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Party Landscape in the East (August 31, 2005)

With the Left Party/PDS expected to perform well in the upcoming Bundestag elections, the writer reminds his readers that 70 percent of voters in the new Länder would still be casting their ballots for the established parties. Still, voting behavior differed in East and West: in the eastern part of Germany, party ties were weak, and parties had to recruit votes and members from social groups that differed from those they courted in the West.

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The Other 70 Percent
Everyone is Staring at the Left Party – but in the East, too, the Majority is Voting for the Other Parties

From the end of July to the end of August, the chairwoman of the Saxon Left Party/PDS, Cornelia Ernst, was on another Hartz* tour through Saxony. As she had already done in the campaign for the Saxon Landtag [state parliament] a year ago, this uncharismatic politician readily exploited the widespread mood of protest against the labor market reform for the benefit of her party in this year’s Bundestag electoral campaign. And this time, the PDS is proving even more successful than last year. While the NPD** also succeeded twelve months ago in gaining attention and votes with an anti-Hartz campaign, this time it would appear that the PDS, expanded through the addition of WASG*** and [Oskar] Lafontaine (“foreign worker”****), is also attracting potential NPD voters. That much, at least, is suggested by the current polls, in which the NPD ranks only among the distant “others.” Unlike what happened in the 2002 Bundestag elections, which were disastrous for the PDS, this time the party has a theme.

For weeks now, pollsters have projected that the PDS, renamed the Left Party*****, will capture up to 30 percent of the vote in the East. This has struck fear in the hearts of politicians from the other large parties. They have declared the Left Party their chief rival, discussed whether or not campaigns tailored specifically to the East made sense, or blustered about intellectual discrepancies among the population or the frustrated people. Of course, in the process, the remaining 70 percent of Eastern voters who do not intend to put a mark next to the Left Party/PDS fell out of view. Who are these people? Overall, it is evident that the CDU and SPD, but also the FDP and the Greens, have altogether less support (and much smaller membership bases) in the new federal states, and that the ties to these parties are much weaker than in West Germany. Voters in the East, much more so than voters in the West, base their decisions on current themes, events, and individuals. Within a short period of time, election results, especially for the CDU and the SPD, have fluctuated considerably. For example, in the Landtag elections in Saxony-Anhalt in April 2002, the SPD was down to 20 percent (a loss of 16 percent); a mere five months later, in the Bundestag elections, it was once again the strongest party with 43.2%. In Saxony, too, such fluctuations between Landtag and Bundestag elections are by now a regular occurrence. The CDU result in the Bundestag elections in Saxony was already more than 20 percentage points lower than its result in the Landtag elections there. According to the latest surveys, Saxony is the one East German federal state in which the CDU can expect to be the strongest party in the upcoming Bundestag elections, with a substantial lead over the Left Party/PDS.

* Reference to the labor market reforms that took effect between 2003 and 2005 – eds.
** The NPD [Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschland or National Democratic Party of Germany] is among the extreme right parties – eds.
*** The WASG [Wahlalternative Arbeit und Soziale Gerechtigkeit or Electoral Alternative for Labor and Social Justice] was founded in 2004 in response to the Agenda 2010 reform package, which included various measures to modernize the labor market and social welfare system. Initially an association of dissatisfied former SPD and trade union members, it became a party at the beginning of 2005 and took part in that year’s federal elections as part of an electoral alliance with the PDS – eds.
**** At a campaign speech in Chemnitz in June 2005, Oskar Lafontaine spoke of the need to protect low-wage earning Germans from Fremdarbeiter [foreign workers]. His remark was heavily criticized, not least because of his use of the term Fremdarbeiter, which was often used during the Hitler regime in connection with slave laborers – eds.
***** Officially, the party was called The Left/PDS. In June 2007, PDS and WASG officially merged. Since then, the party has been called The Left – eds.

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