On October 8 2023, new state parliaments were elected in the German federal states (Bundesländer) of Bavaria and Hesse, which are among the economically strongest federal states. The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has been the centre of attention in the run-up and aftermath of the elections. Positioned on the (very, very) far-right of the political spectrum, the AfD emerges as a clear winner, rising from its oppositional position at the margins of political discussion to be the second and third strongest force in the state parliaments. The party benefits from dissatisfaction with Germany's coalition government and the current migration debate. Only some more than a month later and right across the border, the Dutch general elections have mirrored this shift to the right, with the far-right populist PVV now dominating the House of Representatives. Since in this context the German state parliament elections have become relevant again, here is a little recap for everybody who missed it.
The results do not come as a big surprise. It was to be expected that the elections would be more of a barometer for the level of satisfaction with the Ampelkoalition, the national government coalition since December 2021, than a vote on the content of state policy. The government has been criticized for the supposed standstill and dissent between the three parties towards crucial political issues. The respective parties (SPD, FDP, and the Green Party) all faced noticeable losses in both states and thus received significant feedback on their performance from the German population. Furthermore, a migration debate merging increasingly into xenophobia is on the rise, fueled and popularised by politicians of the AfD. It is safe to say that this trend played a decisive role in the political shift to the right in Germany.
Official election results 2023 in Bavaria, compared to the results of 2018
Official election results 2023 in Hesse, compared to the results of 2018
The final results show that in both Bavaria and Hesse, the three parties involved in the government coalition have lost significant votes compared to the last state parliament elections in 2018. The Green party, previously the second strongest force in the state, lost more than 3% of the vote in Bavaria and 5% in Hesse. The social democrats (SPD), which had emerged victorious in the 2021 federal election and thus also provided chancellor Olaf Scholz, achieved their worst result in history in both states, with just 8.4 % in Bavaria and 15.1% in Hesse. Due to the 5% threshold that applies in Germany, the liberalist FDP even leaves the Bavarian state parliament altogether.
Even though the Bavarian Christian-conservative CSU has received 36% of the electoral votes, it can by no means be claimed that the CSU, which together with its sister party CDU presents the strongest opposition party in the current federal parliament (Bundestag), has emerged as a winner from this election. Granted, the CSU won the election and thus also received a government mandate from the citizens, but achieving its worst result in Bavaria since 1950 can by no means be considered a success. Things are slightly different in Hesse, where the CDU, with 34.6 % of all votes, clearly represents the majority in the Hessian parliament whilst improving their results by 7% compared to the last elections.
These state parliament elections make it very clear that things in Germany have changed. With the strong influx of voters for the AfD, the party that used to be considered too radical for mainstream politics now strongly influences decision-making in Bavaria and Hesse. Unexpectedly, the AfD seemed to appeal especially to young people. In Hesse, the party accumulates a whole 18% of votes coming from people aged 18 to 24, rendering it the second most popular party within that age group, right behind the CDU. Five years ago, at the last elections, the clear winner amongst young people was the Green Party.
In Germany, there is a general political shift to the right, resulting from dissatisfaction with the current government and migration policy, traversing different Bundesländer as well as age groups. The elections in Bavaria and Hesse also offer a bitter foretaste of the upcoming state parliament elections in Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thüringen. According to surveys, the AfD, with more than 30%, currently presents the strongest party in all three Bundesländer.