Sep 302022
 
marble courtyard palace of versailles versailles france

Germany went to the polls a year ago, although it feels more like a decade now. The new government was sworn in less than ten months ago on December 8. It had what must have been one of the roughest starts in the history of the Federal Republic, what with the ongoing pandemic, the war, the energy and cost of living crises and the ongoing climate crisis.

The incoming three-party coalition billed itself as an alliance for progress, which was a shrewd move: analyses of their respective manifestos by Marc Debus over at Mannheim show that they broadly agree on social-cultural issues but diverge on economic and fiscal policies.

Even in a more forgiving environment, this was bound to lead to conflicts within the coalition eventually. Under the current conditions, it helps to explain why two of the coalition’s leading men – Christian Lindner of the FDP and Robert Habeck of the Greens – are doing their best to block and outmanoeuvre each other, which in turn contributes to the government’s slide in the polls.

A spoof campaign poster featuing Christian Lindner
No money for the train? Drive a Porsche. Simples.

That brings me to this gem. One of the government’s most popular policies so far was the so-called 9-Euro-ticket, which gave access to all local and regional forms of public transport, anywhere in Germany, for a whole month, for the price of a takeaway pizza. This (wildly successful but sadly temporary) measure was the brainchild of the Greens. In return, the FDP got a temporary rebate on petrol and fuel. The former was more popular than the latter, and a broad coalition of civil society actors campaigned for an extension of the offer beyond August, pointing out that very affordable public transport is not just good for the environment but also a boon for the less well off – not exactly the electorate of the FDP, by the way..

Lindner (who is not only the minister for finance and the leader of Germany’s most pro-business party but also somewhat of a Porsche aficionado) nixed this idea, not just because he wants to go back to balanced budgets and is unwilling to save some money by, say, building fewer motorways, but also because he saw a “free lunch mentality” behind the proposal.

Yes, he said it like that, and this resulted in considerable backlash, but mostly from people who wouldn’t vote FDP anyway. Some, however, turned their anger into art. The poster, which popped up at my local commuter rail station, closely resembles the design that the FDP has used in their recent campaigns, including the large black-and-white picture of Lindner. The caption paraphrases Marie Antoinette: “No money for a ticket? Let them drive a Porsche”. But ours is a peaceful town, so his neck is safe for now.

Mar 302022
 

For better (seriously?) or worse (you betcha!), politics and religion are intimately intertwined. While everyone and their grandfather (and especially their grandfather) gets worked up about immigration from Muslim-majority countries, the more relevant development in much of Europe is secularisation.

Secularisation as a process has many facets (e.g. a decline of religious membership, practice, and beliefs). From a political and political science POV, the rise of political secularism is a particularly interesting aspect of it.

As an ideology, political secularism is well researched. But while there is a plethora of instruments for measuring religiousness, there is no instrument for measuring individual politically secular attitudes. These are not two sides of the same coin. Political secularism is not merely the absence of religiousness, but rather a world view which holds that religious beliefs should play no role in politics.

  • Arzheimer, Kai. “A short scale for measuring political secularism.” Politics and Religion online first (2022). doi:10.1017/S1755048322000104
    [BibTeX] [Abstract] [Download PDF] [HTML] [DATA]

    As religiousness is declining across democracies, scientific interest in secular orientations and their political implications is growing. One specific and particularly important aspect of secular attitudes is political secularism. Political secularism is not merely the absence of religiousness, but rather a world view which holds that religious beliefs should play no role in politics. While there are hundreds of survey instruments that measure the strength and content of religiousness, there is no comparable measure that taps into political secularism. In this research note, I briefly review the concept of political secularism and present a cluster of items which target it. Utilising data from four large population representative samples taken in the eastern and western states of Germany, I use Confirmatory Factor Analysis to show that these items form a short but internally consistent scale. This scale also displays convergent and discriminant validity. It may be readily used in future surveys.

