Takeaways from the Bavaria State Election

It’s not all about Angela Merkel.

The skyline of Nuremberg, Germany
The skyline of Nuremberg, Germany (Unsplash/Markus Spiske)

Readers of the Atlantic Sentinel will know by now that most English-language media have a tendency to sensationalize challenges to Angela Merkel’s leadership in Germany. That’s how the collapse of the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria is being reported as well.

Support for Merkel’s conservative allies, who have governed Bavaria uninterrupted since 1957, fell to an historic low of 37.2 percent in the state election on Sunday.

But it’s not all about the chancellor.

  • Social Democrats: The underreported story is that the Social Democrats did even worse. Their support fell from 20.6 percent in 2013 to 9.7 percent. If there is a threat to Merkel’s grand coalition, this is it. Center-left voters don’t see much of a difference anymore between the two major parties and are switching to the Christian Democrats. Leftwingers who feel the Social Democrats have become too moderate are defecting to the Greens.
  • Fragmentation: The far-right Alternative for Germany took only 10.2 percent of the vote. In national elections last year, it won 12.6 percent. Support for the regionalist Free Voters of Bavaria went up from 9 to 12.6 percent. In all, the new state legislature will have six parties, up from four. Bavaria is no longer a CSU one-party state.
  • Polarization: Pro-refugee Green party supporters are concentrated in urban areas. The anti-immigrant Alternative is popular in small towns and the countryside. Green voters are younger and better educated. Right-wing voters are older and more blue-collar. This is another manifestation of Europe’s blue-red culture war.
  • Disappointed in the CSU: 70 percent of Bavarians felt the party had focused too much on refugees at the expense of other issues. 55 percent said it was too confrontational. Horst Seehofer will most likely shoulder the blame. As interior minister, he manufactured a row with Merkel over immigration in a transparent bid for right-wing voters. Bavarians saw right through it and punished his party on Sunday.
  • Still in power: The CSU can still form a center-right government with either the liberal Free Democrats or the Free Voters.
  • Bavaria is doing fine: Nine out of ten voters believe the economy is doing well — and it is. The region has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world. Its economy is larger than those of 22 out of the EU’s 28 member states. Only 2.3 percent of Bavarians are unemployed.