The German Federal Elections (Bundestagswahl) are taking place in roughly a week on September 26th, and we wanted to give you all the information you need heading into the German Superbowl of politics. Here’s brief overview of what’s happened between last time you heard from us and now.
Where were we?
Back in July, the German political world looked quite different than it does now. Back then, the polls looked like this:
Where are we now?
If you plan on buying a lottery ticket anytime soon, you might want to call Mr. Scholz first because it seems the SPD-man has a magical crystal ball. As the SPD was experiencing a prolonged crisis that very few saw them getting themselves out of, Scholz remained calm and repeated the same message: when it gets to crunch time, the people will rally behind Scholz and his party. And, according to the latest poll numbers, all signs currently point to that being the case. As of September 15th, the SPD is leading the polls with around 25 percent, the CDU/CSU sits at 21 percent, and the Greens continue their downwards trend, clocking in at 16 percent. Let’s see how the individual parties got here.
As for the other three parties, we won’t go into detail, but the FDP and AfD are around the same percentage, while the Left party is experiencing a slight downward trend, raising concerns that the party may not even reach the 5 percent hurdle to enter the Bundestag. With all the changing trends we have to mention the still possible volatility. According to various polls, the share of voters who are still not sure for whom they will cast their vote could still be at around 40%. This is why we await an interesting final sprint from all parties.
Why the change?
In the shortest way possible, here is how we can explain the changing dynamics in the political climate over the past two months:
If you look at the SPD’s trend since June, it slightly resembles Gamestop stock from earlier this year: up and up and up. This would lead you to believe the SPD put the pedal to the metal in the past few months and really did everything they could to win over voters. Funnily enough, that hasn’t been the case. Rather, Olaf Scholz has adopted a strategy of “sit back and wait.” Unlike his competitors, Scholz, as current vice chancellor and Finance Minister, has previous Federal Government experience; and the SPD election campaign has positioned him exactly in this way. In a time when Germans are worried about a future without Angela Merkel, Scholz seems to communicate a certain steadiness. Furthermore, the SPD’s election program seems to resonate with the people with clear messages: higher wages, affordable rent, climate protection and respect (for jobs like caretakers and nurses for example). Also, it has to be said that Scholz has profited from the mistakes of others (see below).
While the CDU/CSU seems to have stabilized in the polls around 20 percent, Armin Laschet’s party is far from where it would like to be. The Christian Democrats’ main problem seems to not be the party itself, but rather their Chancellor-candidate. Even though Germans don’t directly elect the Chancellor, we love asking the question “but if you COULD… who would you vote for?” In these hypothetical polls, Armin Laschet has consistently come third out of three, and as of September 14th, only 11 percent of the population would directly vote Laschet into office. Furthermore, following the second debate between the three chancellor candidates, polls showed Laschet came across as the least sympathetic of the three, and significantly less competent than Scholz (26 percent and 49 percent respectively). And, although we don’t want to attach too much weight to this it needs to be mentioned: in an unfortunate series of events, back in July Laschet was shown on camera laughing while Federal President Steinmeier delivered a solemn speech, honoring the 184 victims of the floods in Western Germany. Shortly thereafter, the CDU/CSU’s poll numbers started to tank.
While the messages of the Green Party’s election program, swift action on climate change, improving digital competencies, and increasing European solidarity, seem to resonate with voters, their Chancellor-candidate is not. For starters, this Summer Annalena Baerbock faced allegations of plagiarism in her recently published book and embellishments on her résumé, which certainly didn’t help her public image. However, the deciding factor for the Green’s downward trends ultimately seems to be competency. For the aforementioned Chancellor question, Baerbock only polls around 15 percent, and while she is seen as the most sympathetic of the three candidates, she is also seen, by far, as the least competent. She has no previous government experience, and as the rubber meets the road for the elections, voters seem to be doubting whether Baerbock could fill Merkel’s shoes.
The house’s view
So, what does all this mean for the future of the German government, and what are the possible election outcomes? Here’s our take on the situation:
These days, German conservative politicians are warning a lot about the “red socks”. Have they all become Yankees fans? Probably not. On our side of the Atlantic, we don’t know much about baseball and “red socks” is the conservative code word for warning because of the possibility of a leftist or even communist government. Indeed, a coalition of SPD, Greens and the Lefts could potentially have a majority after the Federal Elections. And the conservatives, mainly the CDU/CSU but also the liberal FDP, hate that option (the far-right AfD, of course, also hates that but they hate everything, so who even cares?).
Currently, Olaf Scholz could become Merkel’s successor and would have some possible options to form his government. As already mentioned, the center left-wing coalition with the Greens and the Lefts would be possible (red-red-green). However, the Left party’s foreign policy targets are nonsense (anti-EU and anti-NATO), which turns off many German voters. This coalition would have the advantage that all parties’ social policy targets are quite in line when it comes to minimal wage, restructuring the current unemployment regime and some other points. However, the Lefts would need to assure that they have suddenly overcome their NATO and EU positions. So, it’s not that likely.
Ideally, Olaf Scholz would like to govern with the Greens alone, as the parties agree on foreign policy, social policy, and climate change. According to the polls, this option is at least not far out of reach. Should both parties need a third one for a majority it could be the time for Christian Lindner and his FDP, creating a so-called “traffic light coalition.” There are some conflicting positions on how to combat climate change, how to reform the social security system and so on. Still, Christian Lindner would have the chance of getting the Ministry of Finance for the FDP, which is most likely one of their deepest desires since quite a long time. So, who knows?
Nothing about the CDU/CSU, about Merkel’s (party) successors? No worries. Even if the CDU doesn’t become the strongest party, it could be that they try to form a coalition behind Olaf Scholz’ back. Their most realistic opportunity is the “Jamaica” coalition together with the Greens and the FDP. However, this would only be a likely scenario if the CDU/CSU doesn’t lose to the SPD by more than four percent, or the CDU/CSU comes out on top.
Lastly, some people are speculating whether we have another SPD and CDU/CSU coalition, just with changed majority roles. Even though that’s not completely unrealistic, one major goal of this election for the SPD was to oust the CDU/CSU. Building a coalition with them again would be highly unpopular.
No matter who becomes Chancellor and in which coalition, we expect the power of the Chancellor to be lower than before – should we face a government of four parties. The Chancellor could face some problems exercising his (or her) authority, given the fact that the share of votes for his (her) two coalition parties could be together higher than his (her) own parties’ share. This might cause conflicts, especially when unpopular decisions need to be made and has the potential to, at least partly, distort the way of governing we are used to here in Germany.
Stay tuned for more information from us following the elections, because then it really gets juicy. Who will be part of the governing coalition? What topics will receive particular attention? Where will we fit all the extra representatives voted into the Bundestag? We’ll answer all these questions and more, so keep an eye on your inbox.