Social Democratic Party of Austria

The Social Democratic Party of Austria (German: Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ) is a social-democratic[3][4] political party in Austria. The oldest extant political party in Austria, the SPÖ is a member of the Socialist International, Progressive Alliance, and Party of European Socialists. Before adopting the current title in 1991, the SPÖ was named Social Democratic Workers' Party of Austria (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Österreichs, SDAPÖ) from 1888 to 1945 and, later, Socialist Party of Austria (Sozialistische Partei Österreichs) until 1991.[10] Along with the People's Party it is one of the country's two traditional major parties.

Social Democratic Party of Austria

Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs
ChairwomanPamela Rendi-Wagner
Parliamentary leaderPamela Rendi-Wagner
Managing directorChristian Deutsch
Notable deputy chairpersons
FounderVictor Adler
Founded1 January 1889 (as SDAPÖ)
14 April 1945 (as SPÖ)[1]
Preceded bySocial Democratic Workers' Party of Austria (SDAPÖ)
HeadquartersLöwelstraße 18
A-1014 Vienna
Student wingSocialist Students of Austria
Youth wingSocialist Youth Austria
Paramilitary wingHistorical: (as SDAPÖ)
Republikanischer Schutzbund
Membership180,000 (2017)[2]
IdeologySocial democracy[3][4]
Political positionCentre-left[6][7][8]
European affiliationParty of European Socialists
International affiliationProgressive Alliance
Socialist International
European Parliament groupProgressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
Colours     Red
"Lied der Arbeit"[9]
"Song of Labour"
National Council
40 / 183
Federal Council
21 / 61
3 / 9
State cabinets
6 / 9
State diets
132 / 440
European Parliament
5 / 18

The SPÖ has close ties to the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) and the Austrian Chamber of Labour (AK). Currently the second-largest party in both chambers of Parliament; the National Council and the Federal Council, the SPÖ forms the main opposition party to the federal government, a coalition of the People's Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party (FPÖ).


Since its foundation in 1889, the Social Democratic Party has been one of the main political forces in Austria. At the start of the First World War it was the strongest party in parliament, and on the ending of that war in 1918 the party leader Karl Renner became chancellor of the First Republic. The party lost power in 1920, but retained a strong base of support in the capital Vienna. A period of rising political violence culminated in the banning of the Social Democratic Party under the Austrofascist dictatorship (1934–38).

At least before the event, the Socialists broadly supported union with Nazi Germany, which took place in 1938 and brought Austria into the Second World War. In 1945 the party was reconstituted as the "Socialist Party of Austria" (Sozialistische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ), led by Adolf Schärf. The party entered the government of the Second Republic as part of a grand coalition with the People's Party (ÖVP) until 1966, Renner becoming the Republic's first president.

From 1971 to 1983, under Bruno Kreisky, the Socialist Party was the sole governing party. For the following three years it ruled in coalition with the Freedom Party (FPÖ), then up to 2000 it was again part of a grand coalition with the ÖVP, with Franz Vranitzky as Chancellor until 1997. In 1991 it reverted to including "Democratic" in its name, becoming the "Social Democratic Party of Austria" (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs).

During this period, the grand coalition combined with the "Proporz" system  whereby important posts throughout the government were shared out between members of the two main parties  evoked rising discontent. This was a factor in the growing popularity of the FPÖ, which came second to the SPÖ in elections in 1999. The following year the FPÖ and ÖVP formed a rightwing coalition, displacing the Social Democrats from a share in government. While this coalition was still in power, the Social Democrat Heinz Fischer was elected president in 2004. Following the 2006 elections another grand coalition was formed between the SPÖ and ÖVP, lasting until 2017.

Confronting the past of 1938–1945

Concerning the role of Austrian Socialists during Nazi rule from 1938–1945, the party started opening its archives and set in a commission to investigate its past conduct. The fact that, having been outlawed and imprisoned under Austrofascism, many Socialists initially welcomed the Anschluss of Austria into Germany back then could not be denied, as well as the fact that some became members of the Nazi party. Alfred Gusenbauer issued a declaration promising and supporting a full and open investigation ("Klarheit in der Vergangenheit – Basis für die Zukunft"). In 2005 the report about the so-called "brown spots" (braune Flecken) was completed and published. The report talks about SPÖ members and leaders who became members of the Nazi party during German rule after the Anschluss. One example given in the report is the case of Dr. Heinrich Gross, who received many honours from the SPÖ and even the government in the post-war period. This was despite the fact that he worked as a Nazi doctor in the euthanasia ward "Am Spiegelgrund" in Vienna, where human experiments on children were performed. Those children with presumptive mental defects were eventually killed, often by lethal injection. Dr. Gross was probably himself involved in the experimentations and killings. The Austrian judicial system protected him for a very long time from any kind of prosecution, something that was very typical in the post-war period. He enjoyed wide support from the SPÖ party and party leaders for a very long time.

