CIAO DATE: 10/07
During the summer of campaign year 2002, the election already seemed lost for the SPD/Green government. Public opinion polls saw the governing coalition trailing by several percentage points, whereas the CDU/CSU, together with the FDP, looked like the sure winner. A central reason for the malaise of the red-green government was the ailing economy. Unemployment rates hovered at the 4 million mark and would have been even higher if government-funded jobs had been added to the official unemployment rates. Consequently, a substantial majority of citizens considered the creation of jobs Germany's most important problem. This constituted an especially severe burden for Chancellor Schröder. In 1998 he had promised to push unemployment rates below 3.5 million or, he stated, he did not deserve re-election. Thus, many observers and voters expected the September 2002 election to be a referendum on the governments' handling of the economy. Since the chancellor had not delivered, voters were about to vote the incumbent government out of office.
Picking winners in electoral contests is a popular sport in Germany, as in many places elsewhere. During the 2002 campaign for the Bundestag, pre-election polls tracked the horse race of party support almost daily. Election junkies were invited to enter online sweep-stakes. They could also bet real money, albeit in limited quantity, on the parties' fortunes on WAHL$TREET, a mock stock market run by Die Zeit and other media. As usual, election night witnessed the race of the networks to project the winner the second the polls where voters had cast their ballots closed. But in 2002, there was also one newcomer in the business of electoral prophecy: a statistical forecast based on insights from electoral research.
The 2002 election was a close race. The Social Democrats turned out to be 6,027 votes ahead of the Christian Democrats. The red-green government was returned to power only because of the so-called overhang mandates for the SPD (three in the new Länder, one in Hamburg) and the good result of the Greens, especially in the old Länder. To put it differently, 1.2 percent (577,567 votes) was the win-ning gap between the government and the opposition. Four seats above the majority is a rather narrow margin but does not inevitably entail a weak government. The CDU/CSU-led government in 1994 had a similar starting position, for example, and it endured in power. Under these conditions-and they did not just emerge after the election but were well known before and during the campaign-the outcome of the 2002 election can only be explained by using separate theoretical explanations for different groups of voters. It is also necessary to consider the whole legislative period, not just the months before the campaign. Thus, I shall begin by reviewing the 1998-2002 legislative period, and then I will examine the social group bases of the vote in 2002 as an illustration of the forces that shaped the electoral outcome.
The 2002 Bundestag elections demonstrate the emerging new style of German electoral politics. Where once party competition was built upon a stable base of Stammwähler, the catchword for 2002 was the Wechselwähler-the changing voter. The traditional bonds to social groups, such as class and religion, have steadily eroded across Bundestag elections in the late twentieth century, and these bonds had a diminished impact in 2002. Similarly, this chapter will demonstrate that affective psychological ties that once connected citizens to their preferred party have also weakened. Certainly some German voters remain connected to a social milieu or a habitual party tie, but the number of these voters is steadily decreasing.
Most explanations for the red-green victory in the 2002 election refer to two issues that emerged in the final months of the campaign: the Iraq crisis and the flood in eastern Germany. The surprise announcement by President Bush to dramatically increase pressure on Iraq, including a possible invasion, put this issue squarely into the center of the election campaign. This issue emerged at the onset of the hot campaign phase, taking parties and candidates by surprise. Chancellor Schröder quickly and emphatically ruled out the partici-pation of German troops under any circumstances. His policy may have attracted a considerable number of voters who favored a more conciliatory stance towards Iraq. For instance, eastern Germans, many of whom still remember the anti-American stances of the socialist government, may have felt comfortable with an uncompromising antiwar stance and thus supported the SPD in the end, despite this party's failure to deliver on its economic promises. And voters who sympathize with the peace movement in postwar western Germany may have become mobilized in support of the Green party. In turn, the largest flood in 500 years may have also provided Chancellor Schröder with an opportunity to shore up his support among eastern voters. By all accounts, he met the leadership expectations of voters by quickly promising financial aid to reconstruct those eastern regions devastated by the flood.
Although the German constitution does not provide for the direct election of the head of the executive branch by the people, the pre-eminent position of the federal chancellor has long tempted com-mentators to describe the German political system as a "chancellor democracy." Based on this characterization, one might be tempted to assume that the German election of 2002 was therefore about electing a chancellor. To be sure, if voters could have voted for the chancellor directly in 2002, Gerhard Schröder would have easily defeated Edmund Stoiber. Yet, despite public opinion polls that never once showed the challenger outpolling the chancellor throughout the entire election year, the election turned out to be a cliffhanger.
The issue of political finance crucially shaped German political dynamics in the first three years of the 1998-2002 legislative period. By the year 2000 political finance scandals were being labeled the "dominant theme in German politics." Scarcely a year into the first red-green government, the national political mood was crucially transformed by the repercussions of a political finance scandal that unseated leading figures in the CDU. These scandals, and the ensuing upheaval within the CDU, gave the faltering red-green coalition a chance to regroup after its weak start in office, so that at one point it seemed that the CDU's ongoing embarrassments all but guaranteed a victory for the red-green coalition in 2002.
According to Jrgen Habermas, the federal election in 1998 finally "sealed" the democratic foundation of Germany and confirmed that this country belonged to the "west." Until then, the day of judgment had left the "judges" in Germany-that is, the voters-with only limited influence in coalition building and the formation of each government. Between 1949 and 1998 no federal government has totally been unsettled by elections. Changes in government were due to changes in coalitions, thus based on decisions by the parties rather than on the electorate. Insofar as the landslide victory of the Social Democratic Party and the Alliance '90/Greens in the 1998 election not only reflected important changes in the party system, but it also could mean that the German electorate is going to play a more influential role in the future.
Is it always the economy, or do external issues sometimes matter, too? Consistent with the Clinton campaign slogan of 1992, political scientists generally predict that domestic economic issues are primary in determining election winners. This proposition, with its several variants, rests on many years of survey data and analysis that have consistently indicated that international conditions and foreign policy rarely, if ever, rate highly in public concerns and therefore seldom affect election outcomes.