingly large number of European states does more or less well with unelected ceremonial heads of state (think monarchy), while many others are content to elect the chief figurehead by run-off or simple plurality rules. In Greece, parliament is dissolved instead (and to add insult to injury, a simple plurality is sufficient to elect a president in the new parliament).

Given the current state of the polls, the most likely outcome of the election on January 25 is a hung parliament: the government will lose its majority, but Syriza will probably find itself without a coalition partner and will not be able to govern alone even if they win the bonus awarded to the biggest party. Moreover, the small “Democratic Left” party will probably be wiped out, and various independent MPs will lose their seats. The right-wing “Independent Greeks” and the neo-fascist “Golden Dawn” are also poised to suffer (less dramatic) losses. On political grounds alone, the continuing until 2016 should have been preferable to an early election for any MP to the right of Syriza, not to mention the decline in personal circumstances for those who will lose their seats.

The 25 independents acting in unison alone could have prevented the election. And yet, only 168 MPs voted for the government’s candidate, 13 more (or perhaps 15 more – this is confusing) than the government’s own voting bloc but 12 less than required to prevent the election. So the others either have privileged information about the outcome of the election, value principled opposition higher than political outcomes and personal welfare, have silently defected to Syriza, or have received some side-payment. Or they are irrational. Your choice.

Nov 032014
 

Even the Washington Post has woken up to the fact that 25 years after the uprising in the GDR, Germany stubbornly remains divided economically, politically, and socially. In the great scheme of things, this may matter less than you might think: In Western Europe alone, the UK, Spain, Belgium, or Switzerland – countries that have been around as nation states for much longer than Germany’s current iteration – are similarly diverse.

But it keeps the German Politics crowd busy enough. I’m currently working on a piece that looks at the latest federal election in comparative (east vs west) perspective – something that I have done previously for the 1998, 2002, and 2009 elections (2005 was someone else’s turn). The biggest difference is of course in the results of the Left party, which, compared to the West German districts, is about four times as successful in the East (this figure is down from a 20:1 rate in the 1990s). But here is another Bundestagswahl fun fact: The Liberals – not longer represented in the federal parliament for the first time since 1949, because their national result was just below the five per cent electoral threshold – barely scraped beyond this threshold in the old West, where they garnered 5.1 per cent of the valid votes. Based on the western results, the former Christian Democrats/Liberal coalition could have continued. Once more, the Easterners brought about political change.lonesome politician

 

Sep 252013
 

What’s the Matter with Germany?

At least in Germany, people begin to realise that Merkel may have painted herself into a corner by winning so gloriously (told you so first thing on Monday). While her Christian Democrats are by far the largest party group in the new Bundestag, she needs a coalition partner, but nobody wants to play.

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

The Social Democrats are not exactly keen to form a coalition with Merkel. They came out of the last Grand Coalition (2005-2009) very badly damaged and have hardly recovered from that electoral blow. And a new CDU/SPD coalition would be not so ‘grand’ any more. In 2005, the SPD and the Christian Democrats were not so far apart in terms of votes won. This time, there is a 16 point gap between the two.

The important NRW state party, which represents roughly a quarter of the party’s total membership,  is positioning itself against a Not-So-Grand Coalition. The party’s left-wing opposes on principal grounds, and because they feel that this would further strengthen the Left party. The party leadership is officially stalling just a bit, saying the situation is open. Talks will be ‘ergebnisoffen’ – non-directive. And they are seriously telling the Greens that it’s a dirty job, so perhaps they should do it.

A CDU/Green coalition on the other hand, while not impossible, is unlikely. The idea was all the rage a couple of years ago, but it did not work well in the Länder. Moreover, the party has moved to the left during the campaign (something they are regretting now) and returned to a more polarised view of the political world. The party leadership has resigned over the slightly disappointing result. Some of them will return, but it is not yet clear what the balance of power within the party will look like, and any new leadership will find it extremely difficult to sell a coalition with Merkel to the rank-and-file, who have a de facto veto.

This may very well be a thinly disguised attempt to drive the price of a black-red (or black-green) coalition upwards. In 1998 and 2002, it took roughly a month to form a government. In 2005, SPD and CDU needed 55 days. In 2009, the FDP/CDU/CSU government was sworn in about 40 days after the election. But what will happen if both the Greens and the SPD refuse to play (it is still silly season, but nobody’s talking CDU/Left. Yet)?

Is a Minority Government Possible? Will There Be New Elections?

In Germany, there is always a procedure, and in this case, it is spelled out in the constitution, whose framers were obsessed with stability (for very good reasons). The new parliament will be convened on October 22, 30 days after the election. That is the constitutional maximum. With this first plenary meeting (parliamentary parties haven been holding business meetings since Monday), Merkel’s second term as Chancellor will end, and so will the tenure of her ministers. The Federal President will however ask her ‘to continue to manage Germany’s affairs’ until a successor is appointed, and she is obliged to heed that request. So are the ministers. There is no ‘gap’: We’ll always have someone who tells us what to do.

