The Left Party’s chances in the Bundestag elections

Originally published in the Times of Israel

An analysis by Andreas Herteux and Erich von Werner Society.

Every political decision is followed with interest abroad. This also applies to the German parliamentary elections in 2021, which, at least according to the polls, would make possible different government constellations with probably divergent foreign policy thrusts. One of these would be Red-Red-Green, a combination of the SPD, the Greens and the Left („Die Linke“). In this alliance, the left is the most controversial part, and for this reason it should be examined in more detail.

The left’s relationship to Israel is ambivalent. A part of its own youth association Solid accuses the country of „state terror“[1] and speaks of a policy of expulsion, while on the other hand the party tries to be a leader in the fight against anti-Semitism and to put its own peace policy in the foreground. Nevertheless, Israel remains an object of contention and it seems useful at this point to let the party itself have its say:

„As the Left, we will continue to publicly criticise the policies of the Israeli governments towards the Palestinians whenever this is necessary because of their violation of international law and human rights. (…) It is unacceptable when such criticism of the Israeli government’s policy is met with accusations of anti-Semitism. We will not allow members of our group and party to be publicly denounced as anti-Semites when they criticize such policies of the Israeli government.“  (Party release, June 28, 2011) [2]

This ambivalence between peace policy and criticism has changed little a decade later, in 2021:

„The conflict in Israel and Palestine is escalating. DIE LINKE condemns the massive rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Gaza. We also condemn the bombardment of Gaza, which hits civilians there completely unprotected. The escalation of violence must be stopped immediately and a ceasefire must be agreed in order to save human lives (…) Our solidarity is with all those affected by illegal evictions, violence and oppression and suffering under the occupation as well as Hamas in Gaza. (…)“ (Party resolution of 15.05.2021) [3]

Since a government participation of the Left could at least be possible, and for many a member of the Greens and SPD it would even be a desired alliance, it makes sense to take a closer look at the party. So how do things stand with the Left? Where do they come from? Who votes for the party? What does the 2021 strategy look like and what result can be expected in the election?

What was the evolution of the left?

The Left has its roots in the successor party to the SED, the PDS, and in West German spin-offs from the SPD and the Greens, which have merged to form the WASG. Although the merger took place only in 2007, the East German predecessor party entered the Bundestag in 1990 and has been represented there ever since. Historically interesting would be perhaps still the mention that said entry succeeded not necessarily always over the 5%-clause. Here also special regulations (1990) or the reaching of 3 direct mandates (1994, 2002) took effect. As clearly as it is often suggested, the PDS never profited from its SED heritage as a people’s party. At least not as far as voters are concerned.

Until the elections in 2005, the PDS was not an established party on the federal level. Only from that time on it succeeded in entering the Bundestag by jumping over the 5% hurdle.  A causality to the simultaneous decline of the SPD is given, because with the topics „Agenda 2010“ and the question of „social justice“ the PDS had the opportunity to break away from the image of the successor party of the SED, which was once more purposefully consolidated by the new name and the merger in 2007. Nevertheless, the party is far better anchored in the East than in the West. In the latter, with a few exceptions, it does not play a major role.

Who votes for the left?

For a long time, the average left-wing voter was older than 55 (about 50%), tended to be male, had an income often well below 2000 euros net per month, and was worried about his economic situation.

This is now only partly the case. A shift can be observed here, as over 60% of the electorate now comes from the middle and upper classes, in particular the socio-ecological, performing or adaptive-pragmatic milieus.  The core electorate, however, can only be estimated at just under 5%. The maximum potential is nevertheless seen internally at around 16%.

The programmatic intersections suggest that the SPD and the Greens are the Left’s toughest competitors. On closer inspection, however, the change in the average voter was not caused by gains among the aforementioned milieus, but by losses among the lower middle and lower classes.  In the meantime, therefore, the right-wing AfD can be identified as the strongest rival, as it has caused sensitive losses among non-voters and protest voters and is therefore being targeted.

What is the Left’s campaign strategy?

The goals of the left are a multi-digit result and, as far as possible, participation in government. To achieve this, they are focusing primarily on content and, due to internal disagreements, less on personification. The focus is on social security, peace and climate justice. The Left is one of the few parties that hardly relies on a watering-down strategy, i.e. the consequences of its own political offers are not watered down or only presented to the voter in a glossy way. However, this has not been rewarded so far. In the hot phase of the election campaign, the focus is also on the fight against the right, which is primarily directed against the AfD, in order to win back protest and non-voters.

This strategy only works to a limited extent, because in general the party suffers greatly from the fact that it wanted to focus on a left-wing zeitgeist, but interprets this in a traditional left-wing way and for this reason cannot successfully present itself as a representative of a modern left. In this view, old burdens, which are of course constantly brought to the fore by the political competition, but also the party’s own ideological character, have too much of an effect. What remains is the image of an „old left“ that operates with the slogans and language of the past. On the one hand, this has an authentic effect on the core voters, but it is not helpful in winning over new voters. There are attempts at modernisation, but they do not seem to be pursued with full conviction, because they often give the impression of being merely a forced copy of the left-wing competition from the SPD or the Greens. The citizen then often prefers the original, although the party would of course reject being the copy by a long shot, but in the end it is not the opinions of its own strategists that count, but the votes in the ballot box.

Yet there would be enough topics beyond those already occupied. It remains a mystery why new phenomena such as the emerging behavioral capitalism, the homo stimulus or the age of collective individualism, all of which have the potential for a new, fresher page in the book of critical consideration of economic contexts that have also not yet been appropriated and occupied for themselves by other parties, do not play a role. The current address therefore still too often only reaches certain realities of life. This makes growth difficult.

Inhibiting at this point is also the top personnel, who can hardly place themselves noticeably. Susanne Hennig-Wellsow and Janine Wissler suffer from the low level of awareness outside their own potential. More familiar faces such as Sarah Wagenknecht and the Realo faction, on the other hand, have been pushed back with difficulty. In the meantime, the ideologically influenced wing of the party sets the tone, but does not manage to present suitable personifications and to avoid wordings of the internal competition. A unified appearance of the party is therefore not given. A real face to the outside world that bundles the contents does not exist.

What could the development look like?

In the long term, the party needs to think about its orientation and its electorate. Does the Left want to be part of a coalition government at the federal level? Then it must move towards the centre, even if large sections of its core voters don’t want it to. However, a lack of willingness here could cost it more votes, because if the RRG option becomes unrealistic due to the party’s stance, a slight migration of voters to the SPD or Greens is possible.

It is more foreseeable that the Left could have a problem with its electorate, because it is questionable whether it will continue to function as a focus of dissatisfaction, because with the AfD there is a competitor that is similarly adept at collecting non-voters and protest voters, as well as recognising dissatisfaction. The fact that both parties have bases in eastern Germany therefore argues for even more direct confrontation. Added to this is the further ageing of their own electorate and the difficulty of adapting to new social realities.

Forecast for the Bundestag election

The Left Party is expected to enter the Bundestag and receive between 5% and 8% of the vote. If it actually falls below the blocking clause, it should, as in similar cases in the past, also be enough by the necessary direct mandates, which have always been achieved so far. Government participation is possible, but can only be expected to a limited extent due to programmatic restrictions. In the long term, the party must think about its orientation, its appearance and its voters.




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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