What the German elections teach us

 This weekend’s German election has some lessons for our political context. Der Speigel sees a new German political pattern emerging from this:

After Sunday’s election, Germany’s political landscape has been shaken up, perhaps for ever. Angela Merkel’s conservatives will be able to form a coalition government with the business-friendly FDP, but the balance of power between the two parties has fundamentally shifted. And the once-powerful Social Democrats may never recover from their defeat.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has probably saved her chancellorship — but the price that her conservatives will have to pay for it is high. The election result for the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), is lower than in 2005. Nevertheless, she can form a coalition government with the business-friendly Free Democratic Party because support for the FDP has increased in a way that until recently pollsters would scarcely have thought possible.

Just as in the European elections, we are seeing a splinter of the political scene. On the left, the far left gained, the Greens gain, the centrist-left collapsed, the center-right shrunk slightly, and the liberal party gained massively. The right (center-right + liberals) has grown, but not hugely.

Several things to take away from this in the time of an economic downturn:

First, the appeal of libertarian positions has grown. Even in Europe and Germany there has been an anti-government, anti-entitlement, pro-reform movement that is growing massively. We see this here in the tea party movement.

The response to the economic crisis has been more freedom and less government. Somehow government is getting the blame, at the ballot box, for the downturn.

Second, the center-left has lost credibility, but the numbers on the left are still large if you include the far-left. It is hard to imagine a victory of the German left without the Left Party, but it is also questionable whether this turns off swing voters between the center-right and center-left. Some on the American left will try to learn the lesson that they need to move to the left — isn’t that always the lesson? — but one wonders if, like the SPD, the Democrats would suffer from highlighting their relationship with the far-left.

All in all, we are in a situation in which right-leaning parties are sweeping elections or performing at historic highs. These things happen in response to global events. It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues into the next year. 

 

 

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