Any election in Germany has its own appeal (not only for electoral analysts) and the election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was an important chance for many people living there to judge their government and their political elite. However, it is hard to find good arguments for the importance or the consequences of the 2011 Mecklenburg-Vorpommern election for Germany as a whole, or to find a conceivable influence of the results of this election on the important decisions that have to be made in Germany in the next few weeks regarding the financial and European crisis.
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a rather small northeastern German peripheral state (less than 2 million inhabitants), without any economic or strategic importance. The election on Sunday was the sixth state election this year, and the pre-election polls showed that the CDU-FDP government in Berlin could not win any laurels with this election. On the contrary, it was rather clear that there would be no turn-around of the general trend of all previous elections—a trend against the governing parties in Berlin.
It was therefore not a surprise that the Christian Democrats (CDU) lost many voters (-5.7%), that the Free Democrats (FDP) did not even pass the five percent hurdle (2.7%), that the Social Democrats (SPD) became the strongest party (35.7%) and can now select its coalition partner and, finally, that the Greens (8.4%) entered the parliament for the first time and are now represented in all state parliaments. Only the voter support for the right wing National Party (NPD) was an open question. In the end they made it over the 5 percent hurdle (6%), due to the very low turnout (52.8%), which helps small parties with highly convinced followers.
These results are—as always—caused by a mixture of local, regional, and federal reasons; important, unsolved political issues on these levels; and influences of political personnel, which should not be overestimated in Germany. The state’s Prime Minister, Erwin Sellering, a so-called “west-import,” took over the office three years ago from Harald Ringsdorff, who had been ruling the state for ten years before. Sellering has an even better reputation than his predecessor—64 percent of the voters want him as the next leader of the state. His acceptance across all party lines, as well as his image as the “father of the people of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern,” has helped a lot. But his importance is restricted to his state.
In Germany, there are only a few politicians of importance beyond the state level, none of them from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Even the fact that Chancellor Angela Merkel comes from this state did not help her or the Christian Democrats to fight the general trend. Fifty-nine percent of voters said state politics guided their decision, while 36 percent named federal politics. In other words: this was a true state election. There is no reason to over-interpret the results as a hint of where voters think politics should go on the federal level. Furthermore, the outcome in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern did not affect a more influential level of politics in the Bundesrat. There will be no change in the power structure of the national government and the opposition, even when a red-red (SPD-Left) coalition forms the government in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
However, there is one topic in this election that is of transnational importance, namely, the support of the NPD by voters in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The NPD lost votes in comparison to the last election in 2006, but they are still in parliament and with visible size (5 seats). They still get strong support by young voters, especially young male voters under 30 years old with low educational status. But they also attract other lower educational status voters in several regions of the country, where the NPD is strong and behaves like the defender of social equality rights for the underprivileged. Although all other parties in parliament moved into a clear and often universal position against the NPD during the last parliamentary session by trying to fight against the right wing with political arguments, and not with exclusion or tactical games, the party has still resonance in parts of the population that should not be overlooked. A high majority of voters said in a poll before Election Day that they would be very glad if the NPD would not succeed in entering the state parliament. However, every sixth eligible voter said they would not care, while every third agreed to the statement: “the NPD says what a lot of other people think.” There are far right populist movements in other European countries with more or less the same political program. But with Germany’s history, it is hard for democratic thinking Germans to accept the representation of the NPD in a state parliament. Therefore, this result is a very unpleasant one.
As already stated, the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern election was not the litmus test for Angela Merkel and the governing coalition in Berlin, because it did not reveal any new issues. The consequences for the political decision-making process in the weeks ahead will be rather small, but the results are of no help for the federal government to solve the problems ahead.
Dieter Roth is on the board of directors for the Institut für Wahlanalysen und Gesellschaftsbeobachtung in Mannheim and is a frequent contributor to AICGS events and publications.
This essay appeared in the September 8, 2011 AICGS Advisor.