Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Spanish General Election 2011....The Data Behind The Landslide

The polls didn't get it wrong this time for Spain's general election. Not very wrong anyway, although many of them underestimated the scale of the collapse in the vote for the governing PSOE. The campaign seems to have made virtually no difference to voting intentions, at least for the two biggest parties. The PSOE's total of 110 seats is a dreadful result, and well below the hoped for face-saving result of 125-130. It is this collapse in PSOE support, more than anything else, that has given the Partido Popular a comfortable absolute majority. The PP now holds unprecedented political power at all levels of government in Spain, only two provinces in the entire country were held by the PSOE.

All of this has happened with an increase of PP support of just 500,000 votes. Indeed that PP absolute majority has been won with significantly fewer votes and just 0,8% more of the total popular vote than Zapatero obtained in 2008 to run a minority government. This is made possible because the PSOE have lost over 4 million votes since the last election. The advantage under the Spanish electoral system for the largest parties has tilted hugely in favour of the PP with such a dramatic decline in the vote for the second party.

So if we assume that half a million votes went from PSOE to PP, where did the rest go? Participation was down compared to the last election but not more than a couple of percentage points, so abstention only accounts for part of the lost votes. Two smaller parties, Izquierda Unida and UPyD, both increased their total national vote in this election by more than the PP. Izquierda Unida added 700,000 votes to their 2008 total, and have leapt from just 2 seats in parliament to 11 (if we include their Catalan allies). Even more dramatic has been the increase for UPyD, who added 800,000 additional votes to the much lower base of just over 300,000 from 2008. They got 5 seats, although only 1 of these is outside of Madrid (in Valencia).

Meanwhile the right-wing nationalists of Convergència i Unió displaced the PSC (Catalan wing of the PSOE) as the largest party in Cataluña. This was not the only stronghold that the PSOE lost on the night, the PP won a clear victory in Andalucia. The decision by the PSOE's regional president in Andalucia not to hold the regional election on the same date as the national one starts to look like smart politics. Although he may still lose power in March next year. We can't completely rule out the possibility that by then the PP's intentions will be somewhat clearer than they are now. 

In the Basque Country, it was widely expected that the new coalition Amaiur would do well following ETA's declaration of an end to violence. Even so, few expected them to do better than everyone else! Although in total votes they still trail their nationalist rivals in the PNV, Amaiur took a total of 6 seats in the region and an extra one in Navarra. The result casts serious doubt on the future of the PP supported but PSOE led regional government in the Basque Country. You have to bear in mind that the nationalist vote in general elections tends to be significantly lower than in regional and municipal votes.

The distribution of seats resulting from this election has again sparked debate about the electoral system in Spain. Both UPyD and Izquierda Unida are seriously under represented in the new parliament despite having increased the number of seats obtained. Amazingly, the myth still persists that this is due to the system favouring regional nationalist parties. It is true that under a completely proportional system Amaiur would lose a couple of seats and Convergencia would lose one. But some other nationalist parties would gain, and Izquierda Unida and UPyD together fall short by some 25 seats from what they would get in a proportional system. There is, of course, a very good reason why the right in Spain seeks to focus on the nationalist vote as the source of the problem. True proportionality in the whole country would deprive the PP (with 44% of the vote and 53% of the seats) of 30 diputados and that means adíos absolute majority. 

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