Flexible Majorities as an Alternative to Rigid Majority Coalitions in Germany

Research question/goal: 

Due to the increasing fragmentation of the party system, Germany’s political parties find it increasingly difficult to form majority coalitions. Established alliances often fall short of an absolute majority, so that complex three-party constellations have to be considered. Under these heterogeneous coalitions, different normative and political problems emerge. First, heterogeneous coalitions may give rise to decisions that hurt the issue-specific preferences of a parliamentary majority that is not always identical with the government’s majority. Second, compromises may blur the political profile of coalition partners, reducing their attractiveness for voters and strengthening radical parties. The research project argues that rigid majority coalitions should be reformed in order to adapt to the fragmented party system. More open forms of cooperation between political parties—most importantly, flexible majorities—could ensure the government’s capability to act when different majorities exist in different political questions. Under specific circumstances, coalition unity could be loosened, allowing for majorities to form across the divide between government and opposition. The project analyses how such flexible majorities could be practiced to the benefit of political parties and democracy.

Current stage: 

We are currently collecting qualitative and quantitative data along the research questions of the project and analysing the voting behaviour of parties in the Bundestag and in the state parliaments with regard to coalition discipline and shifting majorities. Furthermore, we conducted several interviews with Members of Parliament about their perspectives on coalition politics and shifting majorities. Some articles discussing the advantages of shifting majorities after the state elections have been published in media outlets.

Fact sheet

Baden-Württemberg Stiftung
2018 to 2021
Data Sources: 
behavioural data (voting coalitions); interviews with politicians
Geographic Space: 
Germany (federal, regional and communal level)