As part of its strategic research on European politics, Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted a comprehensive poll in Spain last week covering a wide range of topics. Overall, our findings show an unpopular government, and an even more unpopular opposition.
At the moment, the Spanish Government is a coalition formed by the centre-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, led by Pedro Sanchez, the Prime Minister) and left-wing Unidas Podemos (led by Pablo Iglesias, the Second Deputy Prime Minister). Meanwhile, the opposition is largely made up of the centre-right Partido Popular (PP) and right-wing Vox. Our results show that the coalition government currently enjoys the approval of roughly two-thirds of the voters who put them in power: 66% of those who voted for PSOE or Unidas Podemos in November 2019 say the coalition government has met or exceeded their expectations, compared to 29% say it has failed to meet their expectations.
At the same time, two-thirds of those who did not vote for PSOE or Unidas Podemos say the coalition government has been worse than they expected, with only 11% saying it has been better than they expected. The proportion who did not vote for the coalition governments but thinks it has performed better than expected (11%) is significantly lower than the proportions who did vote for the parties in government but feels it has failed to meet their expectations (29%).
Within the coalition government, ministers from PSOE generally have higher approval ratings than ministers from Unidas Podemos. For example, the First Deputy Prime Minister, PSOE’s Carmen Calvo from PSOE, enjoys 31% approval and 40% disapproval over her conduct during the coronavirus pandemic. By contrast, the Second Deputy Prime Minister, Pablo Iglesias, received 27% approval and 51% disapproval. This difference is likely a result of PSOE’s policies generally being more appealing to the centre ground of Spanish politics than the more left-wing policies advanced by Unidas Podemos. However, it could also be a reflection of the public disapproving of Iglesias’ handling of the social care system during the pandemic, which falls under his portfolio.
Nadia Calviño, the minister responsible for the economy, is one of the coalition government’s less unpopular ministers, enjoying 33% approval and 33% disapproval for her conduct during the coronavirus crisis. Calviño has received praise for her role in helping formulate Spain’s proposals for an EU-wide economic assistance scheme for countries whose economies have been worst affected by the pandemic. Calviño was recently nominated by the Spanish Government to be the next president of the influential Eurogroup (the meeting of all the finance ministers of the eurozone). Another not unpopular minister is Margarita Robles, the defence minister, who has earned the praise of even the right-wing opposition for her approach to supporting the Civil Guard and the armed forces, lauding them for their work during the pandemic. Nonetheless, despite her relative popularity, she still only has a 35% approval rating for her job performance during the pandemic.
It is symptomatic of the current fragmentation in Spanish politics that Calviño and Robles are among the two most popular ministers, yet their approval ratings are only 33-35%. However, they are helped by the fact that the opposition’s approval ratings for their performance during the pandemic are even lower. For example, 24% approve and 51% disapprove of PP leader Pablo Casado, and 26% approve and 46% disapprove of PP spokesperson Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo’s conduct during the pandemic. Likewise, Vox’s leader, Santiago Abascal, has 23% approval and 54% disapproval, and Ciudadanos’ leader, Ines Arrimadas, has 25% approval and 39% disapproval. Thus, despite the unpopularity of current government ministers, the opposition is even more unpopular than the already unpopular government, with opposition leaders receiving no more than 23-26% approval ratings.
Unlike countries such as Italy, where Giuseppe Conte’s approval rating has been high as a result of his handling of the coronavirus crisis, the pandemic has had a very negative impact on the way Spanish politicians are perceived by their electorate. In the event of an election, the only thing that might save Sanchez is the fact that, despite his deep unpopularity, the opposition parties and their leaders are even more unpopular. However, in a country rocked by political instability in recent years and an increased difficulty in forming majority governments, the very low rates of approval do not bode well for the health of Spanish democracy given the fragmentation they evidence.