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A candidate is an applicant (for example, for an office) or a candidate for a position.

Word origin

The word has been used in German since the 16th century and goes back to the Latin candidatus , which is derived from the toga candida (Latin: candidus "shiny, white"), a white robe that in ancient Rome was a contender Had to carry office. In substantive terms, it denotes "the candidate for office who had to introduce himself to the people in the candida , the white toga ". The reason: Even the Roman nobility, who usually wore a purple stripe on their toga, were obliged to wear a simple white toga during the election campaign in order to ensure equal opportunities for all applicants.

The derivation of candidacy as "application for a (political) office" emerged in the 19th century from the French candidature .

Candidate in politics

A candidate is a person who applies for a mandate or office in an election .

Top candidate

In the case of a list election , the applicant who takes first place on the list is usually called the top candidate . However, parties such as Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen or Die Linke often nominate two top candidates (also known as top duo ), who then usually occupy the first two places on the list. As a rule, the major political parties nominate the person who is to assume the most important office if the party enters government. In the SPD and CDU, for example, candidates for chancellor are generally made top candidates at the federal level , and the prime ministers designated by the party at the state level .

Since the top candidates belong to the party represented in parliament, they can now, if parliament elects the head of government on the basis of the majority ratios given by the election , participate in this election and thus vote themselves if necessary. The first election of Konrad Adenauer as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany on September 15, 1949 could not have succeeded without his own vote. A top candidate who becomes head of government or minister may, according to the prevailing constitutional opinion, keep his parliamentary mandate. For the local level, however, the local constitutions of the federal states sometimes stipulate that a community representative who is elected to the community board (e.g. a city councilor who becomes a member of the magistrate ) loses his office as a community representative in order to prevent conflicts of interest.

For a member of the government, even if he belongs to parliament and occasionally uses his parliamentary rights, parliamentary work will not be the focus. An important task of the MP, the control of the government, can naturally not be carried out by it. If, on the other hand, the party of a Spitzenkandidat goes into the opposition , the Spitzenkandidat often decides to keep his high office at a subordinate political level (for example, if he cannot become Federal Chancellor, to remain Prime Minister of a country). As a rule, he then does not take up the parliamentary mandate for which he was running. The top candidacy of a politician often does not (or not primarily) mean that he is aiming for the office for which he is running. It is therefore sometimes polemically referred to as a mock candidacy . The top candidates lead their party in the election campaign and are therefore the most important personalities in the political debate.

Even with the small parties, the top candidates are usually intended for one of the most important departments when they join the government after the election; possibly also as a candidate for chancellor .

Opposing candidate, counting candidate

If there is a clear favorite in an election, for example due to preliminary agreements, a candidate who competes against this is referred to as the opposing candidate . If he is not given a chance to actually be elected, he is also referred to as a counting candidate : His candidacy only serves to determine the number of opposition votes. If the candidate still achieves a good result (measured against his election chances), one speaks of a respectable success . There are several reasons for listing candidates to be counted:

  • The candidacy of the counting candidate can serve to "show the flag", to achieve a respectable success and thus to improve the chances of subsequent elections. For example, Alfred Dregger started in the state elections in Hesse in 1970 as a “counting candidate” for a party (the CDU ) that had received just 26.4% of the vote in the last election. He led the CDU in four elections as the top candidate to 45.6% in 1982.
  • In the case of personal elections, an absolute majority of the votes cast is often required in the first ballot. Here, a candidate for counting has the function of demonstrating the strength of its own supporters. If the counting candidate no longer runs in the second ballot (or if he cannot do so because a run-off election is then planned), he can influence one of the remaining candidates by making an election recommendation (or failing to do so ). Examples are the presidential election in France in 2007 , in which François Bayrou deliberately refrained from recommending an election, or the German presidential election in 1925 .
  • If the electoral law provides that a person vote is to be carried out if only one list is registered for election, but a list election when several lists are available (for example in some local elections , in works council and staff council elections ), it can be tactically advisable to vote to draw up a second list of candidates to be counted to ensure that voters cannot change the order of candidates on the only serious list.
  • If election campaign costs are reimbursed, there is also an economic reason for listing candidates.
  • In totalitarian states, counting candidates are put up to give the appearance of a democratic election.

Bogus candidate

If a candidate - or a substantial part of the nominees - already knows at the candidacy that he will not accept his mandate if he is elected, he is referred to as a sham candidate . An exception are leading candidates on a party list who do not primarily seek the parliamentary mandate for which they are running, but a government office that this parliament has to award. This is customary in the Federal Republic of Germany and is generally not objected to (see the Spitzenkandidat section ).

