Skip to main content

State elections in North Rhine-Westphalia on 15.05.2022

On May 15 the third land parliamentary elections this year took place in the biggest West German state.

The following issues dominated the campaign in North Rhine-Westphalia: environment/energy politics, education, Ukraine/Russia, traffic, infrastructure and inflation/gas prices. Regarding economy voters attributed the conservatives (CDU) with the highest competence, followed by the social democrats (SPD). The greens are leading in energy politics, while the social democrats are considered the most competent in regards to education. Voters see conservatives and greens both competent regarding traffic.

The social democrats were in a less embarassing situation here as a week before in the Schleswig Holstein elections – for two issues voters saw them in second place in competence levels.


North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria were the centres of the WASG which eventually merged with the PDS to DIE LINKE. 2010 DIE LINKE succeeded for the first – and up to now only – time to enter the North Rhine-Westphalian parliament with 5,6 percent. After this election a minority government led by social democrat Hannelore Kraft was formed but dissolved after only two years because the parliament rejected the budget and made snap elections necessary. In 2012 the left party was defeated and fell back to 2,5 percent – which was even less than the added results of WASG and PDS in 2005.

In the 2017 elections results improved and the party only narrowly missed entry to parliament with a result of 4,9 percent (5 percent threshhold).  

The fights between currents and about ideology have been especially tough in the North Rhine-Westphalian party chapter and left deep scars. The political landscape within the state organisation is quite diverse, all currents and tendencies are represented. Most influential has been the conflict between the socialist left (SL) and the anticapitalist left (AKL). At the latest in 2018 these inner disputes have been reshaped and escalated  by the founding of “Aufstehen” (Rise up). This new formation wanted people of all political colours and activists to join in a collective movement. This political experiment was substiantially pushed by prominent LINKE figures Oskar Lafontaine and Sarah Wagenknecht leading to quite some commotion and violent clashes in the party. Sarah Wagenknecht is member of the state organisation and running for MP since 2009. In 2021 she was re-elected as prime candidate of the state organisation for federal elections after controversial debates and with only a narrow majority. The conflicts of the organisation are carried on in the communal and municipal chapters.  So far, no board succeeded to leave the shadows of these internal conflicts.

Election results

CDU (christian conservative)35,7+2,776
SPD (social democrats)26,7-4,556
Grüne (greens)18,2+11,839
FDP (liberals)5,9-6,712
AfD (rightwing populist)5,4-212
DIE LINKE (left)2,1-2,8-

In the end, results turned out more plainly then polls suggested. Christian conservatives (CDU) and greens (Grüne) could make better use of the political trends.

The CDU benefitted from its imcumbent Minister President Wüst being able to have mostly overcome the turbulences caused by his predecessor Laschet.

Since his designation he had a clear line on the management of the Covid pandemic and was able to present a narrative attractive to most of the voters. Yet, the party cannot compete with the greens.

Wüsts social democratic competitor Kutschaty did  not have much time to lead the SPD out of a deep hole and recommend himself to the voters. He showed a remarkable performance and lifted the SPD out of its deepest crisis to nearly eye-level with the election winner. Still the SPD received the worst result in its history in NRW.  Most of its former voters went to the greens and the non-voters. Probably the greens were programmatically and structurally for many social democratic supporters the more stable option.

The greens themselves had a double-digit increase and a sensational tripling of their last result. They will, thus, decide on the formation of the future government. They attracted voters from all sides and their acceptance in NRW society is very high.

The five year cycle of government change – observed for quite some time now – is unbroken. Again, concerns about the economic development may have played a role in that – despite rising employment. These concerns mostly regard the states preparedness for and position in the necessary economic and ecological transformation. Especially here, the greens are attributed the greatest competence and experience contrary to the social democrats which focussed in the campaign on more traditional socio-political positions.

In the eyes of the voters the conservatives are similarly future-oriented than the social democrats and clearly behind the greens. The coal mining state widely accepts that an exit from coal mining will be finalised by the end of this decade. Additionally, the greens are ascribed the highest competences in finance and economic politics.

The reasons for the desastrous result of the liberals (FDP) cannot solely be found in the Covid mismanagement of their education minister. A new trend might become visible here which requires further evaluation. The liberals lost voters to all other parties. Polls for the federal level see them scoring a bit better but do not hint that the party gains from being part of the government coalition. It would not be the first time that the purpose and function of the party in German politics is questioned and needs to be redefined.

Yet, it is too early to see a demise of the party. It mainly lost with the older generation while it gained in the younger cohorts, in contrast to CDU and SPD which have their electoral base mainly among the older voters.

The rightwing populist AfD lost clearly even in its strongholds in the industrial Ruhr area.

DIE LINKE continued its dramatic demise. Despite some signs of hope the self-distructive processes and substanial blockades in the party  have fully hit the maybe second most important Western state for DIE LINKE after Saarland. Results have been halved compared to 2017, the party landed “among others”. The voter basis of the party is equally weak across all groups (workers, employees, civil servants and self-employed). Merely a higher approval can be found amoung the younger age and higher educated groups.

Even though it is the declared goal of the party to represent the precarious, economically weak population, this is not met with their respected approval. They feel mostly represented by the big “peoples parties” CDU and SPD.

The second biggest winner of these elections is the party of non-voters. Voter turnout was exceptionally low at 55 %.

[translated excerpt. Original: Thomas Falkner]