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The “Center Moment”: Ciudadanos now Spain’s strongest political force

Riding high on its victory in Catalonia, reform party has surged in the latest voter intention survey

Voter intention poll results from Metroscopia.
Voter intention poll results from Metroscopia.

The “Catalonia effect” has left one of Spain’s new parties, Ciudadanos, in a stronger position than ever in the political scene, according to the latest poll by Metroscopia for EL PAÍS.

The party led by Albert Rivera would be the most voted option were an election to be held today, with 28.3% support from Spanish voters. This represents a lead of more than six points over the governing Popular Party (PP) and over eight points more than the Socialist Party (PSOE), which would remain in third place.

The Popular Party is down more than 11 points compared with the elections of June 2016

The rise of Ciudadanos is due to several factors, starting with its strong result in the Catalan elections of December 21, when it came in first (but failed to secure an absolute majority, which is collectively held by separatist parties).

The outcome reflected voters’ feeling that the unionist Ciudadanos did the best job at challenging the pro-independence drive that has led to Spain’s most serious constitutional crisis since the attempted coup of 1981.

That result, combined with a terrible showing by the PP and the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), has bestowed the party with an image of success elsewhere in Spain.

Secondly, the Metroscopia poll also reveals that many voters believe Ciudadanos is the only party with a clear plan for Spain – even if this plan has yet to be fully spelled out.

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera with Inés Arrimadas, head of the Catalan branch.
Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera with Inés Arrimadas, head of the Catalan branch. Reuters

The party’s success can also be put down to what might be described as Spain’s “Center Moment:” many of the more center-oriented supporters of the PP, PSOE and even Podemos are switching to Ciudadanos, which describes itself as “a liberal, progressive, democratic and constitutionalist party.”

During the economic crisis that crippled Spain for years, there was a “Podemos Moment” when the new anti-austerity party captured the imagination of Spaniards angry at widespread corruption and the failure of the country’s institutions to adequately respond to the situation.

Today, however, many voters are dismayed by Spain’s traditional parties (PP and PSOE) and the “Podemos Moment” is gone. This means that conservative voters who had stayed faithful to the PP to prevent the anti-austerity party from coming to power are now happy to switch allegiances to Ciudadanos.

There was a “Podemos moment” when the party captured the imagination of angry Spaniards

The Metroscopia poll reveals that the party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is down more than 11 percentage points from the national election of June 2016: it received 33% of the votes then, compared to the 21.9% it scores in this latest survey.

Unidos Podemos (a congressional group comprising Podemos, the United Left (IU) and green parties) has stabilized its support at 16.8%, even managing a slight rise from previous polls. But it is a far cry from its performance at the last general elections, when it became the third most voted party just two years after its foundation.

The Socialist Party (PSOE) gets 22.7% support, more than two points below its showing at the June 2016 elections. Cause for concern for Socialist leaders is the fact that some of their voters are switching to Ciudadanos, while they themselves are failing to attract as many Podemos supporters as they thought they could.

It bears noting that this survey is based on the hypothesis of a general election being held today. There is no such poll on the immediate horizon – the next elections are due in 2020 – nor is there the climate of tension that typically influences voters’ ultimate choices.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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