Germany’s New Political Divide

Jan Woitas/DPA, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

They call Bavaria the Texas of Germany, and not only for its beautiful countryside and roaring economy. Like Texas, Bavaria has been historically divided politically, with traditionally minded conservatives in its small towns and liberals and progressives in its cities.

That is, until state elections last year. The center-right Christian Social Union held onto power, though its grip slipped, while the center-left Social Democrats were nearly wiped out in Bavaria’s cities. The Social Democrats have weakened everywhere lately, so their catastrophic showing in Bavaria wasn’t a surprise. The shock was who replaced them: the Greens.

The rise of the Greens — they have a nearly 20 percent support in recent polls, close to a record high — is not unique among the country’s smaller parties. After being barred from the Bundestag in 2013 because they didn’t reach the 5 percent threshold of support, the Free Democrats, a pro-business, libertarian-minded party, have rapidly regained voters under their dynamic 40-year-old leader, Christian Lindner.

While the Free Democrats are less popular than the Greens — they get about 10 percent in most polls — their parallel rise over the last few years, coming alongside significant drops in support for historically dominant parties, points to the possibility of a wholesale realignment of German politics.

In the second half of the 20th century, the great fault line in German politics ran between the conservative Christian Democrats (and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union) and the liberal Social Democrats. The right was generally against government spending, except on the military, and held “traditional” values on abortion and marriage; the left supported a more beneficent welfare state and a more open German culture. Above all, they divided on class: the middle class on the right, the workers on the left.

That all changed in the 21st century. The new divide is between two groups that the British author David Goodheart terms “anywheres” and “somewheres.” The anywheres are the highly educated, urban and socially liberal; the somewheres live in the countryside, have a lower level of education and hold more traditional notions of family and society.

The growing popularity of the Greens bears witness to this trend. The party’s core theme remains ecological, but it is increasingly taking…

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