Spain’s inconclusive election

by Jackie_South on January 3, 2016

Spain icon I mentioned during the week that I would post on the recent Spanish election.

The recent general election in Spain has left the nation without a clear government. The current ruling party, the conservative (and successors to Franco’s Fascists) People’s Party (PP) remained the largest party, but 53 seats short of the 176 deputies needed in the Lower House to form a government. The next largest party was the Spanish Socialist Worker Party (usually referred to as either the Socialists or PSOE) also lost votes and seats (from 110 to 90), as did the former third party, the United Left (running this time as Popular Unity (PU) who lost all but two of its eleven representatives.

The decline of all three has been the consequence of the growth of two new parties, both standing for the first time. Podemos, the anti-austerity party, picked up 69 seats on almost 21% of the vote whilst the centrist Citizens took 40 seats with a 14% vote share.

Spain vote share change 11-15

The pie chart below compares the pre- (inner ring) and post-election (outer ring) distribution of seats between the parties.

Spain vote pie 10-15

The only faintly realistic two-party coalition available would be a PP-PSOE grand coalition (a PP and Podemos coalition would be unthinkable), but the Socialists have already ruled that out. So the only options are messy groupings of three or more parties, perhaps involving the smaller nationalist parties, or some sort of minority government (probably the PP and Citizens’ Party) being able to take power through the Socialists abstaining.

This latter arrangement currently looks most likely, probably in a caretaker role until new elections can be held in late May or early June.

How the parties performed

Spain 2015 region - largest party

The map below shows which party won the most seats in each region. The People’s Party won in most regions, with the Socialists winning in Andalusia and Extremadura in the south, Podemos winning in most seats in Catalonia, Basque separatists winning most seats in the Basque Country and the People’s Party and Podemos sharing joint honours in Navarre.

Elections are carried out in Spain on a form of proportional representation: each province has elections on a party list basis, with the number of seats varying from 36 in Madrid to a single seat in the two North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla (so the latter two are in effect a first-past-the-post election). There is a rule that no party obtaining less than three percent of the vote can win any seats, but only Madrid and Barcelona are large enough for that to matter.

Spain 2015 - provincial winners

The People’s Party

Despite their loss of seats, the People’s Party still finished top in thirty-nine of the fifty-two provinces. The PP did well in its Castilian heartlands, along with Murcia, the east of Galicia and Cantabria in the north. But they hardly registered in Catalonia and the Basque Country. A PP minority government, led by their leader Mariano Rajoy is likely to further feed the movements in both regions for independence from Spain, in particular Catalonia.

They lost almost half their support in Catalonia (from 21% to 11%) but some of their more spectacular losses were in traditional strong areas such as Extremadura (from 51% to 35%), Galicia (from 53% to 37%) and Rioja (from 55% to 38%). The biggest drop was in usually very Conservative Murcia: falling from a massive 64% in 2011 to 40% this time. The Valencian region saw a drop from 53% to 31%.

Spain 15 PP seats

The Socialist Party

The Socialist Party has bene reduced to being a predominantly southern force: winning in its traditional Andalusian heartlands and, more spectacularly, winning in neighbouring Extremadura. But it could only exceed 25% of the vote in two provinces north of Madrid: Leon and Teruel (southern Aragon). With the exception of Extremadura and Ceuta, it lost votes in every region. It came fourth in Madrid and in Catalonia fell from 27% to 16%.

In 2011, the Socialist Party only came first in two provinces: Seville in the south and Barcelona in the north. This time around, it came top in six, but all were in Andalusia and Extremadura.

Spain 15 PSOE seats


Being a new party, Podemos made gains everywhere. Most spectacularly, it topped the poll in Barcelona, the country’s second-most populous province: it won 27% of the vote (and 9 of the 31 seats there), the second placed Socialists were 11% behind that. Podemos topped the poll in three other provinces: Alava and Gipuzkoa in the Basque Country and Tarragona in Catalonia.

