The article draws upon the formal coalition literature to demonstrate that party system change over the last thirty years means that the Volksparteien enjoy more coalition options and greater ideological leverage within coalitions that form than was the case in the past. The Free Democrats have lost their kingmaker status and the distribution of party weights over recent elections allows no other small party to act in this manner. By contrast, the numerical and ideological resources possessed by the two Volksparteien means that they remain the only parties within the German party system that can act as formateur in the coalition game and are less vulnerable to threats of a decisive defection by small parties to alternative coalitions than they were in the past.
The eighteenth Bundestag elections of 22 September 2013 brought important changes to the Bundestag party system, some of which are contingent but others of which are more systemic and profound. The narrow failure of the FDP to scale the electoral threshold has had an impact on coalition negotiations and the improvement in the overall vote share for the CDU/CSU and the SPD, for the first time since the 1960s represents a significant, if probably only temporary, concentration of the German party system in the Bundestag. More systemically, the election saw a continuation of the ongoing redistribution of voting power in the Bundestag in favor of the catch-all parties as formateurs. The article also discusses how the increased importance of the potential formateuer parties has gone hand-in-hand with a greater focus on the individual leading candidates, and concludes that this is particularly good news for the CDU/CSU, given the political qualities of Angela Merkel and the failure of the SPD to find and support a leading candidate that can match her political acumen.