With less than two weeks to go before voters head to the polls, John Boyce examines some key factors that may decide the outcome.
After the disastrous results for the left in May’s local and regional elections, Prime minister Pedro Sanchez stunned political observers by calling a general election for July 23rd, almost six months earlier than planned.
Though known for his willingness to take risks since his stunning comeback to regain the leadership of the Socialist party (PSOE) back in 2017, this snap election represents his biggest gamble yet.
With the campaign now in full swing there are several x factors that may be crucial in deciding the result.
A summer time election first
This is the first time since Spain’s return to democracy over forty years ago that a general election has been held in the middle of summer.
There are some interesting if conflicting theories on how it might impact the outcome.
Opposition and Popular party leader Alberto Fejoo was quick to accuse Prime minister Sanchez of trying to depress turnout among his more affluent right wing base, who are more likely to be holidaying in second homes or abroad. Others suggest the likely soaring temperature will depress turnout more generally, usually considered more detrimental to the left.
To add to the confusion, recent polling data from CIS, the official state polling institute points strongly to a bumper turnout.
Given the uncharted water this election date represents, anyone who claims to know for sure its effects risks looking foolish come July 24th.
Motivating the base
One of the principal reasons for the left’s very poor showing in May’s local elections was abstentionism.
During their election post mortem, PSOE calculated that as many as half a million habitual socialist voters stayed at home, while the rate was even higher among the parties to their left. There are several reasons to suggest that things will be a little different next time out.
With less politically at stake, local elections by their very nature produce lower turnouts, and often serve as an opportunity for voters to give the ruling parties at national level a good kicking. With the fate of the entire nation at stake on July 23rd, PSOE can reasonably expect at least some of that half million cohort to return to the fold.
After their even more dismal showing in May, the disparate forces of the radical left have gotten their act together with fourteen different political entities uniting behind the popular labour minister Yolanda Diaz and her unity platform, Sumar.
Under an electoral system that punishes smaller parties, this should help to more efficiently convert votes into seats. Perhaps most motivating of all for the left is the prospect of the far right entering national government. Both Sanchez and Diaz are hoping that the sight of the Popular Party (PP) doing deals with Vox in autonomous regions around the country will bring out their bases in an effort to block a similar arrangement at national level.
Walking a fine line with the far right.
With all the polls presently pointing to a victory for the PP over the socialists, the party has reasons to be cheerful. There is, however, a big V shaped fly in the ointment. Not a single poll puts the party anywhere near the 170 odd seats they would need to govern alone.
This raises the spectre of having to share power with the far right Vox party. This conundrum has required Fijoo and his party to tread carefully with the pugnacious party to their right. After months of refusing to be drawn on the subject, last week Fijoo eventually conceded that in the event of falling short he would be prepared to do business with Vox leader, Santiago Abascal.
His reticence is largely born of the fear of losing middle ground voters, intensely uncomfortable with Vox’s denial of the concept of gendered violence and their anti LGBTQ+ rhetoric, and has informed Fijoo’s recent refusal to appear at a debate of the four main party leaders.
His handlers have decided Fijoo has less to lose by being empty chaired than appearing side by side with Abascal. Vox’s controversial election manifesto, which advocates a ban on abortion, and the effective dismantlement of the federal system of autonomous communities, will also make life uncomfortable for Fijoo as election day approaches.
When a bronze is worth its weight in gold.
All but the most devoted and optimistic PSOE voters have by now privately conceded that their party will finish second to the PP when all the votes are counted. With the exception of CIS, the national statistics institute (whose polling is widely regarded as biased in favour of PSOE) not a single poll in the last few months has predicted a first palace finish for the socialists.
However, the silver medal could still be enough to return them to power depending on who picks up the bronze. Third place is being hotly contested by the far right and the far left, VOX and Sumar respectively, with Vox currently maintaining a slight lead in most polls. In many of the medium sized and larger provinces Vox and Sumar will be in a dog fight for the final seat.
If the PP continues to gain slightly at the expense of Vox, it could see Sumar pip the far right at the post in many of these constituencies. For Pedro Sanchez to have any hope of returning as prime minister after J23, he needs Sumar to improve on the 38 seats the radical left holds in the current parliament.
Most polling places Sumar just short of that number but with the party enjoying a modest but steady upward trend, as voters who opted for Podemos last time out increasingly row in behind Suumar’s unity platform.