Land parliamentary elections in Lower Saxony

On 15th October Lower Saxony elected a new parliament. The social democrats achieved their first success in that year, yet it does not suffice for a red-green coalition. DIE LINKE narrowly misses to enter parliament.

The Social Democrats (SPD) won the elections, gaining nearly 250000 more votes (+21%) than in 2013. Three weeks after their worst result during a federal election, they gain additional 4.4 per cent. Their success is one of Minister President Stephan Weil and at the same time of the state level party which was more able to convey its aims and political campaign better than the party on federal level. The result also shows that voters do differentiate between federal and state level policy.

The red-green Land government was voted out of office, mainly due to the losses of the Greens. Instead of their formerly combined 46.3%, both parties only gained 44.6% and 67 out of 137 seats despite the gains of the social democrats.

The conservatives (CDU) received their worst results since 1959, even though they merely lose second votes, mostly due to the high voter turnout. During the last weeks they slowly lost their advance of 12 percentage points in the polls. No intention of a change of government was notable among voters. To the contrary, the social democratic Minister President was assessed as positive by conservative voters. Furthermore, the party could not present itself as the better choice in relevant political issues. Rather, among CDU sympathisers insecurity prevails about the course of the party, the demand for a „conservative renewal“ grows.

The Greens are the actual losers of the elections. Even though they reach their second best result in Lower Saxony, they lose nearly a third of their votes. Two reasons are responsible for this: firstly their over-estimation during former land partliamentary elections was corrected, secondly there is some confusion about the future course of the party. Especially in a state like Lower Saxony whose party system strongly relies on the classical divide in two political camps, possible changes of course are sanctioned.

The liberals (FDP) also experienced a correction of a previous over-rating. In 2013 they only received their 10% result owing to a campaign asking conservative voters to give their second vote to the liberals, which in the end led to conservative Minister President McAllister losing his office. Still, the result is above average for the party.

The AfD enters the 14th state parliament with slightly above 6%. Their results clearly decreased compared to federal elections three weeks ago. It remains to be seen whether this can be attributed to the weak performance of the Land party organisaiton and its internal conflicts or whether their results during federal elections have reached a preliminary peak. Thus, the political shift to the right in Lower Saxony came off rather moderate.

The people of Lower Saxony showed no intention for a shift to the left though. DIE LINKE in the end, failed at overcoming the threshold and again does not enter a Western Land parliament. Considering the 7 percent vote in Lower Saxony during federal elections, this is disappointing, even if the votes for the party clearly increased compared to former Land parliamentary elections (+ 65000). In regions where the party was already „strong“, it grew further, mainly in urban areas. The party has gained compared to last elections, yet remains far from results in 2008/2009. It seems, the party remains a phenomenon of federal politics.

Voter turnout was slightly higher than 2013 (63.1%, +4%) but clearly lower than during federal elections on 24th of September (-13%). This might indicate that there was no widespread need for a decision impacting federal level or making a decision for a political change of course as happened during Land parliamentary elections 2016, when voter turnout was nearly as high as during federal elections.

The Lower Saxony election results have a touch of the old Federal Republic as we knew it for a long time. Both people's parties fight for the victory each having a smaller party at their side. This time the social democrats win, surprisingly clear. At the same time the red-green camp loses its majority. Yet, there is no majority for the conservative-liberal camp either because the nationalist AfD enters the Land parliament.

A poisened message of the election night could be: The social democrats can still win, thus the questions regarding the future of social and democratic policies do not have to be too fundamental as announced only a few days ago. Maybe it could just go on as in 2005, 2009, and 2013. A second poisened message contains the „weak“ result of the AfD: Has the dynamic of the movement gathering right wingers been broken, will it in the end break down due to internal contradictions and is it actually only a problem of the Eastern states?

The results give no momentum to the favorised coalition forming on federal level. They also do not strengthen the position of Angela Merkel, which had greatly engaged herself in the Lower Saxon campaign.