Where do we stand as a society and where are we heading?? That’s what we wanted to find out, and in 2019 we asked about 4.000 people surveyed. With our results, we want to offer a different perspective on German society and thus enable new approaches to cohesion.
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Why this study
In order to be able to shape the future, we should know where we are today as a society – and where we might be heading. Finally, a look at other countries shows that even stable democracies come under pressure from polarization and social conflicts determine people’s lives.
We therefore set out in early 2019 to understand German society in the here and now. What unites us, what divides us? What is causing controversy? How people in Germany view their country and their society? And what do they expect from the future 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall? For us, a central question was Can societal developments like those in the U.S., Great Britain or France also happen in Germany?
In fact, there are some indications that things are changing in this country, too. 70 percent of people in Germany think the country is moving in the wrong direction. Every second person is dissatisfied with the way German democracy works. The majority find that the social situation has worsened in the last five years, while only five percent expect it to improve in the coming years.
View of the country
In order to understand the state and future viability of our society, we have in 2019 about 4.000 people surveyed according to representative criteria and group discussions with citizens in various German cities guided. Since the explanatory power of traditional categories (such as e.B. socioeconomic, demographic or party-political indicators) has increasingly reached its limits in the debates of recent years, we have broken new ground and combined the tools of political science with approaches from social psychology to provide a new way of looking at society.
Read more about the research methodology here.
A new look at society
Based on our research approach, we have identified six types in German society that have different value foundations and look at society very differently. We named them according to their relationship to society:
- The openPeople who value self-development, openness to the world and critical thinking
- The involved: People with a sense of citizenship who value social togetherness and are prepared to defend social achievements
- The established: People who care about reliability and social peace and are most satisfied with the status quo
- The pragmatistsPeople for whom success and private advancement are important, who are less interested in politics and do not blindly trust their fellow human beings
- The Disenchanted: people who have lost the sense of community and want appreciation and justice
- The angry ones: People who value control and national order, are angry at the system and more likely to distrust people in general
The six social types
Social cohesion succeeds only with other types together
None of the social types has even close to a majority. This means that social cohesion can only succeed if people with different value foundations and perspectives on society recognize commonalities and differences and find room for productive discussion. They should all be involved in negotiating the future of their country.
Basic beliefs and demographic indicators
The six types are often more meaningful than demographic or political indicators by which social issues are usually discussed.
Our segmentation also shows: it is too easy to simply use the common "pigeonholes" in social debates. Indeed, a look at people’s basic beliefs and their subjective view of society reveals that many of the dividing lines that (supposedly) cut across the country are of surprisingly little substance. Germany, for example, is not caught in an East-West conflict as far as people’s value foundations are concerned. Basic values, moral concepts and subjective perspectives on society of people in East and West Germany differ much less than is commonly thought. Four out of six of the types formed on the basis of these aspects are evenly distributed – d.h. in the average of the total population – across East and West. Nevertheless, even 30 years after the fall of the Wall, we often discuss along the East-West divide almost intuitively. Without wanting to negate differences in life and experience, our research, think it is worthwhile to focus more on our commonalities.
East-west distribution of types
The study shows that the value foundations of people in the East and West are very similar – almost all six types are found evenly distributed across the country.
Tripartite division of society
Instead our research suggests another division of German society that is much more relevant for the success of cohesion in Germany open. Indeed, we recognize that in German society as a whole there are three functional "roles" are occupied by two of the types in each case:
- The social stabilizers, consisting of the established and the involved (34 percent in total)
- The social poles, consisting of the open-minded and the angry (a total of 35 percent)
- The invisible third, consists of the disenchanted and the pragmatic (a total of 30 percent)
The invisible third
Above all, the Invisible third, consisting of the pragmatic and the disenchanted, deserves attention, since it finds least support in our society. This is to be understood quite literally: While 30 percent of all respondents say they are lonely, this feeling is above average in the invisible third. At the same time, the belief that one’s own fate is in one’s own hands is particularly weak among the pragmatists and the disenchanted. But it is not only in their personal lives that they lack involvement; the democratic system also gives them less support than others. Categories such as "left" and "right" provide significantly less orientation for the invisible third, and the connection to politics is noticeably weaker overall.
