German Election: Pollwatch

Today’s Handelsblatt reports that a poll carried out for N24 TV shows the CDU stabilising in the polls after last week’s Schröder Surge. The CDU was on 42%, up 1.5%, with the FDP on 6%, down 0.5%, putting the Festival of Sternness Coalition on 48.5%. The SPD sank back one percentage point to 33.5%, with the Greens unchanged on 7% and the Left on 8%, also unchanged – putting the two camps exactly level and the Ampelkoalition on 46.5%. (Regarding the “traffic light option”, it’s worth remembering that the Left and the CDU-CSU are not exactly the material of a stable opposition, and a minority government could theoretically survive by playing them off against each other.)

Interestingly, an opportunity to test the validity of electoral spread betting has come up – the betting market Wahlstreet (ouch) has the SPD on 34% and the CDU just under 40%, with Greens on 8.5%, Left on 7.5% and FDP on 7.5%. This would put the Red-Red-Green buggered imagination option in the box seat with exactly 50%, the CDU/FDP on 47.5%…and the Ampelkoalition over the finishing line with an impressive 50%. (Amusingly, given that the margin of error for the polls is 2.5%, Wahlstreet quotes to the nearest two decimal places.) Over time, it seems that votes are drifting very gradually from the smaller to the bigger parties.

You might think this is of limited interest, seeing as Guido “He’s Not Dull – He’s a Statesman” Westerwelle told the nation in last night’s TV debate that the FDP would be in opposition if the CDU/FDP ticket didn’t make it (Link to the Austrian newspaper whose website uses frames). But, not so fast!

The German newspaper whose website could be better organised reports today that the Minister-President of Rheinland-Pfalz, a Social Democrat (I’m tempted to hyphenate that too), Kurt Beck, has issued a quite crushing attack on Merkel for ruling out a grand coalition. He described this as a Frechheit, an act of cheek, towards the voters in that it meant saying that “if you vote for a particular coalition, we won’t play”. Which is pretty Frech in itself. This should, of course, be read as a signal to Gerhard Schröder to remain flexible in the matter of coalitions, and possibly also as Beck floating himself for a senior position, perhaps as a replacement for ministers a coalition partner considered unacceptable.

Let’s not beat about the bush here. Beck is only the boss of Germany’s wine province because – he’s in coalition with the FDP. And his remark that “we have all our responsibilities – first the state, then the party” and that “after the polls shut, it’s a question of forming a government responsible for Germany” is the sort of heavily Staatstragend (roughly, statesmanlike) rhetoric Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s FDP used to specialise in. He also made a heavy gesture towards SPD General Secretary Franz Müntefering, saying that “he’s very important to us and he’s doing an outstanding job.” (Müntefering, though, is the last man the FDP would go into coalition with…)

On the other hand, though, there has been an interesting development regarding the possibility of the imagination-buggering Schröder-Lafontaine reconciliation. The frame-using Austrian newspaper whose URLs are utterly devoid of meaning reports that Bodo Ramelow, the Linke’s campaign manager, has put the possibility that the Lefties might “tolerate” a (Not quite as) Red/Green government. In German-speaking politics, tolerating means to give a government you are not part of parliamentary support on a systematic basis, usually on terms – or to put it another way, an unacknowledged coalition. The PDS has already put-in the SPD in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (I think) under a similar arrangement.

This would have many advantages, as it would permit Gerhard and Oskar to do indecent things to the imagination whilst remaining, as it were, married. The Left could push its concerns up the agenda, and Schröder could stay in power – but on Oskar Lafontaine’s terms. Which would be essentially an optimal outcome for the Left. Have they been scheming for this all along? Gregor Gysi, for his part, told NTV that Red-Red-Green was “unrealistic because the SPD has become a second [Christian Democratic] Union”. Connoisseurs of the non-denial denial will immediately spot that he didn’t say they would not support Red-Green on their terms, just that they would not go into coalition with them.

If you think that was kinky, though, you need to check out FDP GenSec Dirk Niebel’s mind, though: he thinks the Linke breakaway is all part of a plot to achieve just that, “a strategic offering directed at the left camp”. No wonder they call him “Evil” Niebel. “We can now see that at least one-third of the cat is out of the bag,” he said. “It was always to be expected that the Lafontaine-PDS [now that’s bitchy] would swap its oppositional babblings for a taste of power.” Now that, frankly, is sick and twisted coalition politics smut at its filthiest.

3 thoughts on “German Election: Pollwatch

  1. Here’s what’s possible and what not: 1) Union/FDP. Most likely IMO. At the end of the day, swing voters will decide they ARE fed up with what they have had. 2) Grand coalition Union/SPD. Mind you, this one is the only scenario under which Schroeder’s decision to throw in the towel and call early elections makes any sense – he needs a majority in the federal chamber to implement anything. 3) Red-Green tolerated by a choice of Union/FDP. The PDS is out of the question for foreign policy reasons and does not help in the federal chamber. 4) Everything else – forget it. The FDP won’t play, and the PDS won’t be allowed to play.

  2. Finally a person that doesn´t have a surrealistic take on German politics. The only quibble would have to be that “toleration” doesn´t have to imply a quasi-coalition. It would indeed be possible for Schröder to present an agenda, form a Red-Green minority government and see who is willing to cooperate on which parts of the agenda in parliament. I am mentioning this because – Merkel´s public relations coups notwithstanding – the Union is as deeply divided on some issues as the three parties to the left of the Union are. Given the fact that regional elections can always change the political landscape significantly and induce tactical and strategic reconsiderations on the part of politicians whom Schröder might erroneously suppose to have “bagged” in some sort of stable agreement, he would be best advised to define what he wants to achieve and let anyone caring to lend his support do so. There is, e.g., broad support in Germany for the core premises of the Social Democrats´ health care concepts – not just among the electorate, but also among a large minority in the Union.
    In terms of political survival, any party is best served by not letting another party infringe on its copyrights on initiatives that have proven to be practical. The CDU has tried several times to “assimilate” positions originally staked out by Schröder – “Eigenheimzulage” comes to mind. In a grand coalition, it would be a foregone conclusion that the winner in this game would be the CDU – which is the reason why Schröder wouldn´t be available for such a configuration as a minority partner even if he felt that he might still be hungry enough for the top job four years from now.
    As to the actual outcome, Union/FDP remains much more likely than anything else. The last two regional elections have shown that Red/Green fared significantly better in the preceding polls than in the voting booth. I´d really bet 95:5 against Schröder.

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