Whether frustration with government policy is also reflected in election results will become clear on October 8th in Hesse and Bavaria. But there is much more at stake in federal politics.
What does the Bavaria election mean for the Union’s candidacy for chancellor? Does Chancellor Olaf Scholz have to reshuffle his cabinet after the Hesse election? And will the traffic lights be penalized halfway through the election period – in favor of the AfD?
The two state elections in two of the most populous federal states on October 8th have great potential to shake up federal politics.
Mid-term elections: Are the traffic lights shaking again?
The 2021 federal election was now two years ago, and the situation of the traffic light government in the polls at the halfway point of the legislative period could hardly be worse. In 2021, the SPD, Greens and FDP together achieved a whopping majority of 52 percent of the votes.
They have now fallen to less than 38 percent on average for the major polling institutes. The state elections will now show whether the coalition’s poor image is also reflected in election results.
If there are significant losses for the traffic light parties, the question arises: Will this send the coalition in Berlin reeling again?
The federal FDP has already given vent to the coalition after previous election defeats in the states. In Hesse it is now scratching the five percent hurdle, in Bavaria it is below it according to the latest surveys. In both countries, the Liberals are threatening to be thrown out of the state parliaments.
But nervousness is also growing in the SPD. In Bavaria there is a risk of a single-digit result again. And in Hesse, the party with its top candidate, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, is far behind the CDU.
Scholz’s K question: Will the cabinet remain as it is?
The result of Faeser and her SPD will also decide whether Scholz can continue with his cabinet in the same line-up as before. If the 53-year-old becomes Prime Minister, Scholz will have to look for a new Interior Minister. If she loses the election, she will stay in Berlin.
Faeser does not want to return to the opposition bench in the state parliament, where she sat for almost two decades between 2003 and 2021. Critics consider this to be inconsistent. She herself points out that almost 30 years ago there was a CDU Federal Interior Minister who handled things the same way: Manfred Kanther made the CDU the strongest party in 1995, but still did not become Prime Minister and remained Interior Minister in Berlin.
Faeser would prefer to lead Hesse in a traffic light coalition with the Greens and FDP. The first prerequisite for this, however, would be that the Liberals manage to get back into parliament in Wiesbaden. And even if that happens, the chances for Faeser are not particularly good.
In the latest election survey, Prime Minister Boris Rhein’s CDU is clearly ahead with 31 percent. In the “Hessentrend” conducted by Infratest-dimap on behalf of Hessischer Rundfunk (hr), the SPD was in second place in mid-September with 18 percent, ahead of the AfD and the Greens with 17 percent each.
The Union’s K question: Who will be the candidate for chancellor?
Many in the Union see the outcome of the Bavarian election as an important interim step in choosing the next candidate for chancellor for the 2025 federal election. CSU leader Markus Söder has repeatedly emphasized that he has no ambitions of his own. However, many in the CDU and CSU expect that the 56-year-old will throw his hat into the ring again, at least if he has a realistic chance of winning the office.
The election of Chancellor Scholz’s challenger is likely to take place in the Union in almost exactly one year, in autumn 2024 – after the equally important eastern elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg. Nominally, the opposition leader in the Bundestag, CDU leader Friedrich Merz, has the best chance.
However, if Söder gets a result in Bavaria that clearly stands out from the CDU election results in the other state elections, this could lead to calls for him becoming loud, as was the case before the last federal election. In the current surveys, Söder’s CSU is lagging behind its own expectations with values of around 36 percent, as well as the disappointing result for the CSU in 2018 (37.2 percent).
In the end, it could also happen that neither Merz nor Söder are included in the candidacy for chancellor. In the event that the two incumbent party leaders do not agree or lose support due to electoral failures, North Rhine-Westphalia’s Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst (CDU), for example, is considered a potential candidate. There is only one thing the Union wants to prevent in any case: an open power struggle over the candidacy like before the last federal election.
How strong will the AfD become?
Last but not least, from Berlin’s perspective, it will be a question in Hesse and Bavaria of whether the AfD can convert its soaring popularity in the polls into significant gains in elections. In Bavaria it was recently between 12 and 14 percent, and in the most recent survey in Hesse it was 17 percent.
The strength of the right-wing party has largely determined the political debate for weeks. The elections in Hesse and Bavaria could now provide a foretaste of the coming year with the state elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg. In all three countries, the AfD is now well ahead in surveys at more than 30 percent. And before that there will be a super election day on June 9th with the European elections and local elections in nine countries.