A fortnight ago, I wrote on how the Democrats can win the midterms. Today, I wanted to focus on a successful example of an insurgent centre-left party- Germany’s Green Party- and what they can teach Democrats, and Americans generally.
On the 14th October, an election was held in the German state of Bavaria. The closest thing Germany has to Texas, Bavaria is a conservative, affluent state, home to German industrial giants such as BMW and Siemens. It is fiercely proud of its traditions, particularly its cultural Catholicism. And like Texas, Bavaria is a border state which has seen an influx of refugees in recent years.
But in the election, the centre-right CSU party suffered considerably. Its share of the vote fell from almost half to just 37%. The centre-left SPD, which has never been popular in Bavaria, saw its support more than halve to just 9.7%. The main beneficiaries of of the collapse of Bavaria’s main political parties were the Green Party, whose support more than doubled to 17.5%. The hard-right AfD won 10.2%, though this was lower than their support in Germany as a whole.
The reasons for the Green Party’s success were twofold. Firstly, the CSU had moved to the right in a bid to retain its conservative base. This scared centrist voters, who saw the Greens as a sensible, pro-EU and pro-immigration party. Secondly, the Greens benefited from an SPD which seems fresh out of ideas and leadership. The SPD is currently part of a ruling coalition in Germany’s federal government, yet it hardly makes a mark of its own. The Greens are passionate about the causes most Germans care about: improving the environment, reforming the EU, making German industry competitive in an era of scandals and tough foreign competition.
The success of Germany’s Greens ought to be encouraging to Democrats who wish to be more competitive in traditionally-Republican states. They show that if you make your arguments persuasively, passionately and convincingly, people will vote for you. They show the importance of having fresh and exciting ideas. They also demonstrate the need to be perceived as anti-establishment in a cynical and apathetic age, and the benefits of youthful, charismatic leadership. But perhaps most importantly, they show that there are benefits from working with your opponents. Bavaria’s Green Party benefited from the achievements of the Greens in the neighbouring state of Baden-Württemberg, who govern in coalition with the centre-right CDU.
Republicans should look at the achievements of the German Greens with fear. In an era of instability and uncertainly, you can never take your supporters for granted; people nowadays have higher expectations of their leaders. Being right-wing on identity issues and adopting a nationalistic disposition may play well with the base, but swing voters will feel alienated. An insistence on ideological purity will be particularly bad for your electoral prospects in the cities. Bavaria’s Greens did best in cities like Munich and Nuremberg. Similarly, America’s cities are increasingly Democratic- no doubt a reaction the Republicans’ aversion to internationalism, free trade and freedom of movement.
Overall, there are an awful lot of parallels between German and American politics. Americans who feel their country is changing for the worse politically should realise they aren’t alone. Just as America is becoming increasingly polarised, so too is Germany. The Bavarian elections saw an increase in parties that took an ideologically pure position on questions of national identity and Germany’s place in the world, at the expense of the big-tent parties that had a broader appeal. Open xenophobia and in many cases, anti-Islam sentiment was more vocally expressed, but so was staunch enthusiasm for migration and multiculturalism. America’s two-party system will prevent the Democrats and Republicans from experiencing the terminal decline suffered by many of Europe’s mainstream parties. But the ability of political movements across the developed world to win a broad base of support is in danger. Moderation in both Germany and America is becoming rarer. In the latter, it is almost extinct.