What you need to know
- All three parties in the federal coalition government are on track to lose support in both states
- The center-right, conservative CSU party will maintain its decadeslong hold on Bavaria
- The CDU will again be the strongest party in Hesse
- The far-right AfD made further gains in the two states
This live blog has now closed. For more on the state election results, click here.
Provisional results confirm CDU, CSU victory in Hesse, Bavaria
The conservative CDU, lead by Premier Boris Rhein, has won state elections in Hesse.
According to provisional results, the CDU won 34.6% of votes and the far-right AfD 18.4%.
The center-left Social Democrats (SPD), which in Hesse are run by Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, took third place with 15.1%.
The Left Party and the business-focused FDP did not reach the 5% required to get seats in Hesse's state parliament.
Provisional results confirm that Markus Söders' conservative CSU came in first place in the election in Bavaria, receiving 37% of votes.
The right-leaning Free Voters came in at second place with 15.8%, and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) received 14.6%.
The environmentalist Greens received 14.4% in Bavaria and the SPD 8.4%. The FDP received 3%, meaning it did not pass the threshold to enter Bavaria's state parliament.
Söder wants to renew coalition with Free Voters party
CSU leader Markus Söder told public broadcaster ARD's Tagesthemen TV show that the results in Bavaria give him a clear mandate for "a strong and stable government."
He said he would hold talks with the conservative Free Voters party this week to continue the existing governing coalition.
"We will ensure that a democratic and good Bavaria is preserved even in these times," Söder told the broadcaster.
Söder, who has been critical of Germany's welcoming policy towards migrants and refugees over the past decade, said the results from his state's election as well as the election in the western state of Hesse made it clear that a new tougher migrant policy was needed.
"We perceive the AfD as a right-wing extremist party," Söder said, adding that while mainstream politics should not follow the far-right party's hardline promises on migration, a slightly tougher policy was now needed.
“Then you can significantly reduce the AfD's [surge in popularity],” he added.
Projection: Conservatives, far-right gain over Scholz coalition
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's troubled coalition suffered heavy losses in two state elections Sunday seen as a crucial test halfway through its term,
All three parties in the coalition -- Scholz's center-left SPD, the Greens and the business-focused FDP -- lost ground in the southern state of Bavaria and the western state of Hesse, according to vote projections.
The main conservative opposition won in both states, as expected.
The Christian Social Union (CSU) party, which runs for elections solely in Bavaria, was projected to achieve 36.4% support, according to the German Infratest dimap institute. That result would be similar to the 37.2% the party achieved in 2018.
The CSU's sister party, which covers the other 15 German states is the Christian Democratic Party (CDU). In Hesse, the CDU is projected to win 34.6% support, an increase since 2018 when it garnered 27%.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) made strong gains in both states, ringing alarm bells anew about its growing popularity.
Both states' results in graphics
For ease of access, here are the provisional results for both Bavaria and Hesse in graphics. We will continue refreshing this entry to keep it near the top of the updates.
Seeing as Bavaria wins alphabetically and also in terms of number of voters, we'll show those first.
Then here's the situation as it currently stands in Hesse.
These figures are still subject to change as vote counting continues, but if past elections are anything to go by, only comparatively small changes are likely.
Free Voters' Aiwanger hails 'super result'
In Bavaria, the deputy state premier and leader of the Free Voters (FW), Hubert Aiwanger, has hailed his party's gains of roughly 3% to around 15% of the vote as a "super result."
"A wonderful result for a sensible set of policies," Aiwanger said on social media. "Thanks EVERYONE, who has supported us so brilliantly in the past weeks and months."
The politics of Aiwangers' Free Voters are not that easy to pin down, but on most issues they tend to be right of center and their main longstanding call is for more regional authority and for less power to reside with the federal government in Berlin.
"We are the service-providers of the citizens and we do the hard work for Bavaria," Aiwanger said. "We guarantee a stable government."
Although Aiwanger and Söder of the CSU both stopped short after the vote of guaranteeing future cooperation and a renewed coalition in the state, both made it clear that this was the most likely outcome. Mathematically the two parties will have ample seats to govern.
The fate of the Free Voters — and of Aiwanger — was somewhat unclear going into the vote. He had faced criticism over an anti-Semitic leaflet circulated at his school in the 1980s, which his younger brother Helmut Aiwanger claimed to have written, after initial reports cited Hubert as its author.
Aiwanger distanced himself from the leaflet and its contents, but also implied he felt the timing of the story had been designed to attack him during the election campaign.
As criticism of Aiwanger's handling of the situation mounted, Söder sent his deputy state premier a series of questions to respond to in his defense, implying his position in the government was not assured depending on his answers.
Söder eventually said that while Aiwanger's handling of the scandal "has not increased his credibility," his coalition ally had ultimately apologized "late, and in my view not too late."
