Who will win how many constituencies in the 2021 German national election? Although Germany uses a mixed-member-proportional system, that is a particularly pressing question in 2021. Not only because many constituencies are prominently contested – e.g., 061 Potsdam, where Chancellor candidates Scholz (SPD) and Baerbock (Greens) are vying for the so-called direct mandate –, some races are likely to be very close, the Greens are hoping for more and the AfD for regaining constituency seats, but also because the distribution of constituency seats will have a decisive influence on how large the 20th German Bundestag will be.1

Unlike for the second vote (Zweitstimme in German) with the so-called “Sunday question” (Sonntagsfrage in German), there are very few to no surveys for constituencies – where the first vote (Erststimme in German) decides the direct mandate. National polls cannot easily be used to forecast constituency results because, first, they usually only ask about the second vote, and second, there are at most a handful of respondents available for each constituency, while some constituencies cannot be covered at all. We, therefore, take a different approach with our citizens’ forecast.

We surveyed a non-representative sample of citizens in all 299 Bundestag constituencies – but we didn’t ask who they would vote for; we asked who they thought would win. Specifically, we asked at least 20 people per constituency about the winner of the district vote, the distribution of first votes in the constituency, and the distribution of second votes nationwide. The idea behind our approach is simple: even the most ardent supporter of the FDP, for example, will be able to realistically assess that their party has no chance of winning the direct mandate, for instance, because the candidates of other parties have been more successful in the past. Furthermore, they know the local area and can assess how the constituency has developed demographically and politically in the last four years. We, therefore, hope that our citizen prediction will fare better than the so-called “unit” or “proportional swing” approaches (see, e.g. zweitstimme.org) or simple heuristics like “The same party as last time wins.” Indeed, these cannot predict changes of direct mandates from one party to another that run counter to the general federal trend. This procedure has already been successfully implemented for election predictions in other countries such as the US or the United Kingdom, which use a pure majoritarian election system. How successful can citizens’ predictions be in Germany? This and more is what we endeavor to find out with this project. We will be a bit wiser after the election night and the announcement of the preliminary official results. In the following, we document our Citizens’ Forecast.

Citizens’ forecast of constituency winners

The map (Fig. 1) presents our forecast based on respondents’ expectations. In 286 constituencies, a relative majority of respondents’ expectations fell in favor of one single candidate. In 23 constituencies two candidates were tied in expectations (see also Tab. 1). But also in other constituencies, it must be emphasized that one can expect a close race. In many constituencies, the first-placed candidate is only slightly ahead of the second-placed candidate in our respondents’ expectations. The tooltip after a mouseover in Fig. 1 provides information on what proportion of respondents in the constituency predicted the respective candidate as the winner.

Fig. 1: Citizens’ forecast of direct mandate winners and runners-up in the constituencies for the 2021 federal election

According to the expectations of our respondents, the CDU is likely to win the most direct mandates, as in 2017 (see Tab. 1). However, it will fall short of its result of 185 direct mandates in 2017 with 129 direct mandates if the expectations of our respondents come true.2 Trusting our respondents, the CSU can again have hope for all 46 Bavarian direct mandates. Only in Fürth does a majority of respondents see the SPD candidate ahead. In 98 constituencies, the majority of respondents believe the SPD will win the direct mandate. That would be 39 seats more than in 2017 and almost double the number of direct mandates.

Tab. 1: Direct mandates won per party according to citizens’ forecast
Party Constituency seats
CDU 129
SPD 98
CSU 45
Too close to call 13
Grüne 7
AfD 5
Linke 2
Andere 0

The Greens can hope to defend their only direct mandate to date in Berlin-Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg - Prenzlauer Berg Ost and to win six more direct mandates. The majority of respondents in Kiel, Frankfurt am Main II, Stuttgart I, Esslingen, Heidelberg, and Freiburg expect a Green direct mandate in their constituency. Only respondents in Berlin-Lichtenberg and Berlin-Treptow-Köpenick see the Left in front, while a majority of respondents in Berlin-Marzahn expect the CDU to take the direct mandate from the Left. Two direct mandates will not be enough for parliamentary party status if the party fails to clear the five-percent hurdle nationwide. A majority of respondents in what are all Saxonian constituencies expect the AfD to win the direct mandate in their constituency. The FDP is not expected to win a direct mandate in any constituency by a majority of those surveyed there. The party is thus likely to remain the only parliamentary group without direct mandates.

In the sortable and searchable Tab. 2 the forecasts for all constituencies are tabulated again.