The president will then go to parliament and propose a successor. But ‘then’ is relative. Interestingly, the constitution which is usually very precise, does not stipulate a time-frame. Leading commentators say the time-frame must be ‘appropriate’. Four weeks are ok. Six weeks would be ok, too, I think. But how much longer?

In theory, the president could come up with any proposal, but in practice, his suggestion has always been based on a viable coalition agreement between the parties, since his proposal must be confirmed by more than one half of its members (as opposed to more than half the members happening to be in the chamber at that point). The constitution is extremely wary of unstable majorities, let alone minority government.

Should the president’s candidate not be elected (this has never happened in the past), parliament has 14 days to make up their minds. During this period, they can elect anyone who manages to get the votes of more than half of the members without the president having any say.

Failing this, parliament will have one last vote on the Chancellor. Under this rule, the person receiving the most votes wins. If, by some happy coincidence, the number of these votes exceeds the number of half the members of parliament, the new Chancellor is sworn in and appointed. If it is less, the president has a choice: Within seven days, he can either appoint the Chancellor to lead a minority government or trigger new elections. Again, the choice is his in theory, but in practice, he would consult with the parties.

So where does that leave us?

Should both the Greens and the SPD refuse to join a Merkel government, they could still form a coalition with the Left or negotiate a toleration arrangement. But that seems unlikely, since the political costs would be very high, and it is not clear that all leftist MPs would vote for him. A small group of SPD and/or Green MPs could vote for Merkel to get on with it, without the parties entering a formal coalition, or one of the two parties could officially decide to tolerate her. As long as that would give her a majority in the inaugural vote, the president would have to appoint her. Or the parties could agree on having another election, with unknown consequences (AfD and/or FDP entering parliament, losses for all but the Left?).

Given these prospects, a CDU/SPD coalition will probably look like the lesser evil once everybody has calmed down a bit. But that might take some time.

Sep 192013
 
Thank you for more than 28,000 clicks on that photo!  Dome of the Reichstag building - La cúpula del Reichstag - Reichstagskuppel Berlin
alles-schlumpf / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Why Would I Want to Pool the Polls?

Pre-election polls are noisy for a number of reasons. First, there is sampling error. For n=1000, the confidence interval for a party whose true support is 40 per cent ranges from 37 to 43 per cent, which is more than most people would think. And this assuming simple random sampling. For multi-stage sampling, you could end up with one to two extra points at each end. Then there are house effects: Pollsters dress up their raw figures and different ways, use different sampling frames and slightly different modes and questions. And finally, political events and media coverage on the day of the poll will have effects, especially early on when many voters are undecided.

Combining results from different polls is one obvious strategy to deal with these problems: The combined sample size is bigger, and there is hope that the various sources of bias might offset each other. Hopefully.

Where Do the Data Come From?

The very useful site wahlrecht.de publishes margins from seven large German pollsters. Excluding INSA (they use an online-access panel), I check this site regularly and generate a data set from it that you can download here. To companies post (relatively) raw data, which I find preferable. What the others do to their figures, we cannot know.

How Does It Work?

The most straightforward idea in poll-pooling is calculating a moving (and possibly weighted). A more principled approach is model-based. My model borrows heavily from Simon Jackman’s (2005) paper and from Chris Hanretty’s application of a similar model to Italy, but differs in some respects. First, I treat the polls as draws from a multinomial distribution to account for Germany’s moderate multi-partyism. The parameters of this distribution depend on the relative strength of latent support for each party. Modelling the results as multinomial implies the constraint that the estimated shares must some to unity, which is useful. Second, like Jackman and Hanretty, I assume that latent support for each party follows a random walk (today’s support is yesterdays support plus a random quantity), but I allow for a drift: a linear trend in latent support over the course of the campaign. Third, I assign each poll to a week, because there are relatively few polls, and field-times are relatively long. Put differently, I assume that public opinion moves from week to week (but not from day to day).

The model estimates latent party support since January 2013 and makes predictions for the outcome of the election. The code (R & Bugs) is here.

Does It Work?

Honestly, I have no idea. This is work in progress, so take the findings with a pinch of salt.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Everything? Anything? The most obviously dubious assumption of the model is that the polls are unbiased on average. Latent linear trends are a close second.

Sep 142013
 

I finally got around to clean/update the code for my model that pools the 2013 German pre-election polls, estimates latent party support and comes up with the most marvellous predictions (TM). You may download it (complete with the most recent version of the polling data) from my dataverse. If you spot a bug or some other problem, please drop me a line.

I will be back soon with the latest polls.

Sep 032013
 

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.