The Astonishing Federal German Election of 2013

The 41.5% share of the vote gained by the CDU/CSU in Sunday’s election was a staggering 22% increase on their 2009 election result, the more astonishing considering that the German’s have had almost  four years of austerity in the interim.  To see the dominance of the CDU/CSU on Sunday take a look at this Der Spegiel analysis of the district (or constituency vote) section of the Federal Republic’s two vote system, here…

The sea of blue suggests an unusual and exceptional dominance in a proportional voting system designed precisely to disperse votes among parties to prevent exactly such supremacy.    The standard political analysis of the election outcome has identified several reasons for the election outcome, all of them valid, and in no particular order…

  • Merkel’s personal popularity
  • Merkel’s theft of her opponents policies and ideas
  • General concurrence with the Merkel government’s handling of the Euro crisis and domestic economic policy
  • Low unemployment, growing wages, economic growth (the classic feel good factor)
  • The SPD candidate for Chancellor was not popular/effective/good at campaigning (This is now a standard feature of SPD election campaigns when the candidate isn’t called Shroeder)

Also the commentators have observed that Merkel’s shift left to the centre borne both of her pragmatism and conviction light politics and the way in which the SPD vacated the centre to move left post its period in government, was instrumental in securing her victory.  This fascinating analysis from the WZB Berlin Social Research Center  shown below shows the trajectory of the main German parties.


From the perspective of politics as moral psychology there are three possible additional insights to add to the post election analysis:

Merkel’s Move to the Centre from the Right

Most of the voter are neither left or right but are in the middle so a shift there could accrue centrist voter’s and potentially lose right wing voters.  However, if politics is underpinned by moral intuitions or moral foundations as maintained here in this blog then a move from right to centre will not lose votes on the right if the CDU continued to refer to intuitions salient on the right – patriotism/order/in-group loyalty along with policies that touch left moral intuitions such as her job subsidy policy (fairness) or ending nuclear power (care/harm).  Merkel’s pick and mix her smorgasbord approach isn’t ideologically coherent but it can work at this moral psychological level.

In addition to Haidtian Moral Foundations something very important happened at the moral psychological level…

The Switch in Fiskian Social Structures

The SPD’s Agenda 2010 policies pursued in government in the first decade of this century to reform welfare, labour markets and labour laws bore fruit in Germany’s current economic strength, low unemployment and growing incomes.  A part of the SDP never liked these policies and the current leadership distanced itself from this “neo-liberal phase”.  That distancing allowed the right to colonise the centre as the SDP moved left.

In Fiskain terms the SPD in government adopted MP as a social relation over the hostility or indifference or cowardice of the CDU/CSU.  However, the CDU/CSU inherited these reforms in government and in not reversing them, came to own them, increasing their Fiskain foot print.  So we have this Fiskian shift – SPD moves out of MP, the CDU/CSU gains MP and moves to the centre stealing pure CS polices from their left opponents.

This graphic shows shift


The CDU/CSU is simply colonising more moral psychological space than the SPD.  The SPD move away from its reform policies may have been in the false belief that it could increase votes on the left by the abandonment of its “neo-liberal” phase but this analysis suggests that MP references trigger moral intuitions, have moral salience for voters many of whom will vote on the left if triggered.  Of course some voters vote against MP when they sense that it is triggered or referenced but perhaps the former is greater than the later.  Ask the CDU/CSU.

The SDP has another problem with its roots in moral political psychology…

Reverse Dominance

The argument of this blog is that dominance and reverse dominance play a significant part in determining our emotional support for either the left or the right, or the centre or no politics at all.  In German terms the existence of a powerful and significant Left Party which took 8% of the vote on Sunday continues to reign effective, additional ruin on the SPD electoral chances.

Oscar Lafontaine walked out of an SPD government and wrote a book called ” The Heart Beats on the Left” perfectly illustrating the emotions which drive his and our politics but by taking a section of the SPD to the join with the former East German communists he has split the German left along the cleavage of strong reverse dominance and weak reverse dominance.  Lafontaine walked out of government because the switch from anti-authoritarianism as the basis of his moral intuition to that of finance minister was too distressing.  Better to take that course of action which would prevent a majority left government so that basic moral intuition – “all in group authority is corrupt” could be maintained and not confused by a SPD government improving the social condition.   Now some of the Left Party vote especially in the east is explicitly communist but in the former west Germany it has denuded the SDP of the anti-authoritarianism that is the backbone of much political leftism.

If this is true then it is also the hidden explanatory variable in the SDP’s worst ever vote share in 2009, just as the broad and deep beneficial effects of its earlier governance became manifest.  This apparent paradox is resolved by the moral intuition of left voters (some strongly, some weakly) that authority is a problem in itself.  Little wonder then that SPD baulks at the prospect of entering government again as the junior coalition partner.

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