The results that Popular Party (PP) candidate Isabel Díaz Ayuso secured at Tuesday’s Madrid regional election represent a crushing victory, which serves to continue the hegemony of her group in the region while at the same time revolutionizing the national political outlook. The importance of the result calls for an effort to understand exactly what happened. It is by its nature a complex phenomenon, with a number of factors that contributed to the win.
It would seem reasonable to point to the following points: Ayuso’s ability to connect with a wide-ranging feeling of pandemic fatigue, as well as the powerful craving for work activity and social interaction; her tapping in to the deep-seated rejection of the politics and alliances of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez that are felt among the electorate in the Spanish capital; the establishment of a campaign framework that was polarizing and anecdotal and favored her interests; and her ability to take advantage of the collapse of center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) without making any mistakes.
It appears more than probable that a desire to punish the national government was a mobilizing factor
At the forefront, it is undeniable that Ayuso managed to read perfectly the fatigue with the pandemic and make use of the weariness of a society that is utterly exhausted of the tough restrictions and lockdowns that have been in place due to Covid-19. This understandable human instinct appears to have superseded the rational nature of the restrictive measures. Madrid is an exception on the continent in terms of its lax policies for controlling the pandemic. It is debatable as to whether the right balance has been found, but without a doubt, the approach has found support among the public. This understanding of the hopes of overcoming the pandemic could well be the key to this widespread support at the ballot boxes, which has widened Ayuso’s support.
Secondly, it appears more than probable that a desire to punish the national government was a mobilizing factor. To start with by the sectors that have been most affected by the coronavirus restrictions, but also, in generic terms, there is hostility among a large sector of the Madrileño electorate toward Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), as well as former deputy prime minister and Unidas Podemos candidate for Madrid premier Pablo Iglesias. Contributing to this, no doubt, was the negotiations that the PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition government has entered into with pro-independence parties such as the Catalan Republican Left and Basque nationalist group Bildu in order to pass legislation in the Congress of Deputies, where the government lacks a working majority.
Ayuso’s strategy of direct conflict with the prime minister has been effective. The initial involvement of Sánchez in the Madrid election campaign and the direct participation of Iglesias as one of the candidates – strengthening a framework that favored Ayuso – brought a particular essence to this factor.
Confrontation and other skillful strategies during the campaign allowed Ayuso to avoid focus on questions of management during the two years she was Madrid premier, something that was less favorable for her than the fields of ideological confrontation, ambitions, and the demonization of the other candidates (including excesses such as the claims of links between Iglesias and Venezuela).
It is undeniable that Ayuso managed to read perfectly the fatigue with the pandemic and make use of the weariness of society
This is another important area that requires reflection. The success of the PP’s candidate can be partly explained by her unusual style of leadership, which falls somewhere between entertainment and politics, and has garnered a large amount of popularity, as well as allowing her to reach outside the usual political conversations. This tactic has diverted attention not just from specific issues and future political projects, but also from corruption cases affecting the PP.
Ayuso has obviously been able to soar thanks to structural reasons that have nothing to do with her, such as the slow-motion political suicide that Ciudadanos has been committing for some time now, and of course the history of the PP itself in the region – it has held power in Madrid for more than 25 years. This presence in the institutions has allowed the PP to mould the region in accordance with its ideological preferences, not just in relation to a particular culture but also a segregated social structure (Madrid has among the worst socio-economic segregation in schools in OECD countries). This connection between Madrid and the PP’s political projects has now deepened to the point where there is now a focus on a regionalist populism, the progress of which will have to be monitored.
While all of these strategies are successful at the ballot box, they raise important questions regarding the implications that they will have in terms of polarization, the impoverishment of political discourse, and even in terms of confrontation between regions. But they also have implications for those parties who are still unable to read and express what their voters are going through in a very acute way.
English version by Simon Hunter.