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The waning power of Podemos and its leader Pablo Iglesias

Anti-austerity party has been slipping in polls for months, partly due to its approach to Catalan separatism

Podemos deputies Pablo Iglesias and Irene Montero in Congress.
Podemos deputies Pablo Iglesias and Irene Montero in Congress.

Unidos Podemos, the coalition that brings together the anti-austerity Podemos with several left-wing parties, is going through a crisis at its core. It was born around a charismatic leader, Pablo Iglesias, whose name once attracted many voters. But a significant body of evidence suggests eroding support for both Iglesias and Podemos.

Unidos Podemos has been dropping in the polls for months. It has lost an average five points, sliding from 21% of votes in 2016 to around 16%. And once-enthusiastic supporters are now exhibiting disloyalty: only 63% would vote for Unidos Podemos again.

In future, voters may be hearing more from IU chief Alberto Garzón

In fact, it is the group with the largest amount of undecided voters at 21%, and the one with the highest number of defectors: 5% of its voters would now opt for the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) while a further 4% would vote for center-right group Ciudadanos.

These figures were compiled by the Center for Sociology Research (CIS) in October, and they could easily be worse now.

But not every part of Unidos Podemos is feeling the effects of voter disaffection equally. Podemos and its leader Iglesias have lost the most support, while their regional partners in Catalonia, Galicia and the Valencia region have barely felt the dent. And the United Left (IU), headed by Alberto Garzón, has actually gained followers: a year ago, there were 2.5 Podemos supporters for every IU voter within the Unidos Podemos coalition; today, that ratio is 1.5 to 1.

The CIS figures were compiled in October and could easily be worse now

In further bad news, Pablo Iglesias gets the worst ratings of any candidate by his own voters, with an average score of 5.75. That is lower than Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez (6), Popular Party Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (6.5) and Ciudadanos chief Albert Rivera (6.7).

Surveys conducted by the pollster Metroscopia paint a similar picture: only 50% of Iglesias’ voters approve of the way he has been handling things. That is much worse than Sánchez (71%), Rajoy (85%) or Rivera (90%). And within his own Unidos Podemos, IU leader Alberto Garzón had an approval rating of 6.5.

These figures indicate that the core of Unidos Podemos is losing weight, and that the coalition’s balance will change. The regional partners will act with greater autonomy: whenever there is a clash between their own and Podemos’ interests, they will be less afraid to raise their voice and impose their own criteria. This attitude was on display last week inside Congress, when the Valencian party Compromís voted against the review of the Basque Country’s financial contributions to the central government.

In future, voters may also be hearing more from Alberto Garzón, who takes a harder line against Catalan separatism than Podemos. The party’s stand on the issue of separatism has evidently hurt both Podemos and Iglesias at the national level, and it is no coincidence that Iglesias gets his best ratings in the northeastern region.

English version by Susana Urra.

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