1998 German federal election

Federal elections were held in Germany on 27 September 1998 to elect the members of the 14th Bundestag. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) emerged as the largest faction in parliament for the first time since 1972, with its leader Gerhard Schröder becoming chancellor. The Christian Democrats had their worst election result since 1949.[1]

1998 German federal election

← 1994 27 September 1998 (1998-09-27) 2002 →

All 669 seats in the Bundestag
335 seats needed for a majority
Registered60,762,751 Increase 0.5%
Turnout49,947,087 (82.2%) Increase 3.2pp
  First party Second party Third party
Meeting during the 35th Munich Security Conference (cropped).jpg
Helmut Kohl (1996) cropped.jpg
Fischer und Paul Wolfowitz (Headshot).jpg
Candidate Gerhard Schröder Helmut Kohl Joschka Fischer
Party SPD CDU/CSU Greens
Last election 36.4%, 252 seats 41.4%, 294 seats 7.3%, 49 seats
Seats won 298 245 47
Seat change Increase 46 Decrease 49 Decrease 2
Popular vote 20,181,269 17,329,388 3,301,624
Percentage 40.9% 35.1% 6.7%
Swing Increase 4.5pp Decrease 6.3pp Decrease 0.6pp

  Fourth party Fifth party
Wolfgang Gerhardt (headshot).jpg
Lothar Bisky Headshot Bundestagwahl 2005.jpg
Candidate Wolfgang Gerhardt Lothar Bisky
Last election 6.9%, 47 seats 4.4%, 30 seats
Seats won 43 36
Seat change Decrease 4 Increase 6
Popular vote 3,080,955 2,515,454
Percentage 6.2% 5.1%
Swing Decrease 0.7pp Increase 0.7pp

Results for the single-member constituencies (main map) and overall results (right side).

Government before election

Fifth Kohl cabinet

Government after election

First Schröder cabinet

Issues and campaign Edit

Since German reunification on 3 October 1990, the unemployment rate in Germany had risen from 4.2% to 9.4% in 1998, with the Federal Labor Office registering more than 4 million unemployed. The unified Germany had to fight economic and domestic difficulties even as it actively participated in the project of European integration. Most people blamed the centre-right coalition government of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) for the economic difficulties. Longtime Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government was regarded by many as not having fully implemented the unification after eight years, in view of the mass protests in many eastern German towns due to job losses and social welfare cuts.

The 1998 campaign began with both the CDU and SPD questioning who would lead their parties. There had been rumours that Kohl would resign and allow Wolfgang Schäuble to take the reins of the CDU, but these rumours were rendered obsolete when Kohl announced in April 1997 that he would seek the chancellorship for a sixth term. The two contenders for the SPD nomination were Oskar Lafontaine, the party's chairman, and Gerhard Schröder, Minister-President of Lower Saxony.

On 1 March 1998, Schröder led the SPD to a huge victory in the Lower Saxony state election, gaining an unusual absolute majority for the second time and effectively receiving the SPD nomination for federal chancellor. Schröder had announced he would withdraw his bid for the nomination if he received below 42 percent of the popular vote. In the 1998 general elections, Schröder received 47.9 percent.[2] Following this election, Lafontaine withdrew his bid and Schröder was inaugurated in the May 1998 convention. For the SPD, Schröder offered a new face for the party. He gave the party a new vigor, one that was lacking in the CDU after Kohl proclaimed his nomination. Many in the CDU questioned if Kohl had made the right choice for the party.

The CDU campaign was based on the experience and reputation of Kohl. One of the CDU's main slogans was 'Safety, not Risks.' "Kohl exploited his familiarity and experience, as well as his status as Europe's longest serving head of government."[2] The SPD on the other hand ran the campaign using strategies developed in the United States and the United Kingdom. The SPD set up election headquarters and introduced 'rapid rebuttal units' not unlike those used by Bill Clinton of the United States in his successful presidential bid in 1992.[3] The SPD avoided direct attacks at Kohl, but rather focused on their message of a "new center".[3]

The FDP had usually ridden on the coattails of the CDU, and was mostly disapproved in the polls. With the SPD well ahead in the polls, many of the voters from the CDU had fewer incentives to vote for the FDP. The FDP was also having trouble projecting a coherent platform to voters. The Greens too were having issues concerning their platform.

The two factions in the Greens, the fundamentalists and the pragmatists, had problems settling on their platform since the founding of the Green party.

The major issue of the 1998 campaign was unemployment. In 1996, the unemployment rate in Germany surpassed the government's "limit" of 4 million unemployed people. Both parties blamed high labor costs, high taxes and the high welfare costs as the causes of the problem. During the campaign, Schröder used this issue against Kohl, calling him 'the unemployment chancellor.' Unemployment was worst in the former East Germany. While the national rate stood at 9.4 percent, former East Germany was suffering with unemployment at 20 percent. Many in the former East Germany blamed Kohl for the slow economic recovery.

