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Catalysts for Change

Small Parties in the 2021 Bundestag Election

David F. Patton

In 2021, the small parties continued their electoral ascent in Germany. For the first time they received more votes than did the cdu/csu and the spd. Three finished with a double-digit result, and the combined vote share of the top two small parties exceeded that of the largest vote-getter. After the election, a novel three-party coalition arose at the national level. This resulted in a centrist alternative to grand coalitions and converted the electoral gains of the small parties into increased policymaking influence for the Greens and the fdp. This article considers the impact of the small parties, analyzes their success in 2021, and examines the campaigns, results, and prospects of Alliance 90/The Greens, the Free Democratic Party, the Alternative for Germany, and the Left Party.

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From Zero to Hero?

The Rise of Olaf Scholz and the SPD

Ed Turner, Davide Vampa, and Matthias Scantamburlo

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.

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Kanzlerwahlverein No More?

Failed Internal Coalition Building and the CDU/CSU’s 2021 Campaign

Matthias Dilling

In 2021, Germany’s Christian Democrats suffered their worst election defeat in a post-war federal election. This article looks at the campaign that preceded this downfall. While the cdu’s party congress in early 2021 showed favorable signs for a successful campaign, Armin Laschet, the newly elected party leader, missed the opportunity to unify the cdu’s different wings and consolidate a coalition backing his leadership. This resulted in a damaging clash with the csu over the chancellor candidacy and ongoing internal disunity. Laschet attempted to rectify this very late in the campaign, but his team failed to integrate the cdu/csu’s most important actors. The Christian Democrats were thus ill-equipped to respond to a difficult context and unexpected developments. Returning to its traditional factional integration will be paramount for the cdu/csu to rebound from this historic defeat.

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Linking Land and Sea

Intersections between Indigenous Peoples’ Dispossession and Asylum Seekers’ Containment by Australia

Susan Reardon-Smith

Australia’s harsh policy response to asylum seekers appears to be an extreme measure for a country that thinks of itself as a liberal democracy. Confining analyses of this regime to refugee law and policy overlooks the ways that Australia’s colonial history, Indigenous dispossession, and contemporary race relations interact with one another. Th is article argues that these historical dynamics are essential to understanding the Australian government’s response to asylum seekers in the present day, with asylum-seekers and Indigenous peoples in Australia both being utilized as tools of modern statecraft to shore up the legitimacy of the Australian state. Attention is drawn to parallels between the treatment of both Indigenous peoples and asylum seekers by the Australian government, with the increasingly harsh response to asylum seekers in Australian politics coinciding with the expansion of land rights for Indigenous Australians.

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Not a Single-Digit Party Anymore

The Central Role of Alliance 90/The Greens in a Changed Party System

Niko Switek

In the 2021 German federal election, Alliance 90/The Greens received its best result so far. The outcome was based in part on a popular party leadership, government participation in different coalition formats on the state level, and an increasing salience of environmental and climate policies with which the party is strongly associated. After the election, the Greens became part of a novel three-party coalition with Social Democrats and Liberals where the party finds itself in a more influential role than in its first federal coalition with the spd. The opinion polls placing Alliance 90/The Greens above 20 percent before the election and its continuously growing membership base indicate a new centrality of the party in the German party system, as well as the potential to further increase its vote share.

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The Party without Qualities?

Explaining the Left Party’s Electoral Disaster in the 2021 German Federal Election

Jonathan Olsen and Michael A. Hansen

In the 2021 German federal election, the Left Party suffered its worst electoral defeat ever. Although it hemorrhaged voters to all the parties, its losses to the Social Democrats and Greens were particularly large. In this article, we examine the reasons behind Die Linke’s poor electoral performance. Although a number of factors may have played small roles, we hypothesize that the most important by far was the Left Party’s failure to distinguish itself in its policy positions from its chief rivals on the center left and the left. Using data from the Comparative Manifesto Project (cpm) and Chapel Hill Expert Survey (ches), we demonstrate the Left Party’s lack of issue ownership and its distinct policy and ideological profile in 2021. Consequently, we argue that Die Linke gave voters few reasons to vote for it.

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Setting a Trend?

Support for the Greens and the FDP in the 2021 Bundestag Election

Andreas M. Wüst

The 2021 Bundestag election brought an end to the model of grand coalitions that Germany had witnessed in 12 out of the 16 years of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship. While older voters often switched from the Christian Democrats to the Social Democrats, young voters might have set a trend in 2021 by voting for non-governing parties, allowing the Greens and the fdp to enter the new government. Have we witnessed more than a situational switch from the Volksparteien to a new yellow-green alliance, maybe even the rise of a generational cleavage? This article provides empirical evidence for dissatisfaction with the grand coalition government and the quest for change among young voters—a fight against climate change combined with state-centered social policies among Green voters, and a broad liberal program for progress among fdp voters. Yet the reasons that young people support these parties differ significantly. Thus, it is thin empirical ice to associate the yellow-green boost among young voters with a new generational cleavage.

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What Do (Parties Think) Women and LGBTI Citizens Want?

Party Platforms, Gender, and Sexuality in the 2021 German Federal Election

Louise K. Davidson-Schmich

In this article I document the main German parties’ 2021 election platforms regarding gender and sexuality. These manifestos contained considerably different portrayals of gendered inequalities in the Federal Republic, preferred diverse roles for the state in ameliorating gendered inequalities, and called for state action in distinct spheres. Parties also generally viewed “women” and “lgbti” people as homogeneous entities rather than intersectional groups. I conclude by discussing how the differences among the Social Democrats, Greens, and Free Democrats were reconciled in the 2021 coalition agreement. The “traffic light” proposals for achieving gender equality differ starkly from the platforms of the Christian Democrats and the Alternative for Germany.

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Adapting to Crisis

Migration Research During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Aydan Greatrick, Jumana Al-Waeli, Hannah Sender, Susanna Corona Maioli, Jin L. Li, and Ellen Goodwin


This article draws on our experiences of carrying out PhD research on migration during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all involved with the University College London Migration Research Unit (MRU), and our PhD research explores the lived experiences of migrants and people affected by migration. This is the first of two articles in this issue of Migration and Society addressing the implications of COVID-19 on migration research from the perspective of postgraduate researchers. In this article, we firstly reflect on how “crises,” including the COVID-19 pandemic, inevitably shape contexts of migration research. We then share how COVID-19 has shaped our relationship to “the field” and our formal research institutions. Finally, we share how we have adapted our methodologies in response to COVID-19 and, considering the complex ethical and practical challenges posed by this context, reflect on what it means to make methodological “adaptations” in times of overlapping crises.

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Gabriel Remy-Handfield

This article explores the aesthetic of the grotesque in Lu Yang’s recent work Delusional Mandala (2015) and Delusional World (2020). I argue that the aesthetic of the grotesque envisioned in these two works becomes a radical tool for the artist’s deconstruction and dismantling of the socially and culturally sanctioned boundaries of corporeality and normativity. My approach to Lu Yang’s aesthetic of the grotesque is based on Sara Cohen Shabot’s theorization of grotesque philosophy and the grotesque body as well on the concept of faciality proposed by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (1980). Two questions guide my reflection and readings in this article: What are the characteristics of the grotesque aesthetic in Lu Yang’s films? In what ways does this aesthetic deconstruct concepts such as the human and normativity?