Monday, October 5, 2009

Why Did the SPD Lose the Election?

There might be three winners of the Bundestag election: The FDP, “Die Linke” and Angela Merkel. The FDP got its best result in history and managed to get back into government after eleven years in opposition. “Die Linke” conquered large parts of Eastern Germany and got over five percentages in Western Germany, too; thus, Lafontaine/Gysi’s party definitely became a part of the new German party system. And Merkel, at least, stays chancellor.

But there is one clear loser: The SPD. Germany’s oldest living party lost over eleven percentages of the party votes and many of its electoral districts, too. What has been special about the 2009 Bundestag election campaign? And why did the SPD lose the election?

The case of Ulla Schmidt did cause some damage, but as I already pointed out in August, it was not the case itself that harmed the SPD but the public’s negative expectations about Social Democracy. Furthermore, the “Deutschland-Plan” was not a bad idea. It received rave reviews by some economists. Though, the plan was not credible for most people – they simply ignored it, due to negative expectations, again.

Being a part of the Grand Coalition, the SPD was not able to mobilize voters by its core competency social justice. Actually, they did an anti-FDP campaign. But “Die Linke” did more. Finally, Steinmeier did quite well at the TV Debate. Afterwards, his party got better results in the polls. But there was no last minute swing like in 2002 or 2005.

Summing up, the SPD’s campaign was not worse than others’. All parties’ campaigns have been unspectacular (see almost any blog entries). Though, unlike other parties, the SPD’s major problem is the voter turnout. Thus, the unspectacular election campaigns harmed the SPD most. In 2009, there was a voter turnout of about seventy one percent, seven points less than in 2005.

Furthermore, the SPD found itself in a kind of self-fulfilling dilemma: According to most of the polls, Steinmeier would have lost anyway. Because there was no hope to win, less people supported the SPD. Thus, the SPD got worse polls – and so on. Unlike 2002 and 2005, there was no major issue available to end this process. The SPD needs such an issue or it will continue losing, due to current majorities.

--Oskar Fischer

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