Another issue at hand were Germany's tax and welfare reforms. While the CDU/CSU had offered proposals to reduce benefits in healthcare and pensions, the SPD controlled Bundesrat secured the passage of the bill. The proposed bill also offered tax cuts that were to benefit the rich, something the SPD opposed. While Kohl continually pushed the issue of European integration, the issue fell short from voters' minds. Schröder, on the other hand, almost ignored the issue. Many voters in Germany had other concerns besides the European Union.

Opinion polls Edit

Polling for the 1998 German federal election

Results Edit

Social Democratic Party20,181,26940.938621,535,89343.80212298+46
Christian Democratic Union14,004,90828.4012415,854,21532.2574198−46
Christian Social Union3,324,4806.7493,602,4727.333847−3
Alliance 90/The Greens3,301,6246.70472,448,1624.98047−2
Free Democratic Party3,080,9556.25431,486,4333.02043−4
Party of Democratic Socialism2,515,4545.10322,416,7814.92436+6
The Republicans906,3831.8401,115,6642.27000
German People's Union601,1921.2200New
Initiative Pro D-Mark430,0990.8700New
The Grays – Gray Panthers152,5570.310141,7630.29000
Human Environment Animal Protection133,8320.2701,7340.00000
National Democratic Party126,5710.26045,0430.09000
Federation of Free Citizens – The Offensive121,1960.250134,7950.2700New
Ecological Democratic Party98,2570.200145,3080.30000
Party of Bible-abiding Christians71,9410.15046,3790.09000
Anarchist Pogo Party35,2420.0701,6760.0000New
Natural Law Party30,6190.06035,1320.07000
Feminist Party30,0940.0603,9660.0100New
Chance 200028,5660.0603,2060.0100New
Bavaria Party28,1070.0601,7720.00000
Family Party24,8250.0508,1340.02000
Christian Centre23,6190.0509,0230.02000
Bürgerrechtsbewegung Solidarität9,6620.02010,2600.02000
Party of the Non-voters6,8270.0100New
Car-drivers' and Citizens' Interests Party6,7590.0101,4580.00000
Party for Social Equality6,2260.01000
Alliance for Germany6,1960.0101,9460.0000New
Party of the Willing to Work and Socially Vulnerable5,5560.01010,4490.02000
Marxist–Leninist Party4,7310.0107,2080.01000
New Forum4,5430.0106,2960.0100New
Alternative Citizens' Movement 20003,3550.0104,0970.0100New
Democratic Party2,4320.0001,1720.0000New
Humanist Party4350.0005320.00000
German Social Union8,1800.02000
Statt Party4,4060.01000
German Communist Party2,1050.00000
Centre Party2,0760.00000
Middle Class Party1,9240.0000New
Free Social Union7630.00000
Freedom Party1310.0000New
Independents and voter groups66,0260.13000
Valid votes49,308,51298.7249,166,58098.44
Invalid/blank votes638,5751.28780,5071.56
Total votes49,947,087100.0049,947,087100.00
Registered voters/turnout60,762,75182.2060,762,75182.20
Source: Bundeswahlleiter

Results by state Edit

Second vote (Zweitstimme, or votes for party list)

State results in % SPD CDU/CSU GRÜNE FDP PDS REP DVU all others
  Baden-Württemberg 35.6 37.8 9.2 8.8 1.0 4.0 0.6 3.0
  Bavaria 34.4 47.7 5.9 5.1 0.7 2.6 0.6 3.0
  Berlin 37.8 23.7 11.3 4.9 13.5 2.4 2.1 4.3
  Brandenburg 43.9 20.7 3.4 2.8 20.0 1.7 2.8 4.7
  Bremen 50.2 25.4 11.3 5.9 2.4 0.7 1.7 2.4
  Hamburg 45.8 30.0 10.8 6.5 2.3 0.6 2.1 1.9
  Hesse 41.6 34.7 8.2 7.9 1.5 2.3 1.0 2.8
  Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 35.3 29.3 3.0 2.2 23.6 0.6 2.7 3.3
  Lower Saxony 49.4 34.1 5.9 6.4 1.0 0.9 0.6 1.7
  North Rhine-Westphalia 46.9 33.8 6.9 7.3 1.2 1.1 0.9 1.9
  Rhineland-Palatinate 41.3 39.1 6.1 7.1 1.0 2.2 0.7 2.5
  Saarland 52.4 31.8 5.5 4.7 1.0 1.2 0.9 2.5
  Saxony 29.1 32.7 4.4 3.7 20.0 1.9 2.6 5.6
  Saxony-Anhalt 38.1 27.2 3.3 4.1 20.7 0.6 3.2 2.8
  Schleswig-Holstein 45.4 35.7 6.5 7.6 1.5 0.4 1.3 1.6
  Thuringia 34.5 28.9 3.9 3.4 21.2 1.6 2.9 3.6

