September 20, 2013 | By Dina Smeltz

Color Combinations: German Elections This Sunday

Germans will vote on Sunday for composition of the 18th session of the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament.   The center-right Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), the party of German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, has a comfortable lead over other parties, though not enough to form a majority government.

Polls over the last week -- and over the past year --  show that the CDU/CSU has consistently attracted about 40 percent of the vote.  This  percentage is a bit higher than CDU/CSU support in pre-election polls before the last vote (when the CDU/CSU won 33.8% in 2009).

Another Black-Yellow Coalition? 

Analysts have been mainly focused on coalition dynamics, especially because support for the Christian Democrats' coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), has floated only around the 5 percent  in recent surveys. Back in 2009, its support ranged from 10 to 15 percent in pre-election polls, and it won 14.6% overall.  But In the Bavarian state elections last weekend, the FDP only won 3 percent of the vote, well under the 5 percent threshold needed to enter government. This was not a good signal for the FDP's upcoming federal vote.  Even if the FDP is able to reach the 5 percent threshold, they may not gain enough seats to replicate the current governing coalition.

Alternative Coalition Scenarios
 
If the current coalition is unsuccessful, there are a number of other scenarios with varying likelihood.  One is a red-green coalition that would include the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens.  The Social Dems have been polling behind the CDU/CSU -- with less than 30 percent of the vote, but a bit higher than it had polled in 2009, and support for the Greens has hovered around 10 percent.  The SPD and the Greens would probably need to include another party, possibly The Left, the successor from the communist party; but at this point, at least rhetorically, the SPD has ruled out governing with them.
 
There could also be a black-red Grand Coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD, combining the main left and main right parties in government (as in 2005).  An editorial in the Guardian argues that while these types of coalitions "are never easy and can be bad for healthy democratic politics,"  in this case it might provide some stability at the heart of the EU in these difficult times.  It could also mean some easing of the austerity measures imposed across the eurozone.
 
Three in Ten Still Undecided - An Opening for Smaller Parties?
 
In a poll by the Emnid institute released last Friday and reported on MNInews,  one in three (31%) German voters said they have not yet decided for which party they will vote on Sunday, and another 16 percent said they were only "relatively sure" of their voting choice.  Eleven percent said they wouldn't vote at all.
 
In part for this reason, the BBC includes a fourth possibility of a coalition between the CDU/CSU and a wild card, the Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfP), the anti-euro party, which has many members that were formerly with the CDU.  Most surveys show that it receives just a scattering of support. But some people - including Karl Rudolf Korte, a politics professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen - think that the smaller parties might be able to profit from a lack of distinction between the mainstream parties and boredom among certain voters. For that matter, we might as well throw in the left liberal Pirate party, which describes itself as the party of the Internet age (both the AfP and the Pirates are officially represented in all 16 states).  An article in Deutsche Welle points out that while most voter surveys in Germany are conducted on landlines, younger people tend to have only cell phones, and thus polling support for the Pirate party might be underrepresented.
 
Who knows?  They have a point.  Clearly the most exciting part of the election will be the party maneuverings well after the votes are counted.   Will be interesting to watch.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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