The 2021 election in the German Land of Saxony-Anhalt, which took place three days ago, showed a surprising turnaround for the CDU, whose popularity has been waning ever since Angela Merkel decided to retire as German chancellor effective from this year.
However, the Premier of Saxony-Anhalt, Reiner Haseloff, managed to strengthen his position and gain 10 seats for the CDU, all 40 of their total coming from Wahlkreis (single member constituencies). In fact the CDU won every single Walhkreis in Saxony-Anhalt except Zeizt in the south-east, which was won by the radical populist right AfD, although in polling 37.1% of the vote they were not entitled to list seats on top of those 40 constituency seats. Many of these seats were won on less than one third of the vote, particularly in the cities of Halle and Magdeburg, highlighting the importance of ensuring that there are enough list seats in an MMP system to balance out the constituency seats (this is not true in the Senedd's case, for example, as there are twice as many constituency MSs as list MSs).
In addition to losing all but one of the Walhkreise it had held in 2016, AfD ended up down 2 seats on their 2016 total, leaving them with 23 but still runner-up to the CDU. Given the general decline of the AfD since Brexit happened (this has impacted other Eurosceptic parties in Europe to a significant extent), not to mention the cordon sanitaire that other major parties apply to them at both state and national level, it is rather surprising that they have maintained their runner-up position in Saxony-Anhalt.
Meanwhile, Die Linke continued its decline in Saxony-Anhalt, losing 1/4 of its 2016 seat total and only coming second in one Wahlkreis: Halberstadt, home to world's slowest concert. Like in much of Europe, Die Linke's decline is primarily to demographic change as older voters with stronger memories of communist rule and "Ostalgia" die and the proportion of younger voters with no memory of East Germany increases, in addition to a slow but steady industrial decline combined with a rise in the tech economy. The SPD also expectedly declined in Saxony-Anhalt, falling below 10% for the first time and only winning 9 seats; furthermore only two Wahlkreis provided an SPD vote above 20%: Weissenfels and Wermigerode, both of which are dominated by light manufacturing.
The Greens did not perform nearly as well as expected, although they did win an extra two seats. This was partly due to the recovery of the free-market liberal FDP, which not only crossed the 5% threshold with 6.4% (having missed it by only 0.14% in 2016) giving them re-entry with 7 seats, but also overtook the Greens in Saxony-Anhalt by 5,157. Both parties are weak in the Land outside the state capital of Magdeburg and the city of Halle, birthplace of George Handel, although interestingly the salt-making town of Stassfurt provided the FDP's best results. Another reason is that they are part of the governing coalition in Saxony-Anhalt and the SPD are not, meaning they were not able to win over lapsed SPD voters as easily as they are doing in current Bundestag polls in the run up to this year's Bundestag election in September. The Greens missed out on winning the Wahlkreis of Halle III (Halle North East, essentially) by just 608 votes, and also finished second in Magdeburg II ("Magdeburg East") with 15.9%; conversely there were many Wahlkreis where they did not even poll 5% and their vote was clearly squeezed by the FDP in Stassfurt, for the Wahlkreis with the best FDP result had the worst Green result (1.6%).
The biggest disappointment of this Landtag election undoubtedly came for the Freie Wahlen (Free Voters) who failed to win any seats despite excellent performances in rural areas. They only polled 3.13% on the list vote, not nearly enough for list seats, but in constituency seat terms they only missed out on winning the northeastern Landtag constituency of Havelburg-Osterburg by 354 votes. This was the only standout result for the Freie Wahler, however, who generally only polled 5-6% in most Wahlkreise and even in Zeitz, the only Wahlkreis won by a non-CDU candidate, the Freie Wahler managed only 11.1%. A new party, dieBasis, failed to make any real impact although its vote share of 1.47% is the best from a new party in a German Landtag election in more than 10 years, and it was able to beat the Human Environment Animal Protection Party (Tierschutzpartei), Germany's largest animal rights party.
Of note amongst the parties who polled less than 1%-and there were, in this election, 14 of them-are the slight rise of the Garden Party (a rural interests party), the splinter of the Animal Protection Alliance into two groups (their splinter, Animal Protection Here!, polled slightly better in fact) managing to poll 1.05% between them, the stalling of the satirical Die PARTEI whose vote share only increased by 0.2% and who lost votes in the few areas remotely favourable to it, and the collapse of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) and the AfD splinter group Liberal Conservative Reformers (LKR). For all its irrelevance, the Pirate Party managed to beat both of the latter two parties, as well as two minor ecological parties: the long-running Ecological Democratic Party (ODP) and the Climate List Saxony-Anhalt, which barely registered, unlike similar groups in Mecklenberg-Vorpommern and Baden-Wurttenberg where they took a fair few Green votes, which in Saxony-Anhalt (and most of the former East Germany for that matter) are nowhere near as plentiful as they are in Baden-Wurttenberg or Berlin. LKR, who only existed due to ructions in the AfD and with no other raison d'etre, won the wooden spoon award of this Landtag election, polling a miserable 473 votes on the list vote. As for the few Independents, only Thomas Jaeger in Naumburg polled remotely well (he polled 4.6%, beating both the Greens and Die PARTEI in that Wahlkreis).
This election had relatively little real change, and the turnout figure proved to be no exception-it dropped but only by 0.78 percentage points. The current coalition of CDU, SPD and Greens is set to continue, despite speculation of a CDU, FDP and Greens coalition which whilst mathematically possible would be of no particular benefit to Herr Haseloff over the current coalition that he leads in Saxony-Anhalt.