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Has Spain swung to the right?

Andalusians have changed not so much their ideas as their voting priorities. And the priorities are now Catalonia and immigration, both of which are cornerstones of Vox’s platform

A vox rally led by party leader Santiago Abascal.
A vox rally led by party leader Santiago Abascal.Manu Fernandez (AP)

The election in Andalusia has boosted the fortunes of the center-right and the right: they got 39% of the vote in 2015 and 50% in 2018.

However, the ideology of Andalusians has not actually changed that much. When we asked voters how they would define themselves, we didn’t see a shift to the right; nor have they radically changed their opinions. According to data from the Center for Sociological Studies (CIS), there were more people in Andalusia wanting a change of government, as well as more supporters of middle-of-the-spectrum politics than in 2015, but not that many more.

Sometimes it’s not the ideology that shifts, but the issues that we give more relevance to

Berta Barbet, Barcelona Autonomous University

So how is it possible that the election result was so different?

In fact, there’s no need for people to change their ideas. Someone can hold the same opinions, such as wanting better public services and feeling Spanish, but change the importance that they award each issue when the elections come round. “Sometimes it’s not the ideology that shifts, but the issues that we give more relevance to,” says Berta Barbet, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

The debate this year has been dominated by issues such as immigration, feminism and, above all, Catalonia. This could explain the right’s success in Andalusia, says Barbet. “It’s more due to the fact that some of the top issues addressed by these parties – obviously from a right-wing angle – have become more relevant,” says Barbet.

Catalonia, in my opinion, is the big catalyst. The Andalusian elections in early December have been the first since October 1, which marked a year of listening to arguments about allowing, redirecting and heading off independence in Catalonia. It’s understandable that some Andalusians have voted to express how they feel on this matter.

Vox supporters celebrating the results of the Andalusian election.
Vox supporters celebrating the results of the Andalusian election.Alejandro Ruesga

It’s also possible that the Catalan issue made some left-wing voters stay home. If the position on the independence issue defended by the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the Podemos-backed Adelante Andalucía did not convince their supporters, it may have meant a higher abstention rate among this group. As Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) researcher José Fernández-Albertos pointed out, this could explain the apparent paradox: “It would not represent a swing to the right in the electorate as a whole, but a greater relative success by the representatives of the right.”

The other key factor is the emergence of the far-right party Vox. Perhaps no one has changed their ideas; it’s simply that voters on the right have found a party that says what they already think. Is that a move to the right? In a sense it is, as voter representation has moved to the right.

In another sense, however, it is not. “This process would be perfectly feasible with the same distribution of ideological preferences as in the past,” says Fernández-Albertos.

A year ago, there were already people who believed that Catalan independence had to be nipped in the bud and that immigrants deserved fewer rights than Spaniards, but as Barbet told me, “No one was leading that discourse.”

The emergence of Vox could be viewed as part of a global trend

We could guess early on that immigration and Catalonia were key issues in Andalusia. But now we have proof of it, particularly in relation to Vox. First of all, we know that the party got most votes in the neighborhoods that have long been the fiefdoms of the Andalusian right. We also know that Vox did better in towns where there is more immigration. And finally we know that its supporters are not defined by age or social and economic background but by ideology.

In fact, what appears to unite the voters of the far right are nationalist and nativist arguments. Asked to explain the reasons for their vote, a quarter replied: “To stop the secessionists”; a third said: “To defend the unity of Spain”; and almost half replied that it was because of Vox’s “stance on immigration.”

The emergence of Vox could be viewed as part of a global trend. It’s not so much a swing to the right – or not exactly a swing to the right – as a retreat into nationalism. In many western countries, there is a demand to lock down society, to put up physical or cultural barriers and to defend national, differentiated identities. It is something that links Donald Trump’s “America First” with Brexit, with Le Pen’s appeal in France, with the anti-European sentiment in Italy and Greece, and with the growth of anti-immigration parties in Sweden and Germany.

This trend has not been absent in Spain, as it could be linked to the push for independence in Catalonia, but it has become more evident with the emergence of Vox. The underlying currents of nativism also existed within our borders, but they did not emerge with the worst of the economic crisis: instead, they became apparent in the heat of the Catalan secession drive, when the balconies became filled with Spanish flags.

English version by Heather Galloway.


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