    @Article{arzheimer-2022,
    author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
    title = {A short scale for measuring political secularism},
    journal = {Politics and Religion},
    year = 2022,
    volume = {online first},
    abstract = {As religiousness is declining across democracies, scientific
    interest in secular orientations and their political implications
    is growing. One specific and particularly important aspect of
    secular attitudes is political secularism. Political secularism is
    not merely the absence of religiousness, but rather a world view
    which holds that religious beliefs should play no role in politics.
    While there are hundreds of survey instruments that measure the
    strength and content of religiousness, there is no comparable
    measure that taps into political secularism. In this research note,
    I briefly review the concept of political secularism and present a
    cluster of items which target it. Utilising data from four large
    population representative samples taken in the eastern and western
    states of Germany, I use Confirmatory Factor Analysis to show that
    these items form a short but internally consistent scale. This
    scale also displays convergent and discriminant validity. It may be
    readily used in future surveys.},
    dateadded = {22-12-2021},
    doi = {10.1017/S1755048322000104},
    url = {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/secularism-measurement.pdf},
    data = {https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/XEKNYW},
    html = {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/scale-political-secularism},
    }

In a new publication (of which I am unduly proud), I present a short battery of items that tap into politically secular attitudes. Making use of data from four large representative surveys, I use Confirmatory Factor Analysis to show that these items form an internally consistent scale. I also demonstrate convergent and discriminant validity of this scale. To use the technical term, it’s a neat, short instrument that may be readily used in future surveys.

How do you measure political secularism at the individual level? 2

The article came out today in Politics & Religion (after a wait of almost Catholic proportions). It is published as Open Access under a Creative Commons licence. Replication data are also freely available, and if that is not enough, there is a lengthy appendix with even more tables. And here is my celebratory twitter thread 👇.

Jan 252022
 

My old chums at Essex have kindly invited me back to the departmental seminar. This used to involve tricky questions, questions that were really comments, and (afterwards, as this is not Downing Street), wine, cheese, and good company. These days, we have Zoom, which is better than nothing, I suppose.

My talk was based on a paper. that addresses two related question: why is the AfD so strong in Germany’s eastern states, and what role did/does the east play for the party. Here are my slides:

And If you find this remotely interesting, you may also want to have a look at this related presentation.

Jan 182022
 

The good folks at Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin have invited me for a talk about our ORA project on subnational contexts and the Radical Right in general, and some findings on the German case in particular. Here, our research question is whether the striking spatial differences in voting behaviour (including but not limited to the disproportionate strength of the AfD in the eastern states) are just the result of sorting (people being selected and self-selecting into certain places), or whether we can find evidence of true contextual effects and spatial clustering. It is all still very much work in progress, but if you are interested, here are my slides.

Jan 102022
 

My piece on the role that Germany’s eastern states – the territory of the former GDR – have played for the breakthrough and rise of the radical right Alternative for Germany has been “forthcoming” for a while. So long indeed that it was necessary to update this graph, which shows how (and where) electoral support for the AfD has waxed and waned between 2013 and 2021.

Update June 2022: It is still forthcoming, and I have updated the graph. Again.

 

Germany's AfD 2013-2022: much, much stronger in the eastern states 3

AfD support from 2013 until 2021

The strong gray line shows (smoothed) support for the Alternative in public opinion polls (FGW and Infratest). The boost in 2016 that followed the “refugee crisis” is clearly visible, as well as another peak in 2018 after the party entered the Bundestag. It is also clear that support for the party has declined since then and has been more or less stable through the pandemic.

The circles represent state election results, with black markers for the eastern and hollow markers for the western states. The difference in support is striking and remains stable over the whole period. There is also considerable variation within both blocks. “Mitteldeutschland” (the southern part of the former GDR) stands out as an AfD stronghold. If you squint a bit, you can also that the party dropped out of a state parliament for the first time in the 2022 Schleswig-Holstein election (bottom right corner).

Squares and diamonds represent the party’s results in nationwide (Bundestag and EP) elections. The east-west gap is very visible here, too. In the 2021 Bundestag election, the party won 20.5 per cent of the vote in the east, but only 8.2 per cent in the west.

Oct 042021
 

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.

