What's wrong? Even after this election, all eyes are once again on the FDP, which has been particularly badly hit with all the notable turns in Berlin.
This time it is 4.6 percent who have made their cross with the Liberals. Not enough: You are thrown out of the House of Representatives and switch to the extra-parliamentary opposition. For the fifth time since the FDP has co-governed in the traffic light coalition at federal level, the party has managed to get out of a state government (North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein) or a parliament (Saarland and Lower Saxony).
The liberal misery that began in 2022 will continue in 2023 - and there are still three state elections this year (in May in Bremen, in October in Bavaria and Hesse). What has to change before then?
The search for the cause has only just begun, but some liberals also attribute the most recent failure to their own "appearance" in the federal government. He is an "advocate of traffic lights," said parliamentary group leader Wolfgang Kubicki in an interview with the "Tagesspiegel". "However, we have to acknowledge that the majority of our voters are dissatisfied with the appearance in this constellation." The role in the traffic light is "not yet optimal". After the election defeat in Lower Saxony in October, party leader Christian Lindner announced that he would raise his profile in order to get back on the road to success.
Apparently it has been of little use so far. So is the problem really in the profile of the FDP – or actually somewhere else?
Ask Manfred Güllner, Managing Director of the opinion research institute Forsa, which regularly polls voter sentiment. "The FDP has no profile problem," he says to the star. "The FDP profile played no role in the election in Berlin." Many Berliners voted for the CDU because they no longer wanted red-green-red. "What the FDP is doing in the traffic light coalition played no role whatsoever in this election."
In fact, the success of the Christian Democrats is also due to frustration with the work of the Red-Green-Red Senate so far, as election day surveys suggest. Every second CDU voter based their voting decision on disappointment with other parties. Only 43 percent had made their cross with the Christian Democrats out of conviction. The CDU, at the re-election in Berlin: also a protest party and a melting pot for the dissatisfied.
FDP leader Lindner also admits this. "Obviously, the FDP could not benefit from the change mood," he said on election night. This went "almost exclusively in the direction of the Union". Nevertheless: The Liberals have also lost many votes, especially to the CDU and the group of non-voters. That also has something to do with it, explained Lindner, "that of course the opposition role against a left-wing alliance of the SPD, Greens and Left Party is made more difficult when the Free Democrats in alliance with the SPD and Greens are in government responsibility."
For pollster Güllner, the situation is more complex - or simpler, depending on your reading.
Since its presence in the traffic light government, the FDP has practically halved its poll numbers: from 11.5 percent (in the federal election) to 6 percent (in the current RTL/ntv "trend barometer"). Why? "Most of the voters who checked the FDP in the 2021 federal elections are disappointed that their interests are not sufficiently represented in politics," says Güllner. "I wouldn't call that a lack of 'profile', but a lack of representation of the interests of their constituency."
The electoral clientele of the liberals, according to Güllner: the German middle class. Craftsmen, small business owners, executives. His expectations: "Reduction of bureaucracy, protection from the superior power of the state, a mobility policy that also takes the interests of drivers into account and generally a counterbalance to an excessive green zeitgeist". According to the Forsa boss, the FDP can prove on these points that it has its voters in mind.
The FDP chairman also sees no reason to correct course after the Berlin election. "We adjusted our course a few months ago as a federal party" and are pursuing "a clear strategy in government participation that has not yet paid off in Berlin, but which we are sticking to". However, Linder obviously sees a need to catch up in the concrete interpretation of the liberal profile and drew three main consequences from the election for the traffic light policy:
But is this how the programmatic drumbeat succeeds in pulling voters back to the side of the FDP? The liberals now need a "flagship project," says political scientist Thomas Jäger from the University of Cologne.
"The FDP has an unclear profile," he says to the star. "Very few citizens could say in two sentences what the FDP stands for." This is due to the fact that their ministers have not developed any lighthouse projects. "On the other hand, (foreign politician) Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann is particularly visible, but she tends to appear in opposition to the government. (Vice-Chairman) Wolfgang Kubicki, who also receives a lot of attention, tends to contribute to the diffusion of a uniform appearance."
The expert's conclusion: "No joint project and many lone fighters, that's how you can describe the behavior of the FDP."
More riots in the appearance could ensure more visibility in the appearance, but also more sharpness in relation to the coalition partners. Franziska Brandmann, Chairwoman of the Young Liberals, does not consider it expedient.
"The fact that we lost another state election may invite one or the other in the FDP to call for more riots," she said. "The result inspires humility in me." If the voters in Berlin, where so much is going wrong, don't want the FDP to solve the problem, then something is going wrong. "Each of us should think about which political solutions he brings to the party and what part he has in a successful overall appearance." Brandmann expects "competence instead of rioting, self-reflection instead of a bite reflex".
The situation is similar in the Bavarian state association, which has to contest an election in October. "At the federal level, we have to make sure that the idea of progress is made clearer," said Lukas Köhler, the Bavarian FDP general secretary and vice-chairman of the parliamentary group in the Bundestag, the editorial network Germany. "Government is not a burden for us. On the contrary, it's about struggling to find the best solution." The FDP must now bring this to the fore. "It shouldn't be about the others, but about what we want and can achieve."
The problem is therefore not the profile of the FDP, but expressing it more clearly. "The FDP must make it clear that it is fighting to assert the interests of its voters," says pollster Gullner. riot? Not necessary. "Voters are smart enough to know that you can't get everything 100 percent through in a coalition. But at the moment they have the feeling that too little is happening."