Changing sides – voter migration mapped in 2- and 3-dimensional space

Migration of voters in elections is usually figured as a 1-dimensional graph, showing on one side what voters voted in the last election, and on the other, their new party. But this hardly show how far (some of them) migrated.

The first projections are out (ARD/Infratest dimap; page in German) regarding voter migration between the 2013 and this year’s election for the Bundestag, the branch of parliament analogous to the lower houses in many Anglosaxon countries. [Note that these figures are determined based on exemplary queries, so should not be taken as overly precise. The error margin is effectively unknown. And numbers of e.g. < 50000 may just represent stochastic noise, given the size of the German electorate.] The graphs allow to e.g. see how many voters the two (formerly) large parties, the Volksparteien [literally: people's parties], i.e. the ‘centre-right’ Christian-Democratic Union (CDU; CSU in Bavaria) and the ‘centre-left’ Social Democratic Party (SPD) – both performed very bad in this year’s election – lost to their most fierce competitor, Death (1.29 million and 760 thousand, respectively). Death is a notable competitor in German elections for the two Volksparteien, as many elderlies still vote for the party that they voted for decades ago; and back then, there were only two main parties, the CDU/CSU and SPD (the third one that survived is the Free Democratic Party, FDP, which changed from a Nazi-welcoming national-liberal to humanistic social-liberal to plainly neoliberal, so always had a more volatile voter basis). There are additional unsettling migration patterns, such as that 1 million who had the chance to vote for their first time, but did not. On the positive site, all parties managed to re-activate voters who absented in 2013 (in total 7,13 million, i.e. more than 10% of the electorate), which in the case of the CDU/CSU and SPD more than compensated for those who died. But migration is not only about going from A to B; more interesting is the distance between A and B. So here are some infographics.

Migration in 2-dimensional political space based on the Wahl-O-Mat questionnaire

In Fig. 1, I mapped the migration numbers on the neighbour-net, a planar 2-dimensional graph based on ‘political distances’ (PD) of the ‘Big Six’, I generated for a pre-election post. In addition to the SPD, CDU/CSU and FDP these are the Left Party (Die Linken), the Greens (Die Grünen), and the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD; a strongly misleading name in my opinion). The data basis is a binary matrix scoring the answers of 31 parties to the Wahl-O-Mat questionnaire. The ‘Big Six’ were the parties with a realistic chance to pass the 5%-hurdle determining whether a party will be represented in the parliament or not; and all six managed to jump, formidably, the hurdle (which I personally find very pleasing, democracies, and societies, thrive on plurality; even when it includes parties with programmes I personally find superfluous, FDP, or plain-idiotic, AfD).

Fig. 1 Migratory patterns of German voters in the 2017 election mapped on a planar network depicting the political distances between the six parties that form the next Bundestag. The number of migrants follows the projections by ARD/Infratest dimap.

What we can see is that many migrants have chosen the next-closest option, e.g. by shifting from the CDU/CSU to the SPD or FDP and vice versa (3.5 million voters). In total, 5.13 million voters (8.3% of the electorate) migrated between parties that showed less than 25% disagreement in their answers to the Wahl-O-Mat. Another 3.55 million (5.8%) had a longer way by moving between parties disagreeing in 35% (SPD↔Linke [Left Party] or FDP↔AfD) to 45% (CDU↔Greens [Die Grünen]). Ironic is that the 630 thousand making the latter moves, did it for vain as both parties, and the FDP, are doomed to form the next government coalition. 1.69 million voters, i.e. about 2.5% of the electorate this year, were longing for something completely different and migrated between parties that disagreed in 55%–70% of the points covered in the Wahl-O-Mat (obviously they did not make the Wahl-O-Mat test this and/or last time, or couldn’t belief the result, or anything the parties claimed to stand for). Overall, it looks as the German electorate is still conservative in its voting behaviour and – to a large proportion – informed and politically settled. For instance, voting for the Left Party in 2013 and the FDP in 2017, or vice versa (120 thousand voters have been projected making that leap), can only be excused by U.S.-presidential-levels of ignorance about party politics, bankruptcy (FDP → Left Party), or a lottery win (Left Party → FDP). But the number is accordingly small, so no need for concern.
It may be, however, that Germans, well those who vote, rather are of the settling sort (Burger King is still fighting to gain ground against McDonalds, which was the first fast-food chain to reach German soil) and give little thought about actual politics when herded-in every four years for the election of the Bundestag. And interesting percentage is how many of the voters were faithful to their party, which is quite low for all six parties in the next Bundestag (Left Party, Greens, SPD ~ 50%; CDU/CSU and FDP ~60%; and AfD ~ 70%).

Migration in a 3-dimensional political space using the assessment of the Political Compass (Fig. 2)

The Political Compass tries to characterise political parties, presidential candidates, and – last, but not least – yourself, along two axes: an economic axis from left (communism) to right (neoliberalism) and a social axis from libertarian (in the classical, not U.S. American sense, i.e. free-minded and -spirited) to authoritarian. They provide several graphs classifying the main German political parties for the 2005, 2013 and this year’s election, which provides us with a third dimension: time.

