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Yesterday's Lower Saxony state elections turned into a veritable thriller as votes were counted. Under Germany's peculiar system which gives you two votes in national and most state elections - one for an individual candidate and one for a party list - about 100,000 conservative voters gave their second vote to the Liberals to make sure they would clear the five-percent threshold necessary to enter parliament, and thus maintain Minister President David McAllister's CDU/FDP powerbase.

 

They made so sure that the FDP, who had been hovering at the the three-percent mark in polls only weeks earlier, actually improved on their 8.5 percent result from five years ago to nearly ten percent, at the expense of the CDU dropping from 42.5 to 36 though still staying ahead of the Social Democrats at 33. Throughout the evening, the conservative-liberal and the red-green camp were neck-to-neck in projections, until the Social Democrats and Greens managed to eke out a 0.4 point lead and one-seat majority, giving them the tiniest base to replace McAllister; close, but others have done it before.

 

This will further reduce support for the conservative-liberal federal government in the Bundesrat, the second chamber of federal parliament made up of state representatives; it will also likely give the opposition a bit of a boost for their national campaign. They can need that too, because the Conservatives keep climbing slowly in the national polls while Social Democrats keep dropping in reprocity. CDU/CSU are now reported at 42-43 percent, their best showing for seven years, while the SPD ist at 23-28; even together with the Greens at 13-14, they are now weaker than the Conservatives alone, and while the latter have no majority of their own, they are not too far off.

 

As usual, the winners of Lower Saxony will proclaim this a foreshadowing of national election results in September, while the losers will point out that state and national elections are totally different beasts. One thing that is different for sure is that the Left Party will definitely be in the next Bundestag (they failed the five-percent threshold in Lower Saxony, but are above that in national polls and have some safe districts in East Germany), cutting into the red-green potential.

 

Conservative voters will have to weigh whether getting the Liberals, still polling 3-4 percent nationally, into parliament on transfused secondary votes again, or put it all into CDU/CSU, less at risk to lose power in the Bundestag; building them up for distinct leadership in a Grand Coalition with the SPD or going straight for absolute majority may be the better option. From a conservative view, there is also the danger of peaking early; I would like the current poll numbers a lot better if elections were next weekend rather than in eight months.

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Everything! :) it seems that the common point is that Merkel is popular enough to win or not, but the party does really bad (which is not that apparent to me), and it doesn't make a lot of sense to have people voting 2 different alternatives at the same time

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It's Europe: all the parties are for keeping or increase govt. size!

 

Not necessarily:

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk...litics-11538534

 

When I was born the government ran aerospace, the railways, energy, steel etc. and local government had water - all long since privatised. I don't see the the current government wanting to expand its control into more areas.

 

Statistical outliers, such as Maggie T., do not count.

 

Moreover, number of civil servants is quite on the rise.

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I see. :D No, Merkel's Conservatives are actually doing rather good, but are shy of an absolute majority in polls and will likely need a coalition partner to stay in power. Their traditional partners, currently in the federal government with them, are the classical liberal Free Democrats. Those scored uncommonly well in the last national elections because a lot of free-market conservatives were pissed off by the state dirigism of the previous Grand Coalition under Merkel during the world financial crisis, and voted FDP. However, they have since dropped below the five-percent threshold in polls due to playing opposition in government, infighting and general bad press.

 

The following is an explanation of the German two-votes system. Warning, it may make American elections look a simple tidy affair. :D

 

The primary vote is for a candidate in each district, classical first-past-the-post count. As elsewhere, this favors the two biggest parties; legendary former foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher was the only FDP candidate to ever win a district directly in his East German home city of Halle post-reunification, and former RAF lawyer Hans-Christian Ströbele is the only Green MP elected directly from the, uhm, colorful Berlin district of Kreuzberg. The Left Party is still widely popular in East Germany and always wins a handful of districts there.

 

In addition to nominating a candidate for each district, parties also make up lists of candidates on the state level. These are chosen by voters with their secondary vote, which counter-intuitively is the more important one as it decides on overall seat allocation in parliament; 50 percent of secondary votes will get a party 50 percent of seats. Obviously those get filled first by those candidates who won their districts directly by primary vote, but if any seats are left after that, they get filled in descending order of list positions.

 

This gives smaller parties a just share, and also allows the big ones to "insure" important district candidates against a loss in primary voting by giving them a top position on the state list. A complication in national elections is that within the overall share of a party, the list candidates are admitted according to the party's secondary vote results in each of the 16 states; meaning that a low outcome for the Conservatives in Lower Saxony will get them less MPs from their list than their party colleagues from Bavaria with a higher number of secondary votes.

 

Seats are allocated by one of various mathematical division methods in state and national elections, mostly according to d'Hondt or Hare/Niemeyer. On the national level, freak outcomes could lead to occurrences of "negative voting weight", whereby a good result in one state could actually lose a party seats in another. This was the subject of a recent constitutional court complaint and subsequent voting reform, including a new division method according to Sainte-Laguë.

