Germany's Social Democratic Party, the spd, was in government between 2013 and 2021, but until just weeks before the federal election of 2021, its electoral prospects seemed poor. The party was able to turn things around and surge, in the final period of the campaign, to a remarkable victory. This article sets out structural challenges faced by social democrats in Europe in general and in Germany in particular, focusing on policies and voters, coalition politics, and questions about party organization. It argues that in each area, the spd, with a mixture of sound strategic choices and good fortune, was to some extent able to extricate itself from the challenges it faced, and that its success owed much to the peculiarities of the 2021 election.
Ed Turner is a Reader in Politics and International Relations at Aston University. He has published extensively on German and comparative politics, especially party politics and federalism. He is Co-Director of the Aston Centre for Europe.
Davide Vampa is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Aston University. He has published extensively on regional politics and public policy, populism, comparative political economy, and social democracy in Western Europe and beyond.
Matthias Scantamburlo is a Lecturer at University Carlos III of Madrid and a team member of the Regional Manifestos Project. His research focuses on territorial politics, party politics, and electoral competition in multi-level settings.