A Short Regional Analysis of the German Election

I find European politics interesting in part because I have less of a stake in the game.  Although I have German grandparents, to me it’s just a far-off place I visited once.  In this diary, I will be covering Germany’s 2017 election and looking at some trends.  This will not be exhaustive.  Unlike during my France diary series, I have a full-time job, so I’m not going to be writing quite as much.


Germany’s 2017 election was hailed as, among other things, a poor result for the two major parties, the centrist CDU (and their center-right Bavarian partners the CSU) and the center-left SPD.  Relative to most elections and to 2013, it was, but it actually was just slightly worse than 2009.  In this diary, I will look at results compared to 2013 and also to 2009.  For reference, here are the numbers for 2009, 2013, and 2017:


Centrist CDU and Center-Right CSU: 34%, 42%, 33%

Downscale Center-Left SPD: 23%, 26%, 21%

Upscale Center-Left Greens: 11%, 8%, 9%

Upscale Center-Right FDP: 15%, 5%, 11%

Left-Wing Linke: 12%, 9%, 9%

Populist Right AfD: 0%, 5%, 13%


As you can see, 2013 is really the modern aberration, with the FDP collapse and a minor Green and Linke setback leading to strong numbers for the two larger parties.

Next, here is a map of Germany:


As only a foreigner could do, for this exercise I have combined the city-state of Bremen with Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) and the city-state of Hamburg with Schleswig-Holstein.  I am analyzing Berlin separately  from Brandenburg, however.


I am going to look regionally for this exercise.

Southern Germany: Bayern (Bavaria) and Baden-Wurttemberg.

Bavaria (15% of Germany) is the conservative heartland of the country.  One of four heavily Catholic regions and by far the most conservative of those four, it saw the largest drop for the CDU/CSU in the former West Germany, probably over the refugee issue.  Bavaria is traditionally a land of centrist cities and very conservative small towns, leading to a strong rightward tilt.  This didn’t change in 2017, but the CSU and their FDP allies dropped 9% from 2009 to 2017 (compared to 5% nationally) while the left dropped only 4%.  A 2-3 point PVI shift over 8 years is small in the US, but within Germany, and especially the former West Germany, that’s a large movement, and the CSU appears very concerned with this situation.  So what caused this movement?  The CSU lost a decent amount of voters to the AfD (which gained 8% from 2013 to 2017, the largest gain in the West), especially in rural districts.  In Bavaria’s 13 urban districts (out of 46), this AfD surge did not occur.  Instead, in Munich we can see the other largest trend of the election, and one not noted in Western media as far as I could tell: more left-wing SPD voters fleeing the Grand Coalition party for purer alternatives.  The SPD dropped by 10% in Munich (vs. 5% nationally) and also lost 10% in Nuremberg, the second largest Bavarian city, and the same thing happened in the college town of Erlangen.  This wasn’t due to a rightward shift, but due to a shift within the left towards the Greens and the Left.


Baden-Wurttemberg (13% of Germany) is the other part of Southern Germany and my grandfather’s birthplace.  Unlike in Bavaria, the CDU did not decline here versus 2009.  Instead, the SPD saw a small dip of 3%.  Perhaps the refugee issue mattered less here?  I am unsure what else would cause this difference.  The AfD did jump in many rural districts, but this jump was not as widespread as in Bavaria.  In some districts, the CDU dropped but this drop  was dispersed more broadly than in Bavaria.  A few non-rural districts saw unique results worth sharing.  The Greens, always strong in Baden-Wurttemberg, saw a particularly large surge in Ulm, as well as in Offenburg.  Tubingen, Freiburg, and Karlsruhe saw the same urban situation (although none are large cities) where SPD voters moved to alternative left choices.  Stuttgart saw strong gains for the FDP.


Core Western Germany: Saarland, Rhineland, Hesse, and Westphalia

The tiny Saarland (1% of Germany) is Germany’s closest equivalent to West Virginia, with a mining and left-wing history.  It has only four districts.  Two of them saw a jump for the Linke (the Linke’s best areas in West Germany are often in Saarland).  On the whole, however, the Linke has dropped from 21% in 2009 to 13% in 2017.  The SPD has only gained one-quarter of the lost Linke votes, a very poor result for them.

Rhineland (5% of Germany) saw little change over the last couple elections relative to the country.  It is home to the FDP’s worst decline in the country, 7% over 8 years.  Otherwise, things were very stable here.  Only two districts were even worth noting.  Mainz saw SPD voters leave for the Linke, as with some other urban areas.  Ludwigshafen/Frankenthal saw a substantially larger AfD jump than other Rhineland areas.  Kaiserslautern stayed left-wing, many areas stayed centrist, and the more hilly areas stayed conservative.

