How can typical independent voters be described

Bundestag election 2013

Wolfgang Sander

To person

Prof. Dr. phil., born 1944; Educational scientist at the Westphalian Wilhelms University in Münster.
Address: Westphalian Wilhelms University, Institute for Educational Science, Georgskommende 33, 48143 Münster.
E-mail:[email protected]

Angela Gralla

Institute for Educational Science, Westphalian Wilhelms University
Teacher for secondary level I and II

Sabine Kühmichel

Institute for Educational Science, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

Julia Haarmann

Center for Teacher Training, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

The young people have the opportunity to examine the extent to which the voting behavior of the various population groups depends on socio-demographic characteristics. In modules 1 to 3, they develop the topics of "Voter Behavior and Election Research", "Declining Voter Turnout" and "Election Forecasts".

Module 3.1: Voter behavior and election research

The focus of this module is the voting behavior of the various population groups depending on socio-demographic characteristics. The following learning objectives are to be achieved:

The students…
  • formulate hypotheses on the connection between voting behavior and socio-demographic characteristics.
  • describe empirical data on the connection between voting behavior and socio-demographic characteristics and use this to test the hypotheses made.
  • develop and explain common models for explaining voting behavior and party affiliation.
A tabular overview of the course of the block is available as PDF document available for download.

Who chooses whom? (& copy Fritz Wolf Society e.V.)
The learning group starts with the cartoon MB 03.01 "Who chooses whom?" confronted, which is intended to stimulate them to deal with the question of whether the voting behavior of different population groups is more likely to be subject to random circumstances or whether it can be differentiated according to sociodemographic characteristics (interpret caricature).

After interpreting the caricature, the pupils should use a worksheet (MB 03.02) to make assumptions about relationships between age, gender, occupation, denominations and party preferences. The hypotheses are then collected, sorted and recorded on a slide.

Afterwards, the young people should learn about traditional assumptions of electoral research on the influence of the factors age and gender (MB 03.03) (excerpt text).

On this basis, the next development phase is about the assumptions of the young people, but also the statements of the election researcher R.-O. Schultze from 1997 to be checked using current empirical data. Which hypotheses can be verified? Are the assessments of voting behavior still correct? The Tagesschau's election archive can be used for this purpose. There you can find party comparisons, analyzes of voter migration, structural data from past federal elections and current survey results. If it is not possible to use the data available on the Internet, the solid figures from the representative election statistics (MB 03.04 to MB 03.06) can be used as an alternative. The voting behavior of voters with a migration background is also discussed there.

Electorate of the parties according to socio-demographic characteristics
The evaluation of the statistics of the sociological electoral research places considerable demands on the methodological skills of the learning group. Above all, the teacher will have to ensure that the young people clearly understand the respective reference values ​​and see that the formal description of the structure of a table is not based on pure pedantry, but has a necessary auxiliary function for the cognitive process (evaluate statistics and tables ).

This is followed by a discussion of the hypotheses recorded on the slide based on the results of the students. In this way, the assumptions made regarding the typical voting behavior of certain groups can be checked. In this phase, the learning group is also given the fundamental insight that within the social sciences, judgments on contentious issues are sensibly made in certain cases by reference to empirical evidence.

Regular, bills of exchange and non-voters
In a specialization phase, the pupils are given the opportunity to work out the categories of regular, changeover and non-voters (MB 03.07) relevant for election research with regard to their significance for the parties. The development takes place according to the think-pair-share method. The pupils first work on the texts individually, then exchange ideas in partner work and finally present their results in the plenary, where they are discussed in context. As an exercise, the students explain a diagram model (MB 03.09) with the help of the newly acquired knowledge in partner work, which can then be discussed in detail in the plenary. As an additional exercise, the pupils can put themselves in the position of different citizens using role cards. On the basis of the knowledge they have gained, they then draw conclusions about the voting behavior of the people and implement this in a role play (perform role play).

Material MB 03.08 can be worked on during the development phase or after the backup phase for deepening or as an internal differentiation for high-performing students.

At the end of the lesson, there will be an in-depth discussion of the consequences for the parties' election campaigns in view of social change and changes in party affiliation. The increasing importance of the media can be seen here.

The parties are faced with the - sometimes contradicting - task of mobilizing their regular electorate, binding potential emigrants and winning new voters from other parties' camps and previous non-voters or first-time voters, because shifts by a few percentage points often make the difference Victory or defeat of a party or coalition. In order to be able to adapt their election campaign to these requirements, the election campaign managers must be informed about which social groups belong to the named voter categories and which of these voter groups must be specifically addressed in order to achieve the percentage points that are still missing. Here it becomes clear: The expertise of sociologists who examine voter behavior and changes in social milieus is therefore particularly in demand.

This change of perspective from the voter to the parties calls on the young people to put themselves in the shoes of the parties in order to finally understand the voting decision as a complex interplay of the influencing factor "election campaign" with the socio-structural determinants of the electorate and the declining strength of their party ties (cf. MB 03.09).

Module 3.2: Falling voter turnout - (not) an alarm signal for democracy?

