Monday 27 May 2019

A historic climate election in Germany

It is really late, but I have to report on a historical European election night in Germany. The government parties lost bigly, while the Greens won enormously. It is not the only reason, but a main reason for these changes was a lack of government action on climate change. The leaders of the main parties agreed with his assessment.

The difference between recent polling and the results suggest that also the YouTube video "The Destruction of the CDU" mattered. The CDU is the governing conservative party led by Angel Merkel. This video was watched more than 10 million times, which is more than 1 in 10 Germans.

Before we begin some background most non-Germans will need. Germany is currently governed by a coalition of Christian Democrats (not purposefully nasty Conservatives) and Social Democrats (Labour). These used to be huge parties, people's parties, which officially cater to all demographics. Before the 2017 general election they were also in power and already got a beating. Even together they now only have a modest majority. However, no other coalition could be found, the classical liberals broke up an earlier coalition attempt, and they were forced to govern together again.

So they were already vulnerable. Then they put the brake on the energy transition by strongly reducing its funding and got ahead slowly with building the new stronger power grid, they agreed on a very late closing date for the lignite coal power plants and it became clear that they will miss the CO2 emissions reduction goals they set themselves for 2020.

Sunday for Future

The climate strikes initiated by Greta Thunberg have become an enormous movement in Germany, still attracting many students after many months of strikes. This Friday, just before the European elections, there was an international strike day. An estimated 222 places in Germany held protests; this time there were not just students. And a week ago the video "The Destruction of the CDU" dropped, followed by a petition of a large part of the German YouTube scene not to vote for the governing parties, nor the far right.

Friday for Future rally in Stockholm with Greta Thunberg on stage.

As a consequence climate change was a big topic in the campaigns. All main parties promised they would work on it. Polls show that 81% of Germans demand better action on climate policy and environmental protection.

In the exit polls they always ask what the main themes are that decided one's vote. For the first time the most mentioned theme was: "Climate & environmental protection". Fortyeight percent gave this answer (you can give multiple answers).

The table below gives the results of the European election in Germany, together with the previous European election five years ago, the general election two years ago and recent polling.

Compared to the previous European election the Christian Democrats lost 6.5% and the Social Democrats lost 11.7% of the votes. The Greens on the other hand gained 10% and are now the second largest party with 20.7% of the votes. The Greens were already polling at this level since October last year.

I have chosen not to show the joy of the Greens when the results came in. In case any CEOs or climate science deniers are reading this post, I do not want to cause any heart problems.

However, in the European polling data the Greens were lower just before the election. Probably because in European elections there are many small parties to compete with. I would say that the Greens won 2 to 3% more than expected and the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats lost a percent more than expected. That is some evidence that the YouTube video made a difference.

In my last post I wrote that I would not be surprised if polling were off more than usual because of the large turnout, the large changes and the events of the last week. But they were within the normal uncertainties. Chapeaux!!

Name Ideology EU 2019EU 2014General 2017Polling
CDU/CSUConservative 28.9%35.3% 32.9% 28%
SPD Social Democrat 15.8%27.3% 20.5% 17%
Grünen Green 20.5%10.7% 08.9% 18%
Linke Democratic Socialist05.5%07.4% 09.2% 07%
FDP (Classical) Liberal 05.4%03.4% 10.7% 06%
AfD Far Right Mix 11.0%07.1% 12.6% 12%
Sources: Preliminary official results. Previous results European election and general election from Polling is the average of the two most recent polls of the most reliable polling agencies in Germany: Forschungsgruppe Wahlen and Infratest Dimap.

Some non-climate notes. The Christian Democrats did relatively well because their front man, Manfred Weber, is running to be the next head of the EU Commission. (The Dutch Social Democrat running for the same post, Frans Timmermans, also did well very well in The Netherlands.)

It is good to see that the AfD, a party which rejects European moral values went down compared to two years ago. It did gain compared to the last European election by 4 percent. This increase is worse than it sounds because five years ago the party was still mostly an anti-Euro party and not yet so radicalised.

The turnout was very high for European elections: 61.4%. This 13% higher than in 2014, when it was only 48.1%. In all of Europe the turnout was relatively high with 50.5%.