Oct 032021
 
Germany's next government could be the most secular in decades 4

A week ago, Germany’s alliance of Christian Democratic parties posted its worst national election result ever: they lost nine points on their (already pretty disappointing) 2017 result. For what it’s worth, these results are in line with a long-term downward trend that was briefly reversed in the 2005 and 2009 elections.

Germany's next government could be the most secular in decades 5
CDU/CSU vote share in Bundestag elections 1949-2021

The Social Democrats emerged as the election’s big winner, partly because they improved on their abysmal 2017 result and emerged as the biggest party, but also because for a long time, the polls had suggested that they would fall well below 20 per cent. But from a historical perspective, their result is pretty weak. All this is hardly surprising, because party identification, or at least identification with the former main parties, has been in decline for a long, long time.

Germany's next government could be the most secular in decades 6
SPD vote share in Bundestag elections 1949-2021

Because no-one wants to form a coalition with the AfD, and because the Left is almost as isolated and moreover to weak to be a necessary part of a coalition, that leaves us with three options: the “traffic light” (SPD, Greens, FDP) and “Jamaica” (CDU, Greens, FDP) coalitions, and a reversed “Grand Coalition” (SPD/CDU). The latter has some limited use as leverage for the bigger parties and insurance against minority government and fresh elections, but is deeply unpopular with voters and also the respective parties.

Jamaica looked like a non-starter on election night and has become even less likely: the CDU (and to a much lesser degree the CSU) is in disarray, fighting over its leadership and future course. This would make them a very awkward partner for the smaller parties. Moreover, in the days after the election, the discourse has focused on the SPD winning and the CDU losing the election. Laschet, the CDU/CSU’s candidate for the chancellorship, always had terrible ratings and is widely seen as one important factor contributing to the Christian Democrats’ disaster. Installing him in the chancellery would hardly chime with the Greens’ and FDP’s message of reform and modernisation.

The most likely result of this is the “traffic light”, which would be Germany’s most secular coalition since (probably) the 1970s. Why is this? While this may change in the future, Germany is currently a typical “religious world” country, where conflict over the role of religion in public life is reflected in the structure of the party system. The name of Germany’s dominant party gives a strong hint: the religious/secular cleavage is embodied in the CDU/CSU. And this is not just tradition and the proverbial “C” in their name: At least in the 2009-13 Bundestag, MPs for the Christian Democrats had a surprisingly large number of affiliations with religious groups and institutions. However, the Greens scored almost as high on this measure.

Partymean number of affiliations
CDU0.6
CSU0.3
SPD0.3
FDP0.2
Greens0.5
Left0.1
Total0.4
Number of religious affiliations per MP in the 2009-13 Bundestag

An analysis of the crucial free vote that legalised Preimplantation Genetic Testing in Germany shows that even after controlling for these remarkable differences, MPs for the SPD and particularly the FDP were much more likely to support legalisation. This is in line with secular traditions in both parties. The FDP in particular has consistently voted for more liberal (again, the hint is in the name) bioethical rules.

On the other hand, the voting behaviour of Green MPs did not differ significantly from that of their CDU counterparts.1 Again, this is not terribly surprising: while the Greens are by and large a left-libertarian outfit, Christian movements for peace and the protection of the environment are part of their heritage. Winfried Kretschmann, their only Minister President, is a devout Catholic who runs a coalition with the CDU and likes to stress that they operate on a base of common values. The long-standing leader of their parliamentary party, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, studied theology (although she never graduated) and was the top lay person involved in the leadership of Germany’s Protestant Church as president of its synod from 2009-13. She also is in favour of compulsory religious education in schools and supports the (remaining) exemptions from workers’ rights for church-run hospitals, care-homes and kindergartens.

Of course, the numbers above are from 2011. Many new MPs for the Greens are very young, and I have no idea how important that Christian strain is for the new parliamentary party. Either way, with the Christian Democrats out of government, the new government will by definition be more secular than the last four, and bringing in the FDP might make them more secular than the Schröder governments. If and how this will affect actual policies is, of course, a different question that is way too nuanced for a blog post.

Footnotes:

1

Conversely, the CSU MPs displayed more restrictive preferences than anyone else.