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Election Analysis: Bavaria 2018

The elections to the Bavarian Landtag were held on 14 October 2018. Voter turnout was higher, surging to over 70 percent. The results of the elections demonstrate the change of the German party system. The Greens are one of the biggest winners emerging as the second strongest party. The Christian Social Union (CSU) won just 37.2 percent of the vote and thus losing its absolute majority. It is their worst election result since 1958. The SPD (Social Democratic Party) collapsed into the single digits coming in fifth with just 9.7 percent. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) slightly failed to come up to expectations and their result at the German federal elections but the party entered the state parliament for the first time.

The major losses which CSU and SPD have suffered threaten the stability of the coalition government in Berlin. The election results are a clear vote against the fragile great coalition.

The last time turnout exceeded 70 percent was at the state elections in 1986. There are several reasons for the increased turnout. The elections were of great political significance at national level. They were the first elections in Germany after the formation of the federal government. Voters were mobilized by the opportunity to punish the policies of the great coalition. Another reason for the high turnout was the unsuccessful election campaign of the Bavarian state government. The strategies of the CSU disappointed and affronted people of different political backgrounds mobilizing them to vote in favor of the opposition parties.

During the election campaign the CSU did not benefit from its successes in Bavaria. The prosperous state is characterized by modernization and (internal) migration. The CSU did not keep up with the social and economic changes in Bavaria. The party concentrated for a long time on its failures. Especially the public confrontation with its sister party Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the disputes between the leaders of both parties damaged the image of the Bavarian conservatives. The voters, nearly half of the CSU supporters, do not want a 100 percent CSU government. The majority of voters want a coalition. The new government could be a coalition of the CSU with the Greens or with the liberal conservative Free Voters (Freie Wähler), with whom they have considerably more in common. Due to power struggles within the party and a lack of orientation in the confrontation with the AfD the support of the CSU has ebbed away and fell below 40 percent.

From the lack of orientation of the CSU benefitted on the one hand the Free Voters (FW) and the AfD, both sharing the same voter bases with the CSU. On the other hand the Greens belonging to the opposite political spectrum benefitted from the weakness of the CSU.

The regional protest party FW had its best election results in Bavaria. It won 11.6 percent of the vote and finished third. Like the CSU, the party stands for far right migration and refugee policies. In addition, the FW broached the issue of diverging development in rural areas in the context of economic modernization. For many Bavarians the FW would be an appropriate partner in a coalition government with the CSU. Furthermore, conservative voters, who were disappointed by the CSU, perceived the FW as a moderate alternative to the AfD.

The far-right, anti-migrant AfD (10.2 %), which ran in Bavaria for the first time, entered the state parliament.
Among the main victors were the environmental, pro-immigration Greens. The party more than doubled its share of the vote up to 17.5 percent and took second place. Many voters turned to the Greens which had performed a consistent, anti-populist campaign including not only pro-immigration policy, but also alternative subjects. The Greens have gained credibility and emerged as the main opposition party in Bavaria. The party could either become opposition leader in the Bavarian Landtag or form a coalition with the weakened ruling CSU.

The FDP (Liberals) barely made it with 5.1 percent and entered the state parliament as the smallest party in the new legislature.

The SPD collapsed into the single digits (9.7%), their vote being halved. The party suffered even greater losses than the CSU. In the Bavarian Landtag the Social Democrats are coming in fifth. They have lost their identity and their voter base. The SPD does not offer modern and convincing answers to the current challenges. In addition, the results are meant to punish the great coalition of which the Social Democrats are a part.

In spite of promising polls the left party DIE LINKE once more failed to cross the 5%threshold required to make it into the Bavarian Landtag. The party won 3.2 percent of the total vote. DIE LINKE succeeded in increasing its number of votes by 73.6 percent. Although the party has its own clear positions and issues, it is sharing the fate of the fall of social democratic parties.

At national level the pressure on the SPD has increased. The Social Democrats have to decide about their future in the government coalition. The party needs regeneration, a process that is likely to fail in its current position in the government. If, in Bavaria, a coalition of the CSU with the FW will be formed, this would intensify the tensions between the CSU and its federal sister party CDU.