So the results are in. The Base didn’t get 30 per cent and the Independent Voters didn’t get 20 per cent, and the Economist‘s prediction that the CDU would win because it always wins didn’t work out so well either. The SPD’s lead over the CDU did tighten a couple of points over the margin of error in the final week of the campaign, but not enough to flip the result or to keep the CDU/CSU from getting the worst beating in its history. Here’s a map of the winners on the party-list, proportional section of the vote, from Der Tagesspiegel‘s interactive.
The salient point here is that the usual split along the former intra-German border is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the much older north-south divide has reasserted itself, with an SPD hegemony across what used to be Prussia, a contested zone in the Rheinland (a territory that joined Prussia very late and remained in a special status), a Christian Democratic power base in Baden-Württemberg and a Christian-Social one in Bavaria, while the far-right has become a Saxon regional party, although unlike the CSU, one that hasn’t been able to win the regional elections that would actually give it power.
Although the map breaks along lines with a lot of historical depth, going back as far as the Thirty Years’ War, it’s important to remember that it also strongly resembles the electoral maps of 1998 or 2002, when the SPD broke through in the former DDR and were therefore able to form a government. The CDU seemed hegemonic in the east in the 90s and again in the Merkel years, but there was nothing god-given about this – it might be more accurate to say that the former DDR has been the swing voting bloc in Germany since reunification. This excellent piece points out that 76 per cent of the SPD’s lead in the national popular vote is accounted for by winning big in the East. It was, after all, a Superwahltag because there were regionals in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on the same day, and the SPD did reasonably well in the first and absolutely triumphed with nearly 40 per cent in the second.
The obvious point here is that the CDU’s results in the east were boosted by Angela Merkel’s personal popularity and status as the first easterner in politics even more than anywhere else, and with that gone, all the cards were up in the air. The SPD’s focus on bread-and-butter social policy was a good call – the minimum wage hike, for example, would personally benefit 40 per cent of workers in the former DDR. The CDU doesn’t seem to have noticed any threat at all.
In a great twitter thread here, Dominik Haitz breaks down the correlates of the vote. Not remotely surprisingly, the rich voted for the FDP, the poor for the SPD, the young for the Greens, and the suburbs for the CDU. The extreme right’s popularity was strongly predicted by age, although interestingly, there’s a very different relationship between the percentage of old people and the AfD vote – strong, and linear – than between the percentage of young people and the AfD vote, which splits into two clusters. Ageing and emigration seem to have very different effects.
Die AfD bildet den Gegenpol zu den Grünen und ist besonders erfolgreich in Wahlkreisen mit überdurchschnittlich vielen Älteren. pic.twitter.com/E0dTRE4Zu0
— Dominik Haitz (@d_haitz) September 29, 2021
The Left party, meanwhile, does well either in post-industrial constituencies with high unemployment or else in Berlin kieze where everyone has a cargo bike but there are enough retired apparatchiks to keep the Greens from winning.
— Dominik Haitz (@d_haitz) September 29, 2021
Age was an interesting split. There wasn’t a “boomers vs millennials” clean break, instead, different age groups agreed the CDU/CSU should go but chose different opposition options, with the Greens and the FDP both doing much better with the young and the SPD better with the old:
but he seems to have got somewhere with it. see this chart based on exit poll data and stolen from @adam_tooze. he probably didn't make much headway with the classic hipster demographic but there's also the MBA students and Elon Musk fans to think about pic.twitter.com/KmixeiZWWH
— Alex Harrowell (@yorksranter) September 27, 2021
My bet is that the 18-34 market isn’t very interested in the politics of care – their parents are still working, they’re young, they don’t have kids yet – and that’s the SPD’s Mastermind specialist subject. Looking at the data with more granularity, though, it turns out to be more accurate to say that the SPD did well with the old and acceptably with the young, while the Greens and the FDP did sensationally with the young and poorly with the old.
As well as the young, the Greens won the cities, nicely shown by this Tagesspiegel graphic from the Berlin city elections:
Rather than an East-West divide, Berlin now has a divide running around the S-Bahn ring route with the SPD and CDU competing outside it and the Greens dominating within. (The referendum on whether or not to nationalise Deutsche Wohnen AG followed a similar pattern, with a two-thirds majority inside the ring and a narrow majority outside it.)
In terms of social class, it’s probably most telling that the SPD was No.1 among industrial workers (“Arbeiter”) and also among private-sector, white collar employees (“Angestellte”), and maybe also interesting that the Greens did best among civil servants (“Beamte”):
Sans Merkel, the CDU/CSU lead among women evaporated.
Wählerwanderung data from the exit poll shows the magnitude of the CDU/CSU catastrophe very clearly. They lost voters, in size, in almost every direction except for a few, baffling, pickups from the extremes:
Also, a million of their voters from last time have simply died without being replaced.
The SPD gained from everyone, including 1.3m over the middle from the CDU, 590k from the Left, and 320k from increased turnout, but lost 320k back to the Greens.
The Greens net-gained from everyone:
The other winner of the day, the FDP, picked up votes from the right and lost them to the left:
This one is probably significant as the FDP now has to make a deal with the Greens before it can talk to anyone else, and you know, it picked up 400k votes from the Right and another 100k from the Left party. Hipsters who landed in a higher tax bracket or taxphobic old Prussians from the east? Meanwhile, the Left party got absolutely spanked in every direction and the far right lost to everyone but did pick up 110k round the horseshoe from the Left, something its left-twitter fanbase outside Germany should probably have a think about.
Finally, 55 per cent of Germans wanted the SPD to lead the coalition, compared to 36 per cent for the CDU.
There’s been a lot of comment about Germans wanting change but not voting for it, but the simplest explanation might be that their definition of change included changing which party would lead the government.