Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, September 28, 2009

German Election Analysis

Or rather analysis of a German election...

In this past weekend's election in Germany (wikipedia has a nice results table here), the CDU-CSU lost fewer seats than the SPD and the FDP gained more seats than the Greens and The Left. This means that the next government will have the same Chancellor, Angela Merkel, but will have a much different overall composition. Where as most of the ministers in the outgoing government were from the SPD, this new coalition will be mostly made up of CDU-CSU ministers with a strong dose of FDP representation.

What does that add up to? Well, the Merkel has been rather publicly calling for re-regulation of financial markets as a response to the recession. My guess is that the FDP (a party known for its strong neo-classical liberal ideology) will resist that. Merkel also sought to make the war on terror a campaign issue. There again, the FDP may prove a less cooperative partner than anticipated. The FDP is staunchly libertarian in its ideology. I have a hard time seeing the FDP going along with re-regulation of financial markets or a more aggressive stance on the "war on terror" stuff.

Why did this result come about? Two reasons leap to mind. First and most importantly, whenever there has been a grand coalition (CDU-CSU and SPD) the smaller parties have gained at the expense of the bigger parties. That has certainly happened here. Both the CDU-CSU and SPD lost seats. Second, the left got creamed in the middle of a recession and an atmosphere of widespread criticism of capitalism. The FDP (the most pro-capitalist, anti-regulation party in Germany) won their biggest vote share and seat share in their history. But is this result really a rejection of Social Democracy? Maybe. But I think it is really a surge in voting based on nostalgia for the Wirtschaftswunder of the 1950s and the relative prosperity of 60s which was orchestrated by a series of CDU-CSU/FDP coalitions. Germans may associate the FDP with competent economic management because of that and the FDP have been out of government for a very long time. Germans, especially Western Germans, may want them to come in an reestablish the glory days.

AMENDMENT: The CDU/CSU did not lose seats. They did lose vote share but because of the nature of the German electoral system and rules governing the proportionality of the Bundestag, the CDU/CSU actually gained seats despite winning a lower percentage of the vote.


The Law Talking Guy said...

I have to believe that going from a grand coalition to a smaller coalition will make the government more effective in doing... something.

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, from the point of view of the number of parties, the coalitions are the same size (2 parties then and now). The real difference is going to be in the ideological make up and how that relates to the status quo.

The SPD and CDU/CSU were probably on opposites sides of the status quo for a lot of issues - that is, the SPD and CDU/CSU both wanted to change things but in opposite directions. The CDU/CSU differ mainly in degree not direction, so on economic issues, Germans will likely see some retrenchment of their welfare state and pro-business reforms of labor market regulations.

But the CDU/CSU and FDP are probably in disagreement about what course to take regarding financial regulations - something Merkel has spent a lot of time demanding. And the FDP probably will not want "to get tough on terror" if that means diminishing civil liberties protections.

This is like a coalition between George W. Bush and Barry Goldwater where Goldwater will actually have a veto over everything they do.

The Law Talking Guy said...

That makes it sound better than what we had with W alone.

Raised By Republicans said...

It is better than Chancellor Bush. Germans are very stable and reasonable these days.

"Once all the Germans were warlike
And mean
But that could happen again
We taught them a lesson
In 1918
And they've hardly bothered us since then"

Monkeyman said...

I don't think it's nostalgia. After all, the mediocre performance during the Kohl era should be much more in memory. I think largely the reason for this result is that the Social Democrats lost large support by meandering between two worlds. Originally being a pro-worker party they implemented a few reforms in their time in government that are widely perceived as "anti-social". Eg, they introduced "Hartz IV" which is a less generous welfare program than what Germans previously were used to. In short, to many people the SPD just does not seem trustworthy anymore. Also, RbR, I think comparing Merkel to Bush is not justified and in fact an insult to her.

Raised By Republicans said...

