Politics For Members

Who will win Spain's 2023 election - Sánchez or Feijóo?

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
Who will win Spain's 2023 election - Sánchez or Feijóo?
Face off: Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (L) and right-wing Popular Party (PP) leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo. Photo: Oscar DEL POZO/AFP

With Spain's next general election 12 months away, recent polls suggests that the 'Feijóo effect' is softening and Pedro Sánchez's PSOE is regaining ground. Is the PP still capable of winning a majority, or can Sánchez stay in power?


Over the last year, the received political wisdom has been that Spain's centre-right Partido Popular (PP) are all set for a return to government.

After the disruption of the pandemic, followed by war in Europe and consequent energy and inflation crises, Pedro Sánchez's ruling Socialist party (PSOE) would be cast aside at the ballot box, the logic went.

The question wasn't if PP would win the next general election, but by how much. Or in other words, would they be forced to rely on the far-right Vox to party to prop them up in government, like they have at the regional level in Castilla y León, or could they rule alone?

READ ALSO: Spain’s far-right Vox sworn into regional government

After PP brought in the Galician Senator Alberto Núñez Feijóo to replace the erratic Pablo Casado as leader in March, PP jumped up in the polls. Painted as steady, moderate, and calm conservative voice, Feijóo was thought to be a safe pair of hands that would guide the PP back to La Moncloa.

PROFILE: Feijóo - The new leader of Spain's opposition party


The polls

But recent polling released this week has cast doubt on that thinking, with Sánchez's PSOE cutting PP's lead in half - going from 7.1 percent behind in the polls to just 3.2 percent, according to two major polls - and evidence that the Feijóo effect might be wearing off.

Though PP is still ahead in the polls, their lead is shrinking, and the fact that Sánchez's Socialists seem to be rallying after all the external events that have plagued their time in office suggests there may be more life in the 2023 election than many anticipated. 

According to polling carried out by 40dB for Spain's leading daily El País, PP continue to lead the vote and would win an estimated 127 seats (29.9 percent of the vote) if a general election were held today. PSOE would win 107 seats, around 27 percent of the vote.

Projected Deputy seats according to the latest polling from El País. Source: El País.

According to the IMOP-Insights barometer for El Confidencial, carried out between October 10th and 22nd, Sánchez's PSOE has gone from an estimated vote of 24.4 percent (96 seats) to 26.8 percent (103 seats) since their latest poll published on October 12th, a difference, they say, of 582,000 voters.  

El Confidencial also has PP's lead falling, though slightly less than El País, to 30 percent and 122 seats. The difference between the two main parties in terms of voters and MPs, they say, is around 800,000 votes and 19 MPs.

In short, PP's lead is shrinking but still relatively significant. 


Vox in government?

According to polling from El Confidencial, PP and Vox would between them win 173 seats, which would leave them 3 seats short of a majority, and though almost all polling suggests that the Spanish right block (PP and Vox) would win the election in some form, there is no polling yet to suggest they would win a parliamentary majority. 

Despite PP's slight fall in the polls, Vox have not been the beneficiaries thus far. In fact, according to the El Confidential model, if elections were held today far-right Vox would lose up to 13 of its current 52 deputies, going from a 15.2 percent vote share in November 2019 to an estimated 13.8 percent if elections were now.

This continues a six-month downward trend for the far-right party and is likely reflective of a poor showing in the Andalusian elections over the summer, as well as public infighting with its former candidate Macarena Olona. 

Analysis by El Confidencial suggests Vox's historic entry into the regional government of Castilla y León has actually hurt them, and they are currently recalibrating their strategy with an eye on mirroring the tactics of Italian Prime Minister and Vox ally, Giorgia Meloni.



Head to head - Sánchez vs Feijóo

As is the case in many European countries in the 21st century, the steady Americanisation of politics has elections much more presidential in nature, with a greater focus on the personality and performance of party leaders as opposed to policy. How does that play out in Spain?

Polling data from El Confidencial in August put the PP's projected vote share at 33.4 percent (equivalent to 137 seats) but since then the so-called 'Feijóo effect' has slowly died off. 

Sánchez and Feijóo are pretty much neck and neck when it comes to personal ratings, according to El País, with both on 19 percent (Sánchez's deputy Yolanda Díaz is not far behind on 17.8 percent, and Vox leader Santiago Abascal is on 11.6 percent).

However, when you remove the rest of the field and focus solely on the two main party leaders, the results are stark.

The SocioMétrica poll for El Español found that 28.4 percent of respondents preferred Feijóo, among all leaders, compared to 24.6 percent for Sánchez. But between these two, 57.2 percent went for Sánchez and just 42.6 for Feijóo.

In the six months since May, when El País last polled Spaniards on the leaders individually, Feijóo has suffered some significant setbacks. In May, 52.5 percent of respondents valued his experience, a figure that has now dropped to 35.6 percent. Similarly, the percentage of those polled who considered him prepared for government has shrunk from 37.9 percent to 32.5 percent.


Though the 'Feijóo effect' does seem to be wearing off somewhat, the PP leaders remains popular with his core voters. His drops in approval ratings are likely due to what the Spanish media are calling the 'wear and tear' of politics, and suggests that his early high numbers were symptomatic of the customary bump new leaders often get.

One thing that is significant is the fact that Feijóo's steady approval ratings on the right suggest he is losing popularity among centrist swing voters, a subsection of the electorate many assumed was the natural terrain of Feijóo and the PP. With the polls suggesting that Vox aren't picking up these votes, PSOE are.

Feijóo's slip in the polls also coincides with Pedro Sánchez recovering his image, and he now leads Feijóo in most characteristics, including language management, charisma, intelligence, determination, empathy, courage, and honesty.

Whereas a few months ago Spanish political pundits were likely to point to the pandemic and inflation crisis as reasons Sánchez would lose the next election, the electorate now seem to increasingly see it as good experience. El País data shows approval of his experience has skyrocketed from 26.7 percent in May to 41 percent in November, and so too his preparation, from 26.9 percent to 32.4 percent.

Spain's 2023 general election has no fixed date yet, but it expected to go ahead in November 2023 and no later than December 10th.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also