Taken as a snapshot of current Spanish political opinion, today's opinion poll in Público is not good news for Zapatero's government. The poll gives the Partido Popular a lead of 13 points over the governing PSOE. Any hopes of a rebound in the polls following the recent government reshuffle seem to have vanished quickly, as the market pressure on Spain's economy has returned with a vengeance.
The 13 point advantage for the PP is more than enough to get them into power with an absolute majority in a general election, Aznar won his majority in the year 2000 with a lower advantage over the PSOE than this. It's worth pointing out that this is not because of a significant rise in support for the PP, who on a little over 43% are still only 3 points above what they got in the previous election in 2008. The Spanish electoral system, like the British one, allows parties well short of majority support to win an absolute majority in parliament.
So where are the missing voters if the PSOE is down 13% on its 2008 performance? The answer for the moment seems to be that most of them are heading for abstention, the same circumstance that made that 2000 victory for Aznar seem so overwhelming. Izquierda Unida would hope to pick up disenchanted voters from the PSOE, given that they represent the only national alternative to the neo-liberal economic wave at the moment. To a limited extent they are picking up support, the poll puts them at 7,5%, but this still leaves a significant number of former PSOE voters not currently opting for anyone.
The continuing troubles for the government have revived speculation about the post-Zapatero era, the perception being that Zapatero is now prepared to sacrifice himself on the altar of the never ending crisis. The chances of economic recovery by 2012 get slimmer with every passing week and every deflationary measure imposed on the country. But the prospect of electoral disaster in the 2011 municipal and regional elections is also stirring talk of the general election possibly being brought forward, even though the government's pact with the Basque PNV is working fine and could still see them through for the full term.
There have been some curious movements in the last few days. Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, seen as the most likely successor to Zapatero, made a trip to Afghanistan. This was odd because he is the interior minister and such visits to the troops are normally seen as the job of defence; or the prime minister. There was speculation that Rubalcaba was displaying his power to defence minister Carme Chacón, who at one time was seen as being Zapatero's favoured successor in the event that he ever gets to exercise that privilege. The fact that Chacón quickly followed Rubalcaba's visit with a trip of her own to Spanish soldiers serving in Lebanon has only created further speculation about a possible power struggle behind the scenes.
None of this definitely means that Zapatero will voluntarily fall on his sword, even though it has long been suspected that he never intended to serve more than two terms. Letting his most highly rated minister (Rubalcaba) take much of the flak gives him some possibility of staying in control and to play off potential rivals against each other. If he really does want to hand over to someone else, then he finds himself unable to walk away on a high note as a winner; always fatal for a politicians ego.