Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The race for the Bundestag has begun

In a “surprise attack” chancellor Schroeder announced he and his party (at least those knowing about this) will try for early federal elections in the fall. This decision followed the loss of the election in North Rhine Westphalia, a traditional SPD state, governed by the SPD for almost four decades.

If this happens, this is going to be an exciting summer for me. I get to see a new campaign. How is voter behavior shaping up? What is gonna be the outcome of a new election? Will Schroeder achieve what he wants with this move – an early third term, or will Germany see a new coalition in power in December? Will Germany have a FEMALE EAST GERMAN chancellor?

Well first of all, the whole move by the SPD may look like political hara-kiri. They are trailing way behind the CDU in the current polls and the Greens have serious problems after the visa-scandal around Joschka Fischer. Their results in the polls and Joschka Fischer’s image are way down. So why do this? Why not wait until next year, hope that the Greens recover from the scandal, hope that the economy shows some progress and maybe hope that Germany wins or at least performs well on the soccer championship in Germany in 2006 (Schroeder as a soccer fan would most likely be able to get more sympathy points for that over his most likely opponent Angela Merkel).

The situation for him isn’t that great right now. The CDU is strengthened in the Bundesrat, his own coalition not as united as it needs to be in order to push for more economic reforms. Being blocked by the opposition and being passive is not Schroeder’s style. He is the man who tries to sell himself as the one who does things. Have mud flung at him and hoping for things that may never come (after all, the economic situation may not get better, the Greens might not recover and Germany could loose out in the qualifying rounds) is a too passive and too risky move. Furthermore it may worsen the conflicts within the SPD (between the left wing and the reformist wing) and then leave the SPD defeated and divided in the opposition. This surprise attack gives Schroeder the chance to get the party behind him, get them up and running, stop the bickering.

Furthermore it gives him a bit of an advantage over the CDU/CSU. The CDU/CSU is not united. They haven’t solved the so called “K-frage” (the nomination for chancellor). They haven’t thought out a clear program, new concepts. Will they self-destruct? Will they bicker internally over who will represent them in the campaign? Will they be able to get concepts together that are clear and convincing and superior to the Agenda 2010 proposed by Schroeder? Ruettgers, the newly elected prime minister of the state of North Rhine Westphalia from the CDU surely was able to dip into the SPD voter clientele by getting workers to vote for him. Will this work on the federal level?

Another interesting question is what kind of issues will be important in the election? According to DW-TV, the SPD plans to focus on the economy and foreign policy. The economy is unavoidable. It is on the minds of the people, they need to show competence there, even though things are not going well at the moment. If they weren’t picking this issue, the CDU would force it on them. The SPD needs a way to frame this issue themselves (and catching the CDU off guard might give them that little advantage).
Choosing foreign policy is an interesting move. I have the feeling the SPD tries a similar thing that worked in the last election: feeding off the unpopularity of George Bush. Big stretch you think? George Bush is not popular among the German population. However, Angela Merkel has supported Bush’s position. It is possible that the SPD tries to feed off this move and exploit it to their advantage. Claudia Roth from the junior partner the Greens made a similar reference this morning already. Another thing: the anti-war stance of the SPD might have mobilized some PDS voters to vote for the SPD (the lesser evil) in the last election. Trying to dip into that resource again?

What else? Education? Health Care? CDU/ CSU is internally divided on the latter and blocking some reforms in the Education area (junior professorship). Another thing is that most CDU-led states support the introduction of tuition for studies. The SPD doesn’t. Another way for the SPD to mobilize the younger voters?

