Is there a political gender gap amongst young Germans?
Gender gaps are everywhere, but there are some places where they are less likely. According to the authors, young Germans represent a least likely case for gender differences in political activity: female levels of educational attainment are actually higher than male ones, and adolescence is a time (for many) before those aspects of family life kick in that tend hold women back.
But as it turns out, “least likely” is actually “not determinstically likely, but very likely”. The authors find substantial differences in the socialisation of young men and women, which are linked to rather dramatic differences in internal efficacy and self esteem. They also uncover evidence that men benefit more from factors that contribute to political activity, particularly in institutional settings. Intriguing, depressing, hardly surprising.
Pfanzelt, H., & Spies, D. C. (2019). The Gender Gap in Youth Political Participation: Evidence from Germany. Political Research Quarterly, 72(1), 34–48. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1065912918775249
What we liked
Students were over the moon. They praised the clear structure, the strength of the theoretical argument, the clear exposition and the empirical strategy. Also (for once), this was about something that they actually deemed relevant. According to them, this was easily the best paper that we read all winter. I agree.
What we did not like so much
Nothing to declare.
Over the last five years or so, investigative journalists in Germany have uncovered several far-right networks within police forces and amongst active soldiers and reservists. In some cases, large amounts of weapons, ammunition and other provisions were stolen and stashed away in preparation for a future civil war. A whole host of these cases involve the KSK, a special forces unit. Germany’s Military Counterintelligence Service, which historically was somewhat reluctant (cough, cough) to address this problem, now says that the right-wing extremism within the ranks has reached “a new dimension”. The agency is currently investigating more than 600 cases of alleged right-wing extremists within the forces. 20 of those concern members of the KSK. It is good and well that the minister is starting to take the problem of right-wing extremists in the KSK and elsewhere more seriously, but it is also a little late.
Authoritarian regimes like to make use of the arts for conveying their message, and arguably, architecture is particularly great when it comes to propaganda. After a regime change, many of these buildings are still useful and in some cases even aesthetically pleasing. So what do you do? I found this article about Italy’s allegedly complacent approach to Fascist architecture quite interesting, but I think the comparison with Germany is a bit unfair: first, many problematic buildings were simply destroyed in the war, second, a lot of the surviving buildings have a dodgy past that is too conveniently forgotten. Case in point: in the 1930s, about 30 amphitheatres (“Thingstätten”) were purpose-built for indoctrination. Many of them survived and are used to the present day for open air concerts.
I’m currently working on a paper that looks into the role that Germany’s eastern states (aka “the new Länder”, the ex-GDR …) played for the breakthrough and the consolidation of the “Alternative for Germany” party. This figure shows support for the AfD from 2013 to 2020.
The graph is a teeny-weeny bit busy, so here is the extended legend ? Circles are results from state (Länder elections), labelled with state codes. Squares are Bundestag, diamonds are European parliamentary elections. Filled symbols represent eastern Länder, or partial results for the eastern states only (Bundestag and EP elections). Hollow symbols represent the western states/partial western results. The blue line is the (locally smoothed) average over about 200 national elections polls from the Politbarometer (FGW) and Deutschlandtrend (Infratest-dimap) series. There are four main observations.
The eastern vote share is consistently at least two times as high as the western vote share
Not exactly a new finding, but the AfD does much better in the east than in the west. In fact, so much better that some observers see the party as specifically eastern problem. This is not correct, but the difference is striking. Even in the 2013 Bundestag election (when the AfD campaigned as a soft-eurosceptic, “liberal-conservative” outfit), the party was clearly more popular in the east. Possible reasons: fewer partisans, lower levels of institutional trust, more xenophobia.
The AfD might not have survived 2015 without the eastern states
Almost exactly 5 years ago, the AfD was almost falling apart (also see just about every other of my blog posts from that period). Support for the party fell below 5 per cent (also see the section after the next), prominent members threatened to leave or simply went. The FAZ called them, in their professional journalistic assessment, “a laughing stock”. Radically transformed (see what I did here?), the party bounced back in 2016, but during this period, their only full-time politicians with access to funding and the media (apart from two remaining MEPs) were about 30 state-level MPs who had won seats in the 2014 series of elections in Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia – incidentally on platforms that presaged the AfD’s trajectory towards the Radical Right.