There are clear differences between young and old voters. The greens won in all age categories, but were especially strong with younger voters.

While young people watch YouTube more, this is likely not just the video. The younger you are the more climate change will impact your life. Young people also more often vote for the first time and change allegiances faster; so partially it may be a question of time. Furthermore, younger people were already politicised because the Conservatives were hurting the internet, #article13. And the denigrating way they were treated then and now on climate change was a good motivation to show up and vote. The biggest campaign helpers of the Greens were the Conservatives, especially my local MEP Alex Voss representing Bonn and leading the effort for internet upload filters.

Especially spectacular are the results if only people below 30 could vote. The Greens would be way ahead of all other parties with 33 percent of the vote, the Conservatives are a distance second with 13%.

Who did people under 30 vote for?

Political responses

Andrea Nahles (chair of the Social Democrats):
"Climate protection has been a voting issue for many voters. The difference between us and the Greens is not the question whether we want to achieve the Paris climate goals without ifs and buts, but how. And we will also discuss this issue actively in the next few weeks and we will act. With the socially compatible brown coal exit, we have managed what [an in 2017 explored coalition of Conservatives, Greens and Liberals] did not do. Now we take the next step, this year we want to bring a climate protection law for our whole national economy on the way."

German original: "Klimaschutz ist für viele Wählerinnen und Wähler ein Wahlentscheidendes Thema gewesen. Zwischen uns und den Grünen steht nicht die Frage im Raum ob wir die Pariser Klimazielen ohne wenn und aber erreichen wollen sondern wie. Und diese Frage werden wir auch offensiv discutieren in den nächsten Wochen und wir werden handeln. Mit den socialverträglichen Braunköhleausstieg haben wir es geschafft, was Jamaika nicht geschafft hat. jetzt drehen wir das nächste Rad, wir wollen noch diesem Jahr ein Klimaschutzgesetz für unse ganz Volkwirtschaft auf dem Weg bringen."
Katarina Barley (campaign leader of the Social Democrats):
"The topic of climate protection has played a huge role in the last few days and actually the whole election campaign and obviously we are not well enough prepared yet."

German original: "Das Thema Klimaschutz hat den letzten Tagen und eigentlich schon den ganzen Wahlkampf eine riesige Rolle gespielt und da sind wir offensichtlich noch nicht gut genug aufgestellt."
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer aka AKK (chair of Conservatives):
"We certainly have the result that in the government we were not very credible how we will protect the climate. And as a party we did not develop our platform enough. We have the ambition to say, we are firmly convinced that one can protect the climate and achieve a good economy and social balance. That we can present concepts that are convincing. This is exactly the work, one could say, that we have as CDU. And that's why we will certainly already starting with the internal party meeting next week, will very intensively care especially about this topic in the coming weeks and months."

German original: "Wir haben sicherlich den Befund, dass wir weder in der Regierung sehr glaubwurdig vertreten wie wir die Klimaschutz erreichen. Und als Partei sind wir programmatisch von den Antworten noch nicht so weit, dass wir das was wir selbst als anspruch haben, namelich zu sagen, wir sind die fest Überzeugung, dass man Klimaschutzen kann und eine gute Wirtschaft und sociale Ausgewogenheit erreichen kann. Das wir dazu die Konzept vorleggen die überzeugen. Das ist genau die Baustelle die wir, wenn Sie so wollen, die wir als CDU haben. Und deswegen werden wir uns sicherlich auch schon beginnend mit der Klausur nächste Woche, sehr intensive vor alem Dingen um diesem Thema in den kommenden Wochen und Monate kummern."
Manfred Weber (leader of the German and EU Christian Democratic campaigns) did not say anything about climate in his official response.

Markus Söder, the leader of the Bavarian Christian Democrats (CSU):
"The big challenge of the future is the intense confrontation with the Greens ... Old standards, as we had them so far, no longer apply. ... As Christian Democrats, we have to work together to become younger, cooler, more open. We have to handle topics and communication such that we do not look like a party from yesterday."

