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The electorate of Germany – the liberal free democrats and the environmentally conscious Greens – once shared little about politics. But now they have one thing in common: the people who vote for them.
Young Germans flocked to the FDP and Greens last Sunday, with 44 percent of younger than 25-year-olds voting for them. The trend reflects the demand for change from a younger generation ignored by Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), who endured their worst election result in history, and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) , which rose a slight victory.
These two major tent parties dominated the post-war era in Germany, but a younger generation now feels that the SPD and CDU do not have a clear philosophy of moving their country forward through turbulent waters – from the end of the Merkel era at home , to global threats such as climate change.
“The parties have no worldview. They have nothing they really want to trade on, “said Justus Gutsche, 18, a member of the Young Liberals who voted for the FDP. ‘The greens have ecology. The FDP has liberalism. What do the CDU and SPD have? ”
Young voters have barely been integrated into German political strategy in recent years, analysts say: the less than thirty make up only 14.4 percent of voters, compared to 57.8 percent for more than 50s.
But this time, their votes could help form the next government: the Greens and the FDP will now decide whether to form a coalition with the SPD or CDU.
Election data shows a strong generational divide, with the share of votes won by the SPD and CDU gradually increasing with the voting age. For the greens and FDP, the trend is the opposite.
‘Where voters go in the next 20 years will depend on what it is [two] parties are doing it now, ”says Renas Sahin (20), a first-time voter and member of the Green Youth.
Simon Schnetzer, a political analyst studying the youth voice, said younger Germans had experienced a years-long ‘awakening’, beginning with the influx of refugees in 2015 and the consequent populist setback. This is followed by protests over massive climate change. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic exposed Germany as a backlog in the digitization of public services and the accelerated Internet.
‘Before these three crises. . . It was a ‘feel good’ generation, it felt like a prosperous future was secure. It no longer feels that way, ”Schnetzer said. “Their big problem now is to have a future that is worthwhile.”
Paulina Brünger, a young climate activist with the Fridays for Future protest movement, recalls her astonishment at the government’s rapid response to the pandemic – from emergency laws to massive spending programs.
“We have had politicians say: ‘This is a crisis. It’s going to be hard. But we can get through it together, ”she said. “We have now seen with Covid-19 what politicians can do if they think there is a crisis – and how little they have done about the climate.”
The pandemic also caused a shift to the CDU, what won 25 percent of voters under 30 in 2017, compared to 11 percent last Sunday. Young FDP voters told the FT that they follow lockouts to protect the older generations, but they feel that their needs – such as the establishment of effective online education platforms – are being ignored.
“I remember the FDP being laughed at in the 2017 election because we had digitization as a topic,” said Noreen Thiel, 18, who not only voted for the first time this year but also as an FDP – candidate in Berlin. “Our government has simply forgotten about young people.”
Although the appeal of green politics to young voters fighting for the future of the planet is clear, Schnetzer was surprised that the Liberals had the same share of first-time voters as the Greens, at 23 percent each.
He attributes the success of the FDP in part to the profession of leader Christian Lindner, especially among young men. The 42-year-old politician drives a Porsche and is known for his witty feedback. Lindner himself told the Financial Times that young voters chose his party “because the FDP is all about freedom and zest for life, the joy of technology and innovation as a future promise”.
Young FDP voters believe they share common ground with the Greens: both have similar views on human rights and the legalization of cannabis, and both want to lower the voting age to 16.
‘I hear some conservatives say [lowering the voting age] the greens would only give an advantage, ”said Thiel. ‘Well, if you do not draw up a policy to attract young people, you can not hate them if you do not vote for them.
Many young FDP voters polled by the FT support a ‘traffic light’ coalition of the SPD, Greens and FDP, believing that it is likely to meet their demands.
But left-wing young greens remain cautious. ‘If you end up in a coalition with the SPD and FDP, it does not mean making radical changes. . . the greens will have to think about whether what they are doing is really the way forward, ”Sahin said.
Schnetzer suspects the two parties may struggle to meet the hopes of young voters. “So far, it has been easy to say that they were the agents of change,” he said. Under pressure from more powerful parties and the expectations of older voters, the coming days will “show how strong their will to change really is”.
Still, it can be risky to neglect young voters, Gutsche warned. Coming from a poor eastern mining area, he’s seen the far-right Alternative for Germany over the past few years. He fears the pull of populism.
Young climate activists on their part, warn some in their ranks may resort to radical tactics if the next government no longer takes drastic action to combat climate change.
“I do not expect an uprising,” Sahin said. But he is concerned that belief in democratic institutions can disappear without change without changing it. “We can not make it happen,” he said. “We would face a generation that has lost its sense of hope.”