Political Party Analysis: Social Democratic Party (Germany)

Will the “Schulz effect” be enough for the center-left SPD to retake power in Germany? (Photo from T-Online)


Overview and History

The Social Democratic Party (SPD) is the main center-left party in Germany, following a Social-Democratic ideology as their name implies.  They traditionally serve as the main competitor to the center-right CDU/CSU sister parties but currently serve as the junior coalition member in the “Grand Coalition” with the CDU.  The SPD is the oldest party in Germany, as the party was founded in 1863 and was re-founded following World War 2.  The party takes pride in being the main opposition to the rise of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP aka the “Nazis”) during the Weimar Republic.  Since then the SPD has led 6 out of the 18 governments and served as the Union’s junior coalition partners three times.  Their Chancellor-candidate, Martin Schulz, created a “Schulz effect” with his nomination, bringing the SPD into close contention with the CDU, but this high has worn off in recent months.

The SPD’s favored coalition partner is the center-left progressive Green Party, but it is rare that the two parties have a majority at the national level.  They also have formed coalitions with the libertarian Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the past, mainly before the Greens became a larger party.  Over the past few election cycles the SPD has lost more support to the Greens and the left-wing Die Linke party, causing problems for their hopes of retaking the Chancellorship from Angela Merkel, as the SPD and Die Linke have a contentious relationship.  This relationship means they are usually unwilling to work together at the national level, making a center-left and left-wing coalition almost impossible, though the two parties currently govern together in the states of Brandenburg, Thuringia, and Berlin.

A balloon with the logo of SPD is seen as Schulz, top candidate of the SPD for the upcoming federal election, gives a speech in Abensberg
The balloon that was the “Schulz effect” has popped, but can the SPD recover and prevent themselves from losing more ground? (Photo from Reuters)

 Recent Electoral History and Political Power

National Party Strength Ranking: 2nd

The SPD is the second strongest party in Germany heading into the election on September 24th.  Details on their control in specific areas are below.

Chancellor: The SPD has had 3 West German and German Chancellors.  The CDU and the SPD are the only parties to ever have a Chancellor.

Bundestag: In 2017 the SPD received 20.5% of the vote and 153 out of the 709 seats in the Bundestag, dropping 5.2% of the vote.  It finished in 2nd place, behind the CDU, with its worst electoral result since before World War 2.

Bundesrat: States send representatives on behalf of the state governing coalition to vote in the Bundesrat.  The SPD leads 7 of the 16 state coalitions and serves as a junior coalition partner in 4 state.  Effectively they lead coalitions worth 27 of the 69 votes in the Bundesrat and serve as junior coalition partner for 15 votes.

European Parliament: The SPD is a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats parliamentary group in the European Parliament.  In the 2014 European Parliament elections, the SPD finished in 2nd place, behind the the CDU, with 27.3% of the vote, earning 27 out of the 96 seats allocated to Germany.  They gained 6.5% of the vote and 4 seats.

State Parliaments: The SPD holds 516 out of 1,821 seats throughout the state landtags, which makes them the second strongest party throughout the states.

Projections for 2017 Election

According to opinion polling, the SPD is expected to finish solidly in second place, far behind the CDU/CSU union.  We project they will receive between 21% and 24% of the vote, slightly less than the 25.7% they received 4 years ago.  This is likely due to Die Linke, the FDP, and AfD all being on the rise (AfD is a right-wing party but has stolen voters from almost every party).  Martin Schulz’s “Schulz effect” won’t be enough this time around, as his more progressive stances generated an initial buzz that wore off in time.  The recent debate against Merkel also didn’t go well for him either, driving polls even lower.

As we discussed in our preview of the election, there is a possibility of the continuation of a Grand Coalition if the CDU and FDP don’t earn a majority of the seats and a Jamaica coalition fails.  The SPD will be likely hoping that doesn’t happen as they have suffered as junior coalition partners.  Regardless, they will be disappointed with these polls heading into the election as they were riding high early after Schulz’s nomination only to fall flat in the end.

Economic and Fiscal Policy

The SPD is a solidly center-left party on economic policy.  They follow the idea of intense regulation of the social market economy with an extensive welfare system to support the middle and lower classes.  With this, their platform for 2017 includes a new unemployment allowance for 4 years following the completion of training.  They also call for increased taxation on the rich while decreasing taxes for the poor and middle classes and introducing a tax on financial transactions.  On healthcare the SPD calls for more requirements for the employer to pay for healthcare and on education they call for free education from daycare through masters’ degrees.  On the environment the SPD calls for increased regulations and phasing out of coal power plants.  Minimum wages have to rise, manager salaries must be limited, women must be paid the same as men, and there must be a minimum amount of women on the board of directors of companies.  Finally, the SPD demands that the pension amounts must remain at the current percentage and the retirement age cannot be raised above 67.


Liberty Rating*: D

Social and Foreign Policy

The SPD is again a center-left party on social issues but does hold some center to center-right policies as well.  On the hot issue of immigration, the SPD calls for increased aid for refugees, openness to asylum grants, and the continued allowance of dual citizenship for two generations.  Interestingly it adopts a traditionally more rightist policy of a point-based system for immigration in general though.  They also want 15,000 new police stations and increased counter-terrorism tools though do not advocate complying with the 2% of GDP military spending mandate from NATO.  The SPD is very pro-EU, calling for a common EU economic policy and the powers of the EU parliament should be expanded.  A unique position of the SPD is their calling for a voting age of 16 instead of 18 as well.

Liberty Rating*:  C

Political Spectrum**

SPD Spectrum

Based on our liberty ratings for the SPD economic and social policies, they are are a center-left Social Democratic party.  They hold both center-left as well as some left-wing economic policies, causing the it to fall slightly inside the “moderate-left” sector instead of the “left” sector.  Socially, they fall inside of the “Moderate-left” sector sector due to their mix of open asylum policies as well as center-right immigration and security policies.

*Disclaimer: The policy positions in this article have been evaluated using Wikipedia, the party’s own website, and various articles concerning Germany politics.  We attempt to rate the parties based on all information that is available, but due to language barriers, lack of information, or simple mistake we may have missed something.  If you feel our liberty ratings or general evaluations are incorrect, please let us know on our contact page or nicely in the comments and we’ll try to fix it.  If you have questions on how these ratings are created, feel free to ask as well.

**This spectrum shows economic liberty on the right axis and social liberty on the left axis, so 100 on both axis is “pure” libertarianism and 0 on both axis is pure authoritarianism for example.

Author: Brendan Noble

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

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