Election winner (& copy Nel)
The falling voter turnout is likely to be one of the most striking findings in voter behavior in recent years. They themselves and the problems associated with them for the political system determine, in addition to the political disputes, the public discussion during the period of the election campaign. For this reason alone, it should not be uninteresting to familiarize the students with this important topic. On the other hand, this topic is not "foreign" to the learning group, because they themselves or the young voters who are a few years older are particularly affected. The aim of the module is therefore also for future voters to understand the possible causes of a falling voter turnout and to reflect and justify their own attitudes towards voting behavior.

In the scientific discussion it is controversial whether a falling voter turnout should be seen more as a crisis phenomenon of democracy or as a sign of normalization. Therefore, the topic of the lesson is not a sham question, but also a real scientific problem.

The students...
  • describe what the phenomenon of falling voter turnout consists of by capturing it with the help of empirical data.
  • deepen and expand existing methodological knowledge in dealing with numbers and tables by interpreting cross tables and using longitudinal and cross-sectional studies.
  • interpret data in relation to a research question by applying and deepening methodological skills in evaluating statistics and tables.
  • identify some typical characteristics of non-voters by elaborating selected socio-demographic characteristics and subjective assessments of reasons for non-voting.
A tabular overview of the course of the block is available as PDF document available for download.

Causes and consequences of falling voter turnout
When working out the problem at the beginning of the lesson, it is not to be expected that the young people suspect a crisis phenomenon of democracy behind the falling voter turnout. Because low voter turnout is nothing special for them, but rather understandable. For this reason, the caricature (MB 03.10, interpret caricature) first draws attention to the low turnout in 2009 (compared to previous years). The pupils have the opportunity to express their previous knowledge of the topic and then use it to expand the statistics on voter participation in the federal elections since 1949 (MB 03.11). Confronted with the fact that the voter turnout tends to decrease, the young people develop further questions in partner work, which they write down on scraps of transparencies. These can then be viewed by everyone on the OHP and categorized. The leading problem is determined ("What are the causes of the falling voter turnout?") - the other questions can either be as sub-questions of the problem ("Which citizens do not vote?") Or as in-depth questions ("Where does the falling voter turnout lead to?" Turnout? "" Is German democracy in a crisis? "" Why should one vote? "). The teacher can refer to the questions repeatedly in the course of the lesson to develop the materials.

Reasons for not voting
In the individual analysis of the information in MB 03.12 to MB 03.15, the future "election researchers", if they adhere precisely to the question, will quickly come to results, as the data are clear (evaluate statistics and tables). For the students it is likely to be associated with a clear sense of achievement that they are now able, within a very short time, to evaluate a wealth of data with regard to a certain question and to arrive at clear statements about what is typical for non-voters. The problem is examined from two perspectives in partnership work based on the division of labor: on the one hand with regard to the connection between socio-demographic characteristics (focus: income and level of education, MB 03.12 and MB 03.13) and the decision not to vote, and on the other hand from the perspective of non-voters in Reference to subjective reasons (MB 03.14) as well as basic attitudes to the situation of equal opportunities and distributive justice in Germany (MB 03.15). The low turnout in the group of young voters is particularly noticeable, it is therefore dealt with separately in the chapter "Youth and Politics" in module 1. In order to bring together the results of the elaboration, four pupils each present their results with different work materials and bring them together In the backup phase, the results can be used to create a profile of a typical non-voter. It should be clearly stated that this is a typification. The statement "Citizens with an income below 1500 Euros per month are more likely not to vote than citizens with an income of over 2500 euros ”does not mean the statement:“ If a citizen earns less than 1500 euros per month, he / she will not vote. ” The reasons for not voting are also different and not every non-voter combines all characteristics; attitudes can also be the cause (this point is taken up in MB 03.19).

Possible outcomes
Non-voters more often come from population groups with low incomes and a low level of education. Non-voters are increasingly found in the group of young voters. The reasons are complex, e.g. dissatisfaction with the promises made by politicians; Indecision; the feeling of not being informed and not represented by the parties; general disinterest in politics; no importance is attached to one's own voice.

After the students have worked out who does not vote for what reasons, they then explore reasons that speak in favor of voting despite possible disappointment or disaffection. To do this, each student names a reason in a flash of light. In order to avoid repetitive answers, the students can be given a minute in advance to write down their reason. With the help of the material MB 03.16, the list of reasons can be expanded and substantiated with arguments (influence on majority relations in the Bundestag, interest representatives, legislation, election of the Federal Chancellor, state budget, etc.). In addition to this, the radio quotes from celebrities who explain why they are voting can also be used. (You can find the audio files at The reasons for and against going to the ballot box in the Bundestag election can then be used in a role play (role play carry out). After presenting the arguments, the students should be specifically instructed to step out of their role again, to reflect on it and then to come to their own opinion, which can also be submitted in written form, e.g. as homework.

