Monday, September 28, 2009

Aftermath of German Election

On this day after the German general election, the world is analyzing the results, and their impact on the future of Germany and, by extension, of the region in which it is the largest country, i.e., the European Union's part of Europe (which excludes the largest country in all of Europe, which is Russia).

Yesterday, I noted that the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) had their worst result in any post-World War II general election. But that does not mean that the vote total of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, grew. It was in fact down slightly from the last election, in 2005.

The more ideologically focused parties were the ones who gained. The Free Democrats (FDP), known as "liberal" in Europe, saw their vote total increase significantly. That sense of "liberal" is closer to what we call "libertarian" in the U.S., than to our meaning of "liberal". Two parties that position themselves to the left of the SPD, the Left Party and the Greens, also did well.

A similar urge to clarify ideological differences among parties seems to have taken hold in America over the last few decades. Here, the Republican and Democratic parties are more clearly identified as the conservative party and liberal party, respectively, than they were 4o years ago or so. Apparently, the Germans don't find the same degree of clarity, between the CDU and SPD. So they have turned to smaller parties, a trend that is not reflected in voting patterns in the U.S.

This New York Times report might constitute at least a partial explanation for that phenomenon. It notes the CDU's traditional identification as a Roman Catholic party, in which the Protestant Merkel is a sort of odd-person-out. Perhaps, in this more secular age, such an identity for a party fails to attract a large part of the electorate.

Again, I see a similarity to the U.S., where the Democrats were traditionally seen as the party of Jewish and Roman Catholic voters, while the Republicans were the Protestant party. Of course religion still plays a role in American politics, but in a different way. Now, regular churchgoers, especially those of a more fundamentalist hue, are more likely to vote for Republicans than for Democrats. But that's different from the traditional-my-denomination-vs.-your-denomination basis for partisan rivalry. These days, voters are more likely to back whichever party at any given time has a message that attracts them, than to stay loyal to the party that corresponds to their forefathers' religious affiliation.

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