2017 German Federal Election: A Preview

Will Angela Merkel’s CDU stay in power in Germany or will the “Schulz effect” finally lead to a new Chancellor? (Photo from Express.co.uk)

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Overview

Now that we’ve set up the background and overview of German politics, we can now take a took at their upcoming parliamentary elections, which will take place on September 24th of this year.

This election has been contentious and extremely interesting so far, with two additional parties set to enter the Bundestag and potentially difficult coalition negotiations.  The election is next week and the question has become not “who will be Chancellor,” but instead “who will Angela Merkel’s CDU form a coalition with?”  Marvin Schulz, the SPD’s Chancellor candidate, gave his party an initial boost with his nomination but his lackluster performance since then and in the debate has made it certain Merkel will win again.  The “Grand Coalition” between her center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) has been a somewhat awkward affair.  Merkel has pulled her party to the center and the right-wing has revolted, allowing the anti-immigration and Euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to carve out a section of her support for themselves.  While the two parties will again have a solid majority following the election, it is unlikely that either of them will hope for this outcome.  Junior coalition partners tend to suffer, as the SPD has, and Merkel will be hoping for a more friendly coalition with the libertarian Free Democrats (FDP).  Even that, though is unlikely to be the easy for her.  FDP leader and rising star Christian Lindner is hoping to recast his party apart from CDU.  They suffered greatly in 2013, falling out of the Bundestag for the first time after their previous coalition because the FDP swayed from its principles and acted more as Merkel’s lapdog than a party fighting for classical-liberal causes.  If the two parties manage to obtain a majority then it is the most likely coalition, but Merkel will not be able to bend the FDP to her will like she has in the past.

The major topics of the election have ranged from commonly debated issues such as the economy, education, internal security, healthcare, and the environment to the most hot topic: the refugee crisis.  Each party has also attempted to bring in their own issues on the side, but they haven’t had a large impact on the election.  Immigration and asylum seekers have been a thorn in Merkel’s side since she was very light-handed in regulating refugees and nearly every party is attempting to attack her over that, especially the AfD.

Polling and Projections

German_Opinion_Polls_2017_Election
Angela Merkel’s CDU has consistently led in polling over the past few months (CDU percentages include the support for their sister party, CSU, which only runs in Bavaria).  Graph from Wikipedia

German polling data has shown that consistently that the FDP and the AfD will break the 5% threshold and enter the Bundestag after both fell just short four years ago.  While the CDU has consistently held the lead in polls after the “Schulz effect,” caused by the nomination of Marvin Schulz as the SPD candidate, wore off, “The Union” is expected to fall short of the 41.5% they received in 2013.  Though polls have ranged, they will likely finish between 36% and 39% of the vote.  The SPD’s high wore off and they’ll likely finish just short of last election as well, receiving between 21% and 24% of the vote.  It is almost certain that CDU/CSU will win the plurality of seats unless something drastically changes things in the next week.

The interesting battle is actually for third place as the four more minor parties compete to have more influence.  Die Linke were considered the leader for third place before AfD’s recent resurgence this month, bringing them equal to or slightly head of Die Linke and the FDP.  AfD is the least stable of those parties though, so anything could happen.  We predict Die Linke to finish with between 9% and 10.5% of the vote, up from their results in 2013.  AfD’s rise has been fluctuating, as they hit higher than 15% earlier this year, but they fell only to rise slightly again.  These changes make it hard to predict their results, but we project them to finish with between 8% and 12% of the vote.  The FDP, on the other hand, has been on the rise, with them polling at their highest point in over 5 years.  Christian Lindner’s leadership and young spirit has given the old party new life and we project them to finish with between 8% and 10% of the vote.  The Greens, while technically in the running for third, have fallen behind in recent months and are expected to receive between 6% and 8% of the vote.

There are plenty of minor parties in Germany, including the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party, but none are expected to reach anywhere near the 5% cutoff point.  The 6 (technically 7 since the CDU and CSU are separate parties though a union) parties are already a large amount for the German system, so it is unlikely a new party will rise without another falling below the 5% threshold.

