AfD Wins Big In Another Two German State Elections
We recently pointed out that Germany’s EU-skeptic AfD party has the potential to become a serious political force (see “22% Can Imagine Voting for the AfD” for details). Over the weekend, two further German state elections in Thuringia and Brandenburg confirmed this assessment. In both elections, the AfD was by far the biggest winner, going from zero to 10.6% of the vote in Thuringia and from zero to 12.2% in Brandenburg. We prefer to refer to the party as EU-skeptic rather than simply “euro-skeptic”, although the latter is the label most often used in the mainstream press. While the euro-area’s sovereign debt crisis was the main motivation for the party’s establishment, its ideas had already come in favor among a growing number of people before the crisis. There merely was no party-political platform available to them previously – now there is.
Once again the Free Democratic Party was essentially wiped out in both states (which we believe is unfortunate), but the AfD also seems to have attracted voters from the left – from the Left Party in Brandenburg and the SPD (social democrats) in Thuringia. This is an interesting development, as the party is certainly not leftist in its outlook.
Although the party has gained a respectable percentage of the vote – beating e.g. the Green Party handily – it will be spared from taking part in a coalition government, as majority governments can be formed in both states without its participation and the establishment refuses to have anything to do with the AfD. We say “it will be spared” because experience has shown that being the junior partner in coalition can be deadly. The junior partner as a rule loses much of its base, which tends to be unhappy with the compromises that need to be made in order to join a governing coalition. The opposition role by contrast allows for the party’s stance to be pursued with the same undiluted vigor as before. Voters often see participation in coalitions simply as a way to gain well-remunerated posts by essentially selling out.
As to why the established parties don’t want to form coalitions with the AfD at this time, the main reason is probably that they have painted the party as being “far right”. As we have pointed out, this is an erroneous characterization that has clearly backfired in recent state elections (i.e., voters don’t believe it, and rightly so). It has become common to assert that EU-skeptic parties all belong to the “far right” (unless they are clearly far-left parties such as SYRIZA in Greece), but this is simply incorrect in this case, just as it is incorrect in UKIP’s case.
Germany’s political establishment is strongly pro-EU, as the crisis has clearly demonstrated. Although even the established parties have tied their support of the various bail-out measures to “austerity” and a “fiscal compact”, voters are probably well aware that these conditions are somewhat lacking in substance (debt continues to grow everywhere, the ECB is acting very un-BuBa-like, and bigger nations like France continue to do whatever they like anyway).
The success of the AfD has definitely sent shock-waves through the establishment. One likely effect is that the establishment will become wary of being seen as being too supportive of Brussels. In other words, the AfD’s success is likely to influence policy, just as the electoral successes of the then new Green Party in the 1980s and 1990s led to the adoption of environmental policies by establishment parties. Below are the election results and maps that show where the two states are situated in Germany. These are not very populous states to be sure, but the AfD was quite successful in the larger Free State of Saxony as well. The results are definitely indicative of a trend, although the biggest test will be how the party will fare in elections in the more densely populated Western German states.
Election result in Thuringia, 2014 and 2009 elections compared. Legend: CDU = “Christian Democratic Union” (conservatives, led by chancellor Merkel on the federal level), Die Linke = “The Left” (a party to the left of the social democrats). SPD = “Social Democratic Party”, FDP = “Free Democratic Party” (liberals), Grüne = “Green Party”, Sonst. = “Others” – click to enlarge.
Thuringia is the dark green part of the map.
Brandenburg state election results, 2014 and 2009 compared. Here an additional protest party is represented on the chart (Freie = “Free Voters”), which didn’t make it into parliament however – click to enlarge.
Brandenburg in dark green – the portion in the middle is the city-state of Berlin, Germany’s capital. Brandenburg used to be the heartland of Prussia.
The AfD continues to look quite strong. We now know definitely that the election result in Saxony wasn’t an outlier, but rather a sign of things to come. The euro zone debt crisis was used by the political establishment to push for more centralization – a plan formulated by Romani Prodi back in 2001 already, who predicted that the establishment of the euro would eventually lead to a crisis that would allow the centralizers to push for policies they would otherwise be unable to implement. However, as the success of the AfD, UKIP, 5-Star in Italy, and even the FN in France (which is indeed deserving of the “far right” moniker) shows, there is quite a bit of push-back on the part of voters, and it hasn’t lost any of its momentum yet.
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