The German Elections: Who Will Come Out on Top?

German Bundestag

September 22, 2013 marks Election Day in Germany. Every four years, Germans head to the polls and vote on the parties that make up the Bundestag (German Parliament), and ultimately determine who will fill the role of German Chancellor. Unlike the United States, Germans will vote using a two-ballot process. On the first ballot, constituents vote for party leaders, or potential Chancellor candidates. On the second, voting is focused on parties. Together the two ballots use a blend of proportional representation and plurality representation to determine which parties will fill the Parliament. Half of the 598 parliamentary officials are elected based on those who won the most votes over all (plurality representation). The remaining seats are determined based on the percentage of the popular vote (proportional representation).

In Germany, political parties are of greater importance when compared to the personalities representing each party. Even with the top two contenders (Chancellor Angela Merkel, CDU; and Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck, SPD) debated in the local and national news, voting is typically done based on ones affiliation to a particular political party rather than a specific candidate. Political parties that receive at least five percent of the popular vote, and/or have won elections in at least three states, will be proportionally represented in Parliament. The political party with the most seats also holds the chancellorship.

To help you prepare for the upcoming elections, we’ve identified the different political parties involved, and the party leaders (if they have been named). Don’t forget to stay up to date on German political news through Google’s official election website, and make your own decision on which party you think will come out on top.

The Main Contenders:

Christian Democratic Union (CDU)
Christlich-Demokratische Union

Founded after the Second World War, the CDU is the main conservative party for Germany. Serving as one of the strongest political parties, five of the last eight Chancellors have been members of the CDU including the current Chancellor Angela Merkel. The CDU runs on a the platform of “continuity with a safe pair of hands,” taking advantage of Chancellor Merkel’s popularity, as well as the strong economy and low unemployment Germany has experienced throughout the Euro crisis.

Social Democratic Party (SPD)
Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands

Founded in 1875, the SPD is the oldest political party in Germany. The SPD can trace its roots back to the 19th century labor movement and continues to represent the working class in modern day terms. The SPD has served as a leader in governing coalitions for twenty of the past sixty years. The party has also governed as a junior partner to the conservatives in grand coalitions on two occasions (1966-1969 and 2005-2009). The SPD party leader is Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck.

Free Democratic Party (FDP)
Freie Demokratische Partei

The FDP has been active in the German federal government for 45 years, and has served as junior partner in grand coalitions with both the SPD and CDU. The party is pro-business and actively promotes a free market economy and individual liberty. Currently, the FDP shares power with the majority CDU party. The party leader is Philipp Rosler, Federal Minister of Economics and Technology and the Vice Chancellor of Germany. Recent opinion polls show declining support for the FDP causing concern that the party will not be able to obtain the five percent needed to participate in Parliament.

The Green Party/Alliance ‘90
Bündnis 90/Die Grünen

The Greens were formed in the 1970s on a platform supporting pacifism and environmental activism. The party first joined the Parliament in 1983 and later merged with the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1993. From 1998 to 2005 the Greens served as a coalition partner with the SPD. Adhering to its founding principles, the Greens supported the nuclear power phase-out, and enacted laws easing immigration and same-sex civil partnerships.

Other Parties to Watch:

The Left Party (Die Linke) was established in 2007 as a merger between the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and the Labor and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative (WASG) party. The Lefts hold a strict pacifist stance – demanding an immediate withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan and the dissolution of NATO.

The Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union) was founded in 1945. It is the sister party to the CDU, and shares power with the Chancellor’s party at the national level. The CSU stands behind its Christian ideals. It is opposed to extending marriage benefits to same-sex couples, and recently promoted the adoption of a controversial childcare allowance for stay-at-home-mothers.

The Pirate Party (Piratenpartei Deutschland), inspired by the Swedish Pirate Party, is a social-liberal-progressive party that first entered Parliament in September 2011. Popular among the younger generations, the Pirate party supports freedom of the internet and is opposed to government regulation in the digital sphere.

Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland) was most recently established in April 2013, and serves as the newest party to be included on the ballot. The AfD is a single-issue party calling for dissolution of the Euro, or Germany’s departure from the Euro Zone at the very least.

For more information on the different political parties involved in this year’s Federal election, see the informative voters guide developed by Der Spiegel, a popular German news source.

You can also learn more about Germany’s electoral system, and how the voting process works from Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster.