Flip It And Reverse it: CDU vs Greens Beyond Bavaria

Here’s some more interesting Bavarian elections data. What if we looked at this the other way up?

The parties of the Left, broadly defined, have been on about 30% in Bavaria since the dawn or rather rebirth of democracy in 1946. The CSU hegemony is a thing! Even if the Right is down to only a two-thirds majority depending how you cut it.

If we hoist this in, though, it leads to another thought. Bavaria’s conservative majority has been both reduced and reshuffled. This switches the balance between concentrated strength in direct mandates and distributed strength in the proportional ones. The CDU can’t count on the CSU to deliver 50-odd direct mandates come what may any more, so how’s the CDU itself doing?

Current federal opinion polling puts the CDU/CSU – it is always polled as a unit – on between 26% and 28%, down 10 percentage points from election day. The Greens’ score has more than doubled, from 8% to 18%. How much of this is down to the CSU’s crisis in Bavaria? How much is a wider phenomenon between the Greens, the SPD, and the CDU on the wider federal level?

Well, we know that the Bundeswahlleiter counted in 30.2% of valid votes for the CDU and 7% for the CSU, total 37.2%. We know that the polling is ~27% for both combined. And we further know that the CSU won 36.7% of a Bavarian first-ballot electorate that represents 14.6% of the 2017 federal first-ballot electorate, hence the CSU is 5.4% ((0.367*0.146)*100) of the federal poll. If the total CDU/CSU is 27% of the national vote and the CSU is 5.4%, the CDU alone must be 21-22%.

What of the Greens? Well, their score in Bavaria represents 2.5% ((0.1753*0.146)*100) of the federal electorate, while the party is polling 17 to 19% federally. This can only mean that the Greens outside Bavaria are about 15.5% (18-2.5) federally, or only a startling six points behind the mainline CDU. This might well explain why Brinkhaus went for it. Further, nine points of their 10 point gain since election day 2017 are from outside Bavaria, which matches the CDU’s net loss precisely.

Not the October Revolution, but a Revolution in October

Bavarian elections! The short news is that the CSU hit that concrete abutment, but maybe only going 90 rather than 120 kilometres an hour. The Greens won big. The AfD got in, but underperformed their result at the general election. The SPD did badly even in a state where they always do badly.

Who’s going to be in charge? Well. The CSU has a choice between a coalition with the Greens and one with the third-placed Freien Wähler or Independent Voters.

This last is yet another Bavarian exception, a protest movement against the CSU itself that’s strong where the CSU was back in the day, in the countryside and away from Munich to the north. The FAZ covers their conditions here: they’d like a tax cut to look after old Mittelständler, some complicated things about schools, and they’d like to NIMBY some projects that the CSU love and some projects that the Greens love.

The main argument for picking the FWs is that they’re very like the CSU and it might not hurt as much. The main argument against is that they would offer less of a majority, that they are defined by rebelling against the CSU, and they don’t offer any federal perspective. The Greens, on the other hand, could offer a stronger majority and important future opportunities in Berlin. Going into coalition with the CSU, though, would be a highly symbolic event for them and they would set a high price in policy and in heads, probably demanding the party repudiate Horst Seehofer and his policy on refugees. It’s a tough decision.

How did it happen? Like this:

The CSU lost 180,000 voters to the AfD. It lost exactly as many to the Greens. It lost 170,000 to the FWs, and interestingly, 40,000 to the Liberals, who are hanging out to know if they made the 5% mark. Its slightly less bad performance comes down to picking up 100,000 from the SPD, and above all, a last minute drive for turnout, getting an extra 200,000 from nonvoters.

The point that strikes me here is that for every vote lost to the far-right, they lost 2.2 across the centre ground. The FAZ‘s data analysis makes an important related point. 75% of voters who switched away from the CSU gave their “obsession with asylum-seekers” as a reason. 65% accused Horst Seehofer of acting out of personal ambition. 60% of all electors were dissatisfied with the CSU’s performance in government and half of them thought minister-president Markus Söder was untrustworthy.

The SZ has an interview with the Green parliamentary chairman who points out that precisely Bavarian local governments, churches, and civic institutions looked after huge numbers of refugees, and that this Vereinsleben responded to the party’s appeal. If this is so it promises seismic change across the former west Germany.

