It is to have a CDU+FDP government too (unless a Left Party challenge of the state’s seat allocation rules leads to a ruling correcting the situation that black-yellow have a majority of seats with a minority of the vote).
Daniel Hannan, writing in a Telegraph blog, argues that proportional representation would be a bad model for the UK to follow. Why?
for much of the post-war era, German (or West German) governments have tended to fall between elections, as a result of shifting parliamentary coalitions, rather than at elections.
There is one key problem with that argument: it is false. We could grant him the example of the FDP switching partners in 1982 and changing government from SPD-led to CDU-led before the end of a term. At least in recent decades, that is the only example we could grant him.
The far more relevant fact about that example is that an early election the following year confirmed what everyone knew from opinion polls: there was a majority for a center-right government. Yet more relevant is the fact that elections in Germany that have failed to produce a pretty clear mandate for the government that formed have been the exception rather than the rule. (Off the top of my head, 1966, 1998, and 2005 would be about the only cases that fail the electoral-responsiveness test. Can FPTP in Britain claim to be more electorally “efficient” than that? Maybe–just maybe–if we don’t include proportionality as part of our conception of efficiency, but we should include both accountability and representativeness.)
Hannan also claims that “German politicians, as a result of the party list system, must fawn on their party leaders even more abjectly than their British counterparts.” That, too, is debatable, but I’ll leave the counterargument to readers more versed in intra-party politics in the two countries.
This is not exactly current, but I took some notes from DW-TV (English) newscasts about the party leaders’ debates prior to the recent German election (and then neglected to build an entry around them). So, for the sake of posterity, here are the notes themselves.
There are some interesting angles on coalition positioning and federalism, especially regarding the controversial deal on Opel, in here. But I want to call attention to what had to be one of the best lines in the campaign, when the Green leader said that he is determined to prevent a CDU-FDP coalition: “it would mean no money for education, a blow for fighting climate change, and a return to nuclear power. Even the party colors of black and yellow are used in the symbol for radioactivity.” Zing!
The rest of my rather fragmentary notes follow, on an inside branch. (more…)
Perusing the results of last Sunday’s German election (thank you, Adam Carr), one thing that jumps out at me is the high–by standards of Germany’s proportional system–disproportionality.
The CDU/CSU won 239 seats, out of a total of 622, for 38.4% of the seats. These parties (which we can, following convention, treat as one in national politics) won 33.8% of the party-list vote. So they had an Advantage Ratio of 1.137. That is rather high, given that the proportionality in Germany is calculated on a national basis. It is higher than the CDU/CSU had in 2005 (1.046) or the SPD in 2002 when it was the largest party (1.081). In fact, not since at least 1969 has the largest party ever had an advantage ratio over 1.10, a level that was reached only in 1990 (the first post-unification election, which was held under slightly different rules). So the CDU/CSU did exceptionally well in this election, beating the limits of proportionality by a good margin.
The greater leading-party advantage ratio is not simply attributable to more below-threshold votes. The combined vote for parties that individually failed to win 5% of list votes in this election was 6.0%, which is not exceptionally high. For instance, the total sub-threshold vote was 5.9% in 1998, although it was lower in the two intervening elections (3.0% in 2002, 3.9% in 2005). (In the last pre-unification election, 1987, it was only 1.3%! Very low sub-threshold shares were typical of the long period of stable three- or four-party politics in West Germany.)
Even without the sub-threshold votes included in the denominator, the CDU/CSU Advantage Ratio would be 1.067, which would remain high for a national proportional system.
Of course, a key feature of Germany’s proportional system is its mixed-member (MMP) character, and specifically its provision for “overhangs.” If a party wins, at the nominal tier of single-seat districts, a number of seats greater than its party-list votes would entitle it to, it naturally gets to keep these extra seats. Seats are then added to the parliament in order to compensate the other parties, but even after compensation the party that has won the overhang keeps some of the advantage. I think of it as a reward for local strength, and thus as a natural feature of a system that is as much mixed-member as it is proportional.
Because of the additional compensation feature, the new German Bundestag will have 323 list seats and 299 nominal-tier seats. The total of 622 is eight more than in 2005 (when the starting point was, as this year, 299 in each tier).
Much of the overhang appears to have resulted from strategic coalitional ticket-splitting: some substantial share of voters chose the CDU or CSU local candidate, but gave their party-list vote to the likely coalition partner, the FDP. Of course, this is by no means the first time we have seen such voting, but the scale of it this time seems rather large.
