Although it has not been that long since the articles of the previous special issue devoted to the 2017 Bundestag election and its aftermath have been published, the political situation in Germany appears to have stabilized. After almost six months without a new government, German politics has sunk back into a kind of late-Merkel era normality. Public opinion polls continue to show that the CDU/CSU is slightly above its election outcome, the SPD is still down in the 17–18 percent range, the FDP has lost about 2 percent of its support, while the AfD, Greens and Left Party are up 1–2 percent.
Politics and Power after the 2017 Bundestag Election
The Social Democrats at the Crossroads
Andreas M. Wüst
With a vote share of just 20.5 percent, the Social Democrats’ (SPD) 2017 Bundestag election result was a disaster. Despite initially deciding not to continue the Grand Coalition (GroKo), when negotiations on forming a Jamaica coalition failed, the Social Democrats found themselves back in coalition talks they never wanted. Although a strong minority of party members remained opposed, in the end the coalition agreement proved to be the best strategic alternative and is a Social Democratic success, especially concerning the level of social expenditures. In light of the election outcome, the success of the new GroKo is highly important for the coalition parties, as well as for Germany and its people.
Coverage of the 2017 Bundestag Election
Alexander Beyer and Steven Weldon
The 2017 Bundestag election and the breakthrough of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) will likely long be remembered as a pivotal moment in German politics. One of the key questions in the aftermath of this breakthrough is what role the mainstream media played in this party’s success. Drawing on online data from the four largest German news outlets, Google-trend searches, and Twitter, we examine the media coverage landscape over the course of the election campaign, focusing on the coverage of the AfD relative to other parties and its key issues of immigration and Euroskepticism. Our results indicate that the AfD did indeed face a favorable media environment, especially in the final month of the campaign. Further analysis, however, suggests that the media was in many ways simply responding to public interest and demand—immigration, especially, was a highly salient issue throughout the campaign, something that was a significant departure from recent elections.
Evidence from the Eastern States
Steven Wuhs and Eric McLaughlin
Partisan attachments and voting behavior in Germany today are more volatile than in the past. This article tests the enduring influence of social cleavages on voting relative to two other factors that account for party performance: path dependent forces and spatial dependence. Drawing on original data from the eastern German states, we explain support for Germany’s main parties in the 2017 federal election. We find relatively weak evidence for continued influence of social divisions for the major parties, but that support for the radical right Alternative for Germany (AfD) did reflect underlying cleavage structures. Additionally, we identify reliable effects of the historical immigrant population on contemporary voting. We also see weak evidence of lock-in political effects associated with German reunification, limited only to the CDU. Most interestingly, we observe powerful and robust effects of spatial dependence for three of the four parties we examine. We conclude that the effects presented here should signal to scholars of parties and electoral politics the need to incorporate history and geography into their analytical frameworks alongside more traditional approaches, since eastern Germany may in fact be less spatialized than western Germany or other country cases because of the homogenizing efforts of the SED regime.
The Alternative for Germany and the Working Class
Within a mere five years, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has established itself in the German party system. During the same period, however, it has undergone a significant ideological transformation as well. Initially regarded as a direct competitor to the small-government Free Democrats, the AfD has since adopted the tried-and-tested electoral approach of other rightwing populist actors by embracing welfare chauvinist positions, linking the survival of the welfare state to that of the nation state. In doing so it has made substantial inroads into the blue-collar electorate, in some German states even overtaking the Social Democrats as the preferred choice of the working class.
Small Parties in the 2017 Bundestag Election
David F. Patton
In 2017, the small parties achieved unprecedented success in the Bundestag election. This article examines their success, assessing both longterm and short-term factors. It analyzes each of the four main small parties in turn, and considers their recent performances, their goals, campaign strategies, and election results. Finally, it asks why the small parties’ electoral gains have not led to greater executive power and concludes that it is because the expectations surrounding party system formation in Germany have not adequately adjusted to the fragmented and increasingly polarized system that has emerged.
The Rise of the AfD and its Implications for the CDU/CSU
In 2017, the AfD became the first party explicitly positioned to the right of the CDU/CSU to enter the Bundestag since 1957. As the AfD was founded by former CDU members and rose against the backdrop of Merkel’s European and refugee policies, the AfD may appear primarily to threaten the CDU/CSU. I argue that this view is overly simplistic. Analyzing the AfD’s platform, survey data, and factionalism, I find: (1) while the AfD started as a conservative challenger to the Christian Democrats, it moved away from this platform toward becoming a populist radical right party; (2) this transformation is reflected in its vote base, which includes characteristics associated with social conservatism but also encompasses nativist, populist, and even leftwing elements; (3) the AfD has so far been unable to integrate these different positions and stop forces pushing it away from being an option for discontented Christian Democrats.
The elections for the German Bundestag on 24 September 2017 saw heavy losses for the two governing parties—the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD)—and the rise of the rightpopulist Alternative for Germany (AfD). It took almost six months for a new grand coalition to be formed in light of the extremely fragmented parliament. Despite the good economic situation and relative calm domestically and internationally, much change is occurring under the surface. Most importantly, the country is preparing for the end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long tenure. Who and what will come next? Can the surging AfD be contained? Will Germany step up into the leadership role for which so many have called?