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German Electoral Politics$

Geoffrey K. Roberts

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780719069901

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: July 2012

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719069901.001.0001

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(p.128) Appendix 1 Turnout and the allocation of seats to Länder

(p.128) Appendix 1 Turnout and the allocation of seats to Länder

German Electoral Politics
Manchester University Press

The Electoral Law prescribes the total number of seats in the Bundestag. Since 2002 this has been 596, plus any additional surplus seats (of which there were five in the Bundestag election in 2002). Since these 596 seats are divided on a 50:50 basis between constituency seats and seats allocated from party lists, it might be assumed that each Land should also have an equal number of constituency seats and list seats (apart from any surplus seats at a particular election). However, two factors can render this assumption false.

First, constituency seats are allocated to each Land based on its total population of German citizens. In the redistribution of seats which was necessarily combined with the reduction in the size of the Bundestag from 656 following reunification to 596, every Land lost some constituency seats, but the ‘new’ Länder of the former GDR had to lose proportionally more seats because of greater declines in population. For example, Bremen, Hamburg, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein lost only one seat each, whereas every ‘new’ Land lost two seats each, except Saxony, which lost three. (Berlin, a mixture of the former GDR and the ‘old’ FRG, lost just one seat). Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg and Thuringia have approximately the same population each as Schleswig-Holstein (and each of these Länder has ten constituency seats), while Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (now seven constituencies) has a similar population size to Hamburg (which has six constituencies). However, the allocation of list seats to each Land depends on turnout of voters in the election. So if a Land has a relatively high proportion of inhabitants below voting age, it will secure fewer list seats than constituency seats even if its turnout rate is average. This is because a turnout rate of 75 per cent of the electorate may mean only 50 per cent of the inhabitants voting in the case of that Land, compared to the same turnout representing 60 per cent of the inhabitants in some other (p.129) Land of equal population size but possessed of fewer citizens below voting age.

Second, turnout rates vary substantially among the Länder, and especially between the ‘new’ Länder in what was formerly the GDR, which have tended to have relatively low turnout rates, and the ‘old’ Länder of western Germany. In 2002, as in every Bundestag election since reunification, turnout rates in all the Länder of eastern Germany were below those of the western German Länder. In western Germany, turnout in 2002 was 80.7 per cent; in eastern Germany it was 72.8 per cent. The average for the whole FRG was 79.1 per cent. The lowest turnout in a Land in western Germany was in Bremen (78.9 per cent) and the highest in eastern Germany was Thuringia (74.8 per cent).

This meant that in the 2002 election every Land in eastern Germany (including Berlin) had fewer list seats than constituency seats, and every Land in western Germany more list seats than constituency seats, apart from Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen and Rhineland-Pfalz, which had equal numbers of list and constituency seats. The ratio in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was only 42.9 per cent of the list seats which it should have had on an equality basis (three list seats, seven constituencies), and Brandenburg had only 60 per cent of its ‘normal’ allowance (six list seats, ten constituency seats). Lower Saxony, on the other hand, had 17 per cent more list seats (thirty-four, compared to twenty-nine constituencies) and Bavaria 15.9 per cent more (fifty-one list seats, but only forty-four constituency seats), mainly because of high relative turnout.

The uneven ratios of list seats compared to constituency seats in eastern Germany is one reason why since 1990 such a high proportion of surplus seats has been found in the ‘new’ Länder. It becomes easier for one party to win all the constituency seats on fewer than 50 per cent of the vote, and there are insufficient list seats to provide proportional representation for other parties. In 1990 all six surplus seats, in 1994 thirteen of the sixteen, in 1998 nine out of thirteen and in 2002 four out of five were in Länder in eastern Germany (see Appendix 2).