Election Reveals Brexit- and Trump-Like Cleavages in Germany

Supporters of the far-right Alternative party have much in common with voters for Brexit and Donald Trump.

A far-right demonstration in Leipzig, Germany, September 22
A far-right demonstration in Leipzig, Germany, September 22 (De Havilland)

Germany’s federal election revealed many of the same cleavages we have seen in America, Britain and France, Alexander Roth and Guntram B. Wolff report for the Bruegel think tank:

  • Urban-rural split: Support for the far-right Alternative for Germany party was low in the cities but high in the countryside.
  • Old versus young: Districts with a higher share of elderly voters were more supportive of the Alternative.
  • Education: There is a strong correlation here. The better educated Germans are, the less likely they were to vote for the Alternative.
  • Income: Higher disposable household income is associated with lower support for the Alternative, however, areas with high unemployment were also less likely to vote for the far right.

This corresponds with support for Brexit, Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen. Their voters also tended to be older, rural, not college educated and anxious: not poor, but worried about losing income; not unemployed, but worried about losing their job.

Germany also has a couple of unique factors:

  • East-West divide: The formerly communist East Germany voted much more strongly for the Alternative than the rest of the country, even after controlling for a large set of socioeconomic factors. One can draw a parallel with Rust Belt America.
  • Religiosity: Whereas Trump and Le Pen got higher support from Christian voters, German districts with high church membership were less supportive of the Alternative.