Hesse (7% of Germany) contains Frankfurt and a bunch of rural areas.  It too saw a significant FDP decline, but not as large as in the Rhineland.  Hesse is most notable for containing 4 of the 7 most representative German electoral districts (Bavaria has 2 and Berlin has the other 1).  Hesse saw modest changes: the rural, left-wing north saw little PVI shifting, while the AfD gained in the more blue-collar Frankfurt suburbs.  In Wiesbaden and Frankfurt, the SPD – Linke shift occurred once again.  In left-wing Darmstadt,  the SPD lost voters to both the Linke and the AfD, similar to what happened to Labour in the UK heartlands.  Finally, Frankfurt (unsurprisingly as a financial hub) saw some of the FDP’s best gains nationally, 9% in a few areas.

Westphalia (21% of Germany) is historically the heart of Germany’s industry and also of the SPD.  For the sake of analysis, I will divide it between the Ruhr industrial area (including Cologne, Dusseldorf, Bonn, Krefeld, Duisburg, Essen, Dortmund, and other areas) and the outer parts of Westphalia (including Aachen, Munster, and smaller areas).  Inner Westphalia is about 60% of Westphalia and is very left-wing, historically (for Germany, which means like 65% left).

Inner Westphalia saw a “Trump Democrat” effect: in most districts, the SPD lost 5% or more to the AfD.  This particularly happened in the S+15 or so parts: Duisburg, Essen, Bochum, Dortmund, and other neighboring areas.  In other words, the less glamorous parts (although none of the area is that glamorous).  The largest increase came in Gelsenkirchen, which went from 59% left parties, 4% AfD to 46% left, 17% AfD.  Cologne and Bonn saw the same SPD – Linke effect as places like Munich, a sign of more educated left-wing voters.  In the other parts of Inner Westphalia, neither the heartland nor the outer area, the FDP saw its strongest national gains: 14% in north Dusseldorf, 13% in south Krefeld and southwest Cologne, and 12% in some other districts.

Outer Westphalia saw good gains for the FDP too: many rural parts of Outer Westphalia saw double-digit gains, led by 13% in the rural constituency of Rheinisch-Bergischer.  Munster saw voters move to the Linke from the SPD, while Paderborn, the most conservative part of Westphalia, saw a general CDU drop with no one party being the major beneficiary.

Northern Germany: Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, and the City-States

Lower Saxony and Bremen (11% of Germany) is a flat, centrist region where the SPD generally wins due to CDU clustering.  In 2013, it was the only part of the former West Germany where the left beat the right; even in Westphalia this was not the case.  However, Lower Saxony is the second-best area in the nation for CDU gains over the last eight years, following only Brandenburg; given Germany’s stability, this actually only means a 2% increase.  From 2013 to 2017, Lower Saxony’s districts saw three potential trends.  The first trend was little change.  This trend occurred in about half of the districts, especially the more rural ones.  The AfD is very weak here; their 9% showing was tied for second-worst among Germany’s states.  However, there were some areas which saw good movement towards the AfD: a handful of traditionally red rural turf saw this movement, as did Hannover, the state capital.  In some other red districts, especially in Bremen and Oldenburg, the SPD saw broad decline, with the Linke picking up some of those voters but others leaving the left altogether.

Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg (6% of Germany) is the worst AfD region at only 8%.  However, it has also seen a (relatively) large SPD decline over the last eight years, 4% in total.  Hamburg saw significant SPD decline this past election, with the western part of the city seeing a Linke boost that partially made up for it, while the eastern part saw less SPD decline but also less Linke gaining.  Schleswig-Holstein itself is interesting because the Green party, traditionally strong among the urban middle class and in the rural southwest of the country, made serious inroads here.  Despite a so-so national electoral performance, they gained 4-5% in much of Schleswig-Holstein.  This occurred in rural and urban areas.  The two cities, Kiel and Lubeck, also saw some gains for the Linke, as in most German cities

The Former East Germany

As always in German elections, the former East Germany was a very different story from the West.

