The recent federal elections refuted a number of established hypotheses on the development of the German party system and contradicted the electoral strategies of nearly all parties involved. The outcome was neither a further fragmentation of the parliamentary landscape nor the unavoidable establishment of a grand coalition. On the contrary, in most cases, the respective parties failed as a result of their own mistakes in selecting adequate campaign issues, strategies and/or candidates. Aside from party-specific questions, such as the trajectories of both the AfD and the FDP, the future of the German party system seems largely dependent on the relationships between the three left-of-center parties at the federal level.
Until 2013, right-wing populist or extremist parties were unable to establish themselves as a relevant political force in Germany. With the advent of the Alternative für Deutschland the party landscape has changed significantly. The window of opportunity for the newcomer was opened in 2013 by the Euro crisis. Combining euroskepticism with liberal economic policies and a conservative social issue agenda the AfD mainly capitalized on the neglecting of these matters by the liberal party and the Christian democrats. Controversy between the market-oriented moderate wing represented by party founder Bernd Lucke and the radical advocates of national populism led to the split off of the former in July 2015. Only with the refugee crisis did the AfD regain its electoral fortunes and obtained its best results thus far in the March 2016 state elections. Most probably, the party’s prospects will remain promising if one considers the voter’s side. The main risks lie in its own ranks, where ideological battles, personal struggles and the unresolved question of how to distance the party from right-wing extremism could further self-destruction.
Frank Decker and Jared Sonnicksen
The recent Bundestag election in Germany warrants consideration for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the results are indicative of several trends developing since unification and that will continue to play an important, if not ever increasing role in German politics. These developments include the intensifying fragmentation of the German party system and German voters' growing electoral volatility, both of which are hampering the parties' ability to form government coalitions. In the following article, we distill five fundamental aspects of the election. Building upon this analysis, we explore their meaning as well as potential impact on the German party system and partisan competition, as well as coalition patterns. At the same time, we address the overarching question of whether—and if so, to what extent—German politics is experiencing a trend toward bipolarity between a center-right and left camp and whether such an antagonistic model will be a passing phase or is indicative of a more established five-party system in Germany.
The German Party System Before and After the 2017 Federal Election
Frank Decker and Philipp Adorf
The 2017 federal election illustrated the transformation of Germany’s political party system with six parties managing to enter the Bundestag. With the Christian and Social Democrats finally coming to an agreement almost half a year after the election, a grand coalition is set to govern for two consecutive terms for the very first time. The Alternative for Germany’s success also signaled the definite parliamentary establishment of right-wing populism in Germany. Multiparty coalitions that bridge ideological gulfs as the political fringe has grown in size are a new reality that must be accommodated. The 2017 election and subsequent arduous negotiations point towards a period of uncertainty and further upheaval for Germany’s party system.
Frank Decker and Lazaros Miliopoulos
Right-wing extremist and populist parties operate in a rather difficult social and political environment in Germany, rendering notable electoral success fairly improbable, especially when compared to other European countries. The main reason for this is the continuing legacy of the Nazi past. Nevertheless the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) managed to gain substantial votes in recent Land elections and became the leading force in the right-wing extremist political camp. Its success is attributable to rightwing extremist attitudes in some parts of the electorate in connection with a widespread feeling of political discontent. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether the NPD will be able to transform these attitudes into a viable ideological basis for two main reasons. On the one hand, maintaining a neo-Nazi ideology makes the NPD unattractive to many potential voters. On the other hand, given its internal power struggles and severe financial problems, the party may be unable to meet its challenges in organizational terms.