A brief analysis of the German federal election 2021

Analysis

Germany has voted. The SPD, Greens and FDP come out of the elections as the winners, but take a very different view of the results – depending on their expectations and the pressure they feel upon them to act. By and large, the trend towards a party system in which no single party dominates continues. Constituency seats played a very particular role in these elections. This brief analysis provides an overview of the initial results, with a more comprehensive, empirical analysis to follow in the next few days.

Inside the dome of the Reichstag building

This article is part of our dossier "Germany has voted - The aftermath of the 2021 German federal election".

 

Greens, SPD and FDP grow

Three winners emerged from the parliamentary elections: with an increase in vote share of 5.2 percentage points, the SPD is the largest single party, gaining 25.7% of the vote. Alliance 90/The Greens made the greatest gains – 5.8% – out of all parties. Its 14.8% share of the vote fell short of expectations, but they won 16 constituency seats. The FDP increased its share slightly (+0.7%) to 15.5%. The main losers were the parties of the Union, particularly the CDU. AfD and The Left also lost ground.

The election results confirm the German federal republic’s evolution into a six-party system in which the distances between parties at federal level are considerably smaller than in previous years. Voter turnout, on the other hand, remained stable (76.6%; +0.4 compared to 2017).

New options for coalitions

Mathematically and politically, election results allow three possible coalitions: the politically unlikely continuation of the Grand Coalition of SPD and CDU/CSU or an alliance between the Greens and FDP with SPD or the Union. For the first time ever, and reflecting changes in the competition between the parties, the Greens and FDP have pledged that they will discuss political cooperation between the two of them first before entering talks with the two larger groups. Any other configurations potentially on the table before the elections would not secure a parliamentary majority.

 


Political representation of women in Parliament up slightly

The modest increase in the number of seats held by women MPs (+3.3% compared to 2017) in the new parliament can be imputed chiefly to the increased vote share of the Greens and SPD. With 58.5%, the Greens have the highest proportion of women of any political group. At 34.7%, women continue to be woefully underrepresented in the Bundestag overall.


Regional patterns in voter behaviour – but not along East-West lines

The best second-vote results at constituency level highlight the success of the SPD, particularly in the new federal states. As for the Union, the CSU dominates Bavaria, but the former CDU dominance is mostly reduced to strongholds in Baden-Württemberg and a number of regions in North Rhine-Westphalia. The 2021 elections show that the dissimilarities in voting behaviour between East and West should now be considered in a more differentiated light: whilst the second vote in Thuringia and Saxony is marked by the AfD, voters in the northern states of East Germany leaned more towards the SPD in these elections.

Constituency seats in the spotlight

For the first time ever, the Greens won 16 constituency seats (+15 compared to the last parliamentary elections). The Left’s three seats allow it to remain in Parliament (second vote result 4.9%). AfD benefited from CDU’s poor showing, gaining 16 seats. Overall, the number of direct constituency seats held by SPD, CDU, CSU, Greens, The Left and AfD will keep the parliament smaller than anticipated.

Voter migration

With turnout largely stable, the CDU haemorrhaged votes, mainly to the SPD (around 1.5 million on balance). On balance, the Greens gained from all parties, with support from previous CDU and The Left voters (920,000 and almost 500,000 respectively), SPD and FDP (around 250,000 each) and former non-voters (roughly 300,000). The SPD’s election victory is similarly based largely on mobilisation of non-voters and gains from the Left. AfD made a net loss of almost 1 million voters, mainly to SPD and FDP.

Generational differences on the increase

In these parliamentary elections, younger voters turned out in particularly high numbers in support of the Greens, closely followed by the FDP. Future-oriented issues, such as climate protection and digitalisation, appear to have been strong motivators here. These elections revealed a considerable difference between younger and older voters: the CDU now has barely any support from younger groups. If everybody had voted the same way as older members of the electorate, the Grand Coalition would have held on to a healthy majority. Support for this formation has fallen below 30% among younger generations of voters.

 

This article was first published in German on boell.de.