Reflecting the change in attitude towards the past, Federal President Heinz Fischer in an interview with the liberal newspaper Der Standard strongly criticised Austria's view on its historical role during Nazi rule. He called the traditional view that Austria was the first victim of Nazi aggression as false. The Moscow Declaration of 1943 by émigrés, which called for the independence of Austria from Nazi Germany, was a problem since it stated that the war was neither started nor wanted by any Austrian ("Und das ist nicht richtig.") Also the fact that Austrian Jewish victims were not mentioned in the declaration (".. kein Wort für die jüdischen Opfer") as well as that it took decades for them to receive any kind of compensation and justice from the government was very regrettable and inexcusable. His statements were direct criticism of the right-wing government of the coalition ÖVP/FPÖ, which usually dragged its feet concerning compensation to victims, and the admission of the (co-)guilt Austrians carried for crimes committed by them during the Second World War. (Interview given on 10 April 2006, full text available online at

Election results by states


Burgenland is a state that is a traditional stronghold of the social democrats. Since 1964 the governors of this eastern-most state have come from the SPÖ. Burgenland is one of the few states that are ruled by a social democratic majority in the state assembly ('’Landtag). In the state assembly elections of 2000, the SPÖ received 46.6%, in 2005 it received 5.2% more votes and ended up with an absolute majority of 51.8%. Governor (Landeshauptmann) of the Burgenland is Hans Niessl.


The Carinthian SPÖ used to be very strong in this most southern Austrian state. It regularly won the most seats in state elections and the governors used to be Social Democrats until 1989. Since the rise of Jörg Haider and his FPÖ, he successfully pushed the SPÖ out of their leading position. In state elections in 1999 the SPÖ received 32.9%, it was however able to raise its share in the 2004 elections to 38.4%. In a strange twist, the SPÖ were in a coalition with the right-wing FPÖ in Carinthia, where Jörg Haider was governor, until 2005. This constellation is in question after the chairperson of the Carinthian SPÖ, Gabi Schauning, decided to resign from her post as vice-governor of Carinthia after a fall-out with Haider. Carinthia has a mandatory concentration government, where each party with a certain number of seats in the state parliament automatically participates in the state government. The term coalition therefore refers to the cooperation between parties and not to the participation in the state cabinet.

Lower Austria

In Lower Austria, the SPÖ received 29.2% in the 1998 state assembly elections. It increased its shares by 3.2% in the elections of 2003 and ended up with 32.4%. In the 2008 Lower Austrian state election, the SPÖ received 25.5% of the vote.


The SPÖ won a surprising victory in the state elections in Salzburg in 2004. It was able to increase its share of votes from 32.2% (1999) to 45.3%. For the first time the conservative ÖVP lost their traditional dominant position. Gabi Burgstaller became the first social democratic governess (Landeshauptfrau) in the state's history. In the elections of March 2009 they lost 2 seats (from 17 to 15) with a 39.5% of the votes, going to the FPÖ (from 3 to 5) with a 13% of the votes. The ÖVP had 14 seats with a 36.5% of the votes and the Grüne 2 seat with a 7.3% . The BZÖ had no seat with a 3.7% of the votes, showing a growing of the right-wing parties.


Styria was traditionally ruled by the ÖVP. In the state assembly elections of 2000, the Styrian SPÖ ended up with 32.3%. In the elections of 2005, the voters shifted towards the left, something that also benefited the local communist party, the KPÖ. The SPÖ won 9.4% more and ended up with 40.7%, defeating the ÖVP, which got only 38.7% of the votes. Franz Voves, Styrian SPÖ chairman, became state governor.


In Tyrol the social democrats receive few votes since the state is a traditional conservative stronghold. In the 1999 elections, the Tyrolean SPÖ received 22.8% of all votes, in the next elections of 2003 it increased its share by 3.1% to 25.9%.

Upper Austria

In the 2003 state elections to the Upper Austrian Landtag, the SPÖ was able to raise its voters share from 27% (1997) by 11.3% to 38.3%. It was in a grand coalition with the ÖVP in the state government as the junior partner, with four out of nine of the state government ministers coming from the SPÖ.