Monkey Man,

I think you are on to something about the Social Dems ideological meanderings. But if that were it, then why wasn't The Left the overwhelming beneficiary of their decline? Also, there has been more than one election result since the implementation of the Hartz IV reforms. The Social Dems lost some votes in the 2005 election but not nearly as many as this time around. You are focussing on the SPD decline but not looking at who benefited. The FDP was the big winner and they did with a strongly pro-free market platform. I think we either have to say that Germans have shifted in a free market direction (something I'm not convinced is really happening) or look for some other explanation. But saying it is all because the SPD sold out is only looking at half the picture.

As for insulting Merkel, of course I didn't mean to imply that she was stupid. Rather I was suggesting that the CDU/CSU's combination of religiously motivated social traditionalism with a willingness to engage in big government spending and regulation is similar to the Bush version of the Republican party and dissimilar from the Goldwater Republicans of past days. The FDP is more like the Goldwater people.

MonkeyMan said...


good point about the FDP. As you pointed out the small parties tend benefit from a Grand Coalition but beyond that I don't have an explanation for the FDP's success.

What I was trying to say about the SPD, but might not have made clear, is not so much that this loss is a direct consequence of Hartz IV; rather the party doesn't quite seem to know which course to follow. They are divided between returning to traditional working class politics and continuing Schroder's reforms. This might also be an explanation why not only the Left Party gained. People of the "new center" who got drawn to the SPD by Schroder might be more likely to go to CDU/CSU or FDP than to the Left Party. Also many former SPD voters just did not vote at all this time, so all other parties would benefit from a reduced base line effect.

PS. Thanks for elaborating on the Merkel / Bush comparison. I get it now, although I still think that the CDU/CSU is running on a much more moderate platform.

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, they are economically more moderate. But on social issues they are just as conservative as Bush - especially the CSU wing of the party. The CSU people are the types that want crucifixes in all the public school class rooms for example. And it was Christian Democrats more generally who were pushing (along with French politicians with ideologies like Christian Democrats like Giscard d'Estaing) this whole "Europe is a Christian Community" stuff in all the recent EU documents.

MonkeyMan said...

You are right about the crucifix thing. Otherwise I'd like to refer you to

"Furthermore, it’s not as if German conservatives are a bunch of crazy far-right nihilists. This is not the Republicans we’re talking about. Both the CDU and the FDP recognize the urgency of global warming. Neither of them has a problem with gays. (The FDP’s leader, soon to be foreign minister, is the country’s other openly gay political bigwig.) Nor do they have a problem with allowing a woman to end a pregnancy if she feels she must, or with telling kids to use condoms if they can’t resist having sex, or with the theory of evolution, or with gun control—or, for that matter, with “socialism.” The vast majority of Germans, including most CDU voters and probably even most FDP voters, have no desire to junk the basic architecture of German social welfare"

Are you sure they are just like Bush?

Raised By Republicans said...

No, the CDU-CSU is not exactly like Bush. Few people or political parties are. And I said before that the FDP was like Goldwater who also was pro-equal rights for gays and generally libertarian across the board.

But the CSU is much more socially conservative than the median German. Indeed, leaving out the far right parties like the NPD for the moment, the CDU-CSU are the most socially conservative parties in the German system.

So, yes, in the German context, they are like George Bush. Especially the CSU combines religiously (Christian) motivated, social conservatism with support for the existence of a large welfare state. That's more like Bush than any other mainstream party in Germany.

MonkeyMan said...

RbR, now I get it. I thought when you wrote "like Bush" you meant that they had the same agenda. What you're saying now sounds more like "the CDU/CSU have the same relative position in German politics that Bush holds in US politics". This sounds about right; certainly I totally agree with you that they are conservative. I guess tt wasn't clear to me that you had been speaking "in the German context". Sorry for the misunderstanding.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yeah, MonkeyMan, I think we're on the same page here - more or less. I see the CDU-CSU and Bush as being from the same kind of ideological family albeit with Bush occupying a more radical position within that group of ideologies.

What I find interesting is the combination of appealing to social traditionalism (typically a right wing platform element) with a willingness to engage in big government spending (typically a left wing platform element). The populist ideology that results can be very dangerous (as in Bush's case or Palin's). Right wing populism has been a prominent part of the politics of the CSU in particular for much of that party's history. Franz Jozef Strauss comes to mind as a German example.