The scandal appears to have had no impact on the Free Voters performance at the polls. If anything the party is on track to score slightly better than was predicted prior to the story breaking just over a month ago.
CDU/CSU leader Merz hails regional wins
"Voters in Bavaria have again given the CSU a clear mandate to govern, the succesful civic coalition can be continued," Merz wrote on social media in a message tagging Markus Söder in Bavaria, signing off with his initials to indicate he was the message's author.
Meanwhile, Merz described the CDU's more than 8% gains in the voting share in Hesse as a "sensational result."
"Above all, it shows one thing: Unity and clear positions pay off. If we can continue to walk this path together, the [national coalition] chaos will come to a close by the 2025 federal elections at the latest," Merz said.
Merz and his Christian Democrats, much more accustomed to being in power than in opposition historically in post-war Germany, went into opposition following the last national vote in 2021 and are targeting a return to the chancellery as soon as possible.
Socialist Left Party rues 'bitter evening'
The headlines are likely to focus either on the winners, or the losses for the parties ruling Germany at the national level, but it was also a "bitter evening" for Germany's far-left party, die Linke.
Bavaria and Hesse, home to Germany's financial capital Frankfurt, were never strongholds for the successor party to the former East Germany's Communists.
But nonetheless, die Linke have lost seats in Hesse's state parliament, falling well below the 5% threshold.
Party chairperson Janine Wissler hails from Hesse, and she spoke to German public TV from home as she waits for a negative COVID-19 test.
"It's so bitter that we will not be able to continue our work," Wissler said.
The Left were already below 5% in Bavaria in 2018, but look set to lose even more ground this time.
Wissler was asked about renegade Linke former leader Sahra Wagenknecht and the ongoing rumors of her forming a breakaway party.
"Of course that was a problem," Wissler said.
Her party colleague Bernd Riexinger was all the more explicit, despite not managing to name the person he seemed so clearly to be referring to.
"The responsibility for this election result lies with those individuals, who have spent all of the last year destabilizing our party and publicly speculating about their own party projects," Riexinger said on social media.
The war in Ukraine has also put the party in a difficult position, given that it typically had strong ties with Russia. Nominally, the party condemns Russia's invasion and supports Ukraine, although it has been much more reticent in supporting German arms deliveries to the warzone.
But individual party members, and particularly Wagenknecht, have taken a much stronger line calling for immediate peace talks and openly rejecting the support Berlin has sent to Kyiv.
AfD celebrates gains, says change must follow
AfD party chairwoman Alice Weidel celebrated Sunday's provisional results, with the right-wing populists set to gain ground in both states and most likely to become Hesse's second-largest political party.
"Over the years we were able to convince ever more people of our freedom-based politics," Weidel said on public broadcaster ZDF.
Weidel also thanked supporters online for their "great support" and said the results should send a clear signal to the coalition government in Berlin.
"There can be no 'as you were' for the [coalition in Berlin] after these disastrous results," Weidel wrote on social media. "The citizens of Hesse and Bavaria have made it clear that they have had enough of disenfranchisement, dispossession and of a migration policy that can be justified by nothing."
Quite what Weidel meant to refer to with words like "dispossession" is not entirely clear — but the AfD has been highly critical, for example, of climate-based policies that might prompt people to change their heating systems or their cars.
In another post, Weidel said the results were "the bill for [the federal coalition's] catastrophic policies."
The AfD is almost certain to take up the role of leaders of the opposition in Hesse, given that they look set to be the second largest party and given that their participation in any coalition is out of the question.
However, in Bavaria, the AfD would only claim that role — which gives a party the first right to reply in debates, for example — if it could finish as the second strongest party. That's because the Greens, their main contenders for second spot, also appear sure not to feature in any possible coalition in Berlin.
During Angela Merkel's last term as chancellor, the AfD led the opposition in the federal Bundestag parliament. That position is now held by the CDU/CSU.
Markus Söder: 'Bavaria has voted for stability'
Bavaria's state premier and CSU candidate Markus Söder has given a victory speech in Munich.
"Bavaria has voted. Bavaria has voted for stability. And the CSU has won this election clearly, ladies and gentlemen," Söder told supporters.
The Bavarian leader might still have half an eye on the exact numbers, though, hoping to surpass the 37.2% support the CSU claimed in 2018. At present, it appears that the conservatives might fall just short of that mark.
Söder also ruled out an alliance with the Greens and the far-right AfD In remarks to public broadcaster ARD.
"The positions the Greens have don't fit with our positions in Bavaria. And I'll repeat what I said before the vote, there will not be a CSU-Green alliance in Bavaria," he said.
The conservative politician said he could pledge "stability in difficult times" for the southern German state.
Some of those difficult times do apply to his still-dominant party in Bavaria though.
