Spain: a ship in troubled waters

Questo ‘articolo’ rappresenta un estratto della conclusione di un mio paper dal titolo “How do Spaniards vote? Party System Change after 2011 Elections” . L’abstract è disponibile sul mio profilo Research Gate.

For long time Spain has been characterized by a high degree of stability assured, on the one hand, by an electoral system arranged to attain ‘majoritarian outcomes’ and, on the other hand, by voters’ behaviour that has been structured in this direction by the peculiar characteristics of Spanish politics such as the high degree of personalization of politics, the catch-all party organizations and a competition structured among the left-right ideological cleavage. All these elements gradually contributed to restrict the competition between two main parties – PSOE and PP – able to catalyse a large part of votes, constantly increased until 2008 when together gained 82% of votes.

General elections held in 2011 partially modified this pattern. Though PP obtained the absolute majority in the Congress of Deputies, bipartism index fell to 73% (the lowest score since 1993) in large part because of the bad performance of PSOE that lost more than 15%. This amount of votes was divided partly among the ‘grey zone’ of abstention – that reached the levels of 2000 with 31.06% – , the smaller leftist and center-leftist parties IU and UPyD, that increased both of more than 3% gaining respectively 9 and 4 seats more than 2008, and – to a lesser extent – the Popular Party [Kennedy 2012; Martin and Urquizu-Sancho 2012].

Notwithstanding, it is difficult to say if the ‘fluidity’ of 2011 elections represents a structural dealignment of voters from the institutionalized bipolar pattern or if it has been given only by a contingent reaction of Spanish electorate to the bad management of the economic crisis made by Zapatero’s government. podemos1A confirmation to the first hypothesis seems to come from the recent European elections held on May 25th, where both PSOE and PP have been severely sanctioned by voters so that, for the first time, the bipartism index fell below 50%. At the same time the smaller state-wide parties IU, UPyD and Podemos – a ‘new-born’ leftist movement built up by academics and intellectuals – registered a decisive progress, constituting a sort of little pole around 24%, able to endanger for the first time ‘PSOE-PP monopoly’. The ‘imperfect bipartism’ built up in the last twenty years is experiencing a critical moment, inverting the pluriannual ‘decremental tendency’ that anchored one of the most stable system of the entire European Union.

The ideological cleavage still works though party identification, already feeble in the past, seems to get more and more weak, risking to increase progressively party fragmentation. Until 2011 electoral system worked, being able to guarantee the survival of the bipolar format. It is difficult to say if it will do the same next year when Spaniards will be called to sanction or reward the parliamentary majority led by Mariano Rajoy. Of course it will be undoubtedly an interesting ‘test bench’ for the Spanish system stressed, as several EU democracies, by both dynamics of party dealignment and disaffection from politics and the economic crisis that inevitably grinded on governments and their popularity.


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