Constituency seats Edit

State Total
Seats won
Baden-Württemberg 37 11 26
Bavaria 45 7 38
Berlin 13 9 4
Brandenburg 12 12
Bremen 3 3
Hamburg 7 7
Hesse 22 18 4
Lower Saxony 31 27 4
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 9 7 2
North Rhine-Westphalia 71 53 18
Rhineland-Palatinate 16 10 6
Saarland 5 5
Saxony 21 8 13
Saxony-Anhalt 13 13
Schleswig-Holstein 11 11
Thuringia 12 11 1
Total 328 212 74 38 4

List seats Edit

State Total
Seats won
Baden-Württemberg 41 6 19 8 7 1
Bavaria 48 27 6 5 1 9
Berlin 12 7 1 3 1
Brandenburg 11 5 1 1 4
Bremen 2 1 1
Hamburg 6 4 1 1
Hesse 25 13 3 4 4 1
Lower Saxony 37 20 8 4 4 1
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 6 2 4
North Rhine-Westphalia 77 34 19 11 11 2
Rhineland-Palatinate 18 8 5 2 3
Saarland 3 3
Saxony 16 4 2 2 8
Saxony-Anhalt 13 6 1 1 5
Schleswig-Holstein 13 9 2 2
Thuringia 13 6 1 1 5
Total 341 124 86 47 43 32 9

Post-election Edit

Results Edit

Seat results – SPD in red, Greens in green, PDS in purple, FDP in yellow, CDU/CSU in black
Result by Single-member constituency – SPD in red, PDS in purple, CDU/CSU in black

Toward the end of the campaign, polls placed the CDU/CSU and FDP coalition in a tie with the SPD and Green coalition. Despite these polls, the final numbers told a different story. The SPD-Green coalition won an unexpectedly large victory, taking 345 seats and earning a strong majority in the Bundestag—the first centre-left absolute majority in post-World War II Germany. The SPD won 40.9 percent of the vote, due to an increase of 4.5 percent from 1994.

The CDU/CSU-FDP coalition had gone into the election with a solid majority and 341 seats, but was cut down to 288 seats. The CDU/CSU lost 6.2% of its 1994 vote, and lost 109 electoral districts to the SPD. Germany's mixed-member proportional system, in which a slate of statewide delegates are elected alongside the electorate delegates, softened the blow somewhat, so the CDU/CSU only suffered a net loss of 49 seats. It was still the CDU/CSU's worst defeat ever. By contrast, their junior coalition partner, the FDP, netted a loss of just 4 seats.

The SPD swept all single-member constituency seats in the states of Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Saarland, Bremen, Hamburg and (for the first and last time) Schleswig-Holstein. Kohl lost his own constituency of Ludwigshafen, though he was still re-elected to the Bundestag through the Rhineland-Palatinate CDU party list, and he had not won the seat in the 1983 and 1987 elections. Future Chancellor Angela Merkel only narrowly won her constituency of Stralsund – Rügen – Grimmen with only 37.3 percent of the vote; the only time she got less than 40 percent of the vote.

A new government was formed by a coalition between the SPD and the Greens, with the SPD's Gerhard Schröder as chancellor and Greens leader Joschka Fischer as vice-chancellor and foreign minister. It was the first red-green coalition government at the federal level in Germany, as well as the first purely centre-left government in post-World War II Germany.

Kohl stepped down as chairman of the CDU, as did CSU chairman Theodor Waigel.

Legacy Edit

The 1998 German election was historic in many ways. It resulted in a centre-right government being succeeded by a left-wing one—the first in postwar Germany (the SPD's previous term in government had been at the helm of a centre-left coalition).

In addition, it brought to an end the sixteen-year rule of Kohl – the second-longest of any German chancellor, and the longest tenure for a democratically elected head of government in German history. It has been compared to the defeat of Winston Churchill in 1945 – both were seen as conservative wartime leaders, and in both cases both were turned out of office by the electorate once the war was over. Churchill was ousted before World War II was even over, while Kohl managed to hang onto power for two more terms after the reunification of Germany (which is often considered to be the end of the Cold War).[citation needed]

Literature Edit

  • Conradt, David P.; Kleinfeld, Gerald R.; Søe, Christian, eds. (2000). Power Shift in Germany: The 1998 Election and the End of the Kohl Era. Berghahn Books.

References Edit

  1. ^ James, Peter (2000). "The 1998 German Federal Election". Politics. 20 (1): 33–38. doi:10.1111/1467-9256.00108. ISSN 0263-3957. S2CID 143788580.
  2. ^ a b Pulzer, Peter. "The German Federal Election of 1998." West European Politics July 1999: 241–249.
  3. ^ a b Green, Simon. "The 1998 German Bundestag election: The end of an era." Parliamentary Affairs Apr 1999: 52. :Pg. 306–320. LexisNexis Academic. Leslie F. Maplass Library, Macomb, IL. 24 Feb