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Spaniards Set to Throw Out Ruling Socialists (Update: Spain Turns Blue)

Can the conservative Popular Party save the country with the highest unemployment rate in the industrialized world? PJ Media turned to the experts ahead of Sunday's election. Update: Spain Turns Blue

by
Aaron Hanscom

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November 19, 2011 - 7:00 am
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Spain’s conservative Popular Party (PP) is poised for a historic victory in Sunday’s general election. PJ Media asked a distinguished panel of experts on Spain for their thoughts before Spaniards head to the polls.

José Guardia, a former supervising editor for PJ Media, has a J.D. from Barcelona University. He is a political analyst with a two-decade experience in online media, technology, and internet businesses as an executive, consultant, and entrepreneur. Guardia’s website is http://jm.guardia.name.

Soeren Kern is the senior analyst for transatlantic relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos/Strategic Studies Group. He graduated from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Kern writes the “Europa! Europa?” column for PJ Media.

Roger Senserrich has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, and a master’s degree in social studies from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. A Spanish political blogger and founder of Politikon.es, Senserrich works as program coordinator at the Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS), managing a state-wide benefits access program and coordinating the social media effort.

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PJ Media: The conservative Popular Party (PP) is poised for a historic win in the general election on Sunday. How much of this is due to enthusiasm for the PP rather than disgust with  President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s ruling Socialist party (PSOE)?

Guardia: It is both. On the one hand, surveys say that about 1.5 million voters will change their choice from the PSOE to the PP, which is a lot and, particularly, unprecedented. On the other hand, Zapatero’s party has been bleeding votes on the left, especially since the passing of the austerity plan in May 2010. Many of his former supporters will stay home or vote for other smaller leftist parties.

How big each of the factors will be is impossible to know for sure until the votes are counted, obviously. My forecast is that the Socialist party will end up being hurt more by former voters choosing other alternatives on the left and, especially, by those abstaining, rather than from a shift to the Conservatives, though the latter will be remarkable.

Kern: Spain is split down the middle between the political left and right, although Spanish society leans just enough to the left so that left-wing parties normally have a slight edge at the polls. Conventional wisdom holds that the PP usually only wins if the PSOE screws up. Because the PSOE clearly has political ownership of the current economic crisis in Spain, the PP will benefit at the polls this time around.

Nevertheless, there is little enthusiasm in Spain (either on the left or on the right) for the PP candidate, Mariano Rajoy. He is widely viewed as having the aura of a loser, having lost two previous elections against the PSOE (in 2004 and 2008). The only reason Rajoy is the PP candidate in 2011 is because of the idiosyncratic nature of the Spanish political party system, which operates on patronage and clientelism.

In other words, Rajoy is set to win on November 20 by default, because he is the only alternative to the PSOE candidate. However, should Rajoy be perceived as having failed to lead Spain out of the economic crisis before the next general election cycle in 2014-2015, the PSOE would probably be favored to return to power.

Senserrich: The election can be explained by a single, dramatic number: 22.6%. That’s the unemployment rate in Spain right now, and the economy is showing no signs of growth. Mariano Rajoy is many things, but he is not the kind of candidate that generates any significant amount of enthusiasm.

He really does not need it, though, Although the current economy is not just the Socialists’ fault (some structural reforms have been repeatedly postponed for decades), voters are in no mood to show patience or understanding.

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