Canadian voters stick to the status quo
Meanwhile, Germany looks left for Merkel successor and Iceland may add an ninth party to its parliament
Canada: Snap election leads to same results as 2019
Canadians went back to the polls two years after delivering the center-left Liberal Party a minority government and largely decided that the status quo was just fine. The major parties received vote and seat totals very similar to those they earned in 2019, leaving Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the same position he was in before he called the election. Trudeau remains comfortably in power and well ahead of the Conservatives on seats, but he'll have to continue to rely on either the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP) or the separatist Bloc Quebecois (BQ) to pass legislation through Parliament.
With only a handful of seats not finalized, the Liberals are winning 159 seats, the Conservatives 119, BQ 33, the NDP 25, and the Green Party two seats. That would be an increase of two seats for the Liberals and one for BQ and NDP each, and a loss of two Conservative seats, one Green seat, and one independent seat.
The Conservatives did well in Atlantic Canada, typically a Liberal stronghold, picking up four seats and doubling their ranks in a region where they’ve seen some recent success at the provincial level. They were unable, however, to break through in the populous Toronto suburbs, the main route that would have given them a real opportunity to become the largest party in Parliament. And while still dominant in Alberta, the province saw the Conservatives' worst slide in the country compared to 2019, with a likely loss of three seats (two to the Liberals and one to the NDP). They also lost multiple seats with high Chinese-Canadian populations to the Liberals, which may have been due to the Conservatives’ strong criticism of China.
In terms of overall vote percentage, the Conservatives again won more votes than the Liberals, as they did in 2019, but their vote was spread far more inefficiently when translated to seats. The NDP increased its vote percentage by almost 2 points but were unable to translate that into significant gains in terms of seats. The Greens, who've always struggled to win seats, sank 4 percentage points from 6.5% to 2.3%.
The right-wing People’s Party won a significant increase in votes, up to 5% from the 1.6% it won in 2019 (the first time it contested an election), but like last time, it could not actually win a seat. The party did achieve one thing though: Its leader, Maxime Bernier, has now qualified for the debates at the next election.
That next election could conceivably come as late as 2025, but minority governments in Canada historically do not last the full four years. It’s unlikely Canada will be back at the polls anytime soon as this election was widely criticized across the spectrum as unnecessary to call during a pandemic, though it would not be a surprise to see another election in 2023 or 2024.
Germany: Social Democratic Party are favorites, but governing coalition up in the air
After 16 years in charge, Chancellor Angela Merkel is stepping down and leaving the German people to elect a new leader when they head to the polls on Sunday. Since Merkel first announced her departure in 2018, the country has seen multiple parties rise and fall in the polls. First the Greens soared in 2019, followed by Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union surging to a wide lead in the wake of the pandemic. But it’s the recent rise of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) that has made the SPD the favorite to come in first on Sunday and form the next government.
As Germany uses a proportional system, there’s no need to worry about specific seats or local candidates—the percentage of the vote that the parties receive will largely correspond to the percentage of seats they receive in parliament. So let’s run through each of the six major parties first and then discuss some potential coalition options depending on the ultimate outcome.
Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/Christian Social Union (CSU): The national CDU and its sister party in the state of Bavaria, the CSU, have governed Germany for all but eight of the past 40 years. Now they're facing a rare loss, and potentially one of their worst results ever. The 33% the two parties collectively received in 2017 was the second-worst result in the parties’ history, and current polling puts them in the low 20s. While Merkel remains popular, her potential successor, Armin Laschet, has run an uninspired campaign and significantly trails the SPD candidate, Olaf Scholz, when polls ask who voters would prefer to be the next chancellor.
Social Democratic Party (SPD): The SPD was all but left for dead in recent years as the Greens and at times even the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) surpassed it in the polls. Given the struggles of traditional center-left socialist parties across Europe, there was real speculation that the Greens would replace the SPD as the preeminent party on the left in Germany. But the SPD has rebounded spectacularly over the summer and moved from third place to first, thanks in large part to its chancellor candidate, Olaf Scholz.
Scholz, the current finance minister in Merkel's coalition government, has been credited with a strong response to both the pandemic and the recent flooding disasters in the country. As a key minister and someone whose low-key, technocratic personality is similar to Merkel’s, he’s been able to position himself as a worthy successor. While the SPD is only polling in the mid-20s, historically a poor result, the strength of the Greens put it in a strong position to form the next government.
