The political parties are granted a major and privileged place in the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany. Article 21 of the Basic Law states that “Political parties shall participate in the formation of the political will of the people.” This goes hand in hand with an obligation to uphold inner-party democracy: The chairperson, committees, and candidates must all be elected by secret ballot of grass roots delegates at party conferences. In order to strengthen this inner-party democracy, in the case of important decisions parties have in recent times polled their members directly. The SPD members’ vote on the Coalition Agreement in 2013 was pivotal to the forming of a joint Federal government with CDU/CSU. At heart the parties are still expressions of specific strata of society, but at the same time they are losing coherence in this regard. CDU/CSU and SPD together have around one million party members – in relation to almost 62 million eligible voters that is a share of 1.7 percent. There is also a downward trend in election turnout. Whereas in the 1970s and 1980s elections continually saw high and extremely high turnouts, (91.1 per cent in 1972), in 2009 and 2013 the elections to the Bundestag only saw turnouts of 70.8 and 71.5 percent respectively.
Young people often find being involved in local citizens’ groups and non-government organisations more appealing. Social media are also becoming increasingly important as platforms for a specific type of political articulation and action. Citizens also participate directly in political issues through democratic procedures such as referendums. Over the past few years, there have been more opportunities for direct democracy at both federal state and municipal level, and citizens have made great use of these.