Australians aren’t used to an election being reported on the basis of exit polls, but it’s quite normal in Europe. So don’t be surprised about the shortage of “official” results of yesterday’s German election (they’ve finally started appearing here): even if you’re sitting in a hotel room in Frankfurt with beer and pretzels, as I am, they don’t come any faster.
What we’ve had instead is projections that draw on polls and sample results, made primarily by two TV networks, ARD and ZDF. They’re very similar; the main difference is that ARD has been putting the Left and the Greens much closer together than ZDF (that’s now been fixed as real results come in: ARD was right). But they agree that Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats are very close to half the vote, once parties polling below the 5% threshold are excluded.
That’s an impressive achievement, although historically it’s actually nothing unusual; it’s a return closer to where the CDU had polled for most of its history until the defeat of 1998. The Social Democrat vote also recovered slightly, but it remains at historic lows. The Liberal FDP has apparently been eliminated from parliament, polling below the threshold for the first time ever and falling to sixth place behind the eurosceptic Alternative for Germany, which is still threatening the 5% mark.
Translating votes into seats should in principle be a simple matter (it’s a Saint-Laguë calculation, the same as in New Zealand), but it’s made more difficult by the presence of “overhang” seats – cases where parties win more constituency seats than they’re proportionately entitled to – and the fact that the method of providing for them has changed. Those who are feeling brave can try working through the explanation here.
I’ve instead been using the networks projections for them as well (the Frankfurter Allgemeine collects them). They both show the Christian Democrats tantalisingly close to an absolute majority, but whereas earlier in the night they were just getting across the line, now they are just falling short: 301 out of 606 or 296 out of 598 (the fact that the two projections give different totals of seats is a good sign that something odd is happening).
So whereas usually in a nationwide PR count the early results are good enough to work with – because a couple of seats difference won’t affect the balance of power – that’s not the case here. An actual majority for Merkel’s party would make a huge difference; at the other end, if the eurosceptic party Alternative for Germany manages to edge above 5% it would put a quite different complexion on the result.
In other words, it’s not time to stop watching yet. When it is, I’ll be in today’s Crikey trying to interpret what the result means for the next German government.