Elections in Germany: The chances of the Greens

This article appeared simultaneously as a guest post in the Times of Israel.

Elections in an important partner country are always of outstanding foreign policy significance, as they constantly have the potential to vary relations between states. For this reason alone, it is worth taking a look at Germany and the prospects of success for individual parties. The focus of this analysis will be on Bündnis90/die Grünen, for whom future government participation is not unrealistic. In principle, the Greens could form a coalition with any party in the Bundestag except the right-wing AfD. In 2018, the current candidate for chancellor and co-chairwoman of the party, Annalena Baerbock, was still extremely critical of arms exports, in particular the delivery of submarines, but modified this statement again in 2021 and declared her support for further security cooperation between the two countries. She described Israel’s security as Germany’s reason of state and a possible blanket boycott of Israeli goods as anti-Semitic. But how is the party proceeding in the election campaign and how are its prospects of success to be assessed?

„The new people’s party“ – this was the headline of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung already more than 10 years ago on 30.03.2011 and yet the Greens have not yet succeeded in making the big leap that is announced before every federal election. But how does it look for 2021? Can it finally succeed? An analysis by Andreas Herteux, head of the Erich von Werner Society.

Who votes Green?

The roots of the Greens lie in two movements. Firstly, in the West German protest movements of the post-Adenauer era, and secondly in the GDR peace movement. After the merger into the overall party Bündnis 90/The Greens have been represented in the Bundestag since 1994.

During the long march through the institutions, the electorate of the Greens has changed, or rather, it has aged with them over the decades, without being able to win over further generations to their own ideas and ideals – in the form of a commitment to a party form of organisation. In a certain sense, however, this was always due to the fact that many Green issues were taken over, propagated and partly implemented by other parties, which also made the original initiators to some extent superfluous or even made them appear too radical. Despite relevance, therefore, there was often only manageable growth, which was particularly evident in the age average of voters, which rose steadily for a long time. Moreover, these were recruited primarily from the socio-ecological (7% of the population) and the liberal-intellectual milieu (7%), as well as other realities open to modernisation – the cross-section of the population was not on board for a long time.

However, this was followed by a slow turnaround, as strong increases in the 18 – 34 age group and a broader acceptance in the social milieus can be observed at the latest after the 2017 federal election.  But whether this is just a flash in the pan, future developments will show. The Green voter is on average a high earner, educated, more female than male and prefers urban life to rural existence. In short; he has very often simply made it or assumes that he will make it soon. Therefore it is not surprising that the core of the electorate is to be found among white-collar workers and civil servants (together 82%), and less among blue-collar workers (9%). Yes, a change seems perceptible here, but it will be interesting to see whether the Greens can secure the slightly disproportionate approval of younger generations over their lifetimes in the long term. This does not seem at all certain, and remember and repeat: before almost every election in the last decade the Greens were proclaimed the people’s party, only to frequently fall short of their lofty goals.

What is the campaign strategy of the Greens?

The Greens‘ campaign strategy was originally based on three pillars:

  1. Personality campaign around the candidate for chancellor Baerbock
  2. Environment, with a focus on climate
  3. Operating a change of mood

Will Barbock cost the election victory?

The personality campaign has long been the central pillar of the Green election campaign strategy. The nomination of Annalena Baerbock was well thought out and by no means only due to the party’s quota of women. The candidate was supposed to bundle the party and its contents, personify them and at the same time embody the aura of renewal, otherness, competence as well as freshness and thus form a contrast to the masculine and established offer of the governing parties that had been in power for years. Gender was not part of an ideology here, but rather of strategy.  This failed surprisingly quickly. That the poor screening of the candidate is to be criticized is obvious. An embellished curriculum vitae, book plagiarism or re-registrations are in themselves manageably damaging, but in total they had a fatal effect, because Baerbock, who was supposed to be positioned as an unused, perfectionist-competent newcomer, quickly mutated in the public perception into an inexperienced up-and-comer, without any real competencies. It is remarkable that all this happened without the intervention of the political opponent and at a time when attacks on the image of the candidate are not yet considered really effective in campaign terms, because they can be corrected.

Baerbock thus first became a burden on the election campaign, and could, through a clearly improved appearance, only increase to a neutral. Both were unhelpful, and this ultimately forced the strategists to decouple party and person and to focus more on the other two pillars.

One of these is environmental policy with a focus on climate change. The thematic focus on „the environment“ has always been a concern for the party and is also one of its ascribed core competencies by voters.  As a rule, these issues lead to high approval ratings until the hot phase of the election campaign, but then level off when either the political opponent succeeds in discrediting corresponding measures or the Greens themselves put forward unpopular demands. Those responsible were of course aware of this, and so the party has thus far tried 2021 with a slick watering-down strategy that merely promised a better future without going into too much detail about its preconditions. Just not to be perceived as a party of prohibition or expensiveness. Remain vague, don’t tarnish, accentuate the positive. Nevertheless, some elements, such as rising energy costs or possible coalition partners, proved to be opportunities for attack and, moreover, the woolly nature makes it easier for political competitors to simply hijack green ideas and also issue similar targets, for example on climate protection, without having to become concrete or realistic in any way. A mirror image that is difficult to attack. So when the Greens call for substantive disputes now that the personification strategy has failed, it is ultimately an admission of their own failure. The party’s measure of stylising itself as a victim, on the other hand, fizzled out and proved to be a strategically wrong decision, because it only reaches its own sympathisers, whose votes are often already secure. With these two pillars the third also collapsed, because it also failed to stage itself as a beneficiary of a mood of change.

Forecast for the Bundestag election

The Greens had started the election campaign with great ambitions, were at times seen as the strongest force with almost 30%, and then were significantly trimmed primarily by their own mistakes. That the party is still in the game for the election victory at all, they owe to the extreme weakness of the two largest competitors SPD and CDU / CSU and it is also, which still gives hope, because further bloopers from this direction could still stop and reverse the downward trend of the Greens.  20%+ are possible, but only conditionally expectable. This is also no longer in their own hands, but they must hope for further mistakes by their rivals and must not make any more of their own in parallel. If neither of these happens, it is possible that stabilization will only occur around 15%. That would still be significantly more than in the 2017 federal election (8.9%), but due to the extremely favorable framework in 2021 still maximally disappointing and the result of a failed campaign strategy.

Veröffentlicht von Erich von Werner Gesellschaft

Die Erich von Werner Gesellschaft ist eine unabhängige Forschungseinrichtung. Sie analysiert politische, wirtschaftliche und gesellschaftliche Zusammenhänge sowie Veränderungen und bildet diese in Theorien und Modellen ab. Gleichzeitig erarbeitet sie Lösungen für globale Herausforderungen in einer sich immer schneller wandelnden Zeit. Leiter der Erich von Werner Gesellschaft ist Andreas Herteux.

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