Pessimists say the only thing uniting many German voters was apprehension about reform. The political map reveals a deep divide between East and West, as well as North and South.
Voting behavior is never set in stone, but there are trends
If the results of Germany's federal elections on Sunday are color-coded on a map, the division immediately hits the eye. The Social Democrats (SPD), represented by the color red, got most of their backing in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
On the other hand, the conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialist Union (CDU/CSU) -- signified by the color black -- have a firm grip on Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in the South, with a few pockets in northern and western regions.
The background of various regions plays a key role in how people there vote. The northern part of Germany is traditionally Protestant, for example. In these areas, 40.7 percent of the vote went to the SPD. Only 32 percent of predominantly Protestant regions voted for the CDU/CSU.
The Catholic South shows the opposite trend. Largely Catholic areas gave 46 percent of the vote to the CDU/CSU. The SPD was only able to win 28.4 percent of these votes.
Workers vote left
The economic structure of a region also plays a significant role in voter behavior. The Ruhr District, the industrial heartland of Germany, is traditionally a bastion of Social Democratic support, for example.
The former Krupp smelting works in Duisburg are in a SPD stronghold
The Duisburg North constituency, right in the heart of the Ruhr, is where the SPD has its safest seat nationwide. Candidate Johannes Pflug took 61.6 percent of the vote there. But it involved a lot of hard work on his part, too.
"We campaigned in bars, we held parties and political discussions, we went on bike rides," said Pflug. "We really went out to meet the people. It was incredibly intensive, much more than we have ever done in the past."
Pflug's strong performance has gone some way to heal the wounds of the past year for Duisburg's Social Democrats. The low point was when they lost the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, an SPD stronghold for decades, earlier this year. It was that regional election result that had prompted Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to call new elections in the first place.
City dwellers prefer the SPD
Large cities also tended to lean more toward red than black. The SPD won 38.2 percent of the vote in big cities, compared to 26.7 percent for the CDU/CSU. The northern district of Munich followed this trend, despite its position in Bavaria, which gave almost half of its vote to the CSU. It marks the only red spot on the otherwise black map of this state.
The Greens are also more attractive for city dwellers, who gave this party 11.9 percent of their vote.
Rural regions show a different picture. A total of 40.6 percent of people living there gave the CDU/CSU the vote. The SPD could only gain 29.3 percent in rural areas and the Green Party just 5.3 percent.
This matches the trend for predominantly agricultural regions, which gave 42.4 percent of their vote to the CDU/CSU. Only 29.6 percent of people in farming districts voted for the SPD and 5.7 percent for the Greens.
SPD holds position in eastern Germany
The SPD saw significant losses in eastern Germany, but was still the strongest party there. Its strongest opponent was the newly-formed socialist Left Party, which polled some 25 percent of the vote in this region.
Gregor Gysi and Oskar Lafontaine are the top candidates of Germany's new left-wing party
Frankfurt on Oder, for example, is a depressed area with very high unemployment. The Left Party, led by Gregor Gysi and Oskar Lafontaine (photo), was able to score well here -- as high as 38 percent in some districts.
The Left Party is an alliance between the newly-formed Work and Social Justice Party, and the PDS, the successor party to East Germany's Communist party. In the west, it only really did well in Lafontaine's home state of Saarland, where it got 18.5 percent of the vote. But in places like Frankfurt on Oder, it's the second strongest force following the SPD.
Many areas in western Germany face the same problems of high unemployment and a lack of future prospects. But unlike the Left Party, the SPD has a long tradition of support here that it can draw on.
On a national level, areas with high unemployment gave 33.7 percent of their vote to the SPD, followed by the CDU/CSU with 26 percent and the Left Party with 20.1 percent. As a whole, German men tended to vote more conservatively, with 36 percent choosing the CDU/CSU and 33 percent the SPD. German women, though, were equally divided, no matter where they lived or what they did. Female Germans gave equal votes of 35 percent to both major parties.