German original: "Die große Herausforderung der Zukunft ist die intensive Auseinandersetzung mit den Grünen ... Alte Maßstäbe, wie wir sie bislang hatten, gelten nicht mehr. ... Wir müssen als Union insgesamt daran arbeiten, wieder jünger, cooler, offener zu werden. Wir müssen mit den Themen und der Kommunikation so agieren, dass wir nicht von gestern wirken."
Annalena Baerbock (Chair of the German Green party):
"This election was a climate change election. This election was an election for democracy. For human rights, for a cosmopolitan Europe. That's why the votes make us happy, they are not just Green votes. These are votes for climate protection. These are votes for democracy. These are votes against right-wing populists. These are votes for human rights throughout Europe. We have not achieved that alone. We achieved that because many people took to the streets for climate protection. Because many young people, in schools, in universities, in sports halls were ready to fight for climate protection."

German original: "Diese Wahl, diese Wahl war ein Klimaschutzwahl. Diese Wahl war eine Wahl für Demokratie. Für Menschenrechten, für ein Weltoffenes Europa. Deswegen sind die Stimmen die uns glücklich machen, nicht nur Grünen Stimmen. Das sind Stimmen für den Klimaschutz. Das sind Stimmen für die Demokratie. Das sind Stimmen gegen Rechtspopulisten. Das sind Stimmen für die Menschenrechten in ganz Europa. Das haben wir nicht nur alleine erreicht. Das haben wir erreicht weil viele viele Menschen für den Klimaschutz auf die Straße gegangen sind. Weil viele junge Leute in den Schulen, in den Unis, in Turnhallen bereit waren für Klimaschutz zu kämpfen."
Jörg Hubert Meuthen (Campaign leader of the far-right AfD):
"Certainly, the topic of climate policy and the hysteria around this topic was something that did not help us. The topic was hyped up. This appealed to people in large numbers."

German original: "Sicherlich war das Thema Klimapolitik und die hier verbreitete Hysterie um dieses Thema etwas was uns nicht in die Karten gespielt hat. Das Thema wurde nach oben gehypt. Die Menschen wurden damit in großer Zahl erreicht."
The press spokesman of the AfD even denies the greenhouse effect itself. Although it is possible that he is too stupid to understand the difference between the natural greenhouse effect and human activities making it stronger leading to global warming. Naturally such extremist irrational positions are problematic trying to gain votes from a well-informed critical electorate that knows the misery right-wing extremism has produced before very well.

Related reading

The leader of the Bavarian Christian Democrats (CSU) declares the Greens to be the main competitor: Söder erklärt Grüne zur Hauptkonkurrenz der Union.

Preliminary official results

Ireland is the place to be for climate reporting in English: Green wave hits Germany with doubling of support. Shock result for Germany’s ruling parties, with worst-ever election for Merkel’s CDU.

AP: Europe wakes up to climate concerns after green wave in vote.


  1. Here in the UK the Greens won 4/4 seats in my ward in the recent town council election. But, looking about me, I don't see anyone other than myself who is living a green lifestyle. There will be some, but they are not visible and certainly are a minority.

    Brexit will be confusing the issue here in the UK. The Greens (and the LibDems) are the two strongly Remain parties on the ballot paper, and the area I live in is mostly educated upper working class - people who like to pretend to themselves they are middle class.

  2. How do you recognize someone with a green life style? I don't think anything I do is visible. I think in my quarter the Greens are the largest party. You may see more bikes and some political stickers, but that is all I see.

    Yes, even if the Greens did really well in the UK, I would not interpret the outcome as a climate election, but as a Brexit election.

    The Greens did well all over Europe. Not sure that is itself positive, it also signals the other parties did not do their homework on the environment.

    I really do not understand why the Tories do not sacrifice a few MPs to vote for a second (better called third) referendum and have this Brexit topic, which is destroying them, off the table.

  3. The guys with a non-green lifestyle are the visible ones: they use a car no matter how short the journey, their front gardens are trashed to create extra carparking for all the cars they shouldn't need. In the shops I see them getting single use plastic bags because they can't be bothered to bring one.

    The key point about the Tories is that they have a very small membership of around 150,000 people. These are mostly elderly white males who don't quite understand that the Empire no longer exists. They have the power to select and deselect MPs.


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