Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany)
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 362-363
The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Following defeat in World War II, Germany was divided into occupational zones, each under control of one of the four major Allied powers. The city of Berlin, which was located in the Soviet zone, was also divided into four corresponding administrative districts. By 1949, the American, British, and French zones became organized into the Federal Republic of Germany, commonly called West Germany. The sovereignty of the new nation was restricted, however, by the former Western occupation powers in matters concerning defense, a final peace negotiation, and the governance of Berlin still under Allied control.

Elections held in 1949 were contested by numerous parties, with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats each winning nearly one third of the seats. Konrad Adenauer of the Christian Democrats became chancellor in a coalition government with the Free Democrats and the German Party. The next elections in 1953 saw a reduction in the number of parties, which benefited the Christian Democrats, who won a bare majority of seats. Nevertheless, Chancellor Adenauer chose to continue with a coalition government, while the Social Democrats remained as the major opposition.

The second half of our time period begins in 1957, when the next elections were held. The number of parties in competition decreased once more, with the Christian Democrats again benefiting. Adenauer's new government excluded the Free Democrats the third strongest party and his coalition partner since 1949 and included only the German Party, which was the smallest of the four parties in the Bundestag. At the subsequent 1961 elections, the trend toward party consolidation continued, leaving only the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, and Free Democrats represented in the Bundestag. But, this time, the Christian Democrats fell short of a majority in the chamber, and Adenauer had to return to the Free Democrats as a coalition partner in order to continue as chancellor, thus remaining in that office throughout our entire time period.

Continuity and Change since 1962

The graph illustrates the basic stability of the party system in the Federal Republic of Germany. Our three original parties have continued to divide almost all parliamentary seats among themselves and no new parties qualified for study.

Original Parties, Continuing

121 Christian Democratic Union. The CDU, conjunction with its Bavarian affiliate, the Christian Social Union, continued to govern after Adenauer's retirement in 1963 in coalition with the Free Democrats with Ludwig Erhard as chancellor. When the FDP withdrew from the coalition in 1966, Erhard resigned and Kurt Keisinger formed a "grand coalition" government with the CDU's traditional opponents, the Social Democrats.

122 Social Democratic Party. After moderating its socialist program in 1959, the SPD steadily increased its legislative representation until it was able to form its own coalition government with the FDP in 1969 under Willy Brandt as chancellor. The coalition held together through elections in 1972, through Brandt's resignation is chancellor and the succession of Helmut Schmidt, and through the close elections of 1976.

123 Free Democratic Party. By far the smallest of the three parties, the Free Democrats have come to be frequent partners in coalition governments led by the CDU and even the SPD, despite the FDP's conservative position on economics.


Party politics in West Germany has settled into a pattern of close competition between the two major parties with the Free Democrats holding the balance of power, but a potential source of instability exists in the relationship between the CDU and the Bavarian-based CSU. The CSU tends to be more conservative than the CDU and has acted more independently in recent years, even terminating its parliamentary alliance with the CDU for a month in 1976. Should the CSU begin functioning as a regional party outside its traditional alliance, the German party system will be thrown out of its current equilibrium.

[For party politics in Germany since 1962, go to the essay by Kimberly A. Allan]

1. Our study of party politics in West Germany is based on a file of 2,125 pages from 45 documents, all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Stephen A. Smith. William Goodman used the file to code the West German parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Robert Rich stimulated some revisions of codes for the Social Democratic Party. Derek Urwin was our consultant.