Party list election results by state: red denotes states where the SPD had the absolute majority of the votes; pink denotes states where the SPD had the plurality of votes; darker blue denotes states where CSU had the absolute majority of the votes; and lighter blue denotes states where CDU had the plurality of votes
Barzel in victory pose at a CDU election rally in Cologne
On 27 April 1972 the opposition had tried to have CDU leader Rainer Barzel elected new chancellor in a motion of no confidence, but Barzel surprisingly missed the majority in the Bundestag by two votes. Rumours that at least one member of CDU/CSU faction had been paid by the East German Stasi intelligence service were confirmed by Markus Wolf, former head of the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung, in 1997. Nevertheless the following budget debates revealed that the government's majority was lost and only the upcoming organisation of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich delayed the arrangement of new elections. On 22 September 1972 Chancellor Brandt deliberately failed in asking for a vote of confidence and made President Gustav Heinemann dissolve the Bundestag the next day.
In the tense campaign, the CDU/CSU attacked Brandt as being too lenient towards Eastern Europe and having the wrong ideas on the economy. SPD and FDP profited from the enormous personal popularity of the chancellor, laureate of the 1971 Nobel Peace Prize. He gained the support by numerous celebrities of the West German culture and media scene (e.g. Günter Grass), expressed by the slogan Willy wählen! ("Vote for Willy!").
Election night: Brandt and Scheel declare victory at 10:20pm
On 14 December 1972 the Bundestag MPs of the social-liberal coalition re-elected Willy Brandt chancellor. His Cabinet Brandt II returned to government the next day, again with FDP chairman Walter Scheel as vice-chancellor and foreign minister. Defeated Rainer Barzel resigned as CDU chairman on 9 May 1973, he was succeeded by Helmut Kohl.
On 7 May 1974, Brandt would resign in the course of the Guillaume Affair, after one of his personal aides had been unmasked as a Stasi agent. The coalition continued under his party fellow Helmut Schmidt, while Brandt remained SPD chairman until 1987.