 

People who split their vote are usually sympathizers of a small party who are aware that only the two big ones have a realistic chance of winning the district directly, and therefore use their primary vote on one of those candidates rather than wasting it on their own; so Liberals usually vote for the conservative district candidate, green voters for the SPD candidate. Sometimes, they plain find a district candidate personnally more appealing though they still give their secondary vote to their usual party.

 

There is also the "tactical" voter who goes the reverse way, perfectly demonstrated in the Lower Saxony election. People saw that the Conservatives would never stay in power if the Liberals didn't make it into parliament; the latter were polling at 3-4 percent, well below the five-percent threshold, lost points for the current government coalition. So conservative voters went and gave their secondary vote to the FDP while still electing their local CDU candidates. As noted, they made so sure that the FDP ended up at ten percent, though in the end the coalition still lost by 0.4 points ...

 

This vote-splitting is the reason for many of what is called "overhang mandates". The Bundestag is supposed to have twice the number of districts in seats, so in theory each of the currently 299 districts could elect one direct and one list candidate. However, as voters spread their choices more and new parties like the Greens, Left and temporary occurrences like the Pirates enter parliaments, it happens increasingly that the two big parties win more districts in one state directly than the seats they would be allocated by secondary votes.

 

In most states, these "overhang mandates" are compensated by also giving the other parties additional seats until the share according to secondary votes is restored. Until recently, this was not done on the national level; the Bundestag currently has 620 members due to 22 overhang mandates - mostly for the Conservatives, as this phenomen tends to favor the strongest party. Unsurprisingly the Conservatives were also against doing something about it until another recent constitutional court decision forced them to. After the next national election, overhang mandates will be compensated, which means the Bundestag may grow to as many as 700 members.

 

BTW, a narrow defeat like in Lower Saxony is of course particularly hard, but a fest for pollster who pointed out that if the CDU hadn't changed the division method in Lower Saxony voting law back to d'Hondt (which tends to favor bigger parties in seat allocation) over the objections of the FDP, the compensatory seat for their single overhang mandate wouldn't have gone to the SPD but the FDP, thereby insuring survival of the coalition. The same would have happened if 2,000 more conservative voters had given their secondary vote to the Liberals.

 

A very remote possibility that they still carry the day is that upon recount the CDU turns out to have won one of two districts where SPD lead was only 300-400 votes; this would give them another overhang mandate, which would definitely be compensated with an FDP seat. However, if they turn out to have won both districts, there will be another compensatory seat for the SPD, and we're back to square one. :D

 

As mentioned earlier, Lower Saxony is so important because a red-green government there will give the SPD and Greens an absolute majority in the second national chamber. In the Bundesrat, the states have 3-6 votes each according to their size, but the representatives of each state can only vote in block. Coalition partners in state governments usually agree to abstain on matters they have different opinions on, but with an absolute majority of red-green representatives, the Bundesrat could block any law touching state rights and propose its own draft laws. From Merkel's point of view, that certainly speaks for a Grand Coalition after the September election even if she could carry on with the liberals.

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My boss was nominated to run for the CDU in her district again on Friday, being the only candidate and getting 93 percent of the delegates' vote despite - or maybe because - local party chiefs tried to ease her out of the picture back in summer. Fortunately the most ambitious pretender talked about that on background to a local paper hostile to my boss, which promptly ran with the story to create a momentum against her. That backfired badly as she ran for the candidacy again out of pure spite despite earlier doubts, and all likely contenders were burned immediately. I keep saying we should officially thank our friends in the media once she wins the district again - we couldn't have managed without them! :D

 

There is little effect from the Lower Saxony election in national polls run immediately afterwards; the Red-Green camp gained about two points, but that is pretty much within the range of results from previous weeks. The most tangible results were within the miraculously strengthened Liberal Party, where national chairman Philipp Rösler - a native of Lower Saxony (well, actually a native of Vietnam, but adopted as a baby, former Lower Saxony FDP chairman and minister of health) had been embattled for poor results, facing calls for a leadership rearrangement just days before the election.

 

He followed through with that immediately afterwards from a freshly strengthened position of course and will keep his position, though the front face for the national elections will be his previous main rival Rainer Brüderle from Baden-Württemberg. The latter promptly made headlines not for political exploits but personal conduct when the "Stern" magazine, that paragon of journalist integrity famous for publishing the fake Hitler diaries and never missing an opportunity to capitalize on some lurid details in righteous indignation, ran a story by a young female reporter centered on how Brüderle had somewhat improperly approached her during an informal midnight talk at a hotel bar after an FDP convention a year ago.

 

The report has stirred a moderate public debate on sexual harrassment and sexism in and outside politics. Brüderle himself hasn't commented, and political opponents are cautious to attack him, while the FDP is mostly attacking "Stern" and the reporter for blowing a story out of all proportion a year after the fact when he has just become the party's top candidate, never having sought an apology or redress before. This happens to come on the heels of another female journalist making public her recent experience with members of the Pirate Party who quite publically called her a whore on Twitter for using personal relations to get information.

