On 14 May 2017, in North Rhine-Westphalia’s (NRW) state (Bundesland) election, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won in emphatic fashion. Emphatic, here, does not express itself in numbers—33 percent for the CDU—but in the fact that the party won at all. The Social Democratic Party (SPD), which from 1966 to 2005, and then from 2010 to 2017, had governed North Rhine-Westphalia, crashed with roughly 31 percent. Party leader Hannelore Kraft resigned within 30 minutes of the polls closing. After a lengthy hiatus, the anti-statist and centre-right right Free Democratic Party (FDP) reached more than 12 percent, and the xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) eased with more than 7 percent into NRW’s parliament. More left-leaning parties that ran on platforms arguing for greater social and economically distributive justice, including the Pirates and The Left, failed to clear the 5 percent threshold required by Germany’s electoral system. The one Land that in Germany had always been regarded as the center of Social Democracy went conservative.
Regional elections in Germany have seldom if ever attracted as much attention as they did on Sunday, 13 March 2016. This was the first opportunity for the electorate to express its opinion about the “refugee policy” pursued by Chancellor Angela Merkel since early September 2015. Not only her own Christian Democratic Union but also the Social Democrats, her coalition partner in Berlin, lost votes to a new protest party, the Alternative for Germany. These “Rechtspopulisten” did especially well in Saxony-Anhalt, where I live. Rather than simply join the chorus of condemnation of this vile movement and celebrate the humanitarian altruism shown by the mainstream parties toward deserving foreigners, it behooves social scientists to analyze the deeper causes and consequences of both the voting and the migration patterns.