The struggle of Germany's Social Democrats

Published on 25 May 2021 at 13:37

Since the 2017 Federal Elections Germany’s social-democrats have been in decline. During the 2017 elections the SPD managed to obtain 20,5% of the vote share, one of the worst results in their history. For a party which is 157 years old, such a result was a major blow. 



The SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) was formed in 1863. It is one of Europe’s oldest social democratic parties. Since their creation they have been vocal supporters of workers’ rights, social & economic justice, and strong trade unions. 



Their MPs were among the only ones to oppose Hitler’s enabling act, for which they paid a heavy price with many members of the party as a result of the vote were imprisoned and murdered even before the party was officially banned in June 1933. 



Since 1949 the party produced three Chancellors, but was in the government more than three times as a result of grand coalition formations between the CDU/CSU and SPD. 



Since losing the 2005 elections to Merkel’s led CDU/CSU the party had found it extremely difficult to attract German voters, their typical working class voters switched their voting patterns and began voting for the CDU/CSU,  with some now voting for AfD as well as Die Linke. 



As a result the party has been progressively declining, however, during the 2017 federal elections the party managed to overtake the CDU/CSU in the polls for a few weeks shortly after it was announced that Martin Schulz would be its candidate for Chancellor. 



That announcement gave the party some hope, Schulz’s background was branded as typically social-democratic. His parents were members of the working class while he had to work extremely hard to achieve all his goals, not only that, Schulz also had a history of personal struggles during his youth. 



Today the SPD is third in the polls as the conservatives and the greens struggle for the first place, although the party has managed to gain a few extra points in the polls. Just two weeks ago the party unveiled its election programme in which they seek to break away from the Merkel era and campaign for working-class votes. Their programme pretty much aligns with the Greens programme: €12 minimum wage, wealth tax, fighting climate change, ambitious housing programme. 



To break away from its past of moving to the centre and taking on board some of the neo-liberal policies during the Schröder era, the party has shifted to the left. It’s two co-leaders are from a fairly left-wing faction of the party, while its candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz is a centrist who has been serving as the Minister of Finance in Merkel’s cabinet, and previously as Mayor of Hamburg. Scholz lost the leadership elections to the two current co-leaders and had to make some concessions in his election programme. 



Just four months away from the federal elections during which we will see whether the shift to the left has worked for the SPD. For now it seems likely that they might try to at least create a government with the Greens and push the CDU/CSU aside, giving the SPD time to rebuild itself as well as push through some of their own policies. 




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