Friday, September 25, 2009

A Nailbiter

I have been in Germany since Thursday on a study tour organized by the International Association for the Study of German Politics and the DAAD. There are 54 academics, mainly from the UK and USA here, engaged in a variety of election-related activities--political rallies, one-on-one meetings with politicians and roundtables with electoral researchers and pollsters. Of course, the best thing about being in Berlin is the opportunity to absorb the Stimmung in the last days of the campaign.

And what a difference a few days makes. All of a sudden, the "most boring campaign" in living memory--likened to a city council election in Würzburg by Roger Cohen in the International Herald Tribune--has become interesting. With the polls tightening, the outcome is not assured. And when things are so tight, all prognoses are within the margin of error. The big topic here is whether the CDU/CSU-FDP will win a majority of seats thanks to Überhangmandate, but will lose the popular vote. I also think that we need to have be skeptical towards these polling results--we should not forget that the polling institutes overestimated the actual result for the CDU last time by 5-6%.

But, according to the folks from Forschungsgruppe Wahlen and Infratest dimap, a Black- Yellow government is still the most likely outcome, even though no one knows how crucial the Überhangmandate will be. Moreover, the % of undecided voters is at an all-time high--at 19% of the electorate (11% in 2005). The pollsters offered up several tantalizing tidbits of information:

° The incidence of vote splitting--voters choosing one party for the territorial representative and another for the all-important party list vote has continued to increase--to 27% this year (22% in 2005). Richard Hilmer from Infratest dimap thinks that vote splitting, particularly CDU voters giving their second vote to the FDP was responsible for the unexpected outcome in 2005. This situation may recur this year.

° Yvonne Schroth from Forschungsgruppen Wahlen notes that never has there been such a volatile electorate, with an unprecedented level of readiness to vote across ideological divides. For example, 24% of CDU voters would vote for the Greens (unthinkable 20 years ago). Still, 15% of voters are unsure about their choice on Sunday (up from 11% at this point in 2005).

° Viola Neu from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation concluded that she just doesn't know what indicators or factors will matter for the final result--too much is in flux this time around. Only 25% of the German electorate are still Stammwähler, meaning that 3/4 are floating voters. She also thinks that it is scandalous that a peripheral topic--the Überhangmandate--have taken on so much importance. She points out that all of the media attention was generated by an esoteric mathematical academic model. She also asserted that the media are responsible for the widespread belief that this election has been boring and content-less. Apparently, media figures vacationed in Berlin when everyone else was abroad in August, concluding that the election was boring at that time, and, in a classic example of media framing and narrativizing, the reputation has stuck.

° Wolfgang Gibowski thinks that the SPD needs to return to opposition to maintain the overall stability of the German system. He thinks that the country needs two catch-all Volksparteien and if the SPD stays in power in a continuation of the grand coalition, it will continue to lose support and will cease to be a Volkspartei.

There was quite a bit of talk about the Überhangmandate. Reinhard Bütikofer of the Greens said that if Black-Yellow gets its majority this way, it would be as scandalous as the 2000 U.S. Presidential election result and, thus, fundamentally illegitimate. (But he also said that the only reason a Black-Green coalition has been working in Hamburg is because von Beust is gay). Hilmer noted that reform and modifications to the electoral laws will be on the political agenda, especially if the winners of a majority of seats lost the popular vote.

There is obviously much more to report and I will check in again tomorrow. But, finally the election has become interesting and we will all be up late on Sunday waiting for the final results of this nailbiter.

--Eric Langenbacher

No comments:

Post a Comment