The 2017 election saw a drop in support for the government coalition partners, the CDU/CSU Union (minus 65 seats) and the SPD (minus 40), while the far-right populists, the Alternative for Germany, entered the Bundestag for the first time with 94 seats. The FDP, which had failed to meet the 5% hurdle in 2013, re-entered the Bundestag in 2017 with 80 seats.
The election resulted in the largest ever Bundestag, with 709 seats. This was the result of the overhang and balance mandates which ensure that the distribution of seats reflects the proportional distribution of votes. Only 218 (30.7%) of the elected MPs are women, fewer than in 2013, with only the Left Party and the Green Party sending more women than men to the Bundestag. The AfD and CSU have the lowest numbers of women MPS.
The CDU (Christian Democratic Union)
Chair: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
General Secretary: Paul Ziemiak
Parliamentary leader: Ralph Brinkhaus
2017 federal election: 26.8% (32.9% overall Union votes with CSU)
Bundestag seats: 200 (246 with CSU)
2019 European election: 22.6% (28.9% overall Union votes with CSU)
Ratio of male:female MPs – 80:20
In state government coalitions : in 10 states (Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Vorpommerania, North-Rhine Westphalia, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein)
Membership: 405, 816 (Dec 2019)
Foundation: Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung
History: Founded in 1950 through a merger of state parties, Germany’s conservative party has been in government for 51 of the Federal Republic’s years and provided Germany with some of its most famous, long-lasting Chancellors. Konrad Adenauer led five cabinets from 1949 – 1962 during Germany’s post-war recovery and ‘economic miracle’. Helmut Kohl was another towering CDU Chancellor, presiding over 5 cabinets from 1992 – 1998 and leading the country through re-unifcation in 1990. Current Chancellor Angela Merkel has led 4 cabinets since 2005; she will retire next year. Merkel is known as a supreme crisis manager and has steered Germany through the refugee crisis 2016/2016, the 2008/9 financial crisis and the corona pandemic.
Voters: the CDU is the party of older people – in 2017, 41% of over 60s but only a quarter of under 30s voted CDU. The CDU performed more strongly in groups with vocational qualifications rather than grammar school or university education. It support amongst workers is falling; support amongst numbers of civil servants and self-employed voters is high. Women (37%) were considerably more likely to vote CDU than men (30%). It is tronger in rural areas, and weak in cities.
Chair: Markus Söder
General Secretary: Markus Blume
Parliamentary leader: Ralph Brinkhaus (CDU)
2017 federal election: 6.2% (32.9% overall Union vote with CDU)
Bundestag seats: 46
2018 Bavarian state election: 37.2% (-10.5)
2019 European elections: 40.7% in Bavaria, 6.3% nationally
Ratio of male:female MPs – 81:17
In state government: Bavaria
Membership: 139,130 (Dec 2019)
History: Founded in 1945, the CSU was the only state conservative party not to join the CDU merger in 1950. It is the CDU’s sister party and only operates in Bavaria (where the CDU does not operate). Together the two parties are known as the Union. The party is politically to the right of the CDU, especially on law and order and immigration. The CSU have provided 11 out of 12 Bavarian Minister Presidents since 1945 and regularly used to win over 50% of the vote – number have dropped in recent years and the 2018 state election result was its worst in over 60 years. The party has never provided a Chancellor for the Union, although the Union has twice fielded a CSU Chancellor candidate – Franz-Josef Strauss in 1980 and Edmund Stoiber in 2002.
Voters: Like CDU voters, CSU voters are older than the population average, and are more likely to live in rural areas. They are also likely to be churchgoers. Numbers of men and women who vote CSU are roughly even and the vote is also balanced amongst occupational groups. In the 2017 federal election, the CSU lost heavily to to the AfD, especially in the constituencies close to the border in Lower Bavaria. Voters over 70 were least likely to migrate to the AfD.
Chairs: Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans
General Secretary: Lars Klingbeil
Parliamentary leader: Rolf Mützenich
2017 federal election: 20.5%
Bundestag seats: 153
2019 European election: 15.8%
Ratio of male:female MPs – 58:42
In state government coalitions: in 11 states (Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Vorpommerania, Rhineland- Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia)
Membership: 419,340 (Dec 2019)
History: Founded in 1875, Germany’s social democratic party is the country’s oldest party. The party has been in governing coalitions for 34 years of the Federal Republic’s history. The SPD has also provided the country with iconic political figures as Chancellor. The party’s first Chancellor, Willy Brandt, was in power from 1969 – 1974 and was known for initiating reconciliation between east and west, and Helmut Schmidt, who succeeded Brandt, was in power from 1974 – 1982. Gerhard Schröder was Chancellor from 1998 – 2005. The party suffered a split under Schröder; the left was unhappy about the direction of the government, particularly about the hugely controversial Agenda 2010 welfare and employment reforms.
Voters: Traditionally the party of workers and unions, the SPD has seen its base shrink in recent years, as well as the percentage of votes it receives from this base. Like the Union, older voters – especially the over 60s – are more likely to vote SPD. Men and women vote SPD in almost equal numbers. Self-employed people are least likely to vote SPD than any other group, with office workers and civil servants overtaking workers as the occupational groups most likely to vote SPD. In 2017, the party lost heavily amongst graduates and upper secondary school leavers.
The Alternative for Germany
Chairs: Jorg Meuthen, Tino Chrupulla
Parliamentary leaders: Alexander Gauland, Alice Weidel
2017 federal election: 12.6%
Bundestag seats: 94 elected, 5 of whom have since left the party, leaving 89 AfD MPs
2019 European election: 11%
Ratio of male:female MPs – 88:12
In state government coalitions: None – due to an agreement amongst the other parties that they will not cooperate with the party, it is in no state government coalitions.
