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This question is about the German federal election.

Through a series of weird events, I learnt about the existence of a minor party called Magdeburger Gartenpartei, which apparently focusses only on the city of Magdeburg in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt. This party is running for the German federal election 2017, however they are running per list (Landesliste) only in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt¹ and only have one candidate running for a direct mandate (Direktkandidat)².

For this election, this means that they cannot possibly get a seat by list, as this would mean that they have to surpass one of the following two electoral thresholds (Sperrklausel):

  • 5 % of the proportional votes (Zweitstimmen). This cannot happen since Sachsen-Anhalt only makes for 2.7 % of the German population.

  • Three direct mandates (Direktmandate). This cannot happen since they are only running for one direct mandate.

This poses three questions:

  • Did I make any mistake in the above assessment?
  • For this party, what’s the point of running with a list?
  • For the electoral administration, what’s the rationale of admitting this list, when every vote for them has the same effect as an invalid vote?

¹ according to Wahlrecht.de
² according to the stastical office of Sachsen-Anhalt and assuming that they do not have direct candidates in other states

  • Similar question about the United States presidential election: Why run for president if you have no chance to be elected? – Philipp Aug 19 '17 at 21:42
  • @Philipp: That’s entirely not comparable (if I understand the situation in the other question correctly). The list in my question won’t even win a seat if all voters that could possibly vote for them did so. Some of the motivations translate though. – Wrzlprmft Aug 19 '17 at 21:44
  • Argh, replace entirely not → not entirely in the above comment. – Wrzlprmft Aug 20 '17 at 9:10
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    Purely in theory, they could surpass 5% because it is 5% of the people actually voting. So if everyone in Saxony-Anhalt votes for them, and turnout everywhere else is zero, they will reach 100% even. – chirlu Aug 20 '17 at 17:11
  • Spiegel online is running an article about some of the tiny parties right now. Publicity seems to be the most important reason for those that the author spoke with. – chirlu Sep 16 '17 at 20:24
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Publicity

Have you ever heard of that party before? Well, now that you discovered that they are running for Bundestag, you have. Maybe you even looked up what their political ideas are and wondered if they have merit.

Simply being on the ballot allows a small party to get known to a large number of people and get their ideas to a wider audience.

Member mobilization

During the last election in 2013 I was an active member of a small party. I noticed that the election campaign was a very effective member motivator. Suddenly all the meetings were far more frequented. But while lots of people came to support the campaign, they stayed when it was over and volunteered for all kinds of non-campaign related roles in the party.

Money

Besides the 5% hurdle there is also the 0.5% hurdle. When a party gets more than 0.5% votes, they get eligible for campaign finance aid from the federal government (§18 PartG)

This might not even apply here because the party can't even seriously expect to get 0.5%, but I would still like to mention it because it important to many other small parties.

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The role of minor parties has almost always come down to one of two things:

  1. There is the spoiler effect. While they themselves may not be able to win but they may be able to attract enough support to prevent somebody else from winning thereby favoring an otherwise minority candidate.

  2. It could simply be an effort establish legitimacy of a party/individual name. Just because they can't win 'this time' doesn't mean they can't do better next time.

There are, of course a few more 'obscure' reasons, self aggrandizement, resume building and money laundering, for example. There are political systems in which the transfer of money to or from political candidates is protected from some levels of financial scrutiny. I don't know to what extent this could be the case in Germany but some candidates will get in the race, collect 'donations' which they pay to themselves and close family members and associates as 'staff')

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    The spoiler effect can be pretty "dark" by itself, because it will likely substract votes from likely-minded parties. If a new left wing party appears, its voters will most likely be people that were previously voters of other left wing parties. This has led in occasion to claims that certain small parties were mostly supported or even directed by parties from the opposite side of the political spectrum (of course those claims were mostly done by the parties damaged by the small party, so they should be taken with a grain of salt). – SJuan76 Aug 19 '17 at 23:40

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