The dynamics of politics builds. Digital democracies challenge traditional ordering principles like time and place. Thus, the parliamentary representative democracy suddenly finds its base and location challenged by a deluge of outrage. For a political culture in Germany that finds its basis on stability and predictability, this can only lead to irritation. Only on one occasion in the seventeen Bundestag elections over the past sixty-three years has the result prompted a complete shift in power. In 1998, the Red-Green opposition parties were put in charge of forming the government. Party competitions indicate similar signals of continuity. For over thirty years, the CDU, SPD, and FDP shared power, until the emergence of the Greens. The Pirates, twenty years after the entrance of the PDS in the Bundestag, stand at the verge of nationwide representation in the Bundestag. In comparison with other western democracies, all of these incidences share a unique characteristic: The comfortable approach of a catch-all party democracy.
This is ending now. The contours of new developments have long been observed. Formerly large catch-all parties have continually shrunk despite victories in national and state elections. Five- and six-party parliaments have long forged a colorful republic. Post-modern formation of governments (the minority government of the NRW over two years or coalitions that transcend party lines) and victories of mid-level parties (Stuttgart) indicate the shift. Admittedly, the first push of the creativity did not last long. Snap elections took place in short succession in Hamburg, Saarbrücken, and now also in Düsseldorf. Does that conclude the post-modern phase of party competition? Or will the short term, the volatile, the unexpected, and the permanence of dynamism remain hallmarks of German democracy?
The replacement of the formerly placid party system by a coalition and party market took place because of the voter. First of all, there are the non-voters; a group that expands when there is nothing to decide or no content or personally polarizing issues at stake. Their share of the electorate has continually grown so that increasingly fewer voters decide increasingly more. Of those who go out to vote, many are shifting their party preferences. The share of swing voters in Bundestag elections in the past twenty years has doubled. Rational coalition voters in turn distinctly favor a certain government formation, reflected by their vote splitting. Their share also has clearly increased. Non-political voters decide on their votes only a few hours prior to elections. They are like quicksand and can deliver defeats in races with tight majorities. The trend remains: finicky voters vote!
However, that is only one side of the story. In spite of the volatility of public opinion, measurable left-right preferences of voters remain. Nothing is as constant with voters as the intention to endorse the respective side of the camp, however sugar-coated they may be. The party bond—as an expression of continuity of social interests—still is more deciding of elections than the sympathy for people. Consequently, voters trust reliable, recognizable orientation points and find the respective filter in the party colors.