I am very interested to see what is happening in the East this time around. The 2002 election was won in the East. With many East Germans not being clearly aligned with one of the traditional parties, their votes are up for grabs. Will they vote SPD again (voting for the lesser evil), will Angela Merkel be able to mobilize East Germans to vote for her, because she is an East German (an argument that could totally backfire in the West in turn). East Germans are more likely to vote for Angela Merkel than West Germans are. One reason for West Germans not to vote for her could be perceived incompetence. Angela Merkel does not have a positive image. Another reason is – she is a female. Is Germany ready for a female leader? DW-TV did a few street interviews in Munich, the CSU heartland. There one guy said he’d leave Germany when Angela Merkel becomes chancellor. Another said he’d prefer a man as a leader in these hard times Germany is facing. On the other hand, others were quite open to the idea of having a female chancellor and also said someone from the new laender (East Germany) would be desirable.

How will the PDS perform? So far I haven’t heard anything from that party. Latest polls have the PDS between 4% and 5% nationally and at 22.3% in the East (they got 16.9% from East German voters in 2002, but their support had dropped to that from 23% only in the last 4 weeks before the 2002 elections). What will their strategy be? Will they try to go after unhappy left SPD voters in the West and will they be able to mobilize them? What would a PDS entry to the Bundestag mean? How does that affect coalition making? Let the CDU support drop by 4% (to 40) and the FDP stay at their 8% - we have 48% for CDU/CSU and FDP. If the SPD gets 4%(from the current 28.6) more, the Greens 10% (currently at 9.8) and the PDS 6% nationally – this camp has about 48% then too. What coalition will we see? Possibly even a grand one? Or a red-green-pink one? Red-Green and yellow?

Can the SPD get the 4% more? It is possible. In 2002 they had in May 33.2%, by September they had 38.5% However, the CDU had remained fairly stable in their poll results from May 2002 to September 2002, peaking in August at 40%. The increased SPD support came at the expense of the PDS back then. I am doubtful they can dip into that reservoir again like they did then. East Germans (or a substantial amount of the voters there) might not trust either one of the big parties this time around and vote PDS. After all the PDS is stronger in some laender governments than the SPD (Saxony, Thuringia). On the other hand, the PDS does not have a strong identification figure at the moment, like Gregor Gysi was. Not being able to actively participate on the federal level has left them with very little to show for on the national level. All they can bank on right now is how they participate in the East German laender and in some cities.

So here are a bunch of questions (and I could raise more…). I am curious to see how the answers unfold over the next months. The race has begun.


Miguel (MABB) said...


Good to hear from you again!

I think the PDS will only increase their support in the East. Lots of East Germans I know have (half jokingly) said they'd vote for PDS. Things are not getting better over here. If you see it from the point of view of a German, things have only gotten worst.

The implementation of Hartz IV and the Artz gebühren are only the tip of the iceberg.

By the way, I do hope you maintained your health insurance coverage regular within Germany. If, not, you might have problems to get back in the system when you are back.

I think the people in general are looking to hold on to the system. Ironically, the SPD has been the vehicle to lots of unwanted change. But, what the people who turned to the CDU might not be realizing is that the CDU/CSU's alternative is even more radical and will bring even more "reform" to a system which is to the point of being erased.

Miguel (MABB) said...

Sorry, I forgot to write my name to the previous comment.

Miguel (MABB)

Heather said...

Thanks for this...Lucky you'll have a front-row seat for all the action! : )

Aufbau Ost said...

Heather: and you will probably hear what I see. :)

Miguel: I think you ae right on that. The PDS apparently plans to engage Gregor Gysi as their leading candidate again. That alone will bring back huge attention to the PDS.

Furthermore, I looked at electoral results from the state elections in Brandenburg. 22 districts were directly captured by PDS candidates. These districts are clustered in regions making up 5 electoral districts for elections for bundestag. In the last federal election those districts were captured by SPD members by wide margins, however, if the shift to the PDS is more permanent (and based on the not so friendly economic development there), those 5 districts could be up for grabs for the PDS. This will be very interesting.

Miguel said...

Surprise, Oskar just threw his hat into the ring with his own coalition. The SPD are in for some trouble now.

Things are not looking good now. I is getting interesting.

Aufbau Ost said...

Absolutely not, Miguel. What a blow for the SPD. Like we need a fragmentation of the left wing.