Thomas Poguntke, "Towards a
new party system: The vanishing hold of the catch-all
parties in Germany," Party Politics, 20 (November,
2014), 950-963. [Available at http://ppq.sagepub.com/content/vol20/issue6/
The German party system, a model of efficient government
formation and predictable coalition options, reached an
important watershed with the Baden-Württemberg Land
elections of March 2011. For the first time in many decades,
the premiership went to a party other than CDU/CSU or SPD:
On 12 May 2011, the Land parliament of
Baden-Württemberg elected the first ever green Prime
Minister. Equally significant, the SPD had to concede, also
for the first time, that she may have to take the
passenger's seat in a coalition with the Greens. Clearly,
this is a long way from the days of the first federal
red-green government led by Chancellor Schröder, who
famously reminded the Greens not to forget who was to be
'the chef and who the waiter' in such a
- Figure 1. Effective number of parties
- Figure 2. Bundestag election results.
- Figure 3. Party system symmetry.
- Figure 4. Bundestag elections: Other parties.
- Figure 5. Turnout in German elections 1949-2012.
- Figure 6. Annual mean volatility in land
- Figure 7. Membership ratio (M/E) of German parties
- Figure 8. Recruitment success of German parties
- Figure 9. Recruitment success of German parties II.
Clearly, this represents a challenge for the functioning
of party government in a political culture that is
generally characterized by profound distrust
vis-à-vis politicians. Yet, this may simply be
another sign of a wider normalization of German party
politics. After all, the smooth functioning of the German
party system in the 1960s and 1970s was, from a
comparative perspective, always the exception rather than
the rule. Parliamentary democracies were overwhelmingly
governed by coalition governments which emerged after
complex post-election negotiations. Furthermore,
multiparty systems were the rule, and we have seen a
substantial erosion of previously stable party system
formats elsewhere, for example in The Netherlands or the
Scandinavian countries. Hence, looking back on 60 years
of party politics, this period of stability is also
increasingly less looking like the norm in Germany, as
phases of flux and instability take up a larger portion
of post-war history. As the taboo zones identified by
Gordon Smith have become weaker on the right and have all
but disappeared on the left, Germany increasingly
functions like a normal party democracy.