In Thuringia/Saxony-Anhalt (6% of Germany, combined here due to low population) there were massive AfD gains, from 5% in 2013 to 22% this week.  In a way, East Germany is less interesting to analyze: the AfD took voters from everybody and that’s about it.  In this case, compared to 2009, the CDU dropped 1%, the SPD 3%, the Greens 2%, the FDP 2%, and the Linke 13% (!).  So what we see here is the German equivalent of the Sanders-Trump voters in large numbers.  They went from the party considered at the leftmost end of the spectrum to the party on the far right.  That happened all over the region.  The SPD voters turned out to be the least infatuated with the AfD, broadly speaking.  In many districts, their vote totals stayed nearly even (dropping 2-3% between 2013 and 2017 in many places) while the CDU fell double-digits.  In three constituencies, the AfD scored an impressive 25% of the vote or higher.

Tiny Mecklenburg (2% of Germany) is very similar to the other small East German regions and I don’t actually know what else to say about it, so apologies to any Mecklenburgers reading this here but I got nothing.  Actually, I do have one thing.  In Angela Merkel’s home district, Vorpommern-Rugen-Vorpommern-Greifswald I (yes, really), the CDU dropped 18%, tied for second-largest among all non-Saxon constituencies (she fell 19% in Zollernalb-Sigmaringen in Baden-Wurttemberg).

Brandenburg (3% of Germany) was the SPD’s only non-urban win in 2009, but the SPD has dropped a lot since then, 7%, more than anywhere else.  Otherwise, it is a typical East German region, with the exception of Potsdam, just outside Berlin, where the Linke barely lost votes, which is very unusual for East Germany this time around.  Here too the AfD captured 25% or more in 2 rural districts.

Berlin (4% of Germany) is always the most left-wing part of the country, but it also has the nation’s most representative district politically.  In western Berlin, there was little change relative to the country.  In central Berlin, the Linke gained at the expense of the SPD, as in other middle-class urban areas.  And in East Berlin, the AfD gained from basically all comers.  Overall, the change since 2009 in Berlin has been worst for the Greens (-4%) and the FDP (-3%).  It is one of three regions (along with Westphalia and Hamburg/Schleswig-Holstein) where the Linke did not lose ground over that time.

Saxony (5% of Germany) was the AfD’s best region, and they earned a 27% finish there, good for a narrow first place over the CDU.  The main difference?  In other East Germany states, the CDU dropped no more than 2% over 2009.  In Saxony, they dropped 9%.  Why is Saxony better for the AfD?  One potentially true, potentially out-there theory is that it’s the only part of East Germany that could not illicitly receive West Germany television broadcasts, making it the most isolated part of East Germany.  And isolated areas tend to be more nativist.  I can’t say for sure that it’s the reason but it’s a compelling theory, at least, for why my grandmother’s home region voted so strongly for the AfD.  Otherwise, there really isn’t much to say.  In rural areas everyone fled main parties for the AfD.  In Dresden, the left stayed firm (as in bigger cities the left is less culturally conservative), while the CDU left for the AfD in large numbers.  In Leipzig, the Linke stayed strong (Leipzig has a reputation as a city full of hipsters, although it’s only partially true) while both SPD and CDU voters left for the AfD.

And that’s that.  My diary is complete.  Hope you learned things.

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  • shamlet September 28, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Very interesting stuff, thanks!

    R, MD-7. Put not your trust in princes. Process is more important than outcome.

  • Greyhound September 28, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    IIRC, Saxony is famous for being the most bitterly anti-American part of Germany, after things like the firebombing of Dresden, which was used heavily by East Germany for propaganda purposes post-war.

    R, 27, CA-18. Anti-Anti-Trump

  • Jon September 28, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    With former East Germany jumping from far-left to far-right; I think we can safely say that voters there are feeling marginalized by the major parties and that it’s not really integrated back into Germany as a whole.

    45, M, MO-02

    • jncca September 28, 2017 at 8:04 pm

      Yes and no. A majority of East Germans *do* vote for mainstream parties, so it depends on what your cutoff is. It certainly has some very different opinions from the former West though.

      24, CA-6. Part Obama, Part May, Part Christian Democrat.

  • Red Oaks September 30, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Thanks for doing this. Are there any noticeable differences in voter turnout rates between states or regions?

    MI-03: Tired of Presidency; Focused more on downballot races; Chris Afendoulis for State Senate

  • Greyhound September 30, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Here’s an image detailing the best-performing non-CDU/SPD party in each seat from 2013 to 2017:
    Of note is what I assume to be a coal-mining area north of Cologne that switches entirely from the Left to the AFD, while the rest of Westphalia switches to the FDP from the Greens. Also, the AFD seems to have smashed the East/West Linke/Green split clearly present in the 2013 map.

    Also, Here’s a map of which party won each consituent seat:

    R, 27, CA-18. Anti-Anti-Trump

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