Friday, November 04, 2011

Spanish General Election 2011....They're Off, In Case You Hadn't Noticed

So the election campaign has now officially started, although it has been a very low key start in what may well be an indicator of a dismal campaign fortnight ahead. This, of course, suits the strategy of the front runner, Mariano Rajoy. With what still seems to be a fairly stable advantage of around 14-15 points in the opinion polls, the Partido Popular's campaign will be based around riding the wave of the economic crisis and doing nothing that might mobilise anti PP feeling.

It's all uphill for Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the PSOE's candidate. He's putting forward far more detailed policy proposals than the PP, his problem is that most of them run counter to what Zapatero's administration have done over the last couple of years. It's not an inspiring choice at all, between two politicians whose time has already passed and neither of whom really have any vision of the future. Rajoy and Rubalcaba have both got where they are by being loyal lieutenants and machine politicians.

There is only going to be one televised debate between the two men, and I expect it to be a tightly managed affair. It's some progress though, the PP has never before agreed to debates when ahead in the polls and Rajoy is the only one who has anything to lose by participating. He's a poor debater, coming across as arrogant and aggressive and he only got a higher rating in one of his many tussles with Zapatero when the latter was at his lowest ebb this year.

There aren't many in the PSOE who seem convinced that their candidate has much chance, it's now an open question whether Rubalcaba will manage to better what was seen at the time as a dreadful result the last time the PP got an absolute majority in 2000. The electoral system in Spain means that Rajoy can potentially get a huge majority with just a couple more percentage points than Zapatero's minority administration. Perhaps that could finally put an end to the common urban legend that the electoral system favours the smaller nationalist parties?

This same electoral system means that the election will be mostly decided in the areas returning larger numbers of representatives, in many provinces there will be no change at all. The PSOE has to do well in both Andalucia and Cataluña to stand any chance of depriving the PP of their majority, in Cataluña they may recover some ground because of opposition to cutbacks by the Catalan government but in Andalucia they could easily lose to the PP. It's interesting that Rajoy started the campaign in Cataluña, where the PP did depressingly well by running an openly racist campaign in the municipal elections in May.

With economic policy being (disastrously) overseen by the EU, voters for the main parties have in reality a limited choice between that of a party which enthusiastically supports drastic austerity measures, and a party which reluctantly supports them. Let's call it a Greek choice. There are alternatives, but the signs are that many disillusioned PSOE voters may just simply stay at home. Izquierda Unida have picked up some extra support but have a lacklustre candidate and in addition have a new rival on the left of the PSOE in the eco-socialist party Equo. It's hard to resist feeling despondent at the likely outcome of this contest. Spain is not about to get better.

Update: The CIS opinion poll released this morning gives the PP a 16.7% advantage over the PSOE, a bigger lead than most polls have shown. The poll data contains some interesting, and seemingly contradictory, data which might be worth a further post.

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