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Blog Carsten Brzeski

Germany: (A different) wind of change

The state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia brought tailwinds for Angela Merkel and disappointment for her challenger Martin Schulz.

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats won the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia yesterday. According to latest polls (as of 10:30pm CET Sunday), the CDU gained some 33% of the vote. The Social Democrats (SPD) lost some 7 percentage points compared with the last elections in 2012, coming in at around 31.5%. The liberal party (FDP) gained almost 13% of the vote, while the Green Party (currently junior coalition partner of the SPD in the state government) came in at some 6%. The AfD managed to enter the next state parliament by gaining some 7% of the vote. The Left Party (Die Linke) currently stands at some 4.8% of the vote and will not make it into parliament.

Over 13 million of North Rhine-Westphalia’s 18 million residents were eligible to vote in yesterday’s – the most registered voters than any other German state. Therefore, the election had often been called as a small federal election – the grand repetition for the national elections in September. In our view, these labels were and are a bit overblown. State elections are most of the time not a blue print for the national elections. They are not a beauty contest for national politicians but often determined by regional topics and leading politicians. Still, with or without symbolic meaning for the September elections, last night’s result was a big blow for the SPD. The SPD had its worst result in the state North Rhine-Westphalia in more than 50 years. In 46 out of the last 51 years, the SPD had governed the state.

Nevertheless, even though state elections are not the same as national elections, last night holds several lessons for the September elections: i) the platform of social justice does not seem to win elections (not even in a state which economically is not the strongest in the country); ii) issues like security, rising crime, education, immigration and traffic jams seemed to more decisive; iii) the support for the AfD gets broader; and iv) the Greens and the Left Party are losing support.

While Angela Merkel’s CDU had lost several state elections in the last years, the three state elections in 2017 have brought three (sometimes surprising) victories. The SPD, which felt some electoral tailwinds in the first months of the year, however, lost two state governments. The political wind of change, which some observers believed to have seen at the start of the year, has at least for now become a rather painful and unexpected wind of change for the SPD.