1933 Redux? Shifting Political Landscapes in Germany 30 Years After Unification

Authors: Jurgen Von Mahs*, New School University
Topics: Political Geography, Europe, Social Geography
Keywords: : Germany, political geography, electoral geographies, political ideology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 3:55 PM / 5:35 PM
Room: Diplomat Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The 2017 federal elections and several state elections since indicate fundamental shifts in the German political landscape as the major mainstream political parties, especially the Social Democratic Party (SPD), keep losing votes while parties on the political fringe, esp. the far-right Alternative for Germany (ADF) keep gaining. This polarization is particularly apparent in the former East German states – in Saxony, far right and far left parties combined gained 43.1 percent of the vote. In this presentation, I will analyze these shifting political landscapes by focusing on three overarching questions related to ideological and geographic changes: Why is the political spectrum fractioning and why are voters drifting to the political fringes? Why are there, thirty years after unification, still fundamental differences between western and eastern states? What explains the alarming free-fall of the once proud SPD? Are these developments indicative of a similar polarization that occurred in 1933 and led to the establishment of the most strident authoritarian regime in history? I will provide an argument that while some developments clearly are reason for concern, there are also opportunities associated with a diversified political discourse and the pressure to form new political alliances thus shaking the political establishment out of its inertia. For the SPD, this implies to counter the encroachment on its political turf by other parties through exploring new, uncharted political terrain of libertarian social democracy. I conclude by suggesting that the German example also has implications for the political polarization in the U.S.

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