Destinations Magazine

Germany’s Struggling Social Democrats

By Stizzard

FEW POLITICAL PARTIES have a history like that of Germany's Social Democrats (SPD). Founded in the late 19th century, the SPD heroically if briefly resisted Hitler's rise. After the war it reinvented itself as a big-tent Volkspartei (people's party). In office it modernised West Germany, soothed cold-war tensions and inspired similar movements abroad. In 1998 it still commanded over 40% of the vote.

It has had a rough time since. After a losing to Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) in 2005, a string of poor results reached a nadir in 2017, when the SPD took barely 20% of the vote, its worst result since the war. After an agonised internal debate, the party agreed to rejoin the coalition in which it had served with the CDU (and its sister party, the Christian Social Union) since 2013. That failed to arrest the slide. Today the party languishes behind the Greens and has vied for third place with the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). In parts of Germany it has shrivelled to almost nothing.

The decline of social democracy across Europe is well documented. The institutions, especially organised labour, that in West Germany's case funnelled millions of votes to the SPD in the glory years of the late 1960s and 1970s (see chart) have withered. In a fragmented society it is...

The Economist: Europe
Germany’s struggling Social Democrats

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