Land parliamentary elections North Rhine Westphalia
14th May, 2017

The results of Land parliamentary elections in North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) equal a political earthquake. The Land government was voted out of office; huge gains for the Christian Conservatives (CDU). At the same time there are not too many surprises if one differentiated between the polled atmosphere in the last months versus the actual votes: It would have been surprising had the CDU not raised its head again out of the deep hole it vanished in 2012.

The red-green Land government was voted out of office with huge losses for both governing parties. Instead of over 50 percent both partners merely gained 37 percent of the valid votes. Such a clear loss of government majority was nearly nonexistent before.

A red-red-green alliance clearly missed a majority. The “little federal elections” prove the opinion already mentioned here after federal elections in 2013, that the majority left from the Conservatives in federal government happened rather by chance, - only due to the tight failure of Liberals (FDP) and Alternative for Germany (AfD) to enter parliament – and is not covered by political approval in society.  In 2012 around 60 percent of citizens in North Rhine Westphalia voted for parties left from the Conservatives; currently only around 40 percent did the same. From the huge losses of Social Democrats, Greens and Pirates merely 2.5 percent reached DIE LINKE.

Even though the AfD will enter parliament, results are sufficient for a “classic” two-party-coalition of Conservatives and Liberals. Ironically, this majority is due to the tight failure of the Left party.

The Conservatives – despite reaching their second worst result in a Land parliamentary election in North Rhine Westphalia since 1947 – were the great winners of the day. They will become strongest group, replace the Minister President, and gain strong tailwind for federal elections.

Clearly, the Liberals (FDP) are winner of election day as well. They will become third-strongest force in parliament having reached one of their best results in a NRW election. They can form the new Land government together with the Conservatives. The result is mainly due to party chair Christian Lindner.

The AfD has to be part of the list of election winners again. She received a slightly better result than in the last polls, yet remains clearly below the early two-figure polls. Inner party conflicts about the positioning of the AfD as a right-wing movement party may equally have contributed as the decrease in media attention and the societal uproar regarding the migration issue. She could only slightly profit from increased voter turnout.

DIE LINKE experienced a night of trepidation. She did not reach her goal to re-enter parliament. But it was very close which turns the result in a “bitter success”. We gained in percentage but in the end that does not count. At the same time the nearly five percent are a good precondition for federal elections. In several towns the party gained 7 to 12 percent: remarkable results with high increases. In the respective constituencies the AfD only gained below average results. In about a third of constituencies DIE LINKE gained five percent and more. In medium term the party needs to deal with the question and has to answer plausibly as to why it did not become an alternative for all former voters of Greens, Social Democrats, and Pirate party.

The Greens reached about the same results they started from in 2005. Seven years in government have contributed to a halving of their voter base instead of consolidation and extension. The “bad governance” mainly had an effect on school policy, an issue which was “the most important” for the decision a relative majority of voters. The Greens could not stand out with “green” issues. Even the exclusion of a “Jamaica coalition” (Conservatives, Liberals, Greens) could not prevent the downward spiral.

The Social Democrats are the clear losers of election night and are now confronted with the downside of the hype around a “Schulz train” headed for Chancellor office in February and March. Not only did they lose a Minister President office, Hannelore Kraft also resigned from Land party chair and vice party chair. Also, the inner party mobilization for federal elections threatens to collapse. In this regard, the Social Democrats reaped what had to be expected when politics are only directed at the creation of sentiments without adding contentual or power political substance. For the Social Democrats the results are the worst ever in an election in NRW.

The Pirate party has lost its last land parliament representation and has become politically irrelevant in NRW.
Despite former polls about the formation of a coalition, a traditional two party coalition has become an option. From a left perspective this means a hefty shift to the right in the specter of parliamentary parties.

Voter turnout was around five percent higher than in 2010 and 2012. This increase – which was already noticeable during the preceding Land parliamentary elections – reflects a preliminary? grown political interest of society, mostly due to federal issues and times of unrest. To support a party whose Chancellor steers the country calmly through a troubled global situation was the most important criteria for every fifth voter.  

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