If, on the other hand, personalities - and not majority ratios - are actually available for election, and a group then pushes a popular person forward with the plan that he or she does not want to take up office but rather leave it to someone else, this must be described as a misleading of the voter. In contrast, sham candidates on the lower list are quite common. Small parties sometimes want to make the seriousness of their candidacy clear by putting up at least as many candidates as there are mandates to be awarded. Every voter then knows that a candidacy for the bottom 90% or 95% of the list is not to be understood as striving for a mandate, but as support for the cause of the party.

Sometimes such bogus candidates are challenged by the right to vote. For example, the Hessian municipal electoral law stipulates that votes cast for a party are only counted in full in elections for municipal councils if the party has nominated candidates for at least one third of the seats to be allocated. If the electoral law allows the voters to influence the order of the candidates (for example by cumulating and variegating ), a prominent bogus candidate from the bottom of the list can surprisingly receive a mandate. Whether or not he accepts this is entirely his own decision. He will have to decide it after weighing the responsibility before his voters, the responsibility before the party nominating him and his personal interests.

Permanent candidate

In most communities, people are known to run for elections again and again with no prospect of success, mostly as individual candidates or as candidates of very small parties or movements. You do this either out of a personal need for recognition or to attract additional attention to a political or private concern. For example, Fridi Miller from Sindelfingen has already run unsuccessfully for dozens of mayor offices , especially in the Swabian region, in order to regain the custody of her daughter that has been withdrawn from her. One of the best-known permanent candidates in German-speaking countries was the German civil rights activist Helmut Palmer (1930-2004), known as the Remstal rebel , father of the current Mayor of Tübingen , Boris Palmer . He also ran unsuccessfully for a large number of mayor's offices, especially in the Swabian region.

Communist Party candidates

In the governing bodies of communist parties , new members were initially accepted as candidates. B. Politburo candidate . In this status they took part in the meetings without voting rights. Even simple members generally had to, e. B. in the SED , go through a candidate period of one to two years before being accepted as a member.

Candidates in religious orders

Religious communities have a period of candidacy before the postulate , during which the candidate (also aspirant) can get to know the religious community and, conversely, the religious community can come to a decision on the admission of the candidate to the postulate. The applicant usually continues to live in the world. In some religious orders, however, the postulants are also named candidates. Depending on the type and the constitutions of the religious order, the candidacy can be very different; in some communities the candidates live the daily routine of the community during their stay, in others a meeting is arranged at regular intervals. The duration of the candidacy also varies greatly.

Academic importance

In Germany, the term “candidate” is not an academic degree in contrast to some Eastern European and Scandinavian countries. Various meanings are associated with the term "candidate":

  • 5th semester student (in the 18th and 19th centuries)
  • Student after taking a preliminary examination such as Philosophikum (cand. Phil.), Physikum (cand. Med.) Etc. In Austria also a student after the first diploma examination, in medicine after the first Rigorosum.
  • In the Netherlands, the academic degree kandidaat or candidatus, usually awarded after three years of study, has been replaced by the bachelor's degree .
  • In Belgium the kandidaat (Flanders) or the candidature (Wallonia) was awarded after two years of study. This degree was abolished in 2005/06 with the introduction of the Bachelor's degree.
  • Theologian who held ecclesiastical dignities before taking his exams (up to the 18th century)


  • PhD student and candidate for a degree (since the end of the 16th century).
  • The Russian academic degree “ Candidate in Science ” as the completion of the so-called aspirantur corresponds to the Western European “ Doctor ” or “ Ph. D. ” and requires a dissertation. In contrast, the degree of "Doctor of Science" (GDR: Doctorate B - "Dr. sc.") Awarded in the Eastern Bloc and in the CIS is roughly equivalent to the Western European "Dr. habil. ”or private lecturers accordingly. In Czechoslovakia and Hungary, the Candidatus Scientiarum (C. Sc.) Was awarded as an academic title based on the Soviet model until the beginning of the 1990s , and today it is presented as a Ph. D. equivalent.


  1. Cicero's campaign speech “in toga candida” is famous . Despite his white candidate toga, everyone in Rome knew that Cicero belonged to the nobility.
  2. Fridi Miller: Permanent plaintiff declared incapable of doing business by the court. In: Stuttgarter Nachrichten. Retrieved October 4, 2020 .
  3. Fridi against the rest of the world. In: The Teckbote. Retrieved October 4, 2020 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Candidate  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations