Psephology Rocks: Oktoberfest Ist Here!

I missed the actual date for the German elections, but I still think the aftermath is worth talking about because I think the German system is probably one of the first mixed systems I've looked at while doing these posts. So, before we break down the results of the elections (which I'm sure everybody's seen by now: they voted way back on September 24th, so go figure) we should probably pop the hood and see how the magic happens in Germany.

From a structural point of view, Germany is a federal parliamentary republic- so it's got a bicameral legislature, a President for a head of state (largely ceremonial) and a Chancellor for a head of government (who actually runs things, usually the leader of the largest party in the Bundestag.) In that sense, it's really that different from a lot of other parliamentary democracies out there. But it's once you get into the nitty gritty of it all that interesting differences get teased out.

The upper house, the Bundesrat is actually kind of interesting to me. It's not elected by either the popular vote or the state parliaments, but are delegated by the respective state governments. Here's where it gets interesting: state delegations have to vote as a block- they can't split their votes- and, since state elections and national elections aren't coordinated in Germany, the make-up of the Bundesrat can shift at anytime. It gets even more complicated when you throw in the fact that unlike say the United States, there's more than two parties in Germany, so each state delegation has to represent the coalition in that state at that time. Allocation of the seats is done through something called degressive proportionality which gives smaller states an advantage, but not as much as say, giving each state an equal number of members like our Senate does. (States in the Bundesrat have a minimum of three votes, but a maximum of six.)

I think a Bundesrat model might be worth considering if the American political system was a little more robust and representative than it is now. For sure, any structural change to the Senate would require a Constitutional amendment, but I think if there is a serious push to repeal the 17th Amendment. (Serious as in people starting to vote to do that and not just dream about it) then I think it would be worth at least talking about. The problem becomes though that right now at least it would lock in GOP majorities in the Senate, though I do like the provisions of the German constitution that force abstentions on delegations in the Bundesrat who are split. (Either you have delegations of government parties, which vote with the government or opposition parties, which vote against, but if you've got a mix of both, you're 'neutral' which means you abstain.)

So let's get to the Bundesrag and it how it all works there. You've got 598 members (already I hear Americans recoiling in horror at increasing the size of the House of Representatives to that number) and they're elected by two votes. Yes, you read that right. Everybody gets two votes. (B-b-b-b-but voter fraud! Voter ID! Hacking!) 50% of the seats get elected from the 299 electoral districts of Germany- so you get a 'Budesperson' as it were. But then 50% of the vote is proportionally allocated to parties that get more than 5% of the vote. In another twist, there are 33 'balance' seats that can be added to tweak the make up of the Bundestag a little bit to ensure that the number of seats are as proportional as possible to the number of votes the party receives.

Again, if our political system was a little more robust and representative than it is now then I would be happy to endorse this model and then some. You keep your representation on a district level, but you also have an opportunity to vote for a different party if that represents your beliefs better or you want them to get seats? Sign me up. I don't think a purely proportional system is the way to go- it makes your representation too remote, but it also does reflect voter preferences better. This system that Germany has seems to me to be an ideal marriage of both. The Bundestag goes out of it's way to make sure it reflects the democratic preferences of it's people with the addition of the balance seats. The only downside I can see is that in the numerical increase in the number of politicians, but, you know- you win some, you lose some, right?

All of which brings us back around to the German Elections which went down on September 24th. As was widely expected, Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats won a fourth term in power. What wasn't expected was the historical slump experience by their coalition partners in the 'Grand Coalition' the Social Democrats, who lost 5% of their vote share to slump to their worst result since World War II. There had been some buzz around the SDP and their leader Martin Schulz earlier in the summer, but it came to naught and in a bad way with the SDP barely squeaking above 20% of the vote.

It wasn't all good news for Angela Merkel, however. The CDU/CSU lost 8% of their vote share from the previous election and far right populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) exceeded expectations to sweep into Bundestag seats with 13.2% of the vote. (FiveThirtyEight had some handy dandy charts break this down a little more, though I don't know if I'll go along with them in drawing parallels to the rise of President Trump and his voters. I feel like it's more symptomatic of widespread bubbling discontent with the EU and how it governs- though I could easily be wrong about that as well.)

So what now for a governing coalition? Well... the pro-business FDP have managed to re-emerge after a string of dismal results in various state elections and it's expected that they'll probably end up somewhere in the Coalition, but with the SDP tapping out of coalitions, the expected and interesting combination that's seen as likely is a 'Jamaica Coalition' between the CDU/CSU (black), FDP (yellow) and Greens (well, green). No one wants to play with the AfD so they're out and other than a continuation of the Grand Coalition, which the SDP doesn't want to do (at least for now) the only other option seems to be a Jamaica Coalition. Whether it can be hammered out or not remains to be seen...


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