The latest Spanish opinion polls that have been published in the last few days all show the Partido Popular extending its advantage over the governing PSOE. The PP's lead varies from poll to poll but can be put in a range between 3-6%. This trend is a bit worrying for Zapatero's government because, despite the economic crisis, they had managed to hold up fairly well against an opposition that seemed unable to obtain a clear advantage. Zapatero's support has shown two clear dips since the last general election. The first when he was still in denial about the crisis, and the second in the last few months as unemployment has continued to rise and the government has run out of steam on initiatives to combat the worst effects of the slump. Perhaps the most alarming signal of all is that Zapatero's personal rating has fallen below that of Mariano Rajoy in some polls! You know you're in trouble when that happens.
The PP has sensed the change, and there have been many calls for within the party ranks for early elections and a motion of censure against Zapatero's administration. The PP leadership has moved to calm things down a bit because they know they won't win such a motion at the moment, and Rajoy's strategy is based entirely around the crisis wearing down the government. This has its risks, and that may partially account for the enthusiasm for bringing forward the date of the next election. Zapatero theoretically has two years left of his term of office and if recovery gets under way before he has to call an election then Rajoy might need something else. Perhaps that's why we've also had the recent populist ventures over immigration and prison sentences from the PP. Otherwise, their best chance for success is to hope for more crisis and more unemployment. The shift in the polls so far is almost entirely due to a drop in support for the PSOE rather than an increase in those prepared to vote for the PP.
The latest polls also show signs that those deserting the PSOE are not necessarily just heading for abstention. Support has risen for both Izquierda Unida and for UPyD. IU could expect to attract support from some of those disillusioned with the PSOE, there is a segment of the left vote that the PSOE has gained because of fear of the PP returning to power but which is not necessarily loyal to them. The question is whether it returns to the government at the next election? Meanwhile UPyD are hoping to overtake IU to become the third force at national level.
There are a few tests that should come before a general election and this may account for some of the nervousness amongst the PSOE's regional "barones". Elections have to be held this year in Cataluña and next year in municipalities and all those autonomous regions who haven't claimed the right to set separate election dates. The worry for the PSOE is that they could be left with very little regional presence if these elections coincide with a high tide in PP support. A recent poll put the PP ahead in Andalucia for the first time, and other strongholds such as Castilla-La Mancha could also be in danger. Meanwhile in Madrid, where the PSOE currently stands no chance, there are rumours of internal polls showing UPyD holding the balance of power as the rest of the opposition fails to cut into Esperanza Aguirre's support.