Q: How important are the results?
Angela Merkel's conservatives lost out in two out of three regional state elections today as Germans gave a thumbs-down to her accommodating refugee policy with a big vote for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD). Although likely to wound Merkel, the German Chancellor will not have to fear the impact on her position. But her party will now be asking: is it time to change the country's handling of the refugee crisis?
Q: What are the German state elections?
Germany, like the US, has a federal system. While Merkel doesn't face national elections until next year, the 16 federal states each have their own parliaments and hold elections on their own timetables. Three state elections coincided today.
Q: What does this mean for Merkel's hold on power?
German state elections usually have little impact on the national government. But the timing of the vote made them a virtual referendum on Merkel's controversial "open-door" refugee policy. While the results don't have any direct impact on Merkel's mandate, they will be seen in her CDU party as a worrying sign that her refugee policy is a vote loser. Powerful figures within the party may start to look for an alternative leader ahead of next year's national elections. A defeat in state elections was the beginning of the end for Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. But Merkel suffered a bad result in state elections in 2011 only to bounce back with a massive victory in 2013's national election.
Q: How important are the results for the parties?
It has taken longer in Germany than in many other European countries, but the state votes suggest that the post-war political landscape is shifting. The CDU and SPD, known in Germany as the two "Volksparteien", or people's parties, because they have dominated the political arena for decades, saw their scores lurch lower in virtually all of the states. The German political landscape looks more fragmented than at any time since the war. This will make it more difficult to form coalitions at both regional and federal level. German politics has become less reliable and predictable.
Q: Which states were voting?
Baden-Württemberg (population 10.6 million), a southern economic powerhouse and home to both Mercedes and Porsche. The state was long a stronghold for Merkel's CDU, but it lost out to the Green Party according to exit polls. Rhineland-Palatinate (population four million), a western state that is the heartland of the German wine industry. The CDU had strong hopes of mounting a challenge here but lost to the Social Democrats (SPD). Saxony-Anhalt (population two million), a former East German state where the economy lags far behind the West. The CDU managed to cling to first place but any euphoria will be dented by the fact the far-Right AfD stormed to second place with a shock 23 per cent.