30 percent of people in Germany are socially and politically uninvolved.
In our view, the involvement of the invisible third is a key task for politics and civil society. A community can only really function if all social groups are reached. In addition, a very large non-voter potential lies dormant here: More than half of non-voters are to be found in the invisible third. So we need formats and narratives that are actually suitable for reaching these groups.
Non-voters and undecideds
The social poles
Societal poles are the open and the angry: They are the drivers of the current social debate and shape the debates due to their above-average presence in social media. At the same time, they pursue a completely different, but in each case firmly defined, ideal image of society. While the open-minded are willing to compromise, the angry are not.
The social stabilizers
The social stabilizers (involved and established) could be the reason why the political situation in Germany is currently more stable than in other Western countries: they are well integrated into society and much more satisfied with democracy than others. They still find good orientation on the left and right spectrum and are also the only ones who still predominantly trust politicians.
However, the fact that social stabilizers exist is no reason to sound the all-clear, yet they are on average the oldest group in our survey – they are underrepresented in the younger age groups. As expected, the open-minded (as a committed and politically active type) dominate among the young, but above all the pragmatists who are far removed from politics. The image of a predominantly progressive and committed youth, which z.B. The idea that the Fridays for the Future movement conveys the same message cannot be sustained. Instead count 45 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds in the invisible third. Strengthening their involvement is absolutely central to the medium- and long-term solidity and vitality of democracy.
Distribution by age group
In other words, the German population has completely different perspectives on the community, and the closeness to its institutions and actors also varies considerably. One could almost say that people live "in different worlds" within the same overall society.
Finding new ways of bridging this gap and bringing society together to form a constructive will is a key prerequisite for ensuring social cohesion and the ability to engage in discourse in Germany. Democracy thrives on the ability to compromise in order to find the best solution. The ability to argue is the basis for shaping the future of our society, but in turn it needs a stable foundation of social interaction, respect and trust on which to work. An increasingly strident "us vs. them" debate does not achieve its goals.
At present, Germany’s ability to engage in discourse is not in good shape: 75 percent of people agree that the public debate in Germany is increasingly hateful. There seems to be more and more speechlessness in this regard. 73 percent believe that even justified opinions can no longer be expressed publicly without being attacked for it. We therefore do not currently have an unencumbered climate of discourse on the basis of which the necessary debate about the future could take place. Yet a functioning social debate would be indispensable, because there is a lot to discuss.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to communicate across social boundaries.
Voice and politics
Looking at Germany from the outside, the picture is largely positive: many years of stable economic growth and historically low unemployment set the Federal Republic apart from many other Western democracies. Many citizens, however, do not trust this status quo and expect the situation to deteriorate because, in their view, important course settings would be missed. Only 24 percent of respondents feel that politicians are "currently addressing the important issues in Germany decisively". In addition, many people feel that they are not being heard by politics – across all groups in the tripartite society.
In particular, the focus groups conducted for this study in four German cities revealed that Germany feels to many citizens like a country in a state of waiting – What endangers its future viability. Particularly in key areas, such as digitization, but also old-age provision, many would like to see bolder action to move the country forward and make it weatherproof for times to come. This should make policymakers sit up and take notice, as should the fact that 65 percent of respondents feel that not enough of the economic success is reaching them – and this after a good decade of economic recovery, reduction of public debt and an exposed role as Europe’s economic "guarantor" in the euro crisis.
"Not enough of Germany’s economic success reaches people like me"
This crisis of trust is coupled with a society in flux, both positive and negative. Certainties are crumbling, such as the need to critically address German crimes during the Nazi era. 60 percent of people in Germany believe that a "line should be drawn" under the debate about German crimes during the Nazi era.
