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If LGBTQ voters had decided Germany’s election, the Greens would be in charge

Self-identified LGBTQ voters are disappointed that the major parties keep dragging their feet on the community’s rights

Last month, German voters decided one of the most significant campaigns in decades. After almost 16 years with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in power, German politics entered a new era. Neither of the two traditionally big parties — the CDU (and its partner CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) — won more than 25 percent of the votes, although the Social Democrats are trying to form a coalition.

But if only LGBTQ citizens had voted, the result would look quite different.

How we did our research

In Germany, the LSVD (Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany) estimates that between 1.8 and 3 million eligible voters self-identify as LGBTQ. To find out their political leanings, we conducted the LGBTQ Election Study 2021 during the election. We surveyed 5,149 people who are eligible to vote as German citizens and do not exclusively identify as heterosexual through a so-called self-selective sample, meaning anyone who wanted to could participate in the survey and fill out the online questionnaire, which we distributed via the Internet, social networks and LGBTQ organizations and media outlets. Compared with the German population at large, our sample is more male, better educated and younger.

Even though the data are not representative, our 2021 study has the largest LGBTQ sample worldwide in absolute numbers to date and includes people ranging in age from 18 to 97, with different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, from all over Germany.

So how did these self-identified LGBTQ citizens vote in this election?

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Greens score high, traditional parties lose

Among LGBTQ-identified voters in our survey, a clear majority backed smaller German parties, with fully 52.6 percent supporting the Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and 17.4 percent supporting the left-wing Die Linke. In the actual general election, the Greens won 14.8 percent of the vote, and Die Linke won 4.9 percent. LGBTQ citizens were clearly a significant part of these two left-leaning parties’ voter base.

That’s a major shift from how this group voted in 2017. We ran a comparable study in 2017; since then, LGBTQ voters’ approval ratings for the Greens increased by 23 percent. Meanwhile, approval dropped for the CDU/CSU and especially for the SPD, from 6.9 percent for the CDU/CSU in 2027 to only 3.2 percent this year, and from 21.2 percent for the SPD to only 9.1 percent this year. While those numbers were already low, they dropped by more than half.

Perhaps what’s most surprising is how much LGBTQ voters did support the conservative CDU, at 3.2 percent, and also the far-right AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) at 2.6 percent. Neither support LGBTQ rights, and the AfD has openly campaigned against LGBTQ equality.

Quite a few LGBTQ voters surveyed said they supported smaller parties that did not make it into the Bundestag, including the pan-European party Volt, the Pirate Party, the satirical party Die Partei and the Humanist Party.

Advocacy pays off

What explains the big support of the Greens? Our research suggests that the government policies of the past eight years left their mark. Since 2013, Germany was led by a “grand coalition” of the center-right CDU/CSU and the center-left SPD, which failed to implement LGBTQ policies, since the conservative party had blocked any progress in the past. While SPD members overwhelmingly voted in favor of marriage equality when the Bundestag voted on it in 2017, they voted against proposals to make it easier for trans people to update their gender markers on personal identification documents, a proposal that the Greens had brought to the Bundestag floor. That vote angered 82.8 percent of our sample’s SPD supporters. It could be precisely this ambivalent approach to LGBTQ issues that explains the low support for the party that won the most overall votes in the recent election. By contrast, the Green Party has long advocated in favor of LGBTQ rights.

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When asked about their views, many of our respondents expressed frustration with the established parties. One study participant wrote, “I will probably vote for a new party, I worry that as a trans* person no party will stand up for my rights.” Another wrote, “Currently, none of the big parties is electable for me, because LGBTQ issues in particular are talked down or the parties send contradictory signals, which ultimately makes it clear that LGBTQ issues are considered unimportant.”

Another respondent wrote, “I will vote for the Greens because of the draft self-determination law and thus the abolition of the [existing] inhumane trans* law.”

Another respondent wrote that they supported Die Linke in part because of the party’s backing for LGBTQ issues, both when voting in the legislature and when campaigning in this election. As a result, although the far-left party suffered a massive loss in the election, it gained LGBTQ support compared with 2017.

Are there differences among LGBTQ voters?

The largest subgroup of LGBTQ respondents in the survey is that of gay men. Compared with our respondents as a whole, gay men lean more toward the SPD (with 13.3 percent) and the fiscally conservative and socially liberal Free Democratic Party (11.2 percent), but also for the conservative CDU/CSU (4.8 percent) and the right-wing AfD (3.2 percent).

Fully 63.3 percent of lesbians supported the Greens, while only 48.3 percent of gay men did. Trans people, asexual people, pansexual people or people who described their sexual orientation as “queer” also preferred the Green Party, while bisexual voters, especially bisexual men, supported the FDP slightly more than the average. Only 2.4 percent of lesbians said they supported the FDP compared with 11.2 percent of gay men.

After Merkel’s long tenure, Germany’s political future is uncertain. But if the country’s direction were up to self-identified LGBTQ voters, the Greens would be in charge.

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Michael Hunklinger (@m_hunklinger), a political scientist at the department for European policy and the study of democracy at Danube University Krems, is currently a Fulbright visiting scholar at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Niklas Ferch (@NFaerch) is a PhD student at the department of political science at the University of Giessen.

Dorothée de Nève (@DorotheedeNeve) is a professor of political science at the University of Giessen.