Marc Debus, Jochen Müller
The programmatic development of CDU and CSU since reunification: Incentives and constraints for changing policy positions in the German multi-level system

German Politics, 2013: 22, issue 1-2, pp. 151-171
ISSN: 0964-4008 (print); 1743-8993 (online)

Like all political parties in modern democracies, the major German parties face challenges caused by changes both in the social structure of the electorate and in value orientations. Generally speaking, parties have to adopt policy positions that take into account changes in the preferences and structure of the electorate in order to maximise their share of votes. This article focuses on the programmatic development of the German Christian Democrats since reunification and discusses the incentives and constraints faced by the CDU and CSU to change their policy positions over time. By discussing patterns of social change, voting behaviour and (intra-)party competition in the German multi-level system, we derive several hypotheses about the programmatic development of the CDU and CSU since 1990. We evaluate these expectations on the basis of a dataset that covers information on the policy positions of all the major German parties – the CDU/CSU, SPD, FDP, the Greens and the PDS/‘Linke’ – on the federal and state level in the time period from 1990 to 2011. The results show that there is no distinct trend in the programmatic development of the Christian Democrats. However, we do find evidence to suggest that the German Christian Democrats take the ‘setting’ of an election into account; that is, they adopt policy positions according to the social structural profile of the electorate when the CDU or the CSU compete for votes in elections for the Länder parliaments.