The Greens: The Greens spent much of the past two years polling in second place and preparing to try to actually win a federal election and claim the chancellorship for the first time in its history. However, the rise of the SPD has corresponded with a fall for the Greens, and after polling as high as 25%, they're now in the 15%-17% range. Despite that decline, this result would still be the best-ever performance for the Greens at the federal level. They remain in an excellent spot to reenter government for the first time since the SPD/Green coalition that governed Germany from 1998-2005.
Free Democratic Party (FDP): The FDP is a classically liberal party that is socially progressive and fiscally conservative. After missing the 5% minimum required to enter parliament in 2013, the party rebounded with a strong showing in 2017, winning 10.7%. The FDP has been polling slightly higher in recent months, eating into some of the CDU’s support as Laschet has failed to excite moderate, center-right voters. The FDP is a potential third-party partner in a coalition government as there’s a good chance no two parties will win a majority.
Alternative for Germany (AfD): AfD is a far-right party that came to prominence during the country’s 2015 refugee crisis for strongly opposing immigration and the European Union. The party entered parliament for the first time in 2017 in third place with 12.6% of the vote, beating out the FDP and the Greens. The AfD continued to poll well in 2018 and 2019, as high as the upper teens, but saw its popularity dented in the wake of the pandemic; it's since been polling around 10%-11% for the past year and a half. The other five parties refuse to work with AfD on either the national or state level.
The Left: The Left is a far-left party that is, in part, descended from the old East German Communist Party. After receiving over 9% of the vote in 2017, the party is down slightly, polling around 6%-7%. The CDU has used The Left to attack its rivals, claiming that if the SPD or Greens win, they will enter into a coalition with The Left to enact left-wing policies—something the center-left parties have refused to rule out. The party used to be more of a pariah, but in recent years it has entered into government at the state level in Bremen and Berlin with the SPD and the Greens, and even holds the office of minister-president (equivalent to a U.S. governor) in the state of Thuringia.
Barring a polling error, the SPD should take first place with around 25%-27% of the vote, with the CDU/CSU around three to five points behind. The Greens seem set for third place with around 15%-17% of the vote, with the AfD and FDP behind that. The Left is in sixth place but should comfortably pass the 5% threshold to enter parliament.
Assuming the SPD wins, the Greens are a natural coalition partner for them. The two should combine for 40%-45% of the vote, though there’s an outside chance a strong night would get the two parties a majority on their own—an ideal outcome for the SPD. More likely, they'll need a third party in government. The two options would be the FDP and The Left. It’s possible that on a bad night, the SPD/Greens/Left troika would fall short of a majority, which would hand a lot of leverage to the FDP. Observers believe Scholz favors a coalition with the FDP over The Left, but having options would limit the demands the FDP might try to make of the SPD.
If the polls are wrong and the CDU manage to eke out a first-place finish, that would set the stage for a very messy election aftermath. The CDU would need either the SPD or both the FDP and the Greens to form a government. It's possible, though, that the SPD might try to form a government despite coming in second, depending on the exact seat counts for each of the parties. Germany even has a history of second-place parties forming governments, as the SPD did in coalition with the FDP in 1976 and 1980.
Polls close in Germany at 12 PM ET on Sunday and returns are expected soon after. I’ll have a recap of the results next week.
Don’t forget Iceland!
Iceland is going to the polls on Sunday as well and it has nine(!) parties expected to make it into parliament. I’m not going to go through them all in detail, but the center-right Independence Party is expected to comfortably come in first place as the only party breaking the 20% mark. However, the party did the same in 2017 and while it did end up in the coalition, they were forced to hand the Prime Minister’s office to the second place Left-Greens.
Current polling for Sunday’s election gives the four center-right parties a slim majority but it’s an open question if the four can work together. The Independence Party and the Progressive Party were once the two parties of the center-right but both have seen internal splits. The Liberal Reform Party formed from a split in the Independence Party over European Union membership and free trade. The Centre Party is an offshoot of the Progressive Party over leadership disputes in 2017.
The left-wing Icelandic Socialist Party is the new party in town that is polling above the 5% threshold, which is to the left of the more established Left-Greens and the Social Democratic Alliance. Then there’s the Pirate Party, which supports direct democracy, and the People’s Party, which focuses on disability rights, neither of which fall on the traditional left-right spectrum.
As to what coalition will come out of this mess, it’s not at all clear! But I’ll check in next week to see who did well and coalitions seem the most likely.