Renowned CSU leader Franz-Josef Strauß once famously coined the phrase "there can be no democratically legitimate party to the right of the CDU/CSU" as a kind of credo for Germany's conservatives.
How you chose to classify the Free Voters, whose main historical priority has been greater regional independence and less power for the federal government in Berlin, is perhaps an open question.
But there can be little doubt that the AfD is to the right of the CSU. Whether or not they are "democratically legitimate" is again perhaps an open debate, but around 1 in 6 voters in Bavaria think so.
Combined, the Free Voters and the AfD look set to claim around 30% of Bavaria's vote.
Hesse: SPD's Faeser concedes defeat in 'disappointing result'
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who raised eyebrows with her decision to seek the state premier position while holding one of the most prominent ministerial positions in Berlin, has conceded defeat on seeing the decisive exit polls.
Faeser spoke of a "disappointing result" for the Social Democrats (SPD), who look set to finish more than 20% adrift of the CDU, and said the party had failed to "cut through" with their talking points and policies.
She congratulated the CDU and state premier Boris Rhein on a clear victory.
Influential SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert, formerly the leader of the party's youth wing, said on German public television that the results were a "clear signal" to the federal government, known by the color-based nickname "traffic light" coalition (red, yellow, and green) in Germany. "We have understood," he said.
However, when asked if the result should have consequences for Faeser's position in Berlin, Kühnert said he believed not.
"We stand behind Nancy Faeser," he said. "This was a vote about Hesse."
Winners and losers versus 2018
One pattern is unmistakable in both states' numbers compared to their last elections in 2018.
All three parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government — the Social Democrats, the Free Democrats, and the Greens — appear on course to lose support in both states.
This is particularly problematic for the Free Democrats, who appear sure to be excluded from Bavaria's parliament and right on the cusp of the 5% they need for representation in Hesse.
For the Greens and the SPD, the losses in Bavaria appear to be small, around 1% compared to five years ago.
But in Hesse, usually a much more competitive battleground than Bavaria, both the Greens and the SPD are on course to lose 4% or more of their 2018 vote share.
Hesse's CDU, gaining some 8.5%, is profiting primarily, but the far-right AfD also looks like it will pick up about 3% support in the state.
And Germany's far-left party, die Linke, also looks like it will no longer have a spot in the state parliament, sitting at just 3.8% support in the exit polls.
Exit polls for Bavaria — CSU largest party, Greens possibly second
In Bavaria, the center-right CSU was put at 37% support in exit polls. As expected, that gives it more than a 20% margin against any other party.
However, if that number proves accurate, it would also be the CSU's worst ever performance in a post-war Bavarian election, slightly worse than 2018's tally.
Exit polls suggest the Greens might have won the tight race to be Bavaria's second largest party, at 16% support.
However, the AfD was put at 15% and the Bavarian Free Voters at 14%, meaning a change in the order is not yet out of the question.
Typically however the exit polls are a reliable indicator of the final results.
The Social Democrats struggled at 8.5%, and the Free Democrats slipped — as predicted — out of Bavaria's state parliament, securing just 3% support and missing the 5% hurdle.
Those figures mean that the current CSU-Free Voters coaliton could continue its work, if party leaders Markus Söder and Hubert Aiwanger decide that they wish to.
Exit polls for Hesse — CDU strongest party, FDP right on the 5% threshhold
As the polls close, first exit polls for both states are being published.
In Hesse, the Christian Democrats appear on course for just over 35% of the vote, and will emerge as the largest party by a large margin.
The Social Democrats and the right-wing populist AfD were both put at 16% — signalling a close race to be the second largest party.
Even the Greens, at 15.5%, could conceivably still be in striking distance.
Meanwhile, the Free Democrats (FDP) are right on the threshhold that guarantees representation in the state parliament, polling at 5%.
Polls close in Bavaria and Hesse
It's 6 p.m. in Germany. Polls are now closed in Bavaria and Hesse.
First exit polls are being released as we speak. More coming in a few seconds.
Hesse party leaders tight-lipped on coalition calculus
The party leaders in Hesse kept their cards close to their chests when asked about potential coalition combinations amid the vote.
The CDU's Boris Rhein, current state premier and the man who leads what's likely to be the largest party, said voters were about to provide a clear indication on coalition options, and "then we will see, how things are developing."
"I believe that democrats need to be able to find common ground among each other," he said.
Rhein said his party's job was to secure the largest share of the vote, and said that in that case, he'd be sure to at least reach out to all three of the other mainstream parties, his current Green coalition partners, the Social Democrats, and the Free Democrats.
The Greens' Tarek Al-Wazir similarly said that "all democrats must be able to speak to each other and if necessary form coalitions."
And Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, lead candidate for the Social Democrats, also said that all coalition options would at least be considered, except that it would not be possible to establish "cooperation of any kind, not even a toleration agreement, with with the AfD."