Research - 25.08.2017 - 00:00 

2017 Bundestag elections: perceived inequality and voting behaviour

Germans substantially underestimate the inequality of wealth distribution. This perceived inequality is significantly related to voting behaviour. This is the result of a representative study conducted by the Institute for Customer Insight at the University of St.Gallen.

25 August 2017. According to the Federal Statistical Office, wealth inequality constantly increased in Germany between 1998 and 2013. In 2008, the richest 20 per cent of the population owned 66 per cent of wealth; in 2013, they owned 73.6 per cent. Wealth is defined as the sum-total of all goods and incomes of private individuals. According to the statistics, the poorest 20 per cent even owned -1.5 per cent in 2013. "This negative value is due to the fact that the calculation of wealth also includes debt," explains Andreas Herrmann, Professor of Management and Director of the Institute for Customer Insight (ICI-HSG) at the University of St.Gallen.

Estimated and desired wealth distribution
For one thing, participants in the study were asked how they estimate wealth distribution themselves. Whereas in fact, the richest fifth owned 73.6 per cent of wealth in 2013, the interviewees only estimated this proportion at 53.1 per cent. The share of the poorest fifth (-1.5 per cent) was estimated at 4.7 per cent. Then the interviewees were asked to indicate the way in which they would like wealth to be distributed from the richest to the poorest fifth of the population. According to the results of the study, this is by no means an equal distribution. "The interviewees regarded it as ideal that the richest fifth should still get 30.2 per cent and the poorest fifth 12.8 per cent of wealth," says research assistant Maik Walter of the ICI-HSG, who conducted the study.

The question of the chancellor, and voting behaviour
Above and beyond this, the study examined the nexus between estimated and desired wealth distribution and voting behaviour. People who would opt for chancellor candidate Martin Schulz (German Social Democrats, SPD) rather than incumbent Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) prefer a higher degree of equal distribution but hardly differ at all with regard to their distribution estimates. With regard to political parties, SPD and CDU/CSU voters tend, on average, to perceive the distribution of wealth as fairer than those of other parties. People who vote for the Free Democratic Party (FDP), prefer a significantly higher degree of unequal wealth distribution. "However, correlations aren’t causalities," explains Maik Walter. "It would therefore also be exciting to find out whether people vote for a certain party because they feel society is unfair and want to make it fairer, or whether and how strongly a party influences their own opinions."

Attitude towards the press
A further nexus exists between the perceived inequality of wealth distribution and people’s attitude towards the press. Those who perceive a higher degree of inequality also tend to be convinced that the press is biased. This conviction is shared by 82.2 per cent of potential Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) voters. 41.9 per cent of all interviewees still believe that it is the top priority of the press to represent the interests of politics and the economy. Only 20.6 per cent assume that truthful reporting is the most important criterion.

The study is based on interviews conducted with 1,537 people eligible to vote in the German Bundestag elections on 24 September 2017. It was a representative random sample of the German population according to age, gender and net household income.

photo: photocase /

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