Voters in Germany’s economically dominant southern state of Bavaria delivered a stunning rebuke to the ruling Christian Social Union, in an election that delivered another crushing blow for the parties in Angela Merkel’s grand coalition in Berlin.
With all eyes on Sunday's Bavaria election, moments ago the first exit polls showed a historic collapse for the ruling CSU party, which has ruled Bavaria continuously since 1957, and which saw its share of the vote collapse from 47.7% in the 2013 election to just 35.5%, losing its absolute majority and suffering its worst result since 1950, as voters defected in their droves to the Greens and the far-right Alternative for Germany.
German newspaper Welt called the election "the most painful election defeat of the past 50 years for the CSU". As predicted in the polls, the CSU experienced a "historic debacle" in the Bavarian state elections, according to Welt. The CSU was followed by the Greens which soared in the election, more than doubling to 18.5% from 8.6% in 2013, the Free Voters also rose to 11% from 9.0%, in 2013.
Meanwhile, the nationalist AfD are expecting to enter Bavaria's parliament for the first time ever with 11% of the vote, and as such are setting up for their post-election party. Party leader Alice Weidel already is having the first beer in the small community of Mamming in Lower Bavaria.
Meanwhile, the other establishment party, the left-of-center SPD also saw its support collapse from 20.6% in 2013 to just 10% today.
The full initial results from an ARD exit poll are as follows:
- CSU: 35.5 %
- Grüne: 18.5 %
- FW: 11.5 %
- AfD: 11.0 %
- SPD: 10.0 %
- FDP: 5.0 %
- Linke: 3.5 %
- Sonstige: 5.0 %
The breakdown by gender did not show any marked variations when it comes to CSU support, although more women voted for the Greens, while far more men supported the AfD:
Germany (Bavarian state election): Voting intention by gender (Men on the left, women on the right) according to Infratest dimap exit poll. #ltwbayern #ltwby #ltwby18 #bayern #landtagswahl pic.twitter.com/scve7eXDLQ— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) October 14, 2018
There was a greater variation by educational level, with highly educated voters tending more towards the green GRÜNE (G/EFA) and liberal FDP (ALDE) then the average, while low/middle educated voters tended more towards CSU (EPP) and AfD (EFDD)
Germany (Bavarian state election): High educated voters tended more towards green GRÜNE (G/EFA) and liberal FDP (ALDE) then the average, while low/middle educated voters tended more towards CSU (EPP) and AfD (EFDD). #ltwbayern #ltwby #ltwby18 #bayern #landtagswahl pic.twitter.com/THXOa9e7zb— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) October 14, 2018
This was the worst result for the CSU since 1950.
As the FT notes, the campaign was dominated by the divisive issue of immigration, in a sign of how the shockwaves from Merkel’s disastrous decision to let in more than a million refugees in 2015-16 are continuing to reverberate through German politics and to reshape the party landscape.
Alarmed by the rise of the anti-immigration, populist AfD, the CSU tried to outflank them by talking tough on immigration and picking fights with Ms Merkel over asylum policy.
But the strategy appeared to have backfired spectacularly by alienating tens of thousands of moderate CSU voters and driving them into the arms of the Greens.
Meanwhile, as support the CSU and SPD collapsed, the result confirmed the Greens’ status as the rising force in German politics. Running on a platform of open borders, liberal social values and the fight against climate change the party saw its support surge to 18.5%, from 8.4% in 2013. Meanwhile the AfD won 11%, and for the first time entered the Bavarian regional assembly.
“This is an earthquake for Bavaria,” said Jürgen Falter, a political scientist at the University of Mainz.
The CSU had governed the state with an absolute majority for most of the last 60 years. “It was Bavaria and Bavaria was the CSU. That is now no longer the case.”
The latest collapse of Germany's establishment parties highlights the shaky ground the grand coalition in Berlin is now resting on as all three parties in the alliance, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the CSU and the SPD, are haemorrhaging support. Some are now questioning whether the coalition, already frayed by personal rivalries and near constant bickering over policy, can survive a full term in office.
“This outcome throws ever more doubt on the future of the grand coalition,” said Heinrich Oberreuter, head of the Passau Journalism Institute and an expert on the CSU. “Based on current polls, if an election were held now, the CDU, CSU and SPD would not even command a majority in the Bundestag.”
The CSU will now be be forced to form a coalition government — a humiliating outcome for a party that has run Bavaria single-handedly for 49 of the last 54 years. Its preference is probably for a three-party coalition with the Free Voters, a small party that is mainly focused on local politics. It could also team up with the Greens, though it would be highly reluctant to do so: the two parties are deeply divided over immigration, transport and environmental policy.
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What happens next?
Now that we know that the "unexpected comeback" scenario previewed earlier is off, here is what the "historic defeat" would mean for Germany in the coming days, as noted earlier by ING:
Historic defeat: The CSU would probably still lead the next Bavarian government with one or two coalition partners. There would be no significant shift in the federal upper house. Instead, Chancellor Merkel would emerge as the real winner of the election. The CSU would need some time to digest such an election defeat, focusing on inner-party issues and wasting less energy on conflicts with Merkel. As a result, the coalition in Berlin could again focus on implementing the substance of its coalition agreement. At the same time, however, a historic CSU defeat could be a worrying sign for Merkel, marking a new chapter in the deterioration of the conservative bloc. A significant loss would simultaneously fuel the AfD's position as a strong opposition party, illustrating the increasing frustration of some voters with established parties, a trend which would definitely complicate coalition-building at the next federal election.
It could be worse: as Deutsche Welle noted earlier, the CSU collapse could lead to Seehofer's resignation from Merkel's government, and conceivably the exit of Markus Söder, Bavaria's prime minister from the Bavarian state premiership, which would remove two of the chancellor's most outspoken critics from power, and give her room to govern in the calmer, crisis-free manner she is accustomed to.
Furthermore, the heavy loss and potentially big resignations in the CSU might push a desperate party in a more volatile, abrasive direction at the national level. That would further antagonize the SPD, the center-left junior partners in Merkel's coalition, themselves desperate for a new direction and already impatient with Seehofer's destabilizing antics, and precipitate a break-up of the age-old CDU/CSU alliance, and therefore a break-up of Merkel's grand coalition. In short: Anything could happen after Sunday, up to and including Merkel's fall.