The German election this past fall followed a pattern that had already been set four years earlier. Then, as now, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) entered a national election with some reason for hope. During the last four years it had been steadily gaining in local elections and Adenauer’s Christian Democrats (CDU) as steadily losing—a trend even sharper than during the equivalent period between 1949 and 1953. In October 1956, for example, the SPD became the dominant party in the most industrialized states of Western Germany, polling 44 per cent of the vote in Northrhine-Westphalia and 47 per cent in Hessen. It gained majorities in almost all the city Councils of the big industrial towns in these crucial states. Data gathered in the early months of 1957 by the Institute of Public Opinion Research at Allensbach led to similar expectations for the national election just ahead.
But these illusions were soon to be shattered: the defeat of 1953 was repeated. Though it increased its percentage of the national vote from 28.2 per cent to 3.18 per cent, the SPD remains a minority party. By contrast, the Christian Democrats won 50.2 per cent and gained an absolute majority in the Bundestag, a situation with few parallels in German electoral history.
To what can these defeats be attributed? Is there no way for the German Social Democracy to gain a majority? Is the rule of Adenauer and his CDU the inevitable fate of the West German Republic? Or might it be brought to an end if the SPD, as many German observes urge, were to transform itself from a party of democratic socialism into a somewhat more liberal version of the CDU?...
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