Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Themes That Can Change An Election....The Voters Who Stay At Home

It’s normal for abstention to be factor in election results, because in most cases it does not occur in an even pattern, affecting all parties or candidates equally. Spain is no different, and with the latest opinion polls showing little change in the difference between the two major parties it acquires an even greater significance. In Spain the influence that it has on which side wins is usually very clearly defined, high abstention hurts the left more than it does the right. Let me give an example, when José Maria Aznar won his absolute majority in 2000 he did it on a relatively low turnout (around 65%). Four years later the turnout was substantially greater (about 8 points higher), and despite a PP vote that declined in real terms, the PSOE was still not able to achieve a majority. When the PSOE has won a majority it has almost always been with a higher, more motivated, turnout on election day.

The lesson that is drawn from these trends is that supporters of the right are more likely to vote than supporters of the left. Now, assuming that nothing happens between now and March to seriously affect the pattern of the polls, this means that the best chance the PP has for returning to power is for a significant percentage of those PSOE voters who came out to vote last time around to stay at home. I forget which one it was, but one of Aznar's ex-ministers complained after the last election that lots of people had voted who did not normally vote, as if somehow this was against the rules of the game! As things stand that is their best option, and it is hardly surprising given that the hardline opposition of the PP in the last few years as been aimed much more at shoring up their committed support than it has been at winning any new voters. As I have written about before, there are those in the PP who openly state their preference for winning on a low turnout, much better than trying to reach out to those occupying the centre ground and having to soften political positions. I can see the campaign slogan now, “If you’re not going to vote for us, then why don’t you just go shopping instead?”.

Abstention is one of the main reasons why the government is concerned about the transport crisis in Cataluña at the moment, the votes of that region are needed if the government is going to be returned to power. There are other regions where even a tiny shift in vote will produce different results to those of the last election, and the battle to be the biggest party in Parliament hangs on those areas.


Colin said...

So, Graeme, is the debacle in Catalunia impacting on your forecast? Or do you think it's too close to call now?

Graeme said...

According to the latest poll I saw it isn't having any effect...yet. If people stop voting just because they have to change from a train to a bus for a while then the UK would have the lowest participation rate in the world!No weekend is complete there without at least one train journey being disrupted. In most cases, what makes people abstain is a mixture of things, although Cataluña worries the PSOE because the abstention was very high in the local elections. Doesn't necessarily mean it will be the same in the national ones.

I don't know about forecasts, it's stil a bit too early. I don't think the turnout will be as high as last time around, because the impacty of 11M made a significant difference. The only question is whether abstention will be high enough to give the PP a chance, they are consistently behind in th epolls - even if the difference is rarely very high.