Rainbows and traffic lights: queer voters at the German ballot box

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  • 1 University of Southampton, , UK
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Introduction

The 2021 German election brought change to Germany, the European Union’s most populated member state, by bringing about the end of 16 years of Christian Democratic Unionist (CDU)-led coalition governments. The year 2021 also brought change for political scientists interested in electoral behaviour. That year’s iteration of the long-standing German Longitudinal Election Study (GLES), a nationally representative electoral survey, adopted a direct measure of sexual orientation for the first time.

Comparative work demonstrates that, on average, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) voters – so-called lavender voters (Hertzog, 1996) – are politically distinct (Jones, 2021) and tend to prefer socially liberal, ‘left’ parties like the Social Democrats or the Greens (Turnbull-Dugarte, 2020) given that these parties are the political actors most inclined to drive the expansion of LGBT+ rights in the legislature. The Merkel years (2005–19) were a period where advances in LGBT+ rights were slow (Schotel, 2022). While 2013 brought a landmark victory for LGBT+ rights campaigners with the legalisation of equal marriage, Merkel herself did not vote in favour of the motion and the issue was only brought to a vote in the Bundestag after the Socialists (SPD) – and other potential coalition partners – forced the CDU’s hand (Ahrens et al, 2022). Given these patterns in political party representation of LGBT+ concerns, do LGB voters electorally reward parties asymmetrically from their straight peers?

Divergence at the ballot box?

Using the new innovative data provided by GLES (N = 3287), we can compare average levels of support for the catalogue of parties in Germany between heterosexual (92.4 per cent) and LGB (7.6 per cent) respondents (Figure 1). Reporting the electoral (list vote) preferences, we see that German queer and heterosexual voters are not that different. A plurality of both heterosexual and LGB respondents placed their political faith in social democracy. The SPD banked 29.5 per cent of votes from heterosexuals, while gaining slightly more (33 per cent) from the LGB population. Overall, the distribution of party support between different sexuality blocks is largely symmetrical. Despite the CDU dragging its feet on expanding LGBT+ rights (Ahrens et al, 2022; Schotel, 2022), self-reported support for the conservatives is statistically identical between LGB (21.4 per cent) and heterosexual voters (20.2 per cent).

Figure 1: A bar graph that shows the vote share received by German political parties among both heterosexual and LGB voters. 
The plot shows the following vote distribution for heterosexual voters:
CDU 20.2%
SPD 29.5%
FDP 10.7%
Greens 22.3%
Die Linke 6%
AfD 6.2%
other 5%
The plot shows the following vote distribution for LGB voters:
CDU 21.4%
SPD 33%
FDP 8.4%
Greens 19%
Die Linke 9%
AfD 2.2%
other 6.9%
Figure 1:

The 2021 party (list) vote

Citation: European Journal of Politics and Gender 2022; 10.1332/251510821X16534538763121

Where we do observe substantive asymmetries is in support for some of Germany’s smaller parties. The Greens, which enjoyed significant success in 2021, were the second-largest party for heterosexuals (22.3 per cent) and the third-largest party among LGB voters (19 per cent). Comparing support for the liberals (FDP) and the Die Linke – both of which are openly supportive of contemporary LGBT+ rights issues (see Figure 2) including, for example, self-identification provisions for trans individuals (Ahrens et al, 2022) – the latter enjoys an LGB premium, taking home 9 per cent compared to 6 per cent of the straight vote.

Figure 2: An example of a pro-LGBT campaign poster from Die Linke and from the FDP.
The poster from Die Linke says "Für Gerechtigkeit, Selbstbestimmung und Vielfart der Schlechter!"
The poster from the FDP says" Sie einfach sexy bottom cool frei"
Figure 2:

Pro-LGBT+ party campaign material

Citation: European Journal of Politics and Gender 2022; 10.1332/251510821X16534538763121

There is a sizeable asymmetry between sexuality groups in support for Germany’s radical right-wing party: Alternative für Deustchland (AfD). The far-right party, co-led by an out lesbian (Alice Weidel), has made attempts to court the German LGB vote (Hunklinger and Ajanovíc, 2022) by signalling the alleged inimical threat that immigrants (read Muslims) present to the country’s LGBT+ community (see Figure 3). Consistent with comparative evidence that LGB voters are more favourable towards immigration (Turnbull-Dugarte, 2021), these campaign efforts appear to have failed to provide the radical right party with the desired electoral fruits. The AfD banked only 2.2 per cent of the LGB vote – a proportion that is around only a third of that enjoyed by the party among heterosexuals (6.2 per cent) – making it the least favoured electoral preference of LGB voters among Germany’s leading parties.

