With two years left to go before Spain is due to hold a new general election, its political map appears increasingly fractured, according to an opinion survey by the pollster 40dB published by EL PAÍS and the Cadena SER radio network.
The poll, which gives a narrow victory to the governing Socialist Party (PSOE), shows a clear rise of the right despite widespread support for the executive’s policies on the economy, the pandemic and digitalization.
If elections were held today, the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the ultranationalist Vox would gain ground and together secure around 30 more seats than those won jointly by the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos, who make up the current coalition government.
Even so, the PSOE’s losses would not be enough for the PP to clinch the election: the Socialists would come in first with 26.1% of votes, two points down from the 2019 election and representing 108 seats (12 fewer); the conservatives would win 23.5% of votes, 2.7 points up from 2019, giving them 100 seats (11 more).
The far-right Vox would attract up to 18.3% of votes to gain 66 seats, up from 52. Unidas Podemos would lose four of its 35 lawmakers while Ciudadanos (Citizens), which is part of the liberal alliance in the European Parliament, would confirm its downfall with just two seats from the 10 it won in 2019.
This outcome suggests ever smaller margins of victory that will require complicated negotiations to form a government. The November 2019 election was the fourth in four years, and two of those were repeat votes triggered by the impossibility of reaching governing deals. For decades the PSOE and PP took turns in power, but the economic crisis of 2008 spawned protest parties and Spanish politics have since been defined by a lack of clear parliamentary majorities. The absolute majority in the 350-strong Congress of Deputies is set at 176 seats.
Reacting to the poll on Monday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez blamed the PP’s brand of “denialist opposition” for the rise of the far right. “There are collectives that feel that democracy is not an efficient tool to respond to their demands,” he told the Cadena SER radio network. “And they look to authoritarian leaderships, which is what the far right represents. Right now political denialism is feeding the far right, and that is the right’s mistake. That is why it is so important to carry on with reforms that bring dignity to citizens.” Sánchez added that his plans for the next two years are to push through new reforms, including a fiscal one.
Support for economic, health policies
The poll, based on 2,000 surveys, shows widespread support for many of the government’s policies even though the executive’s overall image is bad, with 30% of Socialist voters calling it “incompetent.”
Yet for the first time in decades, Spaniards appeared to trust the political left more than the right to handle the economy efficiently. The PSOE was viewed as better able to improve the economic situation by 22.4% of respondents, compared with 21.1% who preferred the PP. And 22.2% said the PSOE is better at creating new jobs than the PP (20%). As for managing European recovery funds, 25.2% said the Sánchez administration is better prepared, compared with 17.7% who supported the party led by Pablo Casado. As for the digitalization effort, 22.2% preferred the PSOE versus 17.4% who backed the PP.
Until now, Spanish citizens typically expressed more support for the right to handle the economy and for the left to manage social issues. This time, despite increased political polarization and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, those polled responded positively to the recent surge in job creation, which is back to pre-pandemic levels (by comparison, it took 12 years to get back to pre-2008 levels). Even so, GDP growth is not matching job growth and Spain remains one of the most deeply indebted countries in the European Union. Inflation and soaring electricity prices have also become thorny issues used by the opposition against the government.
With Spain deep into the sixth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the government received overall support for its health policies, particularly on the success of its vaccination campaign.
The PSOE emerged as the favorite party to deal with Spain’s most pressing problems. This includes the issue of Catalan independence (18%), although there was widespread rejection of last year’s government pardons for jailed leaders of the 2017 unilateral secession attempt.
But the survey also showed Vox in second place as the best party to handle the Catalan issue (17%), ahead of the PP (13%) and Unidas Podemos (11%). The far-right party openly supports taking away Catalonia’s powers of self-rule, and this option is supported by 9.5% of PSOE voters, 28% of PP voters, 21.5% of Ciudadanos voters and 0.7% of Podemos voters.