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'Sanchismo': PM's personality cult or Spain's progressive reformism?

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
'Sanchismo': PM's personality cult or Spain's progressive reformism?
The term 'Sanchismo' has been coined to refer to Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, but does it have positive or negative connotations? Philippe MARCOU / AFP)

If you've been following the Spanish election campaign, you'll have probably heard the term 'Sanchismo' to refer to the politics of Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Whether it has a positive or negative meaning depends on who you ask.


The Spanish general election campaign is heating up. With a little over a week to go until polling day (July 23rd), most polls suggest the centre-right Partido Popular (PP) are on course to win the most votes but will likely fall short of an overall majority and enter a coalition with far-right party Vox. 

READ ALSO: Postal vote delays and staff shortages mar Spain's summer election

A main feature of the election campaign has been Sanchismo, a word and concept that has been kicked about like a political football in recent months.

The PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo has made it his primary electoral pledge to 'defeat Sanchismo', and defeating it also featured heavily on the campaign trail for both the local and regional elections in May.

Sanchismo has essentially become a catch-all phrase used by the Spanish right to characterise anything they don't like about Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's government and a way of moving the debate away from policy towards more divisive culture war debates. Anti-Sanchismo therefore, can be understood an emotional ploy, not a rational one.

The -ismo/a word ending is the Spanish equivalent of using English suffixes like -ism or -ite that are often used in political science as a way of characterising a person or party's ideological approach. Some common examples of this are Blarite, to refer to the politics of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, or Trumpism, to refer to the politics of former US President Donald Trump.

But what does Sanchismo actually mean? Well, it depends on who you ask and what their politics are.


According to his opponents 

According to Sánchez's political opponents, namely the PP and Vox but also the right-leaning Spanish press, who have played a significant role in pushing the term, Sanchismo is essentially a personality cult based around Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez that is, in their view, propped up and supported by separatist forces in Spanish politics as well as so-called radical feminists, communists and terrorists.


Many say Sanchismo is built on lies to the Spanish people, that Sánchez is himself a liar, would do anything to cling onto power, and caricature him as a semi-autocratic figure. The Spanish right argue that the PSOE government coalition with far-left Podemos, as well as its occasional legislative support from Catalonian and Basque parties, mean that Sánchez is a dictator intent on dividing Spain.

Feijóo himself has said as much, arguing Sánchez "is interested in the country being divided and I am interested in uniting the country."


Far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal has repeatedly claimed that the Sánchez has presided over the worst government 'in 80 years', which would make it worse than the Franco dictatorship. The Spanish right is generally framing the upcoming general election as a 'Sanchismo o España' (Sanchismo or Spain) vote, implying that the Prime Minister is anti-Spain or against Spaniards. In this sense, Sanchismo can be understood as anything that offends traditional, conservative notions of Spain and Spanishness.

READ ALSO: How Spain's election result risks raising Catalan separatist tensions

Sanchismo has also become a general, catch-all term to mean anything the Spanish right doesn't like about the government so includes several policy areas and laws that the Spanish right have pledged to overturn if they win the July election, namely the controversial democratic memory law and Trans law.

Untruthful and exaggerated though the term often is, as a political and electoral weapon it is proving very effective for the Spanish right. Its growth in popularity as a catch-all describer means the electorate can project whatever they don't like about the government, Sánchez, or the economy, or their life, onto the spectre of Sanchismo. This has, in effect, turned the election into a referendum on Sánchez himself, rather than on his government's record or the state of the economy.

READ ALSO: Ten things you need to know about Spain's far-right party Vox

Sánchez and PP candidate Alberto Núñez Feijóo.The Spanish right is generally framing the upcoming general election as a 'Sanchismo o España' (Sanchismo or Spain) vote. (Photo by Pierre-Philippe MARCOU / AFP)


According to his supporters

However, if you ask supporters of the Sánchez government, they'd have an entirely different view about Sanchismo.

Faced with repeated use of it, Sánchez and his supporters have tried to redefine the term and use it to their advantage, linking Sanchismo to the government's achievements over the last five years, which are not insignificant. 

Spain now has one of the lowest inflation levels in Europe, has recovered its tourist sector to pre-pandemic levels, and is breaking employment level records. To many on the Spanish left, these achievements are what Sanchismo is really about.

Supporters suggest that the tenants of Sanchismo are progressive reformism: increases to the minimum wage and pensions, a whole series of government aid for vulnerable groups, free travel for young people, an expansion of vocational training, the Iberian exception energy cap that has kept inflation low, and the 'ERTES' payments during the pandemic all stand out.


They also claim that Sanchismo is effective governance in difficult circumstances. Sánchez's coalition had only been in government for a handful of months before the Covid-19 pandemic started, and as soon lockdown finally began to end Russia invaded Ukraine and sparked an inflationary cost of living crisis. 

In short, whereas the Spanish right frame Sanchismo as an anti-Spanish personality cult, most on the left frame it as progressive reformism in difficult global circumstances. 

Yet little, if any, of these factors have been discussed on the campaign trail. It is difficult to recover a political phrase from public discourse, let alone link it to a series of technical policy successes.


That is the political shrewdness of a phrase like Sanchismo. Cynical though it undoubtedly is, it is not only short and memorable, as any good campaign slogan is, but it also moves the focus of the campaign away from the material successes of the Sánchez government towards cultural issues, terrain that the Spanish right is far more comfortable on than the Spanish left.

It has been commented in the Spanish media that this July 2023 election has to be one of the only in the world where nobody talks about the economy. Usually the state of the economy in the deciding factor in elections. In Spain in 2023, defeating Sanchismo seems to be the main driving force.



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Frankie 2023/07/14 12:54
Did you realize, Sanchismo is used by the socialist members of the party, that, just for the fact of expose views against Sanchez had been vetoed, ousted or silenced? Sanchez progressive and democratic views are exclusively intended if his followers are alike. If not, be ready to experiment repulsion. Typical reaction of autocracy.

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