Past Imperfect, Future Tense: The SPD before and after the 2013 Federal Election

in German Politics and Society
Author:
Jonathan Olsen

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In the 2009 federal election, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) achieved the worst electoral result in its history. Immediately afterwards, the party worked to improve its public image and fine-tune its policies and electoral message, hoping that state elections in the ensuring period might provide some momentum going into the next national election. Yet, in 2013, the Social Democrats improved their result only modestly, with Angela Merkel and the Christian Democratic/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) again gaining a decisive victory. This article explores the reasons behind the SPD's failure to radically improve its electoral showing, arguing that this can best be explained by a combination of the impact of the past—namely, the legacy of its economic reforms during the Schröder era and the SPD's disadvantages coming out of the previous Grand Coalition—as well as the weakness of its 2013 chancellor candidate, Peer Steinbrück, and the popularity of Angela Merkel. The article therefore suggests that the immediate future does not look particularly bright for the SPD: any chances of gaining the chancellorship are largely out of its hand, dependent on both stumbles by its rival, the CDU/CSU, as well as the taming of a possible coalition partner, the Left Party.

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