The BBC reports New election blow for Germany's Merkel
Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have suffered heavy losses in an election in Germany's most populous state, exit polls suggest.
Support for the Christian Democrats dropped from 35% to 26% in North Rhine-Westphalia, with the Social Democrats set to return to power with the Greens.
It is the Christian Democrats' worst result in the state.
Analysts say many voters rejected Mrs Merkel's tough line on fiscal discipline as a cure for state debt.
In another development, the exit polls suggested Germany's Pirate Party had won seats in North Rhine-Westphalia, making it their fourth state parliament.
The Pirate Party has grown in strength recently with its calls for transparency and internet freedom.
According to two exit polls, the Social Democrats (SPD) won around 38%, the Christian Democrats (CDU) 25.5%, the Greens 12%, the Free Democrats (FDP) 8.5%, the Pirates 7.5% and the Left, 2.5%.
The FDP, the CDU's national coalition partner, performed better than expected, increasing their vote by nearly two percentage points and thereby giving the lie to speculation that they might fail to win seats.
When the CDU and FDP recently lost elections in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, Mrs Merkel's party scored its lowest tally there for 50 years.
The Financial Times reports German Voters Reject Austerity
Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union suffered a bruising defeat on Sunday night in the election of a new parliament in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, when the centre-left opposition of Social Democrats and Greens won a clear majority.
The vote for the CDU slumped to just 26 per cent, according to the first exit polls, by far its worst result in the state in the post-war period, and a serious setback for the German chancellor.
The outcome will be seen as a rejection by voters of the strict austerity policy promoted by Ms Merkel’s party at both local and national level, and a boost for the opposition. It will encourage the SPD and Greens to campaign all out for a “red-green” coalition at national level when Ms Merkel stands for re-election in autumn 2013.
However the biggest casualty will be Norbert Röttgen, environment minister in Berlin and leader of the CDU in NRW, who immediately took responsibility for the disastrous defeat and announced his resignation from the local party leadership.
Mr Röttgen, who was regarded as a crown prince and potential successor to Ms Merkel, had sought to make the government’s austerity policy in Berlin and in Europe the central theme of the NRW campaign. The outcome suggests that he made a mistake in doing so, and that the CDU espousal of austerity in NRW actually lost the party votes.
It is probably amazing to most US citizens that a political party named "Pirates" running on a platform of internet freedom could win any seats. Such is the nature of European politics where parties get representation if they meet a small threshold, in Germany's case, a mere five percent.
The big news is not the Pirate Party but the trouncing CDU took at the hands of the Social Democrats.
Ex-crown prince, Mr. Röttgen, is now a toad because he played himself as a Merkel clone. He tried to take the blame for this debacle, but without a doubt Merkel will bear the brunt of the blame.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock