Monday, March 10, 2008

Thoughts on the Spanish election

The Spanish government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero won reelection on Sunday, gaining five seats in the process. However, the results were mixed for both the Socialists and the opposition People's Party.

Almost all the Socialist gains came from cannibalizing smaller leftist partner parties. Here is a list of PSOE gains:
  • Almería (the constituency gained a seat which went to PSOE)
  • Barcelona, 2 (gained from the Esquerra and Iniciativa per Catalunya-Verds, two leftist parties)
  • Girona (gained from the Esquerra)
  • Guipúzcoa (gained from the Basque social democrats, Eusko Alkartasuna)
  • Las Palmas (gained from the Canarian regionalists)
  • Ourense (gained from the PP)
  • Tarragona (gained from the Esquerra)
  • Toledo (constituency gained a seat which went to PSOE)
  • Vizcaya (gained from the Basque Nationalist Party, EAJ-PNV)
  • Zaragoza (gained from the Aragonese leftists, Chunta Aragonesista)
The PSOE made only one pickup directly from the PP, in the Galician province of Ourense, but lost several seats to the PP, resulting in only a 5-seat gain overall. The only seats which flipped to the PSOE from non-leftist parties were that seat, plus the seat in Vizcaya lost by the Basque nationalists. Most voters showed identical voting patterns to previous years; in Andalucía and Castilla-La Mancha, swing voters trended towards the PP, and the populares picked up 5 points in Madrid. Here is, by contrast, a list of PP gains:
  • Alicante (constituency gained a seat which went to PP)
  • Almería (gained from PSOE)
  • Cádiz (gained from PSOE)
  • Ciudad Real (gained from PSOE)
  • Lleida (gained from Esquerra)
  • Madrid (gained from PSOE/far-left Izquierda Unida)
  • Málaga (gained from PSOE)
  • Murcia (constituency gained a seat which went to PP)
  • Valencia (gained from leftist Entesa)
Three of the PP's losses were in constituencies which lost seats due to population shifts, plus the Ourense loss. Thus, overall the PP lost one seat to the left in population shifts and one more directly, while taking seven seats directly from leftist parties. Advantage, PP, and the overall composition of the legislature shifts rightward. It will be somewhat more difficult for the PSOE to push through legislation this time around without the help of the Catalan conservatives; this may not be a consolation for Mariano Rajoy, but it's certainly a difference.

Other trends from this election:
  1. The United Left is almost gone. The country's "third force," the United Left coalition, consisting mainly of the formerly-powerful Communist Party of Spain, has almost vanished from the scene. In the last election, the United Left just missed the 5% needed to form an official parliamentary group and won only 5 seats; that was their worst result ever. This time around, they did far worse, taking only 3.8% and winning just one seat each in Madrid and Barcelona. Their share of the vote remained in third nationwide, but as it is dispersed across provinces in a small-constituency proportional system, they have no hope of being elected in most areas, and they probably won't rebound. They are far from their heyday of being elected in places like Asturias and Córdoba.
  2. The big parties gained. Together, the PSOE and PP went from 312 to 322 seats, leaving only 28 seats (less than 10%) for other parties; the two big parties took 83.8% of the vote. Losses were felt most strongly by the Catalan Left (Esquerra), which lost 5 of its 8 seats (4 of those losses were to the Socialists). However, the Basque nationalists lost a seat, the Canarian regionalists lost a seat, and the Basque social democrats and the Aragonese regionalists lost their only seats. This is a qualified victory for those who don't support excessive regionalization (though the Socialists gained some of their popularity in Catalonia through their pro-regional policies, and some of the changes in the Basque country might be due to a onetime "sympathy vote" after the assassination of a former Basque Socialist councillor).
  3. Most provinces were stable. Along with the gains by big parties... in 31 of 52 constituencies, there was no change at all in the seat allocations. Another six constituencies saw change just because they gained or lost a seat due to population. This leaves only 15 constituencies where a seat actually changed hands. Only in the large cities of Madrid and Barcelona did more than one seat change hands. That is to say that winning a seat on the list of the PP or PSOE is essentially a guarantee to election, since the PP and PSOE are essentially "guaranteed" their seats. What will be interesting to see in following years is if the vote "locks in" with few changes or if the PP and PSOE are able to enlarge their platforms to court more centrist voters. There have been steps in that direction from both, but neither has moved enough ideologically to strongly appeal to large groups from the other side (in particular, the PP has had trouble with this). If the former occurs and the vote stabilizes, will Spain see a loss in interest at the polls? (And will Spain see a loss in interest anyway, especially in the smaller constituencies which seem to have no hope of changing a seat in one direction or the other? In the context of three- or four-seat constituencies, the vote swings required to move a seat are pretty big!)
One more note: there are several three-seat constituencies (mostly in Castile-Leon) which are regularly won by the PP, resulting in a 2-1 split (see Palencia, Zamora, Cuenca, Guadalajara, Avila, Segovia). Soria was formerly one of these, but lost its third seat and dropped to the minimum two seats, the first province to do so; the seats therefore split 1-1 in Soria this time around. If, eventually (we're talking over 10 years or more), the other three-seat constituencies drop to two seats, that will be a five-seat drop to the PP without any votes changing hands. (Five seats, not six, because the next seat to turn would probably be Teruel in Aragon, which is a regular PSOE 2-1 win).

To summarize, then: trends are favorable for the two big parties, and in particular for the PP, but for the PP to capitalize, it must continue to abandon its rigidity and continue to make gains in former PSOE strongholds such as Andalucía. And if Spanish democracy is not to become rigid and stagnate, the parties must continue to broaden their platforms and appeal to large groups of centrist voters, or else make systemic changes to create more "swing seats."

Results at the Spanish Ministry of Interior.

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