Interpreting the German Election

Written by: Cameron Yonan

Germany’s election results this past September were historic. Candidates from various backgrounds, including six new members under the age of 25, were elected. Germany has six major federal parties on a spectrum between left and right and like most countries, in recent years, younger representatives are getting elected. In the Bundestag, the German Federal Parliament, the six new young members are from either the leftist Green Party or the Social Democratic Party. All six were selected because of their support for the climate and other progressive social policies relating to housing and LGBTQ issues. 

Germany is a federal republic, with a parliamentary democracy. In the Bundestag,  members are directly elected. In addition, the Bunderstrat are state representatives who represent each of the 16 German states’ interests. Federal elections occur roughly every four years, and the newly elected Bundestag selects a Chancellor. The average age of the 2021 Bundestag members is 47.3 years old; the female average age is 45.5 years old, and the male average age is 48.2 years. The Bundestag is male-dominated, although the number of women rose to 256 members, including trans women, for the first time. Overall, the Bundestag is bigger than ever with a whopping 736 seats, far exceeding the minimum number of 598 seats. 

Each German voter gets two votes in a federal election. The first vote is for a representative to represent the local district. The second vote is for a political party, in which candidates are on party lists and are ranked. Germany’s unique and mixed political system comprises a blend of plurality and proportional representation. 

Germany has six major federal parties, which range ideologically from left to right.

Descriptions of Each Party Starting From the Left: 

-The Left is a radical, left-wing party, with a party platform based on taxing the high-income brackets and renegotiating NATO and other defense partnerships. 

-The Greens are a leftist party, focused on social and economic policies, with the primary goal of combating climate change. 

-The Social Democratic Party (SPD) is the main left of center party and is focused on racial and social inequalities in Germany. 

-Christian Democratic Union of Germany and its sister party, the Christain Social Union in Bavaria (CDU/CSU) is the main right of center party, favoring low taxes and conservative-liberal values. 

-Free Democratic Party (FDP) is more libertarian, focuses on low taxes and deregulation, and shares many of the same views as the CDU/CSU. 

-Alternative for Germany (AfD) is the right-wing populist party, born out of anti-EU sentiments and desires to return to traditional German values like the nuclear family. Their positions, like anti-immigration and anti-abortion, are conservative and they favor Christian values. 

Coalition building 

Grand Coalition with CDU and SPD

For the majority of the last decade, the Grand Coalition has held the most power in Germany. This was a combination of the CDU/CSU and the SPD, which in 2017 held 53 percent of the vote combined. This partnership looks unlikely to reform due to the 2021 election results, which showed a shift in voters’ priorities toward climate change and overall signalled a desire for a new leading party after a decade of the CDU in power. 

In the 2021 federal election, the SPD narrowly won a majority of seats with 25.7 percent of the vote which garnered 206 seats. The CDU/CSU got 24.1 percent of the vote (196 seats).  Since the two largest parties have less than 50 percent of all of the seats, a Grand Coalition majority was impossible. Since no two parties could hold a majority, Germany now looks to build a new government via coalition building. 

The most likely coalition will be the Traffic Light Coalition, aptly named for the SPD (red), FDP (yellow) and Greens (green). Combined, this coalition would hold 52 percent of the seats in the Bundestag and provide a majority. Ideologically, the traffic light coalition shares many policy goals in common like support of education, national security, and progressive climate policies.

Another potential coalition is the Jamaica coalition, named for the Greens, FDP, and the CDU/CSU. The main issue with this coalition is the ideological gap between the Greens and the CDU/CSU, which could potentially make a contract between the parties difficult. 

The election results are surprising, especially the shift from big tent parties to smaller parties-particularly the Greens, who nearly doubled the amount of seats they had in 2017. Germany has typical voter turnout floating in the 70 percent range, and hit 76 percent turnout this year. In addition, the AfD lost seats compared to 2017, which might signal a change in European populism movements. The CDU/CSU held power for nearly two decades with Chancellor Angela Merkel, and started 2021 quite high in the polls (around 36 percent), held 24 percent on election day, and now is currently at 20 percent. The CDU/CSU should have easily won this election, especially based on the trends from recent years. The fate of the CDU/CSU rested in CDU leader Armin Laschet’s hands, but he was not able to draw voters in or retain fans of Merkel, especially as the CDU/CSU voter base continued to age. Voters 70 years of age and older voted in large numbers for the CDU/CSU and SPD. However, voters under 25 largely voted for the FDP and the Greens, rather than the traditional big tent parties

Overall, the major changes in how Germans voted signifies the end of two-party dominance and the growing importance of climate change to voters, as one of the top issues in polling along with the Climate hunger strikes. Another consideration in regards to how the CDU/CSU performed is the importance of Merkel and the voters she brought with her.  Merkel is known for her global leadership in the Euro-Crisis and the migrant crisis. Merkel spent 16 years as the Chancellor of Germany and will remain in a caretaking capacity until the new government is formed and elects a chancellor. The incoming government is hoping to be ready by December, according to party members from the SPD, Greens, and FDP. The three parties have started negotiations to form the new government, but face challenges trying to coordinate between each party’s policies. Negotiations take time-Merkel’s last coalition negotiations lasted five months.