The "five percent clause," under which parties represented in the Bundestag must obtain at least five percent of the total votes cast by the electorate, has prevented the development of parliamentary splinter groups. Only three parties gained representation in the Bundestag following the elections of September 1965. The Christian Democratic Union (Christlich-Demokratische Union—CDU) and its Bavarian affiliate, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union—CSU), with 245 seats, remained the strongest group, as it had been since the first Bundestag was elected in 1949. The Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands—SPD) increased its seats to 202 and remained the major opposition party. The Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei—FDP), winning 49 seats, joined with the CDU and the CSU to form the "small coalition" government of Chancellor Ludwig Erhard. The coalition government was dissolved in October 1966, following a budgetary disagreement between the CDU/CSU and the FDP. In November 1966, the CDU/CSU joined with the SPD to form a new coalition government, but following the general elections of September 1969, the SPD and FDP formed a coalition government with a combined strength of 254 seats. The elections of November 1972 resulted in a coalition composed of the SPD's 230 seats and the FDP's 42, over the CDU/CSU's 224 seats. Following the resignation of SPD leader Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt (SPD) was elected chancellor by the Bundestag in May 1974 by a 267–255 vote. The SPD/FDP coalition retained its majorities in the elections of 1976 (SPD 214, FDP 39) and 1980 (SPD 218, FDP 53).
In the general election of 25 January 1987, the results were as follows: CDU/CSU, 44.3% (223 seats); FDP, 9.1% (46 seats); SPD, 37% (186 seats); and the Greens, 8.3% (42 seats). The first all-Germany elections were held 2 December 1990. The results were as follows: CDU/CSU, 43.8% (319 seats); SPD, 33.5% (239 seats); FDP, 11.0% (79 seats); and Greens, 1.2% (8). The Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), successor to the SED (Communist party), won 2.4% of the vote and 17 seats. East German parties were allowed to win seats if they received at least 5% of the vote in East Germany. After the breakup of the coalition in 1982, however, the CDU/CSU swept to victory in the voting of March 1983, winning 244 seats and 48.8% of the vote, compared with 226 seats (44.5%) in 1980 and 243 seats (48.6%) in 1976. The swing party, the FDP, took 34 seats (6.9%) of the vote and joined the CDU/CSU in a coalition behind Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The SPD polled 38.2% (down from 42.9% in 1980) and captured 193 seats, for a drop of 25.
The CDU and CSU emphasize Christian precepts but are not denominational parties. They favor free enterprise and are supported by small business, professional groups, farmers, and Christian-oriented labor unions. In foreign policy, the CDU/CSU alliance supports European integration and the strengthening of NATO.
The SPD is the oldest and best organized of all German parties. In recent decades it has modified its traditional Marxist program and made an appeal not only to industrial workers but also to farmers, youth, professional people, and the petty bourgeoisie. Its revised Godesberg Program (1959) envisages a mixed economy, support for European integration and NATO, public ownership of key industries, a strong defense force, and recognition of religious values.
The FDP is a more heterogeneous organization, consisting of both classical liberals and strongly nationalistic groups. The party is supported mainly by business interests and Protestant groups. It rejects socialism or state capitalism in principle. The Greens (Die Grünen) constitute a coalition of environmentalists and antinuclear activists; in 1983, they became the first left-wing opposition party to gain a parliamentary foothold since the Communists won 15 seats in 1949. In 1990, in cooperation with Alliance 90, a loose left-wing coalition, the Greens were able to clear the 5% hurdle and win Bundestag seats.
The October 1994 elections saw a weakening of the Free Democratic and Christian Democratic coalition and a strengthening of the Social Democrats and the Greens. The Christian Democrats won 41.5% of the vote and the Free Democrats 6.9%. This gave the governing coalition 341 seats in parliament and a majority of only 10 seats as compared to its previous 134-seat edge. The combined opposition alliance took48.1% of the vote (331 seats): the Social Democrats took 36.4%; the Greens, 7.3%; and the former Communists in eastern Germany (now called the Party of Democratic Socialism), 4.4%.
Kohl's CDU-CSU coalition was weakened further in the September 1998 parliamentary elections, winning only 245 seats(35.1%), compared with 298 for the SDP (40.9%). Seats won by other parties were as follows: Greens, 47; Free Democrats, 44; and Party of Democratic Socialism, 35. Following the election, Germany's new chancellor Gerhard Schröder, formed a center-left coalition government with the Green Party.
Elections held in September 2002 saw both the SPD and the CDU-CSU coalition each win 38.5% of the vote; however, the SPD came away with 251 seats to 248 for the CDU-CSU. The SPD renewed its a coalition with the Greens, who took 8.5% of the vote and 55 seats, and Schröder remained chancellor. The Free Democrats took 7.4% of the vote and 47 seats, and the PDS won 4.3% of the vote and held 2 seats in the Bundestag.