Saturday, May 5, 2012

Elections and the Importance of Bellwether States on both sides of the Atlantic

In both Germany and the US predicting election results is a task that is keeping many people busy – predicting results requires that one takes into consideration the interests of many different actors and finds out how those are translated into votes. Making predictions is necessary for several reasons. First early predictions make it possible for parties to alter their strategies as they are campaigning for votes. After the votes are cast and are being counted it is possible to make predictions based on the votes cast by certain cities, counties, states or regions.  Therefore long-term voting patterns allow better predictions, making results less surprising, which is in the interest of politicians.

For the United States there are several types of bellwether states. There are all-or-nothing bellwethers (counties or states that consistently vote for the winner), swingometric bellwethers (states or counties whose vote varies consistently with the national vote – i.e. they always vote 10 percent more republican than the nation does so it is possible to forecast the national Republican vote by subtracting 10 percent from the expected vote) and barometric bellwethers (states or counties that mirror the national vote). Ohio is a barometric bellwether state –while Ohio also is a swing state its vote is always very close to the national vote. Ohio has voted for the winner in all but two elections.

In Germany   the election system works differently and comparing both systems would be worth a whole blog post by itself. Thus I will skip this part for now and only explain the basics. The Chancellor is elected by the Bundestag, for which people vote. Bundestagelections and State elections do not occur in the same years. Therefore state elections, during which people elect the state government, provide an indicator for the next Bundestagselections. The most useful indicator for federal elections is generally considered to be the state with the most inhabitants, which is North Rheine-Westphalia.

The parliament in North Rhine-Westphalia dissolved itself on March 14 after the coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the Greens was unable to pass their budget.  The state is now headed for early elections on May 13, a little over one year before Germany will be voting for a new Bundestag in either September or October 2013 (date to be determined).
Currently, 10 days before elections, predictions are 36% for the SDP, 31% for the Christian Democratic Union,  5 % for the Free Democratic Party , 11% for the Green Party,  10% for the Pirate Party and  4% for the Left Party.  If the actual percentages turn out like this on election Sunday then that would be a reason for the FDP to celebrate because earlier predictions had them at 2%. In Germany the threshold is 5% - less than that and a party is unable to enter the parliament. The election results are most anticipated because they will foreshadow if the Pirate Parties popularity reflects in the votes casted and thus if the Pirates are able to become a real political force. 

In the case of Ohio, Obama picking Ohio State as the location for the first rally of his reelection campaign on Saturday May 5 showcases the importance of the state for Obama’s reelection.  

Jones Jr, Randall J. Who will be in the White House? Predicting Presidential  Elections. Longman: London. 2002.

1 comment:

Greg Emery said...

1) Comprehending German politics is beyond my ability (or I am just a bit lazy and/or uninterested).

2) It is always amazing to me (as an Ohioan) how much economic, political, and cultural (the Ohio accent is considered to be "accent free" American English) influence Ohio has (for such an otherwise boring state). Side note: Ohio has the coolest state flag!