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Conservatives may vote Liberal in Lower Saxony. They won’t in Britain.

21 Jan

The German Liberal party, the FDP, has defied expectations in the Lower Saxony state election. Most people thought they’d continue their poor run of results in state elections. In the ten state elections in 2011 and 2012, they won the 5% of the vote necessary to win seats in just four of them. Opinion polls had consistently put them on between 3% and 5% and so there were doubts about whether they’d win enough votes to get into the state parliament at all.

In fact, they received 9.9% of the vote in Lower Saxony, up from the 8.8% of the electorate who backed them five years ago. That wasn’t enough to stop the Social Democrats and the Greens taking control of the state by just a single seat.

Nick Clegg meeting FDP Leader and German Vice Chancellor Philipp Rösler

It’s easy to spot the similarities between the FDP and the British Liberal Democrats. Both are in coalition with their country’s conservative party. Both have unpopular leaders. Both have – until yesterday – been suffering electoral losses.

I imagine many Lib Dems are hoping for a similar boost in their electoral fortunes. One Lib Dem councillor has already tweeted that the FDP’s result “gives us #libdems hope.”

It’s extremely unlikely that the Lib Dems will see electoral success in the same way as the FDP has done.

Just over 100,000 of people who voted for the FDP were “Last-Minute-Transfers” (yes, that’s what the German press are calling tactical voters) from the German conservatives, the CDU. Nearly 70% of FDP voters said they’d voted tactically and more than 90% of them said they could have also voted for the conservative CDU party.

Does this sound like people who vote Lib Dem to you? The Lib Dem leadership may be close to the Conservatives. Traditional Lib Dem voters certainly aren’t though and Conservative voters aren’t close to the Lib Dems either.

The FDP are a party of classical liberals voted for by liberals. In Lower Saxony, conservative voters also supported them in a bid to keep the CDU-FDP coalition. The Lib Dems are a party of liberals and social democrats voted for, until 2010, by social democrats. This is a generalisation, but not a big one.

It just doesn’t seem possible that huge numbers of Conservative voters are going to come to the Lib Dems’ rescue as CDU voters did for the FDP. The FDP has spent 60 years as the governing partner of the CDU and CDU voters know and trust them. The liberals in the Lib Dems have traditionally sought out social democratic voters with their policies on mansion taxes and tuition fees. Conservative voters haven’t had time to get to know or trust a liberal Liberal Democrat party and won’t vote tactically for them.

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