 

christian-lindner-fdp
Christian Lindner’s reborn Free Democrats could be Merkel’s best friends or yet another thorn in her side in coalition negotiations.  (Photo from Web.de)

Possible Coalitions

The ranges on potential results are extremely important, since one or two percent can change who ends up with a majority.  Due to the list vote, polls predict 4% to 5% of the vote will go to parties falling below the 5% threshold.  This means a coalition will need around 47.5% to 48% of the vote for a majority of seats.  If we do a right-left split, the seemingly natural coalitions would be the SPD, the Greens, and Die Linke on the left and the CDU, CSU, FDP, and AfD on the right, but that is not the case.  As discussed in our previous article, every party has stated they will not form a coalition with the AfD due to their perceived extremism, and the SPD and Die Linke are not usually willing to work together.  Using this split for a moment, though, the leftist parties are expected to receive around 40% of the vote and the rightist parties are expected to receive around 55% of the vote.  The center-right and right-wing are far stronger in Germany ahead of this election, but due to the CDU and FDP being unwilling to work with the AfD there is not a guaranteed majority for the right.

If a three-way Classical Liberal/Christian Democrat/Right-Wing Populist coalition is impossible, what are the alternatives for the CDU (or even the SPD)?  Firstly, the continuation of the Grand Coalition could occur, but as earlier stated, the SPD especially does not want that to happen again.  Regardless, it is a potential outcome if other options fall through for the CDU.  Merkel’s preferred option is a black-yellow coalition with the FDP.  Despite Lindner’s resilience, it is highly unlikely this would not happen if the two parties receive a majority.  A more FDP favorable agree would probably occur, though, as Lindner has explicitly stated they would need liberal reforms in order to form a coalition.  Currently the two parties are combined polling around 45% to 47%, just short of a majority, so a few percentage points make a huge difference.  If black-yellow falls short of a majority, the alternative that would make all three parties grit their teeth is a Jamaica coalition (black-yellow-green, named after the colors of the Jamaican flag).  The Greens, though often slightly more progressive than their SPD counterparts, are likely going to be more willing to work with the CDU than the Social Democrats.  Negotiations between the CDU and the Greens failed after the 2013 election and that was without having to make the liberals with with the Greens.  A Jamaica coalition would be a complicated balancing act, as Merkel would have to keep her party, the FDP, and the Greens happy without alienating the right-wing of her party further.  That actually makes the Grand Coalitions seem attractive, which isn’t an easy thing to do.  If black-yellow doesn’t get a majority, Merkel and the CDU are going to have their work cut out for them establishing a coalition with limited options available.  If all else fails the CDU and FDP could try to form a minority government coalition, but that would be ugly and unlikely to work.

The SPD is not going to swoop in and take the Chancellorship, even if the CDU can’t work out a majority.  Working with their favorite partners, the Greens, would get them to 30% at best.  Even if they get over the hurdle of working with Die Linke, a red-red-green coalition would still not have a majority.  A traffic-light coalition with them, the Greens, and the FDP would be both unlikely (due to Lindner’s animosity towards the center-left parties) and still short of a majority.  The only way the SPD could form a government is the ridiculous idea of a red-red-green-yellow coalition, which the FDP would never agree to and which still may not reach a majority.  This time around the SPD will either need to accept a junior coalition partner spot with the CDU or be satisfied with opposition.  This is not their year.  The “Schulz effect” peaked and died off, and even he could not beat Merkel.

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Merkel and the CDU are set to rule yet again, but her coalition might not be what she had hoped for.  (Photo from Der Tagesspiegel)

Conclusion

Germany (and previously West Germany) has usually been one of the most stable republics in Europe when it comes to forming governments.  The survival of the Grand Coalition shows that, but right-left coalitions tend to not last long.  This could be the first time in either West Germany or since reunification that there may be a three party coalition (if you count CDU/CSU as one party).  That brings potential instabilities of its own, and no one knows how a Jamaica coalition would end up.  Merkel will be hoping for a black-yellow majority, but the gains from the AfD will be a thorn in her side that will be difficult to ignore for much longer.  When potentially over 20% of the vote is going to parties on the right and left that are unlikely to work to form a coalition then negotiations will be difficult.  We will have to see how the AfD’s relationship with the center-right and Die Linke’s relationship with the center-left evolve after this election and beyond.

Merkel will be Chancellor, but will she govern comfortably?  That is the question that won’t be answered until the 24th or potentially even later.  Coalition negotiations could get rough, but if it’s any consolation for Merkel, she can be lucky she’s not trying to form a 6 party coalition in the Netherlands.

Stay tuned for our party by party analysis ahead of the election as well as our election night coverage on twitter (@NobleReasoning).

Author: Brendan Noble

I am a political consultant, data-analyst, Hillsdale College economics alumnus, and conservative-libertarian. Twitter: @Brendan_Noble

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