The editors of the Wall Street Journal delve into that very question today:
Exit polls Sunday evening showed a race too close to call, although perhaps with a slight edge for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). They and Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU and Bavarian sister CSU) each have won roughly a quarter of the votes. Whichever of the two manages to form a government, it will be a choice voters have made without much evident conviction.
And with whom will that “winner” govern? The Greens came in a strong third with an estimated 15%, with the free-market Free Democrats (FDP) at 11% and quasi-communist Left waddling in at 5%. The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), at about 10%, lost ground compared to 2017’s 13% finish.
Because theirs is not a “first past the post” system as ours is, now the wrangling begins:
The possible coalition combinations are endless, and so are the policy outcomes. The SPD and CDU/CSU could reconstitute their current “grand coalition,” and perhaps voters would be happy with four more years of the status quo. Or the CDU/CSU could form an awkward coalition with the Greens and FDP.
Or the SPD could govern with the Greens and the FDP in a government that might pursue more aggressive environmental goals while limiting tax increases. Or the SPD, Greens and Left could form a left-wing government with heavier taxation but the tougher line on Russia and China that the Greens favor.
Whoever ends up in charge, Berlin faces serious challenges over how to spur productive investment and innovation at home, absorb large migrant inflows, respond to mounting strategic threats from China and Russia, and maintain good relations with neighbors and the U.S.
As Germany settles in for lengthy coalition wrangling, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the parties and voters prefer a static status quo to a clear new direction.
Some of the possible coalitions are conspicuous by their absence. I will only point out that two of the “right” parties, the Christian Democrats (Merkel’s party) and the AfD, both lost ground yesterday while two of the “left” parties, the Social Democrats and the Greens, gained ground. But so did the “libertarian” Free Democrats.
The conclusion that the editors draw is only one of the possible conclusions. My speculation is that the CDU ran the wrong candidate for chancellor.
I plan to look around for some regional results, particularly in Bavaria and Saxony, because I think those are more important than the national ones.