Election Results in Bremen Are Not Socially Representative

Voter participation for the parliamentary elections of the city-state of Bremen hit a record low of 50.1 percent in 2015. Socially precarious districts have become non-voter strongholds. The anchoring of political parties in the non-voter milieus is eroding. A recent study demonstrates the social divide of Bremen's state parliament.

The results of Bremen's parliamentary elections are not socially representative, according to a recent Bertelsmann Stiftung study. A disproportional share of the 244,000 eligible voters who opted not to cast their ballots in the election last Sunday come from socially disadvantaged milieus.

The new election analysis confirms the results of earlier Bertelsmann Stiftung studies: The more precarious the social situation of a neighborhood, the fewer people from it go to the polls. When compared with the districts that showed the highest voter-turnout rates, almost 12 times as many households in Bremen's non-voter strongholds belong to socially weaker milieus. And almost four times as many jobless individuals and twice as many school dropouts are also living there.

The Anchoring of Political Parties Is Eroding in Precarious City Districts

Bremen's voter strongholds are dominated by the socioeconomically stronger milieus of the Established-Conservatives and Liberal-Intellectuals. As a result, these milieus are significantly overrepresented in the results of the parliamentary election. "Social environment determines the level of voter turnout," said Robert Vehrkamp, a democracy expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. "Whether people vote largely depends on where and how they live and whether others in their immediate social environment do or do not vote." For example, voter turnout in the Bremen district of Borgfeld was 73 percent, or almost three times as high as in the Bremerhaven district of Leherheide-West, which stood at 24 percent.

The study names the growing social divide and spatial segregation of Bremen's urban society as the main cause of the drastically sinking and unequal voter turnout. The socially precarious districts are hardening more and more into non-voter strongholds in which the anchoring of political parties is increasingly eroding.

Political Parties Have Less and Less Contact with Non-voter Milieus

All political parties received roughly 30-60 percent fewer votes in the non-voter strongholds compared to the state average. The only exception is the splinter group of the "Citizens in Rage" (Bürger in Wut-BIW), which received somewhat more votes – though at a very low level overall – in the non-voter strongholds than in the state on average. "All political parties in Bremen are increasingly losing contact with and access to the non-voter milieus," Vehrkamp said. "For this reason, increasing voter turnout and decreasing its social imbalance is in the shared interest of all democratic parties."

Earlier Bertelsmann Stiftung studies on the 2013 Bundestag election had already demonstrated the social inequality of voter participation for Germany as a whole. The studies found that the inequality of voter turnout in Germany has grown three times as large over the last four decades. "The social inequality of the electorate has solidified," Vehrkamp said. "Germany has by now become a socially divided democracy."

Additional Information

The brief study "Prekäre Wahlen – Bremen. Milieus und soziale Selektivität der Wahlbeteiligung bei der Bremischen Bürgerschaftswahl 2015" ("Precarious Elections – Bremen: Milieus and Social Selectivity in Voter Turnout for the 2015 Parliamentary Election in Bremen") overcomes the conventional weaknesses of many studies on non-voters. The fact is that telephone interviews and spatial analyses at the electoral-district level cannot completely capture the social dimension of voter participation. For this reason, this study identifies the correlations between social living conditions and local voter turnout for very small spatial units: the 106 districts of the city-state of Bremen. The study is based on data from the state statistical office of Bremen as well as on milieu-related data and other sociospatial indicators of the market research institute microm. This approach renders it possible to make reliable and statistically significant statements about the sociospatial differences and social selectivity of voter participation for the 2015 parliamentary election in Bremen.