The predictability of the Spanish election results
On the predictability of results in general Spanish elections
The 11th general election after the restoration of democracy in Spain took place on the last November 20th. The Spanish conservative party Partido Popular (PP) clearly won the election with 186 seats in the Spanish parliament. This result implies an impressive increase of 32 seats from the last general election, and its best performance ever. By contrast, the incumbent socialist party Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) lost 59 seats in the parliament and lost in virtually all the Spanish constituencies. The electoral campaign was almost exclusively monopolised by the economy. A dramatic economic scenario including unemployment rates above 21%, and a general perception of bad political management of the incumbent party, defined the context of the election.
In spite of these impressionistic general results, very little has changed in the voting patterns of Spanish general elections. Up until now, the broader picture of electoral dynamics in Spain could be almost entirely predicted by the mobilisation of centre-left electorates by the PSOE. While the absolute number and relative share of votes remains almost invariably constant within the PP electorate, the electoral turnout of centre-left electorates proves to be more volatile and to define the fortunes of PSOE and the composition of the Spanish cabinet. In spite of the low popularity levels of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his socialist government, and in spite of the worst economic crisis in modern Spanish history, the PP obtained the same results as always. The PP obtained around 550,000 votes more than in the last 2008 general election, and increased its vote share in less than 5%. By contrast, PSOE lost more than 4 million votes and 15% of its vote share. In spite of the impressive results in terms of seat allocation, the patterns of right-wing stability and left-wing volatility reveal that, rather than a clear winner, the last Spanish election just had a clear loser.
The gap between the overwhelming victory of the PP and its actual capacity to convince dissatisfied voters in one of the most favourable scenarios for an opposition party reveals two worrying aspects of the Spanish political system. First, the levels of accountability and responsiveness seem to be below a desired ideal of democratic quality. The Spanish right and centre-right electorates seem to be systematically mobilised around the 10 million vote threshold, no matter the specific circumstances of each election. These electorates seem to be immune to corruption scandals, favourable or unfavourable economic and political scenarios, and good or bad leaders. Second, the small district magnitude depresses the proportionality of the system and makes almost impossible to change an electoral outcome beyond the fortunes of PSOE. In spite of the relatively important increase of the vote for third parties and the victory of the Catalan nationalists Convergència i Unió in Catalonia, the electoral system does not reflect the existence of a highly plural society and the fact that the winning party performed in the same way as always.
Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and member of InTransit’s Advisory Council