Fig. 2 Migratory pattern of German voters in a 3-dimensional space. The migration flows are mapped on the Political Compass grids indicating the position of the main German parties before the 2013 (CSU not included) and 2017 elections along an ecomomic left-right axis and a social libertarian-authoritarian axis. Note the large amount of voters that followed the Greens and the Left Party, both originally in the left-libertarian quadrant, on their paths towards or across the centre.

For this year they note that both the Left Party and the Greens moved to the right and became more authoritarian compared to 2013, with the Left Party ending up where the SPD used to be in its glorious old days. The latter can be comforting for 700 thousand former SPD voters (~ 6% of the SPD pool in 2013) that changed to the Left Party, they can simply say it took them a while to realise who is the actual centre-left, social-democratic party they remembered from the days they were young (one has nevertheless to wonder about the remaining nearly 6 million, which moved with their party further right). The 760 thousand lost to the Greens (adding to 330 thousand from the CDU/CSU; in sum nearly 25% of the 2017 voter basis of the Greens) could be the latters boon for stepping into the neoliberal-authoritarian light providing an alternative to both CDU (particulary CSU) and SPD. The 550 thousand who left the SPD (5% of the 2013 voter basis) for the FDP, well, they may now earn much more money than before (economy is thriving in Germany, and not many, but some are getting richer; so the number makes some sense). And the 1.33 million lost to the CDU/CSU and AfD may have realised that the centre-right, modestly authoritarian SPD is not hard-core enough for them in these dangerous times.

But for the 1.87 million voters that stayed with the Green Party (or 1.98 million voters of the Left Party, representing ~ 45% of both parties’ 2017 voter bases) it means they got stuck with a party (parties) that is much less left and libertarian than the party they voted for four years ago. Only relatively few (330 thousands) migrated to the only party still in the left-libertarian quadrant, the Left Party. Possibly realising what happened in the last four years and lacking any alternative (but see the programmes of the “others”, the small parties without a chance to crack the 5% hurdle) about the same number didn’t bother to vote again (620 thousand in case of the Left and Green parties). Interestingly, this is percent-wise the same than what CDU/CSU and SPD lost to the void of non-voters, although both parties fairly stood their political ground according to the Political Compass.

The price for crossing the Bering Strait once again goes clearly to the 420 thousand former voters of the Left Party, which used to be distinctly left and libertarian in 2013, who migrated to the AfD, which has been and still is quite neoliberal and distinctly authoritarian. My guess is they either had a lobotomy or are plain-ignorant, when it comes to politics (which is not unfashionable these days, even in highest circles).

The conclusion

Obviously, most voters in Germany (and this probably applies to other countries as well) pick their parties not because of what they stand for, but
  • what they stood for ages ago (see e.g. the many voters the CDU/CSU and SPD lost to Death);
  • pretended to stand for but never delivered (or never had to deliver, being not part of any government and forced to);
  • for a-political reasons such as tradition (you vote the party of your father, and his father) or a beautifully blank face (see also the Kurz surge in Austria);
  • or – worst case – because they feel they have no alternative.
Well, you always have alternatives (in Germany there were 26 more, and none of them is less an alternative than the AfD). May be dedicate a little of the time you spend on Facebook, WhatsApp, or similar smartphone time-stealing apps informing yourself about what the party you vote(d) has done in the last four years (keep in mind: smaller parties in government coalitions cannot do what they want, they have to fulfil the contract, which is, usually, a bargain with the Devil). And if they are moving in a direction you don't like, vote another one. And if none of the parties in the parliament has what you are looking for, don’t go “they all are crab”, but pick one of the many small ones.
Only 70% of the German electorate (translating into c. 18.5 million people; i.e. nearly as many people as living in Scandinavia proper) state being happy with our democracy. But why do only 2.33 million “waste” their vote on a small party to make a clear statement, but 6.5-times more just throw-in the towel by not voting at all. Being able to vote (freely) is a privilege (which I’d like to have, as a German in France), and better throw away your vote than to not vote at all. And in Germany it’s pretty easy, too, the voting. You can vote by mail prior to election day, and there are many voting places, and you can often play on your smartphone until it’s your turn for the booth (although it’s nothing compared to the voting service in Sweden…one of the things, I miss not living there anymore.)

PS 2.33 million for the “Others” is a 14% decrease to 2013; and those votes are only wasted because of the 5% hurdle, which translates into needing over 3 (!) million voters to get seats in the Bundestag (total number of voters in 2017: 61.64 million). Just think about it: e.g. in Hungarian elections, a party with less voters could topple Orban and decide on EU politics. Orban’s party alliance received just 2.26 million votes in 2014, and has a two-third majority in the parliament. And in Germany, a party with the same voter basis would not even be in the parliament, let alone having any influence on EU policies. Maybe the Germans unhappy with their democracy can all move to Hungary and take over the government there…just a thought…

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