The FDP has traditionally been composed mainly of middle- and upper-class Protestants, who consider themselves "independents" and heirs to the European liberal tradition. Although the party is relatively weak, yielding between 5 and 10 % of the votes in elections, it has participated in all but three postwar federal governments in coalitions with the CDU (conservatives) and SPD (social-democratic) and has spent only eight years out of government since 1949.
The party took 6.2% of the vote and returned 43 deputies to the Bundestag in 1998. In 2001, Guido Westerwelle replaced Wolfgang Gerhardt as party chairman. In 2002, they took 7.4% of the vote.
The party was involved into quite some controversy after declaring itself to be the "party of the well-to-do people". A lot of people thought this meant the party was opposed to the interests of poorer people. Still, the party tends to do especially well in areas where people are more well off, and in times when the CDU is not popular among the voters.