Bavarian Landtag (state parliament) elections 2018: “Wir haben es kaum geschafft” (we barely made it)

Last Sunday, Bavarians went to the polls for their regional/state parliament (the Landtag). These elections were seen by some as a referendum on federal chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy. The CSU (=Christian-social union), the sister party to the national CDU (=Christian-democratic union) felt the stridently anti-immigration AfD breathing down its neck and distanced itself from her. Did this tactic work?

Summarizing reporting at the Frankfurter Allgemeine, Die Welt, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Spiegel online, and the national newscast “Tagesschau”, here are the results:

CSU: 37.2% (down 10.5) [christian social democrats]
SPD: 9.7% (down 10.9) [social democrats, center-left]
FDP: 5.1 (up 1.8%) [classical liberals, pro-market & business]
Greens: 17.5% (up 8.9%)
Freie Wähler: 11.6% (up 2.6%) “Free Voters”, centrist, non-aligned
AfD: 10.2% (from nowhere) right-wing, stridently anti-immigration

The “former” communists of Die Linke (3.2%, up 1.1%, hard left), and further small parties totaling 5.4%, did not clear the 5% electoral threshold, unlike the FDP which returns to parliament after falling short of the threshold last time around.

Landtag seats (out of 205, 103 needed for a majority):
CSU 85, Greens 38, Free Voters 27, AfD 22, SPD 22, FDP 11

Coalition negotiations have already started with the Free Voters, which would create a somewhat comfortable majority of 112. The FDP announced it will remain in the opposition: the Greens are in Germany traditionally split between a pragmatic “Realo” and hardcore “Fundi” wing, while the AfD, especially in Bavaria, is split between a national-liberal wing akin to Belgium’s N-VA, and a far-rightist faction with some unsavory elements.

The Biggest Losers

The CSU actually put in its worst performance in 60 years. Some (e.g. veteran psephologist Heinrich Oberreuter, himself a CSU member, quoted here) claim that this means the strategy of trying to position itself as AfD-lite on immigration backfired, while others claim it prevented an even bigger drubbing. The actual numbers (screenshots from the Tagesschau) seem to tell a mixed tale:

CSU voter movement

So the party actually drew 270,000 voters who did not vote in the previous election (voter participation, at 72.5%, was nearly 9% higher than in 2013), plus 100,000 SPD voters, while losing almost half a million voters split roughly equally between Greens, Free Voters, and AfD. One common complaint (70%) of those who changed their vote was that the CSU overstressed immigration to the exclusion of all other subjects.

But if the CSU saw a historical nadir, the SPD — the other major national party besides the CDU, and the country’s largest under Willi Brandt and Gerhard Schröder — is even deeper in the doldrums, having fallen to single digits! Where did they lose votes to?

SPD voter migration

Aside from the 100,000 who switched to the CDU, they lost big time to the Greens (200,000) and appreciably to the Free Voters (70,000) — but 30,000 even flipped to AfD!

When defectors were queried about their motives, three answers were gotten most frequently:

• 86%: time to “take the opposition cure”, as the priceless Dutch expression goes

• 85%: party lacks a central theme that can get people fired up

• 67%: nobody knows what the party really stands for

The latter is, of course, the most damning indictment of all.

In two weeks, there is another Landtag election coming up in the state of Hessen (the most important city of which is Frankfurt, though Wiesbaden is the state capital).

Angela Merkel’s words, “Wir schaffen das” (we can do this), have come to haunt her. Here in Bavaria, where the CSU went out of its way to show it wasn’t in Merkel’s pocket, the result was “sie haben es kaum geschafft” (they barely made it).