Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hamburg election: worrying news for the Christian Democrats?

Thanks, JD, for drawing my attention for this one!

Germany's internal political situation has received little attention since the 2013 federal election. However, a number of regional elections have taken place recently have had a number of interesting results. Last week, it was the turn of Hamburg to go to the polls, and the results are somewhat interesting.


Hamburg is a city in the north of Germany. Like the cities of Berlin and Bremen, it is also a state, and accordingly, the Premier (as we know it in Australia) is called the Mayor, although he has the same powers as Germany's other state Premiers. It is the eleventh most populated state in Germany.

Hamburg uses a mixed-member proportional representation system. It has a 121 member unicameral parliament.

Hamburg was run by the left-wing Social Democrats from 1957 to 2001, making it generally a left-leaning state. In the 2001 election, however, they lost government, with the centre-right Christian Democrats forming government with the controversial right-wing Law and Order party and the liberal Free Democrats. Law and Order collapsed in 2004, but the Christian Democrats formed a majority government.

In 2008, the Christian Democrats lost their majority, but formed a coalition with the Green Party in a rather unusual pairing. The 2011 election was a disaster for the Christian Democrats; they lost half their seats, and the Social Democrats won a majority.

The 2015 results

Party analysis

The Social Democrats will find this election result good news. They won 58 seats; a loss of four, but still a good result, and one that will allow them to form government with the party of their choice. Given that they won only 32% of the vote in Hamburg at the federal election in 2013, it is a good result for the local government.  Such a result indicates that the coalition with the Christian Democrats at the federal level hasn't had any immediate backlash. The most likely coalition looks likely to be with the Greens.

The Christian Democrats are unlikely to enjoy this result much. A swing away from an already weak party seems to show that voters are unhappy with their performance in opposition. They have remained consistent in polling at the federal level, meaning that the result doesn't seem to be any backlash against the Merkel government.
There's not much to say about the Green performance in Hamburg. It's a good result; their equal third best in the state since their formation. It's very close to the Christian Democrat result, but more out of a lack of support for the Christian Democrats than any serious Green surge.

The Left only entered the Hamburg parliament in 2008. This is not unusual for states that were in West Germany and had had no serious far-left presence. Under the Weimar Republic (1919-1935), there was a big Communist presence, but that faded away after World War 2. They managed to do well, gaining three seats from  but it seems unlikely that they will be a serious challenge to the established parties in Hamburg.

The liberal Free Democrats did well. They polled about the same as last election, and won the same number of seats (nine). However, this is against the backdrop of serious decline for the party, which lost all its federal seats in 2013 and has been losing seats at the state level just as quickly. The result in Hamburg may not represent a turning point for the party, but it shows that they still have some support.

There has been lots of discussion about the Alternative for Germany party lately. This party has a somewhat conflicting message; some members are pro-European Union but anti-common currency, while some are more anti-EU and anti-immigration. They continued their run of success, winning 6.1% and eight seats. They had won seats in every state election since the federal election, and the polls say that they are likely to win 6-7% federally. However, as the story of the Pirates (who won 1.6%) has shown us, new entrants into the German political landscape are not always welcomed warmly.

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