bavarian spd leader Michele Tantussi/Getty Images

The End of Germany’s Two-Party System

Ever since Germany's federal election last September, it has been clear that the country's once-stable political party system is in peril. Most significantly, collapsing support for the Social Democratic Party means that Germany – along with the rest of Europe – could be heading for a new era of paralysis and instability.

BERLIN – The German Social Democrats’ (SPD) existential crisis can no longer be treated as a typical party crisis. The party captured a mere 9.7% of the vote in regional elections in Bavaria this month, and it is trailing both the populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and the Greens in national opinion polls. With another important regional election fast approaching in Hesse, polls indicate that the SPD will lose still more support, albeit not as dramatically as in Bavaria.

The SPD and the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) have stood as the twin pillars of German politics since the end of World War II. But with the SPD declining, Germany is moving from a de facto two-party system to a multiparty system in which no single party plays a dominant role.

The German post-war consensus is collapsing in key areas – history (attitudes toward WWII), geopolitics (attitudes toward Russia), the economy (attitudes toward the auto industry), and ethics (attitudes toward refugees) – and this is reflected in the fracturing of the political scene. German voters have rejected the longstanding CDU/CSU-SPD “grand coalition.” Whereas smaller parties once functioned as mere subsidiaries of either the SPD or the CDU/CSU, the bit players are now eclipsing the former stars.

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