Political Culture in Unified Germany: The First Ten Years

By Conradt, David P. | German Politics and Society, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview
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Political Culture in Unified Germany: The First Ten Years


Conradt, David P., German Politics and Society


After ten years of research on Germany's postunification political culture, there is no scholarly consensus on the critical questions of east-west differences, the impact of unification on western German culture, and developmental trends in the two regions. These questions have become more acute in the light of decreased eastern economic growth, high unemployment, and growing evidence of a radical right-wing subculture in the new states.

The lack of agreement in the research community should not be surprising. Twelve years after the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949, there was also no consensus as to the stability and viability of the new democracy (Allerbeck 1976; Conradt 1980). Even in the 1960s West Germany still represented for some a "republic in suspense," while others were already writing about a "remade" political culture.

But in contrast to the 1949-1960 period, we now have far more empirical data, which has been collected by more scholars with more sophisticated analytical tools. But alas there is no agreement, not even among researchers at the same institution. Consider the work that has come from the Wissenschaftszentrum in Berlin. At least eleven scholars at this institution have presented a variety of studies on this topic in the past ten years. Kasse and Bauer-Kasse (1997), Fuchs (1997, 1999), Klingemann and Hofferbert (1994, 2000), and Cusack (1999) find significant and thus far lasting differences in core political attitudes and values between the two regions. However, Klingemann and Hofferbert are more sanguine about the behavioral and systemic significance of these cultural differences, and Cusack is very pessimistic about democracy in both parts of the once-divided country. Delhey and Bohnke (1999), Priller (1999), and Zapf (2000), while acknowledging the differences, see patterns of similarities and convergence. Bulmahn (2000, 30) identifies fundamental political value differences, an "Anglo-Saxon individualistic West and a Scandanavian etatist" East, but contends that these can coexist as long as economic development, above all a convergence of living standards, continues. In his view, an eastern Germany pursuing its own political destiny--perhaps a third way--would be, given the dependence of the east on transfers from the west for its prosperity, a disaster.

In this study I attempt to synthesize and extend this substantial body of research on political culture in unified Germany. What have we found out about the similarities and differences in the political attitudes values and beliefs of eastern and western Germans since 1990? Are there now signs of an east--west convergence in political culture, or will persistent and deep regional differences similar to those found in Italy's Mezzagiorno and Basque region in Spain characterize postunification Germany? Is the "innere Einheit schon da" (Veen 1997), or do we still face a "long, long road" (Kaase and Bauer-Kaase 1997)? The six ALLBUS (general social survey) studies from 1991-2000 will serve as my primary database, but I will also make liberal use of other survey research.

I begin with a delineation of the major analytical approaches that have emerged thus far. I then present data and analysis covering four interrelated substantive areas: national identity and pride; social and political trust, particularly in core political institutions and processes; political participation; and policy attitudes--that is, the expectations eastern and western Germans have of the political system. Where possible I will make comparisons over time as well as between the two regions. I will also attempt to determine the sources of these political attitudes and values. The analytical thread that runs through this work is the search for diffuse support. I am particularly concerned with the development and level of diffuse support in the old GDR and its relationship to the specific output of the postunification political system.

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