Is democracy in crisis?
In view of the development of voter turnout since 1949 and the reasons given by non-voters, the question then arises whether German democracy is in a crisis. In order to clarify the relevance of this question, the learning group is confronted with the results of the second votes of the last Bundestag election, whereby the group of non-voters is included in the population. It becomes clear that the group of non-voters is the largest group and that the current governing coalition of CDU / CSU and FDP only represents 33.8% of the eligible population. Using this material (MB 03.17), the students develop the problem of whether democracy is in a (legitimation) crisis. The material MB 03.18 offers a short outline of the problem and two common answers from the political science debate: On the one hand there is the thesis that sees democracy in crisis, and on the other hand the "normalization thesis" Declining voter turnout is less of a worrying than a normal development that can be observed in many Western democracies and represents a legitimate alternative course of action for citizens. In this context, it also becomes clear that dissatisfaction with the current socio-political situation also leads to higher voter turnout can lead.

The progress diagram recorded here enables the positions of D. Roth, U. Eith and A. Schäfer (MB 03.19 and MB 03.20) to be worked up step-by-step in individual and partner work, so that the results can then be presented to the plenum (analyze text ). Only then does your own assessment of the phenomenon take place. Particularly noteworthy is the finding that all positions refer to empirical data (statistical studies, opinion polls, past election results), but only focus on certain phenomena. While Roth relates fluctuations in voter turnout to specific political events and Eith refers to satisfaction levels, Schäfer focuses more on correlations between voter turnout and socio-demographic characteristics. In this respect, both theses (normalization and crisis) have a certain validity and also allow the conclusion "crisis: no - need for action: yes".

Using this status report on German (non-) voter behavior and their own analyzes of the materials MB 03.12 to MB 03.15, the pupils should then come to their own judgment. ("Is the German democracy in a crisis? Discuss the question taking into account the known data and political science theses and draw conclusions for your own voting behavior.") This task can also ideally be solved as homework (practicing political judgment). This teaching unit has been successful if the learning group can describe the phenomenon of declining voter turnout with reference to relevant empirical data, name what is typical about non-voters and attempt to explain it in various ways. The pupils can also show their individual perspective on voting behavior by evaluating possible reasons for not voting and deriving and justifying consequences for their own voting behavior.

Module 3.3: Election Predictions - Black Magic or Scientific Art?

In the political and social life of the Federal Republic, opinion research has long since found a firm place in the media landscape. As in every election year, the electorate is constantly confronted with election forecasts and a large number of demoscopic data on the respective political mood among the population. However, the results of the polls suggest a degree of accuracy that can by no means be assumed unseen; a problem that is addressed in this lesson under the question "election prognoses - black magic or scientific art - how independent and scientifically does the demoscopy work?" is discussed.

The students…
  • develop basic concepts and instruments of public opinion polling.
  • gain an insight into the possible sources of error in surveys and take a critical view of the reliability and accuracy.
  • With regard to their own voter survey, learn to critically assess the informative value of this local survey as well as to self-confidently counter the blanket criticism of the validity of such a student forecast, which experience has shown repeatedly.

A tabular overview of the course of the block is available as PDF document available for download.

The introductory interpretation of the caricature "Madame Demoscopia" (MB 03.21) first of all clearly problematizes the trustworthiness of demoscopic data in view of the interest-related influences of the parties to which opinion research is sometimes exposed. In addition, it takes up the frequently expressed criticism of the insufficient scientific nature of opinion research, which is to be assessed independently in the subsequent development phase (interpret caricature).

Comparison of election forecasts
As part of an inductive approach, the young people should, in a first step, compare different election forecasts with the actual results of the 2009 Bundestag election (MB 03.22) in order to determine the respective deviations and assess the accuracy of these forecasts (evaluate statistics and tables) . After looking at the differences together in the backup phase, they make assumptions about the causes of the differences. These are noted on the board by two students so that they can be checked and expanded upon after two factual texts have been worked out with practical examples from everyday politics (MB 03.23 and MB 03.24). The pupils read the materials in individual work and mark the methods and sources of error in opinion research in different colors. If you have difficulties understanding demoscopic technical terms, the glossary (on the CD) can be consulted. In the backup phase, the information collected is used to expand and check the possible causes. The focus of the following application - in connection with the problem question of the teaching unit formulated at the beginning - is now the examination of the criticism that has sometimes been expressed about the scientific character of the demoscopy. The students turn to the texts again and formulate (again in individual work) possible interview questions to an expert in demoscopy with the aim of drafting a fictitious interview. Now partners who have worked on different materials come together and together they draft a fictional interview with a pollster. This is presented by two students in the class. Depending on the time frame, several couples can present their interview. During the presentation, half of the study group takes notes on the quality of the questions, while the other half assesses the correctness of the answers. Before there is feedback to the two students, the "audience" can be given the chance to ask questions themselves. If there are difficulties in answering, other students can also be used as "jokers". This ensures that as many students as possible can contribute.

To close the didactic circle, the teacher can once again present the slide caricature "Madame Demoscopia" (MB 03.21) to the young people as a discussion impulse, which focuses on the alleged party dependency and interest in demoscopic results (interpreting the caricature). A targeted influence is difficult to prove, especially since the effect on voting behavior cannot be foreseen. It would also violate the rules of the "guild".