No, Spanish society is not inherently left-wing, explains managing editor of leading conservative media outlet

Santiago Abascal, leader of the right-wing Vox party, addresses supporters outside the party headquarters following Spain's general election in Madrid, Sunday, July 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
By Olivier Bault
17 Min Read

Were you disappointed with VOX’s election results?

VOX’s results in the July 23 elections were worse than the previous ones, no doubt, but the truth is that the number of votes was only slightly below expectations.

With a campaign centered on calling VOX supporters to vote for the People’s Party (PP) and a very powerful media campaign against VOX, the result was indeed a little worse than in the last elections.

With about half a million votes less than last time, VOX obtained just over 3 million votes while the PP obtained 8.1 million and the left-wing PSOE 7.8 million. The far left went into the election together under the name Sumar and obtained nearly as many votes as VOX.

Are you not surprised by this decrease in the number of votes for VOX, though? In the recent municipal and regional elections in May, VOX had the greatest progress of all parties. What happened between the end of May and the July 23 election?

At the municipal and regional level, VOX was coming from very modest results in the previous elections, because in the end, the raison d’être and role of VOX is eminently national, and what matters to the party’s representatives and its voters is more the country at the general level.

Then, there was a very important rise indeed this year, as VOX multiplied its number of councilors and regional deputies practically by three – even more in the number of councilors – and obtained representation in territories where it did not have one before. This is especially true in Catalonia, where VOX has grown exponentially.

What happens is that it is difficult to compare the two elections. It is very difficult to compare the municipal elections in which VOX went up sharply, with the general elections in which people voted in a different tone. And surely, in addition, the punishment of Sánchez, which the left exercised in the municipal elections, was not so much exercised in the general elections.

Can you briefly explain to us why a moderate decrease in votes for VOX resulted in such a sharp decrease in the number of deputies, from 52 to 33?

The truth is that VOX could even have gone up in votes and down in deputies. This is due to the Spanish electoral system, with constituencies returning a fixed number of deputies. VOX is usually the third force in most constituencies. In those constituencies that have few deputies, if the two main parties are very strong and have twice as many votes as VOX each, VOX will obtain no representation.

In the previous elections, the People’s Party was significantly less strong. VOX obtained more than half of the votes cast for the PP in a higher number of constituencies and therefore had more deputies.

In addition, there have been two other factors that have made VOX’s votes count for less.

One is that the far left went to the election as one party. So, in the end, VOX’s popular vote also had to compete against one large force on the far left instead of several smaller forces.

Moreover, Ciudadanos, the party comparable to Macron’s party in France, did not run, because of the debacle it has experienced in recent elections. Even if it had obtained only 3 percent, this would have been a boost for VOX, because it would have meant fewer votes for the People’s Party and the Socialist party, the PSOE.

Because of all these new circumstances, a moderate loss of votes resulted in a much more significant loss of seats.

Were there no mistakes in the VOX campaign in your opinion?

VOX’s campaign in the run-up to the July 23 election was perhaps the most difficult VOX has had in its history and certainly since it has become a major force at the national level. There had been violent campaigns, with aggressions and insults in Catalonia, the Basque Country, Madrid, well, almost all of Spain, but this campaign was even more difficult because VOX found itself up against all the other parties, including the People’s Party, and all the media, including the media most sympathetic to the People’s Party, i.e., the media that the sociological right reads, listens to, and sees. This was a campaign of demonization against VOX, a campaign in which VOX’s messages did not reach the voters or, even worse, were distorted.

More so than in previous elections?

Yes, for sure. Because in the end, in Spain it is quite clear which media are rather left-wing and which media are rather right-wing. A reader or viewer who is exposed to a left-wing media outlet knows that they are not going to speak well of VOX. But it is not so clear when a right-wing media outlet or the People’s Party itself speaks ill of VOX.

The PP is VOX’s usual partner. When the party, which is expected to be VOX´s partner after a general election, also participates in such a demonization campaign, it is easy for right-wing voters to become demobilized. First, because, according to the People’s Party, it was sure to win the election anyway. So, being July, many people stayed home or went on vacation. But at the same time, by demonizing a party with which it was set to enter a coalition, the PP succeeded in mobilizing voters on the left. The PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo even called on the left and the regional nationalists to vote for his party so that it would not have to govern with VOX. Left-wing voters and regional nationalists did turn up on election day, but of course, they did not vote for Feijóo. They voted for Pedro Sánchez.

Do you think that Sánchez will be able to form a majority or will it be necessary to have new elections?

He should be able to form a majority, especially since he has no scruples.

We are in a situation in which Sánchez, in order to remain at the head of the Spanish government, depends on Bildu, which is the political arm of ETA, or, better said, ETA turned into a political party, and on Junts, which is the party of Carles Puigdemont, the fugitive from justice who fled after the failed coup d’état in Catalonia.

