To Americans who rarely get a respite from partisan vitriol, fundraising requests, and attack ads during campaign season, it’s almost enough to make you want to brush up on the college German and head to the visa office.
The elections have a very different feel:
Unlike in the U.S., where elected officials start campaigning almost as soon as they set foot in office, German campaigns last only six weeks. Because there are small parties to soak up hardline voters, as well as a lack of primaries -- candidates are put on a party list by leadership -- there’s also no need for candidates to swing wildly toward a radical base for one part of the election, then gradually ease toward the center as it wears on.
Hendrik Hertzberg goes into detail to describe the German system:
The German system, known as “mixed-member proportional,” has its advantages. Through the first-vote seats, the Bundestag retains a direct tie between local communities and the center. And the party-list, at-large seats make it possible for people with national reputations and national perspectives to find their way into the national legislature. Minorities, political and otherwise, don’t have to be geographically concentrated to be represented. Turnout is high (71.5 per cent this time), because you can cast a meaningful vote even if you live in a “safe” district. For the parties, the prospect of having to form coalitions makes campaigns less scorched-earth, and encourages moderation and civility.