Spain is in full electoral swing, as highlighted by two recent mass demonstrations, which politicians have latched onto.
According to polls, and by taking a closer look at the protests, the die is already cast: the Left, which currently rules, will lose this year’s general elections. The question is, by how much, and how divided voters on the Right will be.
A demonstration was held on January 21st in Madrid that attracted tens, possibly hundreds of thousands. There, demonstrators declared that they were fed up with the socialist-led government and its policies, which they claim are eroding the independence of the justice system and favouring terrorists and rapists. The protest, in which demonstrators carried Spanish flags and signs denouncing the current president Pedro Sánchez, was organised by more than 30 civil society groups. Representatives of the three parties of the political Right also attended as a show of support,
On February 12th, another massive demonstration took place in Madrid, calling for improvements in the regional public health system. The protest coincides with an ongoing, though waning, strike by primary care doctors and paediatricians, who started in mid-November of last year to demand increased staffing. More than seventy civic groups called for the demonstration, according to the newspaper ABC, and politicians from the country’s leftist parties also attended.
The political target of the February demonstration was Madrid’s regional president, Isabel Diaz Ayuso of the centre-right PP, and included representatives from the left-leaning parties.
Ayuso’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the quick construction of a field hospital in the capital’s convention centre and the subsequent building of an additional hospital, solidified her ascent as Spain’s most popular politician. The Left has consistently used the many weaknesses of the regional health system as its principal weapon against Ayuso. But similar complaints are made in almost all regions of Spain: long wait times for surgeries or to see specialists, insecure contracts for all medical professionals, and a need for more doctors and nurses.
Although this demonstration seemed a manifestation of the Left, the ABC also noted, “Many messages against Ayuso, yes. Not as many as one might imagine.”
Polls also show that the country is swinging Right, even if only by a slim margin.
“The PP is going to be the clear winner, although not by much,” said Narciso Michavila, president of GAD3, a research consultancy, on the Spanish news show, El Cascabel.
His company was one of several polling agencies to recently predict that the Right would win the upcoming elections.
He also commented on how the demonstration against the management of the health care system might affect the elections.
“When elections come there are always white tides,” he said in reference to doctors.
After the pandemic, the health sector suffered a lot. The profile of the health collective has an above-average economic profile and tends to vote for conservative parties. The mobilizations are going to get people to vote, but they will not move a single vote. Satisfaction with Madrid’s healthcare is above the national average.
Ayuso will likely retain her position as president of the Madrid region.
VOX—a conservative party and the third largest in parliament—isn’t predicted to gain much from the country’s shift to the Right. In fact, it is predicted to lose at least one seat in congress, and possibly as many as six, though its voter numbers will remain steady.
A similar dynamic played out in regional elections in Andalucía last year, when the vote also turned Right. This shift benefited the PP, which won an absolute majority, far more than VOX, which gained only one seat in the regional parliament, five less than hoped for. The election results left them in the opposition, after having been part of the tripartite regional government.
With its campaign theme, España Entre Todos (Spain by all), the PP is hoping to grab the widest swath possible of the country’s voters, as represented in its middle-ground stance on abortion. VOX has rolled out the campaign theme Cuida Lo Tuya: la patria empieza en los barrios y en los pueblos (take care of what’s yours: the homeland begins in neighbourhoods and villages), a clear bet on capturing more votes in local governments. In Madrid, the campaign is focusing on safety and crime.
Which part of the Right has best taken the pulse of Spain will be known in the spring.