Twenty or 30 years back, had the People’s Party won an election with the same level of support it obtained on July 23, it would be clear to everybody that Alberto Núñez Feijóo is the one who should take the reins of government. Then, neither the PP nor the PSOE would sit down to negotiate with the political party of ETA, or with the political party that was central to the coup d’état in Catalonia in 2017. Nor would have they sat with Esquerra Republicana, which was the other party responsible for that illegal independence referendum.

But we are at a point of debasement and degradation of Spanish politics in which everyone assumes, left and right, that Sánchez will not only have no problem sitting down to talk with them but will accept the blackmail proposed by Esquerra Republicana, Bildu, and Junts.

And then, in addition, there is a very important issue, which is that these parties do not want under any circumstances to have VOX in a government coalition, even if only as a minor coalition partner or simply supporting a PP government from parliament. This would be much less profitable for them, in political and economic terms, than having Pedro Sánchez as prime minister, even if Sánchez does not give them everything they want.

Is it not also the case that Spanish society is structurally more left-wing than right-wing?

This is commonly said, and even in Spain we often say this. Spanish society indeed finds it easy to vote for the Socialist party.

About each time the PP came to power, it was after some serious crisis. But when the Socialist Party recovered power, it always was under strange circumstances. Felipe González arrived just after a coup d’état, Zapatero after the biggest terrorist attack in the history of Europe, and Pedro Sánchez after a motion of censure.

I do not know whether Spanish society is left-wing, or whether the media and the collective imagination of Spain, as happens in almost all of the West, accept the postulates of the left in a much softer and easier way.

Moreover, in Spain, there are pro-independence and nationalist forces in several regions that represent many thousands of Spaniards, and those Spaniards feel that they are better represented in the Socialist party, and in a more useful way, than in the traditionally nationalist and pro-independence parties.

This has partly to do with some traditional leftist feelings, but also with movements that are not exactly pro-Spanish and that have seen in the PSOE a potential for political gains which, of course, they cannot find in the parties facing the PSOE.

A surprising element of your latest election campaign was that there was not much talk about immigration despite what happened in France and the fact that in Spain too there is a lot of immigration, including illegal immigration. Didn’t VOX talk about this issue or did their message not get through to the voters?

This is a good point. It was not a central message in the campaign. Other things came up in the campaign that I am sure are less important problems in Spain.

VOX has always advocated defending our borders and controlling immigration. It is not against legal immigration, of course, but it is aware that natural immigration in Spain comes from Latin America – for cultural, religious, and historical reasons.

Illegal immigration exists in a large part of Spain, from Catalonia, all along the Mediterranean coast going south, like in Murcia and Almeria where there are many illegal immigrant population nuclei and there is a correlation between the high rate of illegal population and criminality.

In those places, VOX actually gets very good results. In fact, there are very pro-independence towns in Catalonia where VOX obtained very good results because the main issue there is security.

The absence of these issues in the campaign is a sign of what I mentioned before. It shows how difficult the campaign was for VOX, which did not manage to put these debates on the table.

In fact, during the negotiation to form coalitions in the autonomous communities after the regional elections at the end of May, it is someone from the People’s Party, María Guardiola, the current president of the Region of Extremadura (thanks to VOX), who went so far as to say that VOX dehumanized immigrants. It was a turn in the pre-campaign, in terms of the demonization of VOX, and this was said by the People’s Party, not the PSOE or Podemos or Sumar.

Then, every time the debate was put on the table, VOX had all the media as well as the two biggest parties against it. Worse still, on COPE radio, which belongs to the Spanish Episcopal Conference, one could even hear that VOX was against the social doctrine of the Church for not being in favor of illegal immigration.

Perhaps if the PP has become so left-wing as is also the case in France with Les Républicains, VOX should act like Marine Le Pen’s party and move toward the center to occupy the political space that has been left free…

The People´s Party has indeed become leftist, but the truth is that in the end it is moved by pure political calculation. It does not say the same thing in all parts of Spain. Wherever it believes a message is profitable, it uses it and it has gone in recent months from being, at least in words, pro-life, to being openly pro-abortion. It has gone from, at least in words, defending that all Spaniards are equal, wherever they are born, to speaking of a plurinational Spain. It has gone from advocating that all Spaniards should have access to water – the south of Spain has very little rainfall, but in the north, there is plenty of water and there is no national hydrological plan – to saying one thing in the north and another in the south. In Madrid, it pays off for the PP to say that they want to lower taxes and they want to stay out of children’s education, so it is their message there. Then they do not act on their words, but it is what they say.

So, it is difficult to situate the People´s Party, because depending on who speaks, depending on where they speak, and depending on when they speak, they say something different.

The most profitable thing in political terms for VOX is to stay true to its principles, to always say the same thing, what it believes in, and to say the same thing everywhere. And this is a very important aspect of their success. If VOX were, in some way, occupying the space left open by the PP, it would never know what to say, because the PP says one thing one day and contradicts itself the next. VOX would end up being just as incoherent as the People´s Party and that would be a problem for Spain and, of course, for VOX as well.

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