Politics For Members

Five key takeaways from Spain's general election

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
Five key takeaways from Spain's general election
Supporters of the conservative Partido Popular wave flags outside the PP headquarters in Madrid after Spain's general election on July 23, 2023. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP.

The polls were proven wrong and the Spanish general election was much closer than many had anticipated. These are five key conclusions that can be drawn from an exhilarating night full of surprises.


What a night. Say what you want about Spanish politics - too polarised, too dramatic, too divisive - it is rarely boring.

Most Spaniards went into Sunday's general election certain that the Spanish right would win a landslide victory and return to government. Almost every poll predicted it, and after the Partido Popular's (PP) strong showing in recent regional elections, the outcome seemed a foregone conclusion. 

The only question was whether the PP had enough momentum to win 176 seats, get an absolute majority and govern alone, or whether it would go into coalition with far-right party Vox. But when the results came in, neither PP nor Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's PSOE had a majority - with or without support from other parties. 

As Spaniards wake up this morning, the political picture is perhaps more unclear than it was when they went to bed. Both Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the PP leader and man everyone had long assumed would be Spain's next Prime Minister, and incumbent Pedro Sánchez, have claimed victory.


So, what's really going on?

Here are the five key takeaways you need from Spain's rollercoaster general election.


The polls were wrong

As seems to have been the case the world over in recent years, the pollsters got it wrong. Almost every poll released in recent months predicted the PP would win, possibly even with an overall majority itself, or at least with the support of Vox.

But as it often does, Spanish politics threw up some surprises and defied the polls. The PP won 136 seats in Spain's Congress (33 percent of the vote), making it the party with the most votes and seats. But it was far lower than pollsters had anticipated, with most putting it in the 150-160 range. 

Its potential coalition partner Vox also underperformed, losing 19 seats (down to 33 seats on 12.4 percent) on its 2019 election haul and underperforming compared to polling.

Sánchez's PSOE were forecast to lose seats, but actually managed to make small gains, winning 122 (and 31.7 percent of the vote).

Left-wing electoral platform, Sumar, led by Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz, pretty much matched Vox with 31 seats (12.3 percent).


Neither block has a majority

This effectively means that neither block, left or right, has a governable majority. Though the result was celebrated like a victory by PSOE voters last night, in reality neither the Spanish left nor right has a clear way into government based on last night's results.

The election was meant to clarify the course Spaniards wanted the country to take, but if anything it has compounded divisions and left it without a government with a strong mandate. Coalition negotiations will now begin, but Spaniards could be forced to the polls again until one party gets a majority.



The right underperformed 

When Alberto Núñez Feijóo woke up on Sunday, he probably thought that by the early hours of Monday morning he would be Prime Minister - perhaps even with an absolute majority. 

But the Spanish right - both PP and Vox - drastically underperformed. In what many expected to be a landslide victory, the PP beat PSOE by just 300,000 votes. When Feijóo appeared on the balcony at PP party headquarters in the early hours of the morning, it didn't feel like the victory parade they had planned for.

READ ALSO: Bittersweet night for Spain's right as vote yields hung parliament

PP's underwhelming performance was compounded by a collapse in the polls by Vox. Disappointed though Feijóo and the PP may be, the biggest losers on the night were Vox.

In the pre-election build-up, many in Spain had feared that the far-right would gain a share of power for the first time since the dictatorship.

But Vox lost 19 seats, and with it any real prospect of becoming a junior partner in a right-wing coalition government.


The left has more potential coalition partners

As Spaniards wake up on Monday, negotiations begin. Both PP and PSOE will try to form coalitions and reach the all important 176 seats for an absolute majority. Though PSOE didn't win as many seats or votes as the PP, it does have more potential coalition partners.

Feijóo will have to try and scrape together a ragtag bunch of parties not naturally allied with another, relying on the support Vox, PNV (Partido Nacionalista Vasco), UPN (Unión del Pueblo Navarro) and Coalición Canaria (CC). The deputies of these parties would add up to a combined 176, enough for an absolute majority, but it seems highly improbable that these regional parties would form any kind of pact with Vox, a party intensely critical of regional politics.

Theory is one thing, but in reality the PP's only viable coalition partner is Vox and the two don't have a governable majority between them.

READ ALSO: After inconclusive vote, Spain begins talks to avoid new election

Sánchez's PSOE, however, have more options. If PSOE takes on Sumar deputies and gets the support of its parliamentary partners of the last five years - regional groups ERC, EH Bildu, and the PNV, combined with the abstention of Catalan party Junts - Sánchez could in theory become Prime Minister again. 

There are a lot of moving parts, but if either block were to manage a workable coalition, it would probably be the Spanish left. Ironically, after a bitter campaign in which the PP and Vox attacked Sánchez's dependence on regionalist and separatist parties, their poor performance in