Angela Merkel goes into her fourth term as German chancellor following an election that dealt a big blow to the large parties of the centre-right and centre-left, which have been governing together as a grand coalition.
Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, its Bavarian ally the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democrats (SPD) all recorded some of their worst results. Voters shifted their support to the smaller parties, particularly the rightwing nationalists of the AfD and the liberal Free Democratic party (FDP).
The SPD announced it would not participate in a renewed grand coalition, leaving a three-way “Jamaica” coalition between the CDU/CSU bloc, the FDP and the Greens as the only possible majority government.
Voters shift to smaller parties
More than 1m voters shifted away from the CDU/CSU parties to the AfD — but even more went to the FDP.
The SPD lost votes in nearly equal measure to the FDP, the Left, the Greens and the AfD.
The AfD was the big winner, drawing votes from all the big parties, especially the CDU/CSU bloc. Even more important, though, was its ability to mobilise previously disengaged voters and those who before voted for minor parties.
The FDP was the main beneficiary of the swing away from the CDU/CSU parties, while the Left offset losses to the AfD with gains from the SPD elsewhere. The Greens benefited from the decline of the SPD.
The biggest ever Bundestag
With seven parties represented in the Bundestag for the first time since the 1950s, the mathematics needed to maintain Germany’s proportional representation system have led to a bloated parliament.
The new 709-member Bundestag, tops the 672-seat chamber elected in 1994 to become the largest ever.
Germany’s changed political geography
In Germany’s electoral system, 299 MPs are directly elected by first-past-the-post voting. Just 20 seats changed hands this way, for a net change of only four after CDU and SPD gains cancelled each other out.
The AfD was able to win in three constituencies in Saxony, all gained from the CDU. The CDU also lost another directly elected seat to the Left.
The more significant changes occurred in the second, or party vote, that determines the composition of the Bundestag.
Explaining parties’ gains and losses
The AfD increased its vote share from 2013 in all 299 constituencies. It made gains in regions of eastern Germany where population growth due to migration has been stagnant.
With barely more than 20 per cent in vote share, the big loser of this election is the SPD.
Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research, DIW said: “The SPD has lost its classic working-class voters and this explains its constant struggle in the past elections.”
The SPD’s struggle is reflected in the election outcome, which saw it lose votes particularly in western German regions with high unemployment.
The Left has not changed in its overall vote share much but under the surface it has gone through an astonishing metamorphosis.
Traditionally the party has been strongest in eastern Germany, due to its origins as the successor of East Germany’s Socialist party. But the Left appears no longer to be the party of the working class. In fact, it performed the poorest in eastern areas with older populations and with a large share of people in manufacturing jobs.
The Left gained more votes across the country in areas with more younger voters and more people in high-quality jobs.
This points at the party becoming younger and more of a leftist option for professionals, which is comparable with the transformation of Labour in the UK.
Reporting and graphics by John Burn-Murdoch, Billy Ehrenberg-Shannon, Steve Bernard, Haluka Maier-Borst and Martin Stabe
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