Is there a limit to “Green” growth?

Yesterday was a historic day that made clear just how much the status of social democratic parties as the dominant force on the left is in danger. For the first time ever, the Green Party in Germany is tied with the SPD in the poll of a major polling company (Forsa). This is the temporary culmination of a process that has accelerated significantly over the past couple of years.

The Green Party has already made significant inroads with middle-aged voters; whereas it used to be the party of young people only, it now appears to continue to hold on to the loyalty of many voters who first supported it in the 80s and 90s, even as these voters become older (while the Greens also add new voters in this age group), without losing any of its appeal to current young voters. In every age group under 60, the Greens are now a significant force.

Nevertheless, even if the Forsa survey is an outlier, it is clear that the Greens’ surge is proceeding much quicker than most of us would have anticipated. A few years ago even the election of Green mayors in Germany was a major event, as was the first ever directly won Green parliamentary seat.

While in some urban areas, especially with significant student populations, the Greens were often on par with the SPD, there was no indication that they could achieve such a status nationally any time in the near future. At the last election, which was a shocking historic low for the SPD with a mere 23%, the social democrats  still got more than twice as many votes  as the Greens (10.7%)  – who were at their historic peak.

Two of the many questions that come to mind:

First, will the German Greens’ shift to the centre continue and where will it end? They are already partnering with Christian Democrats in some German states and while they have ruled out a coalition on the federal level, in the long run the signs point in a different direction (that is to say the Greens may become “free radicals”, though certainly not a right-wing party). On the plus side, this would make it possible for social democracy to focus more on its traditional core electorate without risking the alienation of (already lost) centrist and young voters.

Second, will this trend continue and will the Greens replace the SPD as the strongest left-of-centre party? I always thought that at some point that might happen unless the social democrats find a better rapport with young voters. As of now, it seems unlikely that in the near future the Greens could emerge as the largest centre-left force, but then a lot of things are happening that seemed unlikely a little while ago. If you have any thoughts, let us know.

In the meanwhile, think of the possibilities: if this trend persists, the next German chancellor could be the son of Turkish immigrants

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  • Henning Meyer

    Gabor, this is indeed an interesting development and shows that the work underway now (trying to find a new way to reconnect to citizens) is absolutely crucial and necessary.

    But in terms of coalition options in Germany the CDu has shot itself in the foot by allowing nuclear power plants to operate for longer – a policy that is completely at odds with core Green believes and will make new coalitions very difficult if not not impossible.

  • Gabor Gyori

    Hi Henning,

    Yes, I agree: in this sense the CDU probably made a mistake. At this point, however, I think they are afraid that the same fate might befall them as the SPD, which lost its left-wing to a new party. The risk of a CDU-Green coalition  would not be borne by the Greens alone; especially in the current atmosphere, the CDU reactionaries might split as well.

    Nevertheless, I think the key question is not what will happen if SPD and Greens have a majority together – they will form a coalition and govern. The problem will be if a) they only have a majority together with the Linke; b) if the CDU could have a majority with the Greens. While in many situations a red-green coalition will be the natural choice, there are scenarios in which the Greens may feel compelled to opt for the Christian Democrats – for now only on the state level. but in the future potentially on the federal level as well.  

  • Henning Meyer

    agreed. Everything is very fluid at the moment and there might well be a new party to the right of the CDU…