 

Subsequently, an "#outcry" twitter hashtag sprang up where hundreds of women complained about their experiences with sexism in daily life. Media reaction so far is quite balanced, with other journalists pointing out that while Brüderle's alcohol-fueled behaviour as reported may have been unacceptable, informal background talk situations like that carry risks that both politicians and journalists should be aware of before they seek them with the aim of getting more personal information transported. Warning voices point out that nobody should want American conditions in politics and overall professional life, where off-the-record interaction between men and women always seems to carry the threat of harrassment suits and scandalization.

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But what is it with Germans and dissertations?

 

After former Defense Minister zu Guttenberg was brought down over his badly ghostwritten doctoral thesis, crowdsourced plagiarism investigation of notable politicians has become somewhat of a sport. Well, of notable conservative or liberal politicians, anyway; there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm when it comes to people from the leftist camp.

 

Currently in the crosshairs is Federal Minister of Education Annette Schavan. The collective on one of the self-styled investigative websites had looked at her dissertation earlier, but considered it an insufficiently demonstrable case; however, a single crusader went ahead and put the media onto it. Her alma mater has been investigating the issue somewhat clumsily, with a single evaluator from a different science department who is also a member of the deciding body attesting her fraudulent intentions.

 

The uni received some flak from science organisations over violating science standards in its proceedings itself, which led to countercharges because some of those organisations receive money from the budget of Schavan's ministry. Last week they decided to open a formal academic inquiry rather than pulling her title straight away, and the case remains up in the air.

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Currently in the crosshairs is Federal Minister of Education Annette Schavan. The collective on one of the self-styled investigative websites had looked at her dissertation earlier, but considered it an insufficiently demonstrable case; however, a single crusader went ahead and put the media onto it. Her alma mater has been investigating the issue somewhat clumsily, with a single evaluator from a different science department who is also a member of the deciding body attesting her fraudulent intentions.

 

The uni received some flak from science organisations over violating science standards in its proceedings itself, which led to countercharges because some of those organisations receive money from the budget of Schavan's ministry. Last week they decided to open a formal academic inquiry rather than pulling her title straight away, and the case remains up in the air.

 

Last night, Uni Düsseldorf decided to pull Schavan's degree without any further external evaluation. Two predictable things happened immediately, Schavan's lawyers announcing to sue against the decision, and the opposition demanding her resignation. The outcome is unclear; conventional wisdom is that a minister of education with her degree withdrawn for fraud in her dissertation is too big of a liability for the government in an election year, but as mentioned the "trial" is controversial, Schavan is considered a quiet substantial worker unlike the flamboyant zu Guttenberg, and a close confident of Chancellor Merkel; she might just save herself over the end of the term.

 

Of course the grapevine says that David McAllister, fresh out of a job as Lower Saxony minister president come 19 February, is already tagged as Schavan's replacement should she fall. Otherwise, the Lower Saxony election outcome still has not shown a larger impact on national polls; the Conservatives remain in the lead with 40-42 percent, Social Democrats 25-29, Greens 13-15, Liberals 4-5, Left 6-7, Pirates 3-4.

 

Meanwhile, SPD candidate Steinbrück is on a tour through four European nations seeking to sharpen his profile on EU politics and Euro crisis management, and probably better headlines than at home. Most recently, an "independent" blog has sprung up in his support, run by a PR agency headed by a personal friend of his who is alleged to have been instrumental in the SPD's win in the state of Northrhine-Westphalia three years ago through similiar means already.

 

The untertaking is reportedly financed with a six-digit sum from half a dozen major entrepreneurs sympathetic to the cause, supposed to be modeled on American Public Action Committees and Obama's internet-run campaign. This is another US-style element first introduced by the Social Democrats, and the anonymous financing in particular has caused a bit of unease; the Greens were first to demand that the backers be made public, though they took the opportunity to point out the government has so far rejected their proposals for sweeping campaign donation reforms.

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Actually parties get some public campaign funds (or rather refunding) with the intention to make them more independent from the will of big donators. Any party that achieved at least 0.5 percent of votes in a national or 1 percent in a state election will get reimbursed 70 Eurocent per vote cast (85 cent for the first four million votes). Plus any Euro donated by natural persons or paid as membership fees up to an individual sum of 3,300 gets added 38 cents from public funds. The absolute cap for annual funding is 150 million, though it gets adjusted for inflation.

 

If there is any complication to a voting system likely to exist, you can be sure we thought of it first. :D

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But what is it with Germans and dissertations?

 

Well, at least I'm glad we have found a journalist knowledgeable in the stuff he writes about.

Edited by sunday
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If there is any complication to a voting system likely to exist, you can be sure we thought of it first. :D

 

Well, you could always require voters to perform the

at the polls.
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