Figure 3: An example of an AfD campaign poster. The posters shows an image of two men accompanied by the following text: 
"Mein Partner und ich legen keinen Wert aud die Bekanntschaft mit muslimishcen Einwanderern, für die unsere Lieve eine Todsünde ist."
Figure 3:

AfD homonationalist campaign poster

Citation: European Journal of Politics and Gender 2022; 10.1332/251510821X16534538763121

Support for the traffic light outcome

The incoming SPD-led ‘Traffic Light’ coalition agreement (including the Die Grünen and FDP) presents an ambitious portfolio of changes in LGBT+ rights. The top-line issues, among other pledges, are a new self-determination law for trans people (two proposed changes to trans rights were defeated in the previous Bundestag), a comprehensive ban on conversion therapy and the liberalisation of blood donation rules for LGBT+ people. When voters were asked how desirable they viewed the potential for a Traffic Light coalition, the GLES reports no divergence in the level of support (see Figure 4). On an 11-point scale between –5 (coalition undesirable) and 5 (coalition desirable), straight and LGB voters evaluate the Traffic Light coalition equally, at ≈1.8.

Figure 4: A statical plot that shows the distribution of self-reported desirability for a "Traffic Light" coalition among heterosexual and LGB voters. The distributions demonstrate that the mean levels of support for the coalition are symmetrical.
Figure 4:

Support for the traffic light coalition

Citation: European Journal of Politics and Gender 2022; 10.1332/251510821X16534538763121

Even though voters expressed the desirability of the coalition before the terms of the agreement were announced, it is safe to assume that LGBT+ voters would have been able to deduce that a Traffic Light coalition would be at the vanguard of progressive queer policies. Despite this, and while different coalition partners might source markedly distinct voter constitutions, there is, on average, no LGB premium in desirability enjoyed by the Traffic Light government in the GLES data. These findings are at odds with assumptions of the link between LGBT+ rights expansion and LGBT+ voter preferences.

The evolution of random probability samples to include instruments identifying LGB individuals opens new frontiers in political science. In the case of Germany, these new data show that the ‘sexuality gap’ between LGB voters and their straight counterparts is not so simple. While the far-right suffers an LGB penalty and the Die Linke and the SPD enjoy an LGB premium, there is no significant (negative) divergence in support for the German centre-right that comparative evidence on LGB voting behaviour would bring us to expect.

Funding

This work was not supported by any concrete funding.

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to the editorial team at the European Journal of Gender and Politics for their helpful comments on an earlier iteration of this article.

Author biography

Dr Stuart J. Turnbull-Dugarte holds a PhD in political science from King’s College London. At present, he is an assistant professor in quantitative political science at the University of Southampton.

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

References

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  • Hertzog, M. (1996) The Lavender Vote: Lesbians, Gay Men and Bisexuals in American Electoral Politics, New York: New York University Press.

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  • Hunklinger, M. and Ajanovíc, E. (2022) Voting right? Analyzing electoral homonationalism of LGBTIQ* voters in Austria and Germany, Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, 29(1): 2449. doi: 10.1093/sp/jxab014

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  • Jones, P. (2021) Political distinctiveness and diversity among LGBT Americans, Public Opinion Quarterly, 85(2): 69422. doi: 10.1093/poq/nfab030

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    • Export Citation
  • Schotel, A.L. (2022) A rainbow Bundestag? An intersectional analysis of LGBTI representation in Angela Merkel’s Germany, German Politics, 31(1): 10118. doi: 10.1080/09644008.2021.1991325

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Turnbull-Dugarte, S.J. (2020) Who wins the British lavender vote? (Mostly) Labour, Politics, Groups, and Identities, online first. doi: 10.1080/21565503.2020.1838304

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Turnbull-Dugarte, S.J. (2021) Multidimensional issue preferences of the European lavender vote, European Journal of Public Policy, 28(11): 182748. doi: 10.1080/13501763.2020.1804987

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ahrens, P., Ayoub, P.M. and Lang, S. (2022) Leading from behind? Gender equality in Germany during the Merkel era, German Politics, 31(1): 119. doi: 10.1080/09644008.2021.1986009

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hertzog, M. (1996) The Lavender Vote: Lesbians, Gay Men and Bisexuals in American Electoral Politics, New York: New York University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hunklinger, M. and Ajanovíc, E. (2022) Voting right? Analyzing electoral homonationalism of LGBTIQ* voters in Austria and Germany, Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, 29(1): 2449. doi: 10.1093/sp/jxab014

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jones, P. (2021) Political distinctiveness and diversity among LGBT Americans, Public Opinion Quarterly, 85(2): 69422. doi: 10.1093/poq/nfab030

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schotel, A.L. (2022) A rainbow Bundestag? An intersectional analysis of LGBTI representation in Angela Merkel’s Germany, German Politics, 31(1): 10118. doi: 10.1080/09644008.2021.1991325

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Turnbull-Dugarte, S.J. (2020) Who wins the British lavender vote? (Mostly) Labour, Politics, Groups, and Identities, online first. doi: 10.1080/21565503.2020.1838304

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Turnbull-Dugarte, S.J. (2021) Multidimensional issue preferences of the European lavender vote, European Journal of Public Policy, 28(11): 182748. doi: 10.1080/13501763.2020.1804987

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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