Following an inconclusive general election on December 20, Spain’s political parties have so far been unable to reach agreement on any kind of coalition.
Should voters have to return to the polls, as appears increasingly likely, the experts are saying that turnout will be lower this time around.
If people view it as a runoff, then abstention shouldn’t increase that much”
Belén Barreiro, MyWord consultants
“Voting requires no small amount of intellectual and physical effort, and effort is something that tires voters,” says Carles Castro, a lecturer at Pompeu Fabra University and author of a recent book that looks at how Spaniards vote.
This is the first time since the country returned to democracy in the late 1970 that Spain has faced a political standoff at the national level. There have been short-lived administrations and minority governments, but it has never been necessary to return to the polls as a result of the inability to form a government.
At the regional level, on the two occasions when no strong winner emerged and second elections were called – in Madrid in 2003 and in Asturias in 2012 – voter turnout dropped.
The same thing happened in Greece in 2012, with participation falling from 65% to 62%.
A zero-sum game
“Public opinion is evolving very quickly,” says Narciso Michavila, president of consulting firm GAD3. “The electorate still hasn’t grasped that there isn’t going to be a government, but when it does, voters will likely view the parties and the current situation very differently.”
Like others in his field, Michavila believes that if there is a new election in Spain, the outcome could be a zero-sum game. Disappointment over the little use of having voted for the emerging Podemos and Ciudadanos; a new desire to vote, rather than abstain, after seeing what state traditional parties have been left in; and a practical sense that favors facilitating the formation of government, are all factors that could create a new distribution of forces at a second election, yet maintain the stalemate.
And as Michavila points out, if that happens, voters won’t get a third chance: “Voters wouldn’t put up with the uncertainty and would demand that parties reach some kind of agreement.”
Which is why it makes no sense to repeat the election, say some analysts: “It is very likely that any new redistribution of votes from Ciudadanos to the PP and from the Socialist Party to Podemos, as forecast, would produce yet another blockage,” says Pablo Simón, a politics lecturer at Carlos III University.
Bringing out the vote
“It’s clear that participation will be lower, but the final figure will depend on maintaining the voter mobilization that we have seen in recent years, and on how the electorate interprets new elections,” says Belén Barreiro, director of the market research company MyWord. “If people view it as a runoff, then abstention shouldn’t increase that much. We may even see a situation whereby voters who stayed at home on December 20 will participate this time to help clear things up.”
“If we do see new elections, turnout will depend largely on how political parties handle things in the coming weeks,” says José Juan Toharia, head of polling firm Metroscopia. “If their maneuvering disappoints people, it will put voters off. But the opposite could also happen. People still want change, and many voters are not happy with the outcome of the election. It is possible that people who said they were going to vote for the new parties but in the end didn’t bother voting might decide to do so this time round.”