German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is calling for national elections for the fall of this year.
That's fully one year before they would have normally happened, making Schröder the first post-World War Two leader to call for elections ahead of schedule.
It all happened after Schröder's Social Democratic Party (SDP) lost elections in a German state, North Rhine-Westphalia, in which it had held power for thirty-nine years. This came on the heels of an earlier slighter loss in Schleswig-Holstein.
Back in January, I wrote a piece in which I said that it looked as though Schröder's party would poll well in Schleswig-Holstein and I advanced a thesis: Irrespective of partisan philosophies, democracies with aging voting populations were showing a marked penchant for returning incumbents and incumbent parties.
In spite of widespread misgivings about Tony Blair, the British electorate returned his Labour Party to power a few weeks ago, albeit with a markedly smaller majority in the House of Commons.
My thesis seemed to take a blow with the poor SDP showing in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein in an election seen as an early indicator of what might happen when Schröder's government and his parliamentary colleagues were on the ballot. Losing in North Rhine-Westphalia, once considered a safe place for SDP would seem to disprove my thesis altogether.
That may in fact, prove to be the case. But I'm inclined to think not. In Britain, concerns about the economy trumped misgivings about the war in Iraq, dirty hospitals, immigration policies, and discipline in the schools to contribute to a Labour victory.
A poor economy is also the most significant reason that Chancellor Schröder and SDP are in trouble right now. A glance at the numbers, which you can find at many places online, will demonstrate that.
One thing that Schröder's and SDP's decline in popularity does not reflect is disaffection toward their position on the war in Iraq. With that policy, the German people clearly agree.
For better and worse, voters often base their voting decisions on their financial situations. James Carville was probably right in saying, "It's the economy, stupid." At least in most elections.
I still feel that however, assuming that a national economy is performing adequately, in the western democracies, with our aging populations, we still prefer to return the incumbents we know to power.
If Schröder is able to demonstrate even the slightest uptick in the German economy between now and elections this fall, I feel certain that he, like Blair in Britain, will be returned to office for a third term. Adding to this possibility is that his opposition Christian Democratic Party, like the Tories in Britain and the Democrats in the US, don't really seem to stand for anything.