“It's an especially paroxysmal, polarising campaign, riddled with hyperboles and without concrete discussions of the issues,” Manuel Arias, a political science professor at the University of Malaga told AFP.
With opinion polls showing many voters will decide at the last minute, left-wing parties — including Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists — and their right-wing rivals are locked into a duel of inflamed rhetoric, warning of the danger that voting for the other side represents.
This is happening in “a new international context” of “emerging populisms” and strident speeches in both Europe and the Americas which is “somehow permeating” Spain's election campaign, said Jose Ruiz San Roman, a professor of sociology and public opinion at the Complutense University of Madrid.
Shortly after the snap election was called in February, Casado caused a stir when in a single speech he lobbed over 20 insults against Sanchez, calling him “the biggest traitor in Spain's democratic history”, a “compulsive liar”, “disloyal”, “egotist”, “mediocre” and an “illegitimate prime minister”.
He recently accused Sanchez of making a pact with “a hydra with seven heads made up of Batasuna, ETA supporters, communists, pro-Chavez, pro-Castro forces.”
Casado was referring to the fact that Sanchez came to power in June after winning a no-confidence vote against his PP predecessor with the support of Catalan separatists, far-left party Podemos and Basque independence party Bildu, a successor of Batasuna, the banned political wing of armed separatist group ETA.
'Black and white Spain'
The leader of centre-right party Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, has said removing Sanchez from office is a “national emergency” because of his willingness to engage with Catalan separatist parties.
“The Frankenstein government has died, but Sanchez will try to resuscitate it by any means,” he tweeted recently.
Meanwhile, Santiago Abascal, the leader of far-right party Vox which is on course to win its first seats in parliament, has railed against “traitors who today govern, supported by all of Spain's enemies.”
The Socialists have warned of a return to a “Spain in black and white” if the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox win the most seats in the polls, as they did in a local election in December in the southern region of Andalusia, a Socialist fiefdom.
The party argues Vox is “clearly Francoist”, in a reference to dictatorship of General Francisco Franco which lasted from 1939 until his death in 1975.
During two televised debates on Monday and Tuesday Sanchez, Casado and Rivera accused each other of lying while the leader of far-left party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, repeatedly urged his rivals not to “overact”.
Polls suggest no party is likely to command an overall majority, with a hung parliament almost certain.
“A very emotional discourse is being used and fear is the most basic emotion, and it produces the quickest reaction” in voters, said Silvia Martinez, professor of social media, management and strategy at the Open University of Catalonia.
Ruiz San Roman said the verbal attacks come at an unparalleled time in Spain's modern history, amid a “very hard” Catalan push for independence and in the wake of high-profile political corruption cases like one that led Sanchez to oust the PP from power with the no-confidence vote.
“Fear works well. Because if I create real fear in you, identify the other with that real fear… the solution is easy: you cast your vote for the opposite side,” he noted.
Here are some of the insults hurled between political rivals during the campaign.
Traidor – traitor
Felón– felon, criminal
Mentiroso compulsivo – complusive liar
Ridículo – .ridiculous
Adalid de la ruptura en España – champion of the break up of Spain.
Incapaz – useless
Desleal – disloyal
Chovinista del poder.-power hungry chauvenist
Rehén – hostage
Okupa – squatter (often used against Sanchez for his role as PM without being elected as such)
fascista – fascist
feminazi – extreme feminist
chaquetero – turncoat