Vienna was always traditionally the stronghold of the Social Democratic Party. In the city council (Gemeinderat) elections of 1996, the SPÖ lost many votes to the FPÖ. It received around 39% of all votes, the FPÖ around 27.9% and the ÖVP 15.2%. This changed in 2001, when the SPÖ jumped to 46.9% and the FPÖ shrank to 20.1% and again in 2005 when the SPÖ gained to 49% and the FPÖ shrank further to 14.8%. The 2005 results meant that the SPÖ was able to hold the majority of seats in the Vienna city council and rule by itself without coalition partners. The current governor-mayor of Vienna is Michael Ludwig.


Vorarlberg is a traditional stronghold of the conservative Austrian People's Party. Of all the Austrian states, the SPÖ receives the fewest votes in this western-most state. In state assembly elections of 1999, the SPÖ received 12.9%, but was able to raise its share of votes in the elections of 2004 by 3.9% and ended up with 16.8%.

Chairpersons since 1945

The chart below shows a timeline of the social democratic chairpersons and the Chancellors of Austria. The left bar shows all the chairpersons (Bundesparteivorsitzende, abbreviated as "CP") of the SPÖ, and the right bar shows the corresponding make-up of the Austrian government at that time. The red (SPÖ) and black (ÖVP) colours correspond to which party led the federal government (Bundesregierung, abbreviated as "Govern."). The last names of the respective chancellors are shown, the Roman numeral stands for the cabinets.

Select list of other SPÖ politicians

  • Josef Cap, Head of the parliamentary club (Klubobmann)
  • Barbara Prammer, 1st female National Council President of Austria
  • Christoph Matznetter, Budget- and Financial matters spokesman in the National Council
  • Josef Broukal, journalist and MP

During the government of Kreisky, Johanna Dohnal became the first minister for women's affairs

Minority factions

Some groups within the SPÖ like Der Funke (The Spark), are Marxist and proponents of a radical strain of democratic socialism. SJ Austria, a youth organisation maintaining close relations with the party, is generally perceived of as being more towards the left-wing than the SPÖ itself.

Election results

National Council

National Council of Austria
Election year # of total votes % of overall vote # of seats Government
1945 1,434,898 (2nd) 44.6%
76 / 165
ÖVP-SPÖ-KPÖ Majority
1949 1,623,524 (2nd) 38.7%
67 / 165
ÖVP-SPÖ Majority
1953 1,818,517 (1st) 42.1%
73 / 165
ÖVP-SPÖ Majority
1956 1,873,295 (2nd) 43.0%
74 / 165
ÖVP-SPÖ Majority
1959 1,953,935 (1st) 44.8%
78 / 165
ÖVP-SPÖ Majority
1962 1,960,685 (2nd) 44.0%
76 / 165
ÖVP-SPÖ Majority
1966 1,928,985 (2nd) 42.6%
74 / 165
in opposition
1970 2,221,981 (1st) 48.4%
81 / 165
SPÖ-FPÖ Majority
1971 2,280,168 (1st) 50.0%
93 / 183
SPÖ Majority
1975 2,326,201 (1st) 50.1%
93 / 183
SPÖ Majority
1979 2,413,226 (1st) 51.0%
95 / 183
SPÖ Majority
1983 2,312,529 (1st) 47.6%
90 / 183
SPÖ-FPÖ Majority
1986 2,092,024 (1st) 43.1%
80 / 183
SPÖ-ÖVP Majority
1990 2,012,787 (1st) 42.8%
80 / 183
SPÖ-ÖVP Majority
1994 1,617,804 (1st) 34.9%
65 / 183
SPÖ-ÖVP Majority
1995 1,843,474 (1st) 38.1%
71 / 183
SPÖ-ÖVP Majority
1999 1,532,448 (1st) 33.2%
65 / 183
in opposition
2002 1,792,499 (2nd) 36.5%
69 / 183
in opposition
2006 1,663,986 (1st) 35.3%
68 / 183
SPÖ-ÖVP Majority
2008 1,430,206 (1st) 29.3%
57 / 183
SPÖ-ÖVP Majority
2013 1,258,605 (1st) 26.8%
52 / 183
SPÖ-ÖVP Majority
2017 1,351,918 (2nd) 26.9%
52 / 183
in opposition
2019 1,011,868 (2nd) 21.2%
40 / 183


