German Election: Voting Paradox and Paradox of Choice

The German election for the Deutschen Bundestag, the German Parliament, has ended in a stalemate. The seemingly winning Christian Democrats, i.e. CDU/CSU, have significantly won additional voters, but ended short of an absolute majority of seats in the Parliament. Their former coalition partner FDP was kicked-out because they did not receive enough votes to pass the 5 percent threshold. The other three parties represented in the German Parliament, the SPD, the Green Party and the Left party lost votes or has like the SPD won moderate votes but together have a majority of seats. So the incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel will have to form a new coalition with one of the other three parties. Otherwise she has insufficient votes to be reelected as chancellor. This may be a good example of the paradox of voting.
The power of the marginal voter
In general people think that one man one vote, or to be politically more correct, one person one vote, is the principle of a representative parliament and their different elected members. However, since the representatives of their different constituencies are organized in different parties, and every government needs a majority to pass legislation in parliament, the situation becomes totally different. Since the necessity to organize majorities in parliament is essential, the marginal voters become the one who holds extraordinary power. Without him or her, a decision will go one way or the other. All the remaining members of parliament have no power at all. It is the transfer of total control to a single voter. In principle the outcome of the current German election just shows the dilemma.
Merkel strategy to ask their followers not to help the FDP, the liberal party, to pass the 5 percent threshold, now fires backwards to her. Instead of obtaining a sufficient majority of votes in parliament to be reelected by the incumbent coalition, she has now to search for new allies in the three other parties reelected. This could become a pricey exercise. It might even be impossible since she has to bridge the divide between their own followers in particular the CSU the most conservative wing and the more towards social justice oriented three other parties. They already defined the conditionalities under what kind of circumstances they might be willing to form a coalition with the CDU/CSU.
On the other hand the CSU already rules out any coalition with the Green or the Left party. Leaving the only option to form a great collation government with the SPD as has been done before twice. However, this will increase the bargaining power of the SPD party representatives even more. If they become the only feasible coalition partner, even if they have only obtained 16 percent less votes than the CDU/CSU they can ask anything they like and blackmail the CDU/CSU.
Why the final threat would always be to form a red-red-green coalition instead of the great coalition. Angela Merkel will have to take this into account. It limits her bargaining power even if seemingly she has a stronger position with regard to the votes obtained in the election.
Paradox of choice
Another noteworthy outcome is that the trend to more and more parties trying to enter the Germany parliament has been stopped. There was a real danger that the great parties like CDU/CSU and SPD would more and more lose parts of their constituency because they have not the power to attract all the fractions inside their former realm. The worry is that finally this would lead to a high degree of instability of governments. The more single interest groups represented by small parties lobbying for particular interests the more difficult or even impossible it becomes to find a common solution for problems of the whole society. This might be even the case if there are only two parties like in the US, because the single representatives of their respective parties do not follow the party discipline on all subjects.
The paradox of choice , however, states that people are sometimes overwhelmed by too many alternatives. It is simply the complexity of possible combinations one has to consider to make a rational choice between all possible alternatives. Who would like to choose between two or three hundred different mobile phone types? Nobody, because the huge variety of alternatives is hard to bring into a reasonable preference ordering. Therefore there is an empirically observable tendency that decision makers favor less alternatives over more if the size has reached a certain threshold. During the current election campaign many voters were complaining that the have difficulty to make their choice. Finally the outcome seems to show that people reduced this by voting more for the two major party groupings instead than for the smaller ones. This is as well an interesting finding. It seems to prove that there has been reached a turning point where voters are no longer in favor for a further fragmentation in parliament. In particular the FDP the long-term junior partner of the CDU/CSU might have become a victim of such attitude. Why vote for the FDP if they fail to play a particular role in parliament? It is no surprise that a huge number of voters of the FDP just voted for the CDU/CSU instead. If the differences between the FDP and the CDU/CSU have become marginal, there is no need for an extra party at all. This shows the wisdom of the crowd, while the FDP representatives are complaining about their fate. People have become fed up by a further fragmentation in a more and more complex party system. That is the second major message sent to the parties. We want a reasonable choice of alternatives but not any further fragmentation. We want stable political majorities and a government which predominantly serves the general good of the people. No lobby system of partial vested groups trying to play the role of the marginal voter to dominate the general public. The FDP has become the victim because they have proven over the past years that they just tried to play this role. We will see if the parties will learn these lessons now.


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