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Who will win Spain’s 2023 election – Sánchez or Feijóo?

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?

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

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.

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For members


Why many people in Alicante feel cheated by the Spanish State

A recent protest in Alicante has brought to light the fact that the Costa Blanca province receives less public investment than any other part of Spain, even though it's the fifth biggest GDP contributor. It now appears their voices are being heard.

Why many people in Alicante feel cheated by the Spanish State

Alicante residents may have noticed that there was quite a large protest in the city at the start of the month.

On November 3rd, over 2,000 Alicantinos demonstrated in the eastern city’s Plaza de la Montañeta against the persistent underfunding of the province, with experts claiming the current model “will bury the future of the province of Alicante”.

Demanding that the national government increase Alicante’s allocation in the General State Budget, the protestors carried placards saying “Se acabó, Alicante se merece más” (That’s enough, Alicante deserves better) and “Alicante no se humilla” (Alicante does not humiliate itself).

It’s not the first protest of this kind in Alicante and it won’t be the last either. 

For the second consecutive year the Costa Blanca province comes dead last in terms of public investment per inhabitant – which in Alicante is a meagre €85 per person. It’s been referred to as the “worst budget in Alicante’s history”. 

A recent survey by Sigma Dos for El Mundo newspaper found that 65 percent of Alicantinos believe that their province receives less state investment than neighbouring Valencia and Castellón. 

Neglected by the State?

Underfunding in Alicante has long been a problem, hence the protest motto: ‘That’s enough.’

According to the Institute of Economic Studies of Alicante (Ineca), taking into account population, since 2008 the province of Alicante has had a deficit of €3.5 billion in state investment.

Alicante province’s population is around 1.8 million, and when you factor in the so-called “floating population” of Alicante, as in people who have second homes there and the wave of tourists that arrive and put pressure on public infrastructure, the per-capita per-annum figure plummets to €56.

This is despite the fact that, according to Ineca, Alicante is the fifth most productive province in Spain in terms of contributing to GDP, behind only Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville.

Castellón, a province with 571,600 people, is set to receive more government investment than Alicante in 2023.

Someone living in Soria, in Castilla y León, receives €1,104 per year from the state, whereas the amount received by Alicante residents is just €85 – an incredible thirteen times less.

Across Spain, the average per capita investment is €282.74.

Jaén, the penultimate province in terms of per-capita spending, receives €110 per person compared to Alicante’s €85.

“That’s enough, Alicante doesn’t humiliate itself”

The rally was well attended by Alicante’s political and business communities, with a range of local politicians from PP, Ciudadanos and Vox showing their faces, including the mayor of Alicante, Luis Barcala, and the mayor of Benidorm, Toni Pérez. Spanish media reports suggest that there was no representative from the left (neither PSOE or Podemos) nor trade union organisations.

Yet the event was not an overtly political protest, rather a unifying demonstration that had all Alicantinos’ interests at heart. As such, the event was attended by representatives from the public and private sector, including the CEV, Alicante’s business federation, Ineca, and Aefa, the Alicante Association of Family Businesses. 

Carlos Baño, President of Alicante’s Chamber of Commerce, struck a conciliatory, non-political tone. “We want to claim what Alicante deserves and nothing else, without any kind of political connotations,” he said. “We just want to claim what belongs to the province… we want justice. We want solidarity with the province and that’s it,” he added.

Will anything change?

In Spain’s 2023 national budget, investment is set to grow by 3.3 percent across the provinces but planned investment in Alicante was initially set to be cut by 12.3 percent compared to the previous year. This would’ve represented a reduction of 36.8 percent. 

As a result, there is another demo planned for Friday November 18th, where protestors will be saying loudly again: se acabó.

It has the support of Valencian regional president Ximo Puig, who will also talk in a plenary session on Friday in Alicante rather than Valencia about the lacklustre state budget funds the coastal city is set to receive. 

Will all the noise being made influence the Spanish government’s stance?

It appears so, as on Thursday November 17th Spain’s Accounts Commission greenlighted an extra €51 million to be injected into Alicante’s investment pot, to be added to the already allocated €160.8 million. This will be confirmed once Spain’s 2023 State Budget are published.