German Election Results: National Populist Party Surges, Major Parties Suffer Defeats
On Sunday, Germany held its election for all 600 seats in their Parliament, officially named the “Bundestag.”
Six major parties contested the election: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Martin Schulz’s left-wing Social Democratic Party (SDP), the far-left party Die Linke (The Left), the left-wing Green Party, the center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP), and the right-wing Alternative for Deutschland (AfD).
Shortly after the polls closed at 6 PM (12:00 PM EST), early projections produced a rather shocking result: Although the CDU and SDP did in fact come in first and second, as widely predicted by polling trends since the previous cycle in 2013, they both underperformed most polling averages. The CDU was projected to earn about 32% of the vote, down from their previous total of 42% in 2013, and even lower than polling that generally gave them a percentage in the mid- to high-30’s. Jeremy Cliffe of The Economist declared this to be “significantly worse for Merkel than any poll suggested it would be.” Thus, although Merkel is on track to win a fourth term as Chancellor, this result could be considered “almost a defeat” that will “leave her significantly weakened on the domestic stage,” according to The Guardian.
If there is any consolation for Chancellor Merkel, it is in the fact that the other major party - the SPD - performed even worse. The party is projected to earn only around 20% of the national vote, which would be its worst performance since World War II. Christian Odendahl, the Chief Economist of the Center for European Reform, did not mince words, calling it “a disaster for the SPD.” Shortly after the result, Schulz announced that the SPD would not continue the so-called “grand coalition” with the CDU, and would go back to being the official opposition party.
But the biggest headline of the night, once again, goes to the right-wing National Populist party, the Alternative for Germany. The party is a relative newcomer to the ongoing rise of such parties in Europe, as it was was founded in early 2013. In the previous cycle, it just barely missed the 5% threshold for representation in the Bundestag, at 4.7%. But this year, after polling had initially indicated a close battle for third, fourth, and fifth with the other smaller parties, the AfD surged into third place with a projected 13%, which will equate to roughly 90 seats. This makes the AfD the first right-wing party to enter the Bundestag in over half a century. The previous right-wing party was a smaller party called the German Right Party, which won just five seats in 1949, then lost all of them in the following cycle. The AfD, obviously, has greatly outperformed that result and is thus the first right-wing party to win a decisive victory in the parliament since World War II.
The one other notable feat from this election is the return of the center-right FDP. The FDP had originally been one of the three largest parties in Germany, alongside the CDU and SDP. The party repeatedly switched back and forth between allegiances to both parties, and thus remained in power longer than any other German party - from 1961 to 1994. They had been in power as recently as 2009, in a coalition with the CDU, but crashed and burned in 2013 when they received only 4.8% of the vote, and thus fell out of the Bundestag for the first time in their history. In this election, the FDP saw a humbled return to parliament at roughly 10%, and is thus projected to become the fourth-largest party.
The two other parties - The Left and the Greens - roughly held even, with both parties projected to rise very minimally by roughly 1% each.
Now the conversation shifts to the possible governing coalition. Based on these exit polls, only two coalitions will be possible to even obtain a majority: The “Grand Coalition” between the CDU and SDP - which SDP leaders have thoroughly ruled out - and a so-called “Jamaica Coalition” between the CDU, FDP, and the Greens - named so due to these three colors matching the Jamaican flag. Although a coalition with the AfD would also put some combinations into the majority, every party has ruled out a partnership with the new party.
Despite the inevitable exclusion of the AfD in actual power, their rise has shaken the German political landscape regardless, and promises to force the major center-right party - the CDU - to consider shifting back towards the right in order to appease them. Chancellor Merkel admitted as much in a speech after the results, saying that “we will conduct a very thorough analysis; we want to regain those voters who voted for the AfD, to discover their concerns and worries.”
But while the media will continue to focus on the rising influence of the right and the NatPop parties, the true story is the continued collapse of Europe’s major establishment parties. Just like the Dutch election and the French elections earlier this year, the victories of the night went to the smaller parties, while the larger parties maintained a monopoly on defeat. Just like the Netherlands’ Labour Party and France’s Socialist Party, Germany’s biggest left-wing party saw its worst result since World War II. And just like the Netherlands’ center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party, Germany’s major right-wing party also saw defeats, though not to the same degree as their left-wing counterparts. The establishment is collapsing, with the establishment left falling faster than the establishment right, for now.
Just as with all those elections, and others that have taken place recently such as in Austria, Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump, the takeaway message from these latest elections is one of political upheaval. The previously established political order, the old guard, is facing resistance like never before from all sides, while newer and smaller parties are on the rise. It is every bit as much of a political revolution against the establishment as it is a rise in National Populism.