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.
The Social Democrats at the Crossroads
Andreas M. Wüst
The role of Konrad Adenauer in the proceedings of the Parliamentary Council in Bonn and his decision after his election as first federal chancellor not to form a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party paved the way to a fundamental transformation of the traditional German democratic paradigm versus the Anglo-Saxon concept of interaction between government and parliamentary opposition. The inherited pattern of constitutional democracy that had contributed to the structural weaknesses of Weimar parliamentarism was replaced by the concept of an interaction between government and opposition. Political parties took on the primary tasks of securing stable parliamentary majorities and providing sufficient electoral support for the chancellor. Adenauer's resolved political leadership, therefore, was an indispensable contribution to the reorientation of West German political culture from the former distrust of unrestricted parliamentary sovereignty toward Western democratic traditions.
Dan Hough and Michael Koß
Despite its recent electoral successes, the Left Party's position in the German party system is more fragile that it may at first appear. The Left Party gained support in 2005 largely on account of dissatisfaction with other parties and not because masses of voters were flocking to its (nominally socialist) cause. Not even a majority from within its own supporter base thought it possessed "significant problem solving competences." Rather, much of the Left Party's political discourse is based on negative dismissals of much that it sees—in policy terms—before it. We discuss the Left Party's political development through the prism of populist politics. After outlining what we understand populism to mean, we analyze the Left Party's programmatic stances and political strategy within the context of this framework. Although populism is certainly not the sole preserve of the Left Party, it clearly excels in using populist tools to make political headway. We conclude by discussing the ramifications that this has for German party politics in general and for the Social Democratic Party in particular.
After the first Bundestag elections in 1949, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) established itself as kingmaker either of the Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats. The entrance of the Green Party into the German Bundestag in 1983 brought about a significant change in the German political landscape, which challenged the German Liberals to redefine themselves. At present, it seems that the FDP is on its way back into the federal government after ten years of opposition, although "neoliberal" ideology is currently facing a severe international crisis. This constitutes a puzzling issue for political scientists, which is addressed in this article by analyzing the factors that can explain the German Liberal's latest success. Furthermore, the FDP's chances in comparison to the other two small parties (Left Party and Greens) are discussed. Finally, attention is focused on the characteristics of the FDP's election campaign and its coalition options for 2009 and beyond.
William E. Paterson and James Sloam
The 2009 German federal election marked a devastating defeat for the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). The debacle led some commentators to speculate about the end of the SPD as a “catch-all party“ and—given the recent poor performance of center-left parties across Europe—“the end of social democracy.“ In this article, we contextualize the result of the 2009 Bundestag election within the settings of German party politics and European social democracy, and show how the electoral disaster for the SPD can be explained by broad, long-term political developments. We nevertheless argue that the German Social Democrat's defeat in 2009 provides an opportunity for renewal at a time when the governing Conservative-Liberal coalition—already in disarray—must take some tough decisions with regard to the resource crunch in German public finances.
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?
This article examines the complex interplay between the American military governor and German political leaders through an analysis of two crises that occurred over the making of the Basic Law. Why did a trial of strength between General Lucius Clay and the Social Democratic Party leadership in March and April 1949 come about? Understanding Clay's intervention in the politics of constitution-making in occupied Germany requires a more probing investigation than references to the temperament of a “proconsul” or a bias against a left-wing party. The analysis of Clay's intervention in this account shows how the Social Democrats evaded and challenged directives from the occupation authorities, and illuminates the limits of his influence over German framers of the Basic Law.
In the 2009 federal election, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) achieved the worst electoral result in its history. Immediately afterwards, the party worked to improve its public image and fine-tune its policies and electoral message, hoping that state elections in the ensuring period might provide some momentum going into the next national election. Yet, in 2013, the Social Democrats improved their result only modestly, with Angela Merkel and the Christian Democratic/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) again gaining a decisive victory. This article explores the reasons behind the SPD's failure to radically improve its electoral showing, arguing that this can best be explained by a combination of the impact of the past—namely, the legacy of its economic reforms during the Schröder era and the SPD's disadvantages coming out of the previous Grand Coalition—as well as the weakness of its 2013 chancellor candidate, Peer Steinbrück, and the popularity of Angela Merkel. The article therefore suggests that the immediate future does not look particularly bright for the SPD: any chances of gaining the chancellorship are largely out of its hand, dependent on both stumbles by its rival, the CDU/CSU, as well as the taming of a possible coalition partner, the Left Party.
The result of the 2005 Bundestag election provoked difficult questions concerning the political positioning of the SPD. Should the Social Democrats negate the Schröder government's Agenda 2010 reforms in order to regain voters from the Left and envisage a government coalition with the Left Party, even though this party has been portrayed as "unfit to govern"? Or should the SPD stick to the center, at the risk of losing even more voters to its leftist competitor? Based on a theoretical concept of different party goals (vote, office, policy, and democracy-seeking) and strategic party behavior, this article explains why the SPD did not succeed in establishing a promising strategy with regard to these questions. This failure is caused mainly by the party's internal divisions and its severe leadership problems. In addition, the structure of German party competition and the institutions of federalism make it even more difficult to handle these problems with success.
In mainstream analyses of the German political system, the emergence of the Left Party (Die Linke) is presented as an unexpected consequence of German unification and as an indication of the existence of an East-West divide. This view is for the most part based on the idea that German unification is a process of political integration of the East into the West. Such an understanding, however, downplays the long-term developments in the German party system. This article examines the emergence of the Left Party in light of both the long-term developmental tendencies of the German party system and findings from comparative studies among other West European countries. The article concludes that the main reason for the current political stalemate is the incapability of the postwar Volksparteien to respond to changes in political space and action. Based on evidence from comparative studies, the article also suggests a pragmatic rethinking especially in the SPD is necessary in dealings with the Left Party.