Part of the formula for success was the federal nature of Podemos, building coalitions with other left-wing parties outside the Socialist Party. In Catalonia, it stood as En Comu Podem, an electoral coalition that included both the Greens and the United Left. In the Valencian region they stood in a pact with Compromis (left-leaning greens and regionalists) and took 25% of the vote, and won as many seats as the PP in Valencia province. In Galicia, the alliance was En Marea (translates as In Tide) with the United Left, Galician nationalists and Greens, also taking 25% of the vote there.

Elsewhere, it did well on its own in the Basque Country, Navarre (which also has a sizable Basque community), the Canaries, Balearics, Asturias and Madrid. But outside of the capital, it made little headway in central Spain and was limited in the south.

Spain 15 Podemos seats


The other new party, the centrist Citizens, did not win in any province and did not reach 20% anywhere. Its best result was in Madrid, winning 19% there and achieving third place, and it did relatively well too in Murcia (third as well on 18%). It took over 15% of the vote in most of northern Castile and Aragon and the Valencian region, as well as Cantabria, Malaga and Tarragona.

However, it won less than 4% of the vote in the two northernmost Basque provinces and less than 10% in the other Basque province, Navarre, northern Catalonia and three of the four Galician provinces.

Spain 15 Citizens' seats

Popular Unity

Popular Unity, the coalition based around Left Unity (the Marxist left) notionally lost nine of their previous eleven seats in the Cortes Generales. However, in Catelonia and Galicia, they did not stand separately but supported Podemos instead. Negotiations to join in the Valenican region failed.

This leaves them very much a marginalised force, with only two deputies (both for Madrid). In seat terms, they are now the eighth-equal largest party after having been the third largest in the last Parliament.

Their support failed to hit 10% in any province: their best result was 9% in the mining province of Asturias. They also exceeded five percent in the three Aragon provinces, five of the Andalusian provinces, Valladolid and Madrid.

Spain 15 PU seats

The nationalists

The remaining deputies elected were from various nationalist parties. In Tenerife, a Canarian Coalition candidate won (taking 13% of the vote, but only securing 4% in the other Canaries province, Las Palmas), whilst left- and right-wing nationalist parties won 17 seats in Catalonia and 8 in the Basque Country.

The map below shows the total votes cast for the main Basque and Catalonian nationalist parties. In both regions, nationalists did better in the north of their respective regions.

Spain 15 Nats seats

In Catalonia, the battle between the left nationalists (Republican Left of Catalonia) and the centre & right nationalists (Democracy and Freedom alliance – DiL) was tight but with the former coming out on top in both votes and seats. The Republican Left won nine seats to DiL’s eight. That was an improvement in the representation of the Republican Left (they had three seats before) but a net loss for nationalists as the parties in DiL previously had 16.

Catalonia 15 Nat seats

In the Basque Country, it was the more moderate Basque Nationalist Party, that did better, increasing their deputies from five to six whilst the leftwing Basque Country Unite (EH Bildu) fell from seven to two, probably as a result of voters switching to Podemos. EH Bildu have links to ETA, the Basque equivalent of the IRA, so think of this as being the SDLP vs Sinn Fein as a parallel.

The map below includes Navarre as well as the Basque Country, as both stand there as well, although the Basque Nationalist Party stads as Geroa Bai (Yes to the Future) there.

Basque 15 Nat seats


Spain looks increasingly fractured by this election. Catalonia looks as if the movement for its independence will gather steam, Podemos will not go into a coalition on terms that the Socialist Party is winning to accept, but the latter is not willing to do a deal with the People’s Party. It looks increasingly like there will be another election this year to find a workable government.

That election will pose big questions for Spain. Will Podemos gain ground in a second election, as Syriza did in Greece? Or will their intransigence lose them support? Will Catalonia secede? Does this result show the end of the Socialist Party as a national force, and does it spell further moves in areas like Galicia and the Basque Country for further separation?

Spain’s inconclusive election may show a move from the past in many parts of the country, but whether this is enough to break the mould remains far from certain.

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