Lately, it’s becoming harder to flick through Spanish TV channels without running into Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez.
Last Wednesday, the new head of Spain’s main opposition party made a surprise telephone call to afternoon talk show Sálvame, which has an audience of over 1.8 million. Just as the host was criticizing the Socialist mayor of Tordesillas for continuing to run the controversial Toro de la Vega fiesta, which involves hunting down a bull with spears, Sánchez called into the show live and pledged to eliminate the event if he wins the next general election.
That same day, Sánchez was a guest on the popular late-night show El Hormiguero, where he talked in front of 2.7 million people about his daughters, tax reform, his own “four or five months” on unemployment benefit, Germany’s Angela Merkel, his nickname of “El Guapo” (roughly translated as “the good-looking guy”), and abortion. He also shot a few basketball hoops with host Pablo Motos.
While this is not the first time that a Spanish politician has appeared on primetime TV – former Madrid premier Esperanza Aguirre and Catalan premier Artur Mas have also done so – users of social networks reacted with surprise to Sánchez’s appearances.
The social networks reflected surprise reactions to Sánchez’s appearances, both positive and negative
“Pedro Sánchez is betting on a new communication policy that is democratic and unprejudiced, and that connects with the feeling on the street,” explained sources at party headquarters in Madrid.
The move is part of a wider strategy of change introduced by Sánchez, a virtual unknown until he was elected party secretary in late July on the promise of overhauling a party that has been floundering since its crushing defeat at the November 2011 elections.
Only 42 and with no obvious ties to the previous Socialist administration to weigh him down as his predecessor Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba had, Sánchez personifies the new image that the party is keen to convey.
Sánchez is not the only Spanish politician to be using TV as a tool for actively attracting voters. The success of Spain’s new left-wing party Podemos, which secured five seats in the European Parliament at the May 25 elections despite only being founded four months before, is partly down to leader Pablo Iglesias’s regular television exposure in the months prior to the vote.
It drives me up the wall when you send in a résumé and you don’t get a reply” Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez
With its rhetoric of revolutionary change and criticism of “the caste” – a reference to the political and economic powers that be – Podemos could attract many disgruntled left-wing voters at the next elections, a fact that the Socialists are keenly aware of.
And so Sánchez is multiplying his own public appearances. He does not allow aides to tell him when to leave public events. He lets fans take selfies with him even if it throws him off schedule. The mood at Socialist headquarters these days is that every media invitation has to be honored.
“There is a very elaborate storytelling effort behind Sánchez’s appearances in Sálvame and El Hormiguero,” says David Espinós, a political consultant for several parties. The storytelling involves creating a character who awakens voters’ sympathies: the unbuttoned white shirt, the reference to his daughters and the public school they go to, the mention of his spell without a job are all elements of the story.
“It drives me up the wall when you send in a résumé and you don’t get a reply,” Sánchez confessed on El Hormiguero. “If the answer is no, they should at least tell you.” The comment resonated with the audience: there was a round of enthusiastic applause.
“It’s important for the complexity of the political discourse to adapt to other languages other than that of the traditional press,” says Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí, a political consultant. “The message has to be accessible not just on a two-page newspaper spread but also in a tweet or on seven minutes of primetime.”