The Greens picked up the 180k from the CSU, 210k from the SPD, mobilised 120k non-voters, gained 10k from the Liberals and lost 10k to the AfD. The main point to note here is that they are gaining from all directions that have scale – the centre-left, the centre-right, and the disenchanted. The SPD lost people in every direction, in size.

The AfD’s biggest single source of voters was previous voters for “others”, in size 220k, bigger even than the CSU. Across the other political parties, overwhelming majorities think the AfD is infested with Nazis, suggesting that the potential in their direction has its limits:

A crucial issue within the CSU is what impact this has on their federal role. The votes cast yesterday account for 14.64% of the federal electorate in 2017. At the 2017 elections, the CSU’s performance in Bavaria got it 7% of the federal vote. Yesterday’s showing puts it on 5.38% federally – agonizingly close to the 5% mark that would wipe out its federal representation and end its usefulness to the CDU. This may explain why they are arguing about Söder, Seehofer, and company – if it had been closer there would be no arguing.

As for the K-frage, well. On one hand, another enemy floats past down the river, the CSU pays the price for getting caught on the wrong side of the new organizing diagonal between Europeans/cosmopolitans and nationalists/provincialists.

On the other hand, the long term deal between the CDU and the CSU was that the CSU could be Bavarian particularists in a way that had gone from the rest of Germany, and more conservative and Catholic than was acceptable elsewhere, as long as they supported the republic and helped the broader conservative cause. Their super-hegemony in Bavaria helped a lot as they delivered a big block of seats that they held with direct mandates, i.e. with an absolute majority of votes cast. This made them very safe seats, a reliable factor in events.

If this block is now cut down to size it could have big consequences.

German Links

I have decided to up our coverage of Germany. I was talking in the previous post about the potential for a Green breakthrough in this month’s state elections, and I mentioned that the conditions for this seem to be everywhere but the former East Germany. In fact, although east-west tension has been a theme for as long as there hasn’t been a wall in the way, it has been a huge force this year.

This is a really excellent piece on Sachsen’s history since reunification. In many ways, if you’re looking for a reason why the province (sorry, free state) is the centre of German populism, a short answer is that it’s a microcosm of reunification with the intensity turned up to 11. Was it governed by carpet-bagger elites who swept in from the West? Why yes. Did the new elite set up a patronage network and rule in a way that fostered an insider-outsider culture and Untertanmentalität? Well, they took to calling the minister president the king, and the main way to interact with the authorities was to petition him via the chancellery run by…his wife. But I thought the economy did relatively well and it attracted a lot of foreign direct investment? Yes, it did, but in important ways this was allowed to create a hard division between the new economy and the old. All the elements are there, and they’re not things you only find in Germany.

Chemnitz’s populist leader seems to be more a Saxon separatist than anything else and claims to feel more in common with Poland and the Czechs than the rest of Germany. He is also, weirdly, a lawyer who makes most of his money fighting immigrants’ cases, a Russophile, and surrounded by Germans who migrated from the Soviet Union (more here).

For comparison, here’s polling on what exercises people in Hessen. CDU minister president Volker Bouffier may be in trouble, but the choices are gloriously normal.

Ned Richardson-Little discusses the rise and fall of the SPD in the East. Schröder’s triumph came with a surge of both SPD voting and electoral participation in the ex-DDR, but the let-down was already noticeable by 2005 (you could have said the same thing about New Labour) and the postcrisis elections of 2009 saw a collapse in turnout. This left the CDU as the hegemonic party, and may have resulted in the AfD breakthrough out east.

Gerhard Schröder, you say? What’s he been up to?

Der Tagesspiegel covers his fifth wedding, a small and intimate ceremony for 150 guests in the Hotel Adlon’s Palaissaal. Technically it was a private function because it didn’t appear on the President’s diary, but Frank-Walter Steinmeier did show up in a private capacity. The Russian and Turkish foreign ministers were invited but didn’t show. Russian state oil company Rosneft, however, congratulated the happy couple by commissioning a life-sized portrait of supervisory director, Gerhard Schröder.

Merkel’s Diagonal Politics and the Green Revival

The CSU’s horrible autumn goes on. The party is now down to 33% in the polls, and its leaders are deep into the blame game. Bavarian minister-president Markus Söder is blaming “Berlin”, when he is not pretending to be Buzz Lightyear, and when he says it he means party leader and federal interior minister Horst Seehofer, who for his part announced that he is satisfied with his work in the job.

The beneficiary, though, looks to be the Greens. They are now on 18 per cent in Bavaria, overtaking the SPD. In Hessen, where they are in government and where elections are coming up this month, their co-leader and deputy minister-president, Tarek Al-Wazir, has the best personal rating of any politician. Der Tagesspiegel‘s Cordula Eubel puts forward five reasons for this.

The first is quite simply that they are the absolute opposite of the AfD. This is an important and interesting point. Since 2016, I have the impression that the only politicians who have successfully opposed populism are the ones who have chosen full-throated confrontation rather than compromise. Unlike the CDU, CSU, SPD, or the Left party, the Greens have never tried to compromise on migration or Europe.

A while ago I wrote this piece for POLITICO about Merkel’s choice to draw a new dividing line between globalists or Europeans on one side and nationalists or provincial particularists on the other and how it had both disoriented her opponents and put the Greens in the centre of politics. I wanted to situate this in a history of so-called diagonal politics going back to Bismarck, but oddly, the Pol editors chose to keep the modern dance references and cut the ones to Fritz Stern’s Gold and Iron. (The raw version is here.)

Defining the party landscape around this new organizing division has had interesting consequences for the Greens in particular. Where they were once undeniably part of the Left, competing with the SPD, they are now part of the broader European camp and as a result they can now compete with all the parties whose voters they would actually want. This is expressed in practice by the Greens’ willingness to operate in a wide variety of coalitions. Even though the 2017 federal elections were a poor showing, the party is represented in no fewer than nine state governments. An uncharitable reading of this would be that they would sign up with nearly anyone to get into office, but a more positive one would be that one of today’s most important divides is between the wonks and the trolls, and one side of that divide deeply values the willingness to take on responsibility and the capacity to exercise it.

Part of the story here is that the Liberals have vacated the centre and morphed into a populist movement for rich people. This isn’t going too well for them; at the federal level they are around 10 per cent, but in Bavaria and Hessen they are only just scraping over the 5% mark to get any representation at all. Richel, Stauss sums up the problem: the FDP core electorate is in many ways even more conservative than the conservatives, but it’s a tiny and shrinking group, and the party’s efforts to appeal to its conservatism are crassly incoherent with its tragic efforts to seem hip.

But there’s more here than mere centrism. Rather, successful centrism requires an awareness of where the centre actually is, rather than just behaving like either big party with 50% of the intensity. Historically, the party has been contained by a cultural barrier to its right and an economic barrier to its left. The cultural one was defined by its social policy and even more so by its style and tone. A major part of its 1968 heritage was its critique of bourgeois ways in general, while the CDU often seemed to be a positive temple of all things bougie. The problem for the CDU here is first of all that the Greens won the culture wars. Everyone who can afford to lives roughly like that, even if they consume media that endlessly mocks them for doing so. The FDP’s lame efforts at hipstership are a comic homage to this. Tellingly, this is not much different anywhere in the developed world.

The second problem for the CDU and CSU, which arises out of this, is that a lot of critics of the Greens always said their critique of the bourgeoisie was itself rather bourgeois. Wanting a less materialist, more culture-bearing way of life, respectful of children, concerned for the development of personal integrity and full citizenship, seeking a better relationship between women and men – all these things were themes of German intellectual, bildungsbürgerlich culture since the Romantic Era. Like a lot of things people denounce as terribly middle-class, there are good reasons why anyone who can afford to adopts them. The turn-of-the-century life-reform movements would have agreed in spades, and they deeply informed the American counterculture the Greens mined for inspiration. Ironically, in as far as this detracts from their radical pretensions it also lets them speak to values that resonate with a lot of middle-class Germans and especially with the Church.

The economic one was quite simply that it didn’t have much of an offer to workers as such, and occasionally it seemed to think they should be happy if their wages fell because they’d have to sing round the piano rather than buy stuff. Another important point Eubel picks up is that neither of the Green co-leaders has become involved in internal faction fighting. Although they both originate from the so-called realist tendency, they have avoided defining themselves by the fundamentalist side’s hostility, and in fact they have sought unity by adopting a more redistributionist economic and social policy. If this sticks it could be very threatening indeed to the rest of German politics.

Ironically, rather than creating a new docile junior partner for the CDU, Merkel’s redrawing of the lines may have unleashed a powerful competitor to both of the big parties – at least in the West. The next coalition might well be a black/green one, but its terms will be very different than anyone imagined in 2016.