Election Candidate First round result Second round result
Votes %Votes Result Votes %Votes Result
1951 Theodor Körner 1,682,881 39.1% Runner-up 2,178,631 52.1% Won
1957 Adolf Schärf 2,258,255 51.1% Won  
1963 Adolf Schärf 2,473,349 55.4% Won  
1965 Franz Jonas 2,324,436 50.7% Won  
1971 Franz Jonas 2,487,239 52.8% Won  
1974 Rudolf Kirchschläger 2,392,367 51.7% Won  
1980 Rudolf Kirchschläger 3,538,748 79.9% Won  
1986 Kurt Steyrer 2,061,104 43.7% Runner-up 2,107,023 46.1% Lost
1992 Rudolf Streicher 1,888,599 40.7% Runner-up 1,915,380 41.1% Lost
1998 No candidate
2004 Heinz Fischer 2,166,690 52.4% Won  
2010 Heinz Fischer 2,508,373 79.3% Won  
2016 Rudolf Hundstorfer 482,790 11.3% 4th place  

European Parliament

European Parliament
Election year # of total votes % of overall vote # of seats
1996 1,105,910 (2nd) 29.2%
6 / 21
1999 888,338 (1st) 31.7%
7 / 21
2004 833,517 (1st) 33.3%
7 / 18
2009 680,041 (2nd) 23.7%
4 / 17
2014 680,180 (2nd) 24.1%
5 / 18
2019 903,151 (2nd) 23.9%
5 / 18

See also


  1. "Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs". ParlGov Database. Holger Döring and Philip Manow. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
  3. Nordsieck, Wolfram (2019). "Austria". Parties and Elections in Europe.
  4. Dimitri Almeida (27 April 2012). The Impact of European Integration on Political Parties: Beyond the Permissive Consensus. CRC Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-136-34039-0. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  5. "SPOE Partei Programm" (PDF) (in German). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 November 2012. (458 KiB) Party platform, see articles I.(1) and III.7.(1): "strive for a society that overcomes class antagonisms", "only the advancement of political to economic, and therefore social, democracy establishes the precondition for the realization of our basic principles"
  6. Connolly, Kate; Oltermann, Philip; Henley, Jon (23 May 2016). "Austria elects Green candidate as president in narrow defeat for far right". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  7. "The Latest: Election tally shows Austria turning right". Washington Times. Associated Press. 15 October 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  8. Oliphant, Roland; Csekö, Balazs (5 December 2016). "Austrian far-right defiant as Freedom Party claims 'pole position' for general election: 'Our time comes'". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  9. Hochman, Erin R. (2016). Imagining a Greater Germany: Republican Nationalism and the Idea of Anschluss. Cornell University Press. p. 115. ISBN 9781501706066.
  10. Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Austria: Transport and telecommunications - history - geography". Retrieved 24 October 2019.


  • Gordon Brook-Shepherd. The Austrians. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. London, 1995. ISBN 3-552-04876-6
  • Caspar Einem, Wolfgang Neugebauer, Andreas Schwarz. Der Wille zum aufrechten Gang. Czernin Verlag, Vienna, 2005. ISBN 3-7076-0196-X (Discussion on book is available online on
  • Maria Mesner (Ed.). Entnazifizierung zwischen politischem Anspruch, Parteienkonkurrenz und Kaltem Krieg: Das Beispiel der SPÖ. Oldenbourg Verlag, Vienna, 2005. ISBN 3-486-57815-4
  • Bruno Kreisky, Matthew Paul Berg (Translator), Jill Lewis (Ed.).The Struggle for a Democratic Austria: Bruno Kreisky on Peace and Social Justice. Berghahn Books, New York, 2000. ISBN 1-57181-155-9
  • Barbara Kaindl-Widhalm. Demokraten wider Willen? Autoritäre Tendenzen und Antisemitismus in der 2. Republik. Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik, Vienna, 1990.
  • Norbert Leser: Zwischen Reformismus und Bolschewismus. Der Austromarxismus in Theorie und Praxis, 1968.
  • Wolfgang Neugebauer. Widerstand und Opposition, in: NS-Herrschaft in Österreich. öbv und hpt, Vienna, 2000. ISBN 3-209-03179-7
  • Peter Pelinka. Eine kurze Geschichte der SPÖ. Ereignisse, Persönlichkeiten, Jahreszahlen. Ueberreuter, Vienna, 2005. ISBN 3-8000-7113-4
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