German identity is also in flux. For decades, the German understanding of the nation was dominated by rather traditional ideas (e.g., the German "national" identity).B. belonging by descent), our results show that it has now moved a good deal away from rigid criteria of belonging: Belonging to German society is subject to "conditions," but it can be acquired in principle. And even otherwise, the identity anchors of many people in Germany are very modern.
For belonging to the German society must rather be fulfilled.
European and German identity are not contradictory for many people.
Many people take it for granted that they are Germans and Europeans in equal measure, although a large proportion of the population still feels exclusively German.
German versus European identity
At the same time, we see that people in Germany value individual groups very differently. They have the most positive feelings toward members of the perceived "majority society" in particular, while minorities and the socioeconomic fringes of society are devalued in comparison.
Attitudes toward social groups
It is important to strengthen the common foundations of our society again and to actively preserve the (in parts quite intact) substance of togetherness. Because there is a need for cohesion in Germany: 70 percent of people want us to come together despite our differences.
People in Germany want cohesion
However, cohesion is not only important for social coexistence, but ultimately central to the success of liberal democracy. A society that is "us vs. them" is not only more prone to division, but also unable to productively address the great challenges of our time and wrestle with the future – from climate policy to migration to fundamental justice issues. Cohesion also means the ability to deal with conflict.
We see the way forward above all in the following fields of action, for which we would like to develop new formats and projects together with partners:
We should dare to look at society using new categories. The widespread intuition that the country is divided primarily into East and West, old and young, or left and right, will not get us anywhere in the long run. Instead, we should discuss with each other what values are important to us, what kind of country we actually want – and what we can agree on together in the process. After all, that’s what a democratic community is for.
An important step in this direction is better social and political inclusion of the invisible third. Politics and civil society must open up to the world of life and experience of these people and make offers to them in terms of communication and content.
In addition, a renewed relationship of trust between citizens and institutions is needed. Too many people believe that the relevant actors are not interested in them or in the major issues of the future. Winning back trust is an important task for political leaders, social institutions and the media.
For More in Common, this project is a prelude to a conversation about the future of the country. A conversation about how society can move forward. And we see them as a very concrete aid and inspiration for working on the future of our country. We should stay in dialogue – across all dividing lines.
We have examined the state of German society in a large-scale quantitative and qualitative survey. Traditionally, studies of this kind distinguish people according to socioeconomic, demographic, or (party) political categories. However, their explanatory power is increasingly reaching its limits in the debates of recent years. For example, household income does not say anything about feelings of threat, and even party affiliation does not always help to understand who, for example, is at odds with refugee policy and who is not.
In order to provide a new perspective on society and thus also new approaches to solutions, in the present study, we have developed a survey for Germany The study is based on an innovative methodological approach tested in the U.S. study "Hidden Tribes" by More in Common, which combines instruments from political science with approaches from social psychology.
This makes it clear that authoritarian tendencies can have a massive impact on political-social attitudes. If, for example, we compare the response behavior of people with a particularly low authoritarian disposition with that of people with a particularly strong one, the results are as follows considerable differences on a whole range of issues that have repeatedly preoccupied German society in recent years.
Social attitudes – according to educational ideals
Together with the opinion research institute Kantar Public (formerly TNS Infratest), in 2019 we conducted over 4.000 people in Germany by means of Quantitative and qualitative methods and then grouped them on the basis of their subjective location in society, their perspective on the country and the following stable basic beliefs:
- Deep-seated moral concepts (Moral Foundations)
- Authoritarian tendencies
- Perception of threat
- Personal agency and responsibility
- Group-related identity characteristics
Thus, the core of this statistically conducted segmentation was exclusively questions about basic values and attitudes, No demographic indicators or questions about current political debates have been included in the segmentation.