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1961 West German federal election

← 1957 17 September 1961 (1961-09-17) 1965 →

All 499 seats in the Bundestag[a]
250 seats needed for a majority
Registered37,440,715 (Increase 5.8%)
Turnout87.7% (Decrease 0.1pp)
  First party Second party Third party
Audenauer, Bestanddeelnr 912-8736.jpg
Willy Brandt.jpg
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-87989-0060, Erich Mende.jpg
Candidate Konrad Adenauer Willy Brandt Erich Mende
Last election 50.2%, 270 seats 31.8%, 169 seats 7.7%, 41 seats
Seats won 242[b] 190[c] 67
Seat change Decrease 28 Increase 21 Increase 26
Popular vote 14,298,372 11,427,355 4,028,766
Percentage 45.3% 36.2% 12.8%
Swing Decrease 4.9pp Increase 4.4pp Increase 5.1pp

Results by constituency (left) and seats by state (right). The pie chart over West Berlin shows the composition of its legislature.

Government before election

Third Adenauer cabinet

Government after election

Fourth Adenauer cabinet

Federal elections were held in West Germany on 17 September 1961 to elect the members of the fourth Bundestag. The CDU/CSU remained the largest faction, winning 242 of the 499 seats. However, the loss of its majority and the All-German Party losing all its seats led to the CDU having to negotiate a coalition with the long-term junior coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party, leading to a demand for long-term chancellor Konrad Adenauer to leave office in 1963, halfway through his term.


Election posters

For the first time, the SPD announced a Chancellor candidate who was not chairman of the party: Willy Brandt, the Governing Mayor of West Berlin. After the building of the Berlin Wall, he gained more and more sympathy, while chancellor Konrad Adenauer was criticised for not showing enough support for the people of West Berlin. Adenauer had to save the absolute majority of CDU and CSU, but, considering his age and his long term as chancellor, there were big doubts if he should lead the country in a fourth term.


Votes%SeatsVotes%SeatsElectedWest BerlinTotal+/–
Social Democratic Party11,427,35536.229911,672,05736.479119013203+22
Christian Democratic Union11,283,90135.767811,622,99536.321141929201−21
Free Democratic Party4,028,76612.77673,866,26912.08067067+24
Christian Social Union3,014,4719.5583,104,7429.704250050−5
All-German Party870,7562.760859,2902.680000−17
German Peace Union [de]609,9181.930587,4881.8400000
Deutsche Reichspartei262,9770.830242,6490.7600000
German Community [de]27,3080.09021,0830.0700000
South Schleswig Voters' Association25,4490.08024,9510.0800000
Electoral Group for a Neutral Germany7780.000000New
Independents and voter groups2,1640.0100000
Valid votes31,550,90196.0532,004,46697.43
Invalid/blank votes1,298,7233.95845,1582.57
Total votes32,849,624100.0032,849,624100.00
Registered voters/turnout37,440,71587.7437,440,71587.74
Source: Bundeswahlleiter

Results by state

Constituency seats

State Total
Seats won
Baden-Württemberg 33 27 6
Bavaria 47 5 42
Bremen 3 3
Hamburg 8 8
Hesse 22 3 19
Lower Saxony 34 15 19
North Rhine-Westphalia 66 41 25
Rhineland-Palatinate 15 10 5
Saarland 5 5
Schleswig-Holstein 14 13 1
Total 247 114 91 42

List seats

State Total
Seats won
Baden-Württemberg 33 16 5 12
Bavaria 39 23 8 8
Bremen 2 1 1
Hamburg 10 1 6 3
Hesse 23 2 14 7
Lower Saxony 26 6 11 9
North Rhine-Westphalia 89 35 35 19
Rhineland-Palatinate 16 6 6 4
Saarland 4 3 1
Schleswig-Holstein 10 7 3
Total 252 99 78 67 8


The absolute majority was lost by the conservative union due to the gains of the liberal FDP under Erich Mende. From 1961 on, the Union, SPD and FDP established an electoral "triopoly" in the Bundestag that would last until 1983.

Konrad Adenauer remained Chancellor, building a coalition between the CDU/CSU-FDP. In 1962 he had to announce a fifth cabinet: The FDP had temporarily left the coalition after the secretary of defense, Franz Josef Strauß (CSU), had ordered the arrest of five journalists for publishing a memo detailing alleged weaknesses in the German armed forces (known as the Spiegel scandal). In 1963 Adenauer finally retired; Ludwig Erhard took over his position as head of the coalition government.

Further reading


  1. ^ As well as the 22 non-voting delegates for West Berlin, elected by the West Berlin Legislature.
  2. ^ As well as 9 non-voting delegates for West Berlin.
  3. ^ As well as 13 non-voting delegates for West Berlin.