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Monday, September 16, 2013

What do the Bavarian election results tell us about next week's general elections?

Yesterday’s Bavarian state elections saw a clear victory for the CSU, Merkel’s CDU sister party at the federal level, securing 47.7% of votes in the 180-seat state legislature. That translates into 101 seats for the conservatives, 10 more than needed to form a majority government.
Results of the Bavarian state elections

So what could that mean for next week’s general elections?
  • Could the results provide a boost to the CDU/CSU and push them an absolute majority at the federal level? This is very unlikely given that the CDU/CSU haven't won an absolute majority at the federal level since 1957 whereas an outright majority for the Conservatives in Bavaria is rather the status quo (except for the previous coalition with the FDP, the CSU has enjoyed an absolute majority for 56 years). 
  • Furthermore, both the CSU and the SPD gained percentage points compared to the previous elections. This result was basically in line with the large majority of pre-election polls. So it won’t necessarily give either party an edge for the next week’s general elections.
  • The FDP lost 4.7% compared to previous state elections and, with overall result of 3.3%, missed the threshold to enter the Bavarian state parliament. This could be seen as a bad omen for next week's general election and may raise the chances of a grand coalition. That said, tactical voting (from CDU/CSU) voters is an important part of FDP support. This result could prompt an increase of such voting at the general election, as CDU/CSU voters fear an FDP failure and the move towards a grand coalition. FDP leader, Philipp Rösler, called its party’s result in the Bavaria elections “a wake-up call”. It could end up being exactly what the party needed to secure its entry to the Bundestag.
  • It's also worth noting that the FDP has traditionally faired badly in Bavaria and rarely makes it into the parliament - the last election then was an exception, rather than the rule. Furthermore, the CSU feared losing an absolute majority so many supporters voted tactically at the previous election, at this one the majority was essentially assured.
  • The usefulness of the Bavarian elections as a bellwether for the general elections should not be overestimated either - the CSU dominates, while the Free voters also have a strong support base but the Greens traditionally struggle. It's also worth keeping in mind that Alternative fur Deutschland did not run in the elections.
The general reading seems to have been that this is a bad sign for the current coalition government with the FDP struggling. That could well be true, but it may just end up being the sign that supporters of the current coalition needed to vote in a way which ensures extra FDP support. All still to play for then next week.

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