"A Complex Conflict Situation" - Michael Koß on the 2021 Bundestag Election

2021-09-13 With the election date only a few days away, the outcome of the Bundestag election remains completely unclear. The public discourse about parties, programmes and possible alliances is characterised by a certain helplessness. Michael Koß, Professor of the Political System of the Federal Republic of Germany and the EU, provides guidance in this interview.

Michael Koß, Professor of the Political System of the Federal Republic of Germany and the EU at the Institute of Political Science ©Leuphana/Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
Michael Koß, Professor of the Political System of the Federal Republic of Germany and the EU at the Institute of Political Science
At the moment no party seems likely to emerge from this election as a clear winner, do you agree? Why is that? And what does that mean with respect to governing over the next four years?
Well, unlike until the 2013 election, there are two potentially election-deciding conflicts today that are cross-cutting each other. One is the classic issue of economic redistribution, over which the CDU/CSU and the FDP compete with each other on the one hand and the SPD and the Left on the other. Over time, however, a second major conflict has become increasingly important, which is primarily about transnational issues such as climate change, the EU, and migration. Here, the AfD and the Greens are competing above all. In view of this new confusion, no party can dream of its own majorities. Therefore, in all likelihood, no coalition of two parties will win a majority for the first time. If this proves to be true, I advocate a minority government.
Would you say that older people will decide this election - because they form the majority in the current population breakdown?
Formally, that may be true, but from that perspective, the right-handers will also decide the election. Just like the left-handers, the younger ones are in little danger of being unfairly disadvantaged. The Fridays for Future demonstrations are perhaps the most visible example of how younger people compensate for their lack of numerical influence.
This year there are more parties to choose from than ever before. Why have so many new parties been formed since the last election? And are all of them without a chance?
The many new parties are related to the more complex conflict structure I mentioned above. Similar to SPD and the Left Party, the Greens are currently facing opponents who accuse their established counterparts of having sacrificed pure doctrine for power options. And yes, outside their mostly inner-city strongholds, these challengers have no chance. However, they cost the established parties important votes.
Will parties close to the “Querdenker” benefit from the pandemic - is a shift to the right to be expected?
I wouldn't know which parties (in the plural) are close to the “Querdenker”. In any case, the AfD seems to have too loose connections to them to be able to profit significantly. We have already experienced the shift to the right at the ballot box after 2015, and it is currently unfolding most notably within the AfD, which is moving unchecked towards the right-wing fringe. It will be exciting to see whether this costs the AfD votes.
Will the Greens benefit from first-time voters who regularly attended FFF demonstrations and are voting for the first time this year?
Yes, the FFF movement is a consequence of the above-average support of first-time voters for the Greens, and I expect this trend to continue - climateists or no climateists.
Would the SPD form a coalition with the Left? And is a shift to the left to be expected because of this?
Anti-communism is perhaps the last political reflex that can be triggered in Germany without the involvement of the intellect. For this reason alone, I think it rather unlikely that the SPD will formally tie itself to the Left Party. But from the SPD's point of view, a possible coalition with the Left Party is simply too suitable as a threat to wrest content-related concessions from the - to put it kindly - eager-to-govern FDP. This is probably the real reason why Olaf Scholz has not ruled out this option so far.
Thank you very much!

Further Information

After positions at Oxford, Paris (Sciences Po) and Harvard, as well as substitute professorships at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and Technische Universität Dresden, Michael Koß has been a professor at the Institute of Political Science at Leuphana since 2019. As an expert on political systems, he is frequently requested by the media (most recently several times in ZEIT and Deutschlandfunk, among others). His monograph "Democracy without a Majority? The People's Parties of Yesterday and the Parliamentarism of Tomorrow" was published in March 2021.