Consider that the FDP obtained 14.6% of the party-list vote, but only 9.4% of the nominal-tier vote. (I know the list vote is its highest ever, by a good margin, and I am sure the nominal vote is also its highest, but I do not have such votes immediately available for all past elections.)
It is worth noting that this sort of strategic ticket splitting would have contributed to the voter’s favored coalition only if the single-seat district in question would be an overhang for the bigger party. It would be interesting to know whether ticket-splitting was systematically higher in these overhang districts (and perhaps in some near misses), as the strategic coalition splitting argument would imply (at least if we assume voters are sufficiently informed to know the shape of the contest in their own district).
So the likely next government of CDU/CSU and FDP will be formed by parties that won a combined 48.4% of the list votes and 48.8% of the nominal votes. Not much difference there. It will have 332 of the 622 seats, or 53.4%. Even if we (inaccurately) treated all of this vote as a joint governmental vote, we would still have an advantage ratio of 1.103. I do not know how that compares historically, but it must still be on the high side.
Did the overhang seats make the difference between a CDU/CSU + FDP majority and a “hung” parliament? I do not think so, but it was a close call. I hope others who have followed the German election can offer their insights on this “disproportional” outcome. (Again, disproportional only in the context of Germany’s highly proportional rules.)
Thomas notes that this site has very interesting information about the electoral system, overhang (surplus) seats,* etc. (mostly in German).
A very big question–and one to which we might not know the answer right away–is how many overhang seats the CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats or “conservatives”) will have. They could get 15 or more, in which case they and the FDP (Free Democrats or “liberals”) could have a combined majority of seats even if their (party-list) votes total only 47% or so.
In addition, this election could see one of the highest shares of below-threshold votes in many years. A party needs 5% of the list vote to win seats,** and thus any votes cast for parties that fall below this level are “wasted.” The national proportional allocation (Before taking into account overhangs) is calculated on the “effective” vote, that is the votes for all parties that clear the 5% hurdle. There are no parties aside from the current five in parliament that will clear the threshold, but most polls put the combined micro-party vote at around five percent.
* Overhang seats are single-seat districts won by a party in excess of its total proportional entitlement. That is, a (modestly) disproportional element of Germany’s mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, which rewards parties for having strong local support, or popular candidates.
** Or three single-seat districts won; there are no parties in this election with any chance of winning even one single-seat district without also getting over 5%.
Two different polling companies have registered recent drops for the Free Democrats, and both suggest that a potential coalition of the FDP and Christian Democrats may fall short of a majority. Both parties’ leaders have publicly stated they desire to govern together, but it may not be possible. If it is not, then either the Greens would have to be brought in, or the current Grand Coalition (with the Social Democrats) would be renewed.
A recent poll suggests that Germany’s Christian Democrats and Free Democrats could fall short of a joint majority after federal elections on 27 September.
The N24 TV poll shows their combined support at 48%, which could be just enough. In any case, it looks like a closer call than it has seemed till now. The poll also shows the combined center-left (SPD, Linke, and Greens) at 48%. However, it would be a total reversal of SPD promises if these parties joined up in a coalition at the federal level.
In Thuringia state, however–one of three sates to have gone to the polls in late August–a broad center-left coalition was perceived as likely immediately after the election. However, DW-TV reported today that a SPD-CDU grand coalition (mirroring the outgoing federal government) is now seen as more likely. (I get DW via Link TV, so no link of the hyper variety is available to the referenced news item.)
Today three German states held assembly elections, the last before the federal general election on 27 September.
While Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union) are riding high in most polls for the federal election, the party took “heavy hits” in two of these state elections.
The CDU will remain in power in Saxony, but is likely to be displaced by broad left coalitions in Saarland and Thuringia.
In the western German province of the Saarland, the CDU had ruled alone after pulling in 47.5 percent of the vote in 2004. Projections from Sunday’s election say the party will receive just 35 percent of the votes, which could lead to a coalition between the center-left Social Democratic Party, the Left Party and the environmentalist Green Party.
If the Left Party enters a coalition in the Saarland, it would be the first time the party, which is composed of former East German communists and disaffected SDP members, joins a government in western Germany.