Membership: 34,751 (Dec 2019)
History: Founded in 2013 as a eurosceptic party by a group of professors and economists opposed to the eurozone bailout, the party swiftly developed into a far-right populist party with a powerful, nationalist wing. It entered parliament as the third largest party in 2017 and has seats in all state parliaments. Its nationalist wing, the Flügel, was officially dissolved in spring 2020 following its categorisation as right-extreme by the state security services.
Voters: The party is much stronger in the eastern than in the western states (21.9% of the vote in 2017 in the east compared to 10.7% in the west). Nearly two thirds of AfD voters are male – 16.3% of men voted AfD in 2017, compared to 9.2% of women. In terms of age, the party is most successful amongst 35 to 59 year olds; the age group which is the least likely to vote AfD is the over 70s. There are strong regional and local differences in voting patterns as far as income and occupation are concerned – in the west, the AfD does well where voters have a below-average household income or work in industry. In the east, it is strong in rural regions. Workers and the unemployed make up only one quarter of the AfD vote.
Chair: Christian Lindner
General Secretary: Linda Teuteberg (stepping down; election in September)
Parliamentary leader: Christian Lindner
2017 federal election: 10.7%
Bundestag seats: 80
2019 European election: 5.4%
Ratio of male:female MPs – 78:23
In state government coalitions: in 3 states (North-Rhine Westphalia, Rhineland Palatinate, Schleswig Holstein)
Membership: 65,479 (Dec 2019)
History: Pro-business, pro European and in favour of individual freedom, the FDP was founded in 1948. It has acted as kingmaker to the CDU/CSU and the SPD, taking over the role of junior partner in 17 cabinets over 41 years. In 1998 it was left out of government for the first time in 29 years after Schröder formed a coalition with the Greens, only coming back in 2009 for Merkel’s second government. In 2013, the party failed to meet the 5% hurdle and won no seats in the Bundestag, but bounced back in 2017 under the leadership of Christian Lindner. Following the election, Lindner broke off negotiations with Angela Merkel for a CDU-FDP-Green coalition. Linder has been criticised for apparently moving his party into populist territory.
Voters: Around one third of FDP voters in 2017 (1.6 million) came from people who voted CDU in the previous election, and over half a million were former SDP voters. Votes in areas of higher incomes are more likely to vote FDP – the higher the income area, the higher the FDP vote – as are self-employed people. Support for the party amongst young people increased in 2017, with 13% of 18 – 29 year olds voting FDP. The number of men voting FDP was slightly higher than the number of women.
Die Linke (the Left Party)
Chairs: Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger
General Secretary: Jörg Schindler
Parliamentary leaders: Dietmar Bartsch and Amira Mohamed Ali
2017 federal election: 9.2%
Bundestag seats: 69
2019 European elections: 5.5%
Ratio of male:female MPs – 46:54
In state government coalitions: in 3 states (Thuringia, Berlin and Bremen)
Membership: 60,862 (Dec 2019)
History: The Left Party was formed in 2007 out of a merger of the successor of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) – which ruled the East German Democratic Republic – and a group of trade unionists and former SPD members. Alongside a social democratic tendency which advocates ‘managing capitalism’, a range of far left views, including a communist faction, are to be found in the party. The CDU/CSU Union insists on a non-cooperation policy with the Left Party. The Left Party won 76 seats in the 2009 election and in 2013 came in third place. In 2017, it was pushed out of its position by both the AfD and newly-resurgent FDP. Although it has seats in all of the eastern German state parliaments, in the west it only has seats in four state parliaments, although it made history in 2019 by entering a governing coalition in Bremen for the first time in the west.
Voters: The Left Party came in third place in the east in 2017 (winning 17.8%), but only won 7.4% in the west. The party lost 400,00 voters to the AfD in 2017. It receives the highest support in the 18-29 age group. Manual workers are more likely than any other occupational group to vote for the party, and in terms of education, university educated voters are more likely to vote for the party than those receiving lower educational qualifications.
Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (the Green Party)
Chairs: Robert Habeck and Annelena Baerbock
General Secretary: Michael Kellner
Parliamentary leaders: Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Anton Hofreiter
2017 federal election: 8.9%
Bundestag seats: 67
2019 European elections: 20.5%
Ratio of male:female MPs – 42:58
In state government coalitions: in 11 states (Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein, Thuringia)
Membership: 96,487 (Dec 2019)
History: The Green Party was formed in 1993 as a merger of the western German Greens and eastern German Bündnis 90. The Greens entered government in 1998 and acted as junior coalition partner in Gerhard Schröder’s governments from 1998 – 2005, during which time Joschka Fischer was Vice Chancellor and foreign minister. Robert Habeck and Annelena Baerbock, elected as leaders in January 2018 have taken the party away from the bearded, woolly-jumpered, image the party had in the 1990s. While environmental issues remain core, the party has developed a wide-ranging modern agenda addressing issues such as digitalisation. Despite being the smallest party in the Bundestag, the Greens have experienced a surge in support since 2017, overtaking the SPD to become the second most popular party in the polls and winning 20.5% in the 2019 European elections. Not only are the Greens in coalition government in 11 state parliaments, they are the lead partner in Baden-Württemberg
Voters: Green Party voters are more likely to be under 30, found in urban areas, and be university educated. In terms of age, the over 60s age group is the least likely to vote Green. Civil servants and the self-employed are the most likely occupational groups to vote Green – workers are the least likely. Only 5% of voters in the eastern German states voted Green in 2017.