What role did Germany's eastern states play for the breakthrough & consolidation of the #AfD? 4 observations: vote share consistently 2-3 times higher; party might not have survived 2015 w/o east, until 2017, eastern (state) MPs outnumbered western by large margin. pic.twitter.com/8Iv7BfoZf9
— Kai Arzheimer ?? (@kai_arzheimer) May 28, 2020
Eastern state MPs outnumbered their western counterparts until 2017
It’s not directly visible in the graph, but: the higher vote share in the east (combined with the electoral calendar, the relatively large number of eastern states, and the disproportionate size of small-state legislatures) meant that until the Bundestag election in September 2017, there were twice as many AfD (state) MPs in the east. Although the east has just over one fifth of the population and about the quarter of the AfD members, a large chunk of the party elite was recruited (though not necessarily born) in the east. Even after the 2017 election, about half of the MPs (state and federal) were eastern.
The AfD’s downward trend began long before Corona
Journalists love a good story, and they like to link the AfD’s current underwhelming performance in the polls to the fact that people are weary of populists in a crisis, and the AfD’s mixed messages on COVID. But it is also clear that the AfD’s support in national polls peaked in 2018. The declining salience of immigration and the revelations on right-wing extremists within and around the AfD have not exactly helped. Support for the party has ebbed and flowed before, and local polynomial regression by design tends to exaggerate trends at the margins of a plot, but it is clear that support began to fall months before Corona became the dominant issue in Germany and elsewhere.
Der Verfassungsschutz nennt ihn einen Rechtsextremisten. Jetzt hat die AfD Andreas Kalbitz die Mitgliedschaft aberkannt. Einen Richtungswechsel sieht die politische Konkurrenz darin nicht.
The good folks at Handelsblatt interviewed some colleagues and me, and someone on the other side of the channel asked me to translate my part. For what it’s worth, here it is ?
“What do you make of the ”new“ disaffection with the government’s COVID-19 policies and the anti-lockdown protests?”
First, a degree of disaffection is perfectly understandable. Also, critiquing the government is part of returning to normality. However, if you look a bit closer, many of the actors involved in the recent protests are part of the radical right or even belong to outright right-wing extremist groups. Like they did with the 2014 “vigils for peace” movement, far right groups are trying to build an alliance with their opponents at the opposite end of political spectrum, not least by appealing to the legacy of the peaceful revolution in the GDR. Well-known merchants of conspiracy theories and esoterics are also part of the package.
“Will the AfD [the major radical right party in Germany] benefit from this? Is this the beginning of a new political movement, comparable to the 2014/15 vigils or the anti-asylum demonstration in 2015/16?”
The 2014/15 cross-spectrum alliance never really took off in terms of popular support. The 2015 anti-asylum protests, on the other hand, were part of the bigger far right movement that had existed for decades. The AfD has been building bridges to this movement since 2015 and, insofar, is already benefiting from it. At the moment, I don’t think that there is much additional potential that they could tap into.
“What is the implication of this for the wider German society, and how should politicians respond?”
It was always clear that the rally ’round the flag effect would not last for ever. A return of dissent and (partisan) conflict over the right strategy and measures was to be expected, and is also necessary for a liberal democracy.
But these demonstrations are only a small and by no means the most significant part of this conflict. For various reasons, they attract a lot of media attention: people openly break the rules on social distancing, there is not much else to report about, and some of the claims and slogans are really out of this world. But actors within parties, civil society, and the media should think long and hard if these demonstrators are really suitable allies for them, and whether they should be paid much attention at all.
Since then, the debate in Germany’s editorials has never fully stopped. While “liberation” has been the dominant narrative for a while, there are still conservative holdouts that point to the military defeat and ensuing loss of territory.
An initiative to make May 8 a national holiday on its 75th anniversary has come to naught. In a statement that resonates with Trumpian “good people on both sides”, Alexander Gauland, the AfD’s godfather, pointed out that May 8 “is ambivalent. It was a day of liberation for the inmates of concentration camps. But it was also a day of utter defeat …”. Think about this, and the implications, for a second.
Somewhat surprisingly, the general public has moved on from this stale debate a while ago. A survey by infratest dimap shows that like in 2005, more than 75 per cent of the population see May 8 as liberation, while a mere 5 per cent think of defeat, with the rest being ambivalent or not willing/able to answer the question.
The breakdown by party supporters is striking, but not really surprising: more than 30 per cent of the AfD’s supporters see the end of the war as a defeat, for all other parties, this number is in the low single figures. I leave the fact that the FDP has by far the highest number of ambivalents as an exercise for the reader.
Today, I’m even happier to report that Sofia has shared the final product on youtube. Very chuffed, obviously.