Elff, Martin and Sigrid Roßteutscher. 2017. “Social Cleavages and Electoral Behaviour in Long-Term Perspective: Alignment without Mobilisation?”. German Politics 26(1): 12-34.


On the occasion of the Federal Election 2009, Germany experienced a drastic decline in turnout. In 2013, the most recent Federal Election, turnout was thus a political issue hotly debated in the media and the Social Democrats ran an explicit non-voter campaign. Nevertheless, turnout rates remained at a low level, and the election resulted in the second lowest turnout in the entire history of post-war Germany. At the same time the SPD, one of the traditionally cleavage-based parties in Germany, suffered equally dramatic losses in terms of electoral support in 2009 from which it did not recover in the succeeding election. While the sudden decline of the vote share of a cleavage-based party may cast doubt on previous findings of a relative stability of cleavage voting in Germany, the almost parallel decline in turnout points to a blind spot in the cleavage voting literature. This research has focused exclusively on the role of social cleavages in shaping choices between parties, and thus has neglected the possibility that cleavages erode due to a decline in electoral mobilisation of cleavage groups. The present article looks at the long-term and short-term changes in party choice and turnout in the social groups that traditionally formed the constituency of the main cleavage parties, the SPD and the CDU/CSU. In doing so, the article also examines whether and how these changes in party vote and electoral participation are related to cohort and period effects. Empirically, we show that a decline in the support for the SPD among the working class consists of both long-term and short-term components, but it does not lead to vote defection yet mostly to abstention from voting. Further it shows that the CDU/CSU is unaffected by the mobilisation problems that plague Social Democracy in Germany. However, first long-term effects are visible across birth cohorts. Younger core religious groups are increasingly opting for other parties.