For much of 2004, there had been speculation that if the opposition Christian Democratic Union were to win this election, they would gain a two-thirds majority in the national upper house, the Bundesrat, and force a new election for the Bundestag by making the country ungovernable for Gerhard Schröder's coalition. Following the CDU's loss of a majority in Saxony, this risk was alleviated; however, North Rhine-Westphalia had been governed by the SPD alone or in coalition since 1966, so a defeat there would be perceived as a grave blow to the SPD.
Leading up to the election, polling in the state indicated a consistent lead (from 5-11% depending on agency) for a coalition of the CDU and the FDP over the SPD-Green share. In general, high German unemployment and the unpopularity of the national SPD and the Hartz IV reforms appeared to have taken a toll. Polls did indicate that SPD state leader Steinbrück was personally more popular than CDU state leader Jürgen Rüttgers, though.
Official results are as follows. Note that overall seat totals have been reduced, lowering the seat counts for all parties.
Voter turnout was at 63%, an increase of 7% over the previous election in 2000. Previous to the election, some analysts had predicted that a CDU victory might result from disenchanted SPD voters staying home, but the turnout figures appear to reject this scenario.
Jürgen Rüttgers announced his intention to form a coalition with the FDP and form a government for the state. This would be the first non-SPD government in North Rhine-Westphalia since 1966.
Further, SPD party leader Franz Müntefering and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder unexpectedly announced preliminary plans to call an early federal election in autumn 2005, saying that the current federal coalition needed a fresh mandate to continue with reforms.