The FDP has left the centre

This chart from the Berliner Morgenpost‘s election night data feature tells you everything you need to know about how the German coalition talks broke down. It shows the ideological positioning of every new MdB from the 2017 election.

The data is taken from Abgeordnetenwatch‘s candidate checker, which administered a standard questionnaire to all the candidates. I think the analysis they ran is the same one Chris Lightfoot’s empirical political compass survey used – ask them all a list of questions and then apply principal-components analysis in order to discover which combinations of questions and answers explain most of the variation between them. Rather than define the political positions and score people against them, this technique allows the positions to emerge from implicit relationships among the responses.

In the event, one axis shows a well-defined left-to-right political spectrum, spookily matching the Bundestag’s own hemicycle. The Left Party lines up on the far left, the Greens come next, and then the Social Democrats. Beyond the centre, the CDU and CSU line up in a similar way. All very orderly, like the main sequence of stars in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.

But then there’s the other axis. This gives us a cloud of anomalous outliers. You could try to make sense of this as a liberal-authoritarian axis, but the civil-libertarian Greens are on the same level as the CSU, so that won’t wash. It might be more useful to think of it as running between pro-Europeans or globalists and Eurosceptics or even, thinking of the AfD, provincial particularists. This might be right – some of the Left Party and CSU people on the fringes score higher on it, and both groups are critical of the EU.

Whatever it is, the property it measures is something that the AfD has in spades and that the rest of the political system doesn’t. The most left- and right-wing members of the political main sequence also have it to some extent. Fascinatingly, the new FDP MdBs are often very high scorers on it. In fact, the FDP overlaps startingly with the AfD, and it seems to have largely vacated the centre. Centrist Dad has left the building.

One possibility is that this axis might be measuring discontent with the Federal Republic in general, or a stereotypically populist attitude. Now, it’s been suggested on and off going back to the early 2000s that the FDP might drift into populism. Its early postwar history, in fact, saw it skate very close to a role like the FPO’s in Austria, basically a retirement home for old Nazis, before it installed itself in the main sequence of Federal Republic politics. And its role in government has often been…rather like a populist protest movement, but for rich people.

In some ways, what differentiates the CDU from the FDP is that the first is dominated by the business lobby, and the second by the wealth lobby. Conservative parties usually try to fuse both roles, fighting for the market economy and also for plutocracy at one and the same time. Perhaps this is why the CDU is one of the least objectionable forms of conservatism? One way in which this might be working out in practice is economic libertarianism. The first version of the AfD was very much about hard-money libertarian economics, before it swung further towards nationalism and populism. And after all, the alliance of libertarianism and nationalism is stinking up a comments thread near you right now. Jasper von Altenbockum says something similar in the FAZ here, pointing out that the FDP has been emphasising both its economic libertarian and its “national-liberal” side in pursuit of AfD votes.

This makes a lot of sense. Neither the CDU nor the Greens have any use for the politics of the Internet troll. And Rich People Populists; it’s a thing. You down with RPP? Yeah, you know me…