Insight from the field: Germany — First lessons from Berlin’s election rerun
International observers, labour votes shifting right, and a winner who may still lose eventually: Last Sunday’s election in the German capital was rich in curiosities.
Campaigning in the German capital on cold winter days is a challenge in itself. However, trying to mobilise voters and encourage supporters to approach strangers in its foggy concrete valleys — after an exhausting multi-election campaign had been fought just 18 months earlier — can turn into an existential struggle for any party. And it did.
Feeling baffled? You are not alone.
Local residents like me have been confused as well — voters, observers and candidates alike. But this also means there might be valuable lessons to learn from this case. So let’s take a closer look at the most crucial factors in this unusual campaign.
On 26 September 2021, Berliners had been called not only to vote in federal elections but also to elect their regional parliament and district councils, and to participate in a referendum on expropriating big housing companies. All on the same day.
A mega election day…
…turned into a mega chaos: Missing ballots, temporarily closed polling stations, long queues. For Berlin’s constitutional court, shortcomings were so serious that it declared the two local elections invalid, and thus subjected to repetition. Unlike in snap elections, candidates and terms remain the same in the case of repeat elections; and laws already passed retain their validity.
How did parties perform?
In Professor Dr Nils Diederich’s view, the entire campaign was extraordinarily vapid: “The slogans are all extremely arbitrary. Rarely have I seen anything as shamefully weak as the parties’ posters this year”, the retired political scientist from Freie Universität (93) said a few days before the vote.
“They all lack a clear profile”.
“Sure, CDU [Christian Democrats] is trying to fish in AfD’s pond [far-right]. But whether it will succeed is questionable. Politics in Berlin is played out in words and symbolic actions. However, there is not that much actually happening”, said the former member of the Bundestag for the Social Democrats (SPD).
On 12 February 2023, about 2.4 million were eligible, 61% came to vote, roughly 14% less than in 2021, when the Bundestag was elected simultaneously.
CDU: 28.2% (+10.2)
SPD: 18.4% (-3.0)
Greens: 18.4% (-0.5)
Left: 12.2% (-1.9)
FDP: 4.6% (-2.5)
AfD: 9.1% (+1.1)
Conservatives played it well.
“Dissatisfaction with other parties” was the most popular motif. According to data by the political research provider Infratest dimap, only 24% of eligible voters were satisfied with the “red-green-red” Senate of SPD, Greens and Left.
CDU has won for the first time since 1999, and by a large margin. Its recent upsurge, nevertheless, is mostly attributable to the coalition’s poor response to violent riots on new year’s eve.
By successfully picking up on security concerns CDU managed to gain across generations, and especially among workers: Merely about 19% voted for the SPD, a loss of 8 points. CDU was able to improve its result from 2021 by 13 percentage points, attracting around 31% in this occupational group.
45% of eligible voters were convinced CDU would do a better job ensuring law and order. Yet, not even one in four expressed satisfaction with the work of top candidate Kai Wegner. Only 27% said they would vote for him to become mayor, if possible, as opposed to 33% for SPD frontrunner Franziska Giffey.
But the 2023 outcome remains unclear.
At the same time, 39% of respondents in a recent survey by the polling firm Forsa Institute favoured Wegner over Giffey (27%). 65% supported a CDU-led Senate and 45% wished for a grand coalition, while only 33% preferred a continuation of the status quo.
Now, a few days after the vote it is still entirely unclear who will likely govern the capital in the coming years. CDU believes firmly that Berliners voted the coalition out of office. But it might be the only one seeing it that way: The Greens made their preference for a continuation already clear and Giffey has reiterated her unabated will to lead.
Democratic procedures are supposed to provide a neutral framework for political dispute. But in Berlin, like in so many other places across Europe, they have become the main object of this dispute.
As neither fog nor dispute will settle anytime soon here in the German Capital, we are excited to offer you a retrospective inside view of the CDU campaign in an upcoming issue of PartyParty.
Author: Florian Peschl
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