A previous western attempt at SPD-Left collaboration in Hesse fell apart when SPD* backbenchers rebelled. However, the federal party leadership has given the green light (so to speak) to state parties to form coalitions with the Left and the Greens, where local conditions make it viable. If such arrangements work out, they could be models for future cooperation at the federal level. Such cooperation may be the only way the SPD can return to power–aside from a possible return or continuation of the current Grand Coalition with the CDU/CSU–in four or eight years’ time, given the drubbing the SPD likely will take in the upcoming federal election. Although the Greens are likely to do well, there is no chance of a repeat of the SPD-Green coalition that ruled from 1998 to 2005.
In fact, the only way the Greens will get back into federal power any time soon is if, contrary to current polling, the CDU/CSU and Free Democrats (FDP) fall short of a majority. In such a scenario, bringing the Greens in is actually more likely than a continued Grand Coalition (which obviously has not been good for the SPD). There was a report on DW-TV a few weeks ago that noted the considerable overlap in constituencies between the FDP and Greens that would make cooperation more plausible than it might at first seem. (Merkel might even welcome such a coalition, as a way to balance the very liberal [not in the American sense] budgetary and tax policy preferences of the FDP.** However, at this point it still seems unlikely to happen.)
In Saxony, the FDP made gains, and is likely to govern in coalition with the CDU. The anti-immigrant National Democratic Party held on to some seats, having barely remained above the 5% threshold, in the Saxon parliament.
Voter turnout was high in Thurngia and Saarland, the two states where voters have turned against the CDU.
* It is interesting that DW uses “SDP” for the party’s acronym in English, whereas most US and British news organizations use the German acronym SPD. I am just more used to thinking of the party as the SPD.
** She had some troubles from the right side of economic policies, from within her own party, in the 2005 campaign.
Germany’s Federal Assembly has reelected the country’s mostly ceremonial president, Horst Köhler, a conservative ally of prime minister (Chancellor) Angela Merkel, to a second 5-year term.
We can call him Landslide Horst, for he won 613 votes in the 1,224-member Assembly. Gesine Schwan, a political science professor endorsed by the Social Democratic and Green parties, came in second with 503 votes. (Financial Times.)
The Federal Assembly includes all 612 members of the first chamber of the national parliament, the Bundestag, and 612 delegates chosen specifically for this purpose by the state legislatures. The Federal Assembly meets only for the purpose of electing the president, which it may take up to three ballots to do. The first two ballots require an absolute majority of all members, whereas the third ballot requires only a majority of votes cast for the previous top two candidates. Several past election have required a third ballot.
The voting procedure is unusual. We might call it “roll-call secret ballot.” Each of the 1,224 member’s names is called, and the member then places a ballot, inside a sealed envelope, into a clear ballot box at the Assembly’s dais.
The campaign is also interesting. DW-TV reported as the vote was taking place that the candidates had “stumped” all around the country and that the outcome would be taken as an indication of the main parties’ strengths heading into the general parliamentary election due in September. This despite the fact that, obviously, this is an elite-driven electoral process with no popular votes, and all the members are chosen by Germany’s normally quite unified parties. It was known that Assembly members chosen by conservative parties controlled 614 seats, but because that would be only one vote more than a majority, and because that majority includes members of a center-right protest party that had held the Christian Social Union to a rare sub-majority share in the latest Bavarian election, and finally due to the secret vote, the outcome was not a sure thing. Or at least a first-round majority was by no means assured.
Also interesting is that the two main parties–the Christian Democrats (including the Bavarian Christian Social Union) and the Social Democrats–had separate presidential candidates despite sharing power in the federal “grand coalition” cabinet. Kohler’s re-election was endorsed by the Free Democratic Party, currently an opposition party, but the preferred coalition partner of the Christian Democrats, if the next election makes it possible again.
Two noteworthy legislative elections are being held today, in El Salvador and the German state of Hesse. Both are of interest not only for what will happen today, but also for what they signal about upcoming elections.
Today Salvadorans go to the polls to elect the 84-seat Legislative Assembly and municipal posts throughout the country. The main thing to watch will be, how big are the gains for the FMLN (the ex-guerrilla leftist political party)? The party currently holds 32 seats (38%), and as I noted at the time of the last legislative elections, the country’s electoral politics has been in stasis since the negotiated end of the civil war in 1994. Will this be the election that breaks the stasis? Maybe, but there is a major caveat.
The last legislative election, in 2006, was held in the month of March. In fact, every legislative election back to 1952 has been held in March (except in 1960, when they waited till April). For that matter, every presidential election under the current constitution (1983) has been held in March (with a runoff in April or May, when needed). So why are Salvadorans going to the polls in January?
Presidential terms are five years and legislative terms three years, and so they will occur in the same year every 15 years. The last time elections to the two branches occurred in the same year–math whizzes will have recognized already that that was in 1994–they were on the same day in March. And therein lay a problem for the Salvadoran right.
The FMLN has been leading the polls in advance of this year’s presidential race for many months. To ward off a possible coattail effect, the center-right parties that control the legislature and presidency de-coupled the elections. So instead of a concurrent contest, El Salvador will have what I refer to as a “counter-honeymoon election” today. A legislative election shortly before a presidential election provides voters and party leaders with information, as CNN says in the opening paragraph of its news story on the elections:
El Salvador will elect more than 340 local and congressional officials Sunday, two months before the nation’s presidential election. But Sunday’s results could go a long way toward determining who that next president will be.
Well, actually, I think we already know–barring surprises–and as I suggested above, that’s precisely why these elections are today. But the general point is that these elections will either show the left as being more vulnerable than opinion polls and pundits suggest, or they will show the right what options it has to turn the tide by March.
It would be a surprise if the FMLN won a majority of seats today. It just might have had a shot at a majority (or close to it) had the legislative elections been left concurrent with the presidential race. But I would regard anything short of 39 seats for the FMLN as a victory for the right. Why 39? Because that is the highest seat total any party has won since the FMLN began competing in elections. More importantly, 39 was the total won by the long-ruling ARENA in 1994–in a concurrent election in which the ARENA presidential candidate won easily (49-25% in the first round, 68-32 in the runoff). That sort of presidential “pull” is exactly what ARENA wanted to prevent the FMLN from getting this time around.
The results of this election are already in, and the Christian Democratic Union (the party of federal PM Angela Merkel) has won “handily.” DW reports:
Near-complete returns show Merkel’s CDU, lead by Roland Koch, narrowly increasing their share of the vote to around 38 percent. The SPD suffered dramatic losses, slumping more than 13 percent to a historic low of just over 23 percent. Among the smaller parties, the liberal Free Democrats took 16 percent of the vote, their best result in Hesse in more than 50 years. The Greens had 14 and the Left Party five percent respectively. The CDU says it now hopes to form a coalition government with the FDP. Voter turnout was low at just 60 percent.
This election is of greater interest than a state election normally would be for two reasons. First, federal elections are due later this year, and this is one of the last states to be voting before the national electorate will go to the polls.1 With both the CDU (accompanied by its Bavarian partner, the Christian Social Union) and its partner in the federal “grand coalition,” the Social Democrats (SPD), less than eager to continue the current arrangement, this state result is a potential bellwether.
The second item of interest in this election is that the state had been to the polls just under a year ago. In the 2008 election, the CDU and SPD each had won 42 seats (out of 110) and the Left (based on a union of ex-communists with leftist who had split from the SPD) had a breakthrough, winning 6 seats. The Greens had 9 and the FDP 11. This result meant no majority for either a center-left or a center-right coalition unless the center-left coalition included the Left party.
Following the 2008 election, coalition bargaining took some time and ultimately produced a formula in which the SPD and Greens would govern with the outside support of the Left. Never mind that the SPD leader, Andrea Ypsilanti, had explictly promised in her campaign not to work with the Left. It was the only possible majority unless the Greens, CDU and FDP would work together (which was also discussed, but failed). And then the SPD caucus vetoed Ypsilanti’s plan. That display of unwillingness of the SPD to set the precedent, in the old West Germany, of cooperation with the Left set the stage for this re-run (with a new SPD leader).2
The CDU has to feel pretty good about its chances in the federal elections after waiting out the center-left divisions in Hesse.
1. There will also be elections in Brandenburg, Saarland, Saxony, and Thuringia on 30 August. Federal parliamentary elections will be 27 September.
2. This summary is based primarily on my recollections of coverage over several months at DW-TV’s Journal. See also the brief summary from AFP.
The two parties that jointly rule in the current German federal government competed against each other in two state assembly elections Sunday, Hesse and Lower Saxony.
In Hesse, the Christian Democratic party of the federal Chancellor (PM), Angela Merkel, suffered a major blow, dropping from 49% in 2003 to 36.5% today, according to exit polls. The other federal co-governing party, the Social Democrats, won 37%. (Yes, another super-close election!) The race for third place, between two parties that would each be the preferred partner of one of the main parties, is also close. It appears the Free Democrats are on around 9% and the Greens around 8%. Whether either potential coalition has garnered a majority of seats will depend, in part, on whether the Left party clears the 5% threshold. If it does, the state might end of up with a grand coalition mirroring the federal one. If it does not, the wasted votes could put one of blocs over the 50% mark in the state assembly.
The Christian Democrats in Hesse campaigned on tough-on-crime and anti-immigrant themes. The Social Democrats, according to a report I saw Friday on DW-TV (via Link TV), focused on the national minimum wage. I emphasize “national” because it is telling about how nationalized German politics is, despite the federal system, that a state election campaign would evidently turn on a national policy matter. (Crime and immigration, on the other hand, could be seen as partly national and partly local.)
Meanwhile, in Lower Saxony, the Christian Democrats also did rather poorly, compared to 2003: 43%, down from 48%. But, along with their current partner, the Free Democrats, they will retain control of the government. The Social Democrats likewise did poorly in Lower Saxony: 30% (previously 33%), which DW calls the party’s second worst showing in state elections in recent years.
The Left also is on the cusp of the threshold in Lower Saxony. In either state, it would be a first: The Left party did not exist in 2003; as the (small s, small d) social-democratic faction had not yet broken off from the right-drifting Social Democratic Party and joined up with the Party of Democratic Socialism. The latter was competitive mainly in the eastern states it formerly ruled.
Federal elections are not due until September, 2009, but these state elections will be much interpreted for whatever clues they may hold for national politics.
(The latter is unlikely, though some chance of a Left-supported minority government.)
Note: I changed the title, as whether the result in Hesse is a setback to Merkel herself is very much debatable. The CDU leader in Hesse is considered a rival to Merkel. One suspects she is not too sad, really. On the other hand, the big gains by both the SPD and the Left can’t cheer her up too much.
By way of DW, here is a good example of the “mostly” in the phrase I use from time to time to describe presidencies in parliamentary democracies as “mostly ceremonial”:
German President Horst KÃ¶hler exercised his first presidential veto on Tuesday, quashing a law that would have partially privatized air traffic control in Germany. But that doesn’t mean the issue is settled. [...]
In withholding his signature from the law, which was passed by a wide parliamentary majority and with support from opposition political parties, KÃ¶hler said the German constitution required the federal government to retain sovereignty over matters of public security.
It was the first time that KÃ¶hler has declared legislation passed by Germany’s two parliamentary bodies, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, unconstitutional. A largely ceremonial position, the German president generally stays out of daily political discussions but is required to sign laws before the can take effect. [see full story]
Previous discussions here of the “mostly” in “mostly ceremonial”:
The Social Democratic Party governments of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin will remain in office, though coalition partners may change on account of some significant shifts in votes for the various parties.
The Social Demcratic party (SPD) will remain the head of the government in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (on the Baltic coast north of Berlin), but its coalition partner could change to the Christian Democrats, thus mirroring the federal Grand Coalition, or remain the Left Party (made up of ex-Communists and SPD defectors).
The major headline-maker in these elections has been the gains by the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party (NPD), which has won 7.3% of the vote and will have 6 of the 71 seats in the next state parliament. The state is the fourth in which the NPD is represented, as the former Communist east continues to lag behind the rest of the country economically.
Meanwhile in the city-state of Berlin, the incumbent government of SPD mayor Klaus Wowereit will remain in office, and is in a strong position to form a coalition with either the Greens (who gained more than four percentage points over the previous election) or his current partner, the Left Party (which dropped from 22.6% to 13.4%). He ruled out having both parties in coalition as “too complicated,” but noted that his party could make common ground with either of the other two.
Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) lost significant votes in the capital. (The DW story linked above says their worst result since 1949, though given the expansion of the borders of democratic Berlin after the fall of the Wall, the claim is a bit misleading.)
If the SPD is able to form governments in these jurisdictions without the Left Party (and if it so chooses), it could signal that the Left will prove to have been a “flash,” generated by internal SPD divisions over economic restructuring, but with little staying power. However, another common thread, given the NPD gain and CDU losses, would appear to be voter discontent in both jurisdictions over that very same restructuring. Given that the Left and the NPD draw some of their support from the same social strata, it might be wise for the SPD to keep the Left in coalition in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
UPDATE: See the comments for an update by Lewis, and a discussion of state elections in Australia by Alan. Thanks to both of them!
Continuing my series on the elections of March, which has been a big one for election-watchers, I offer this BBC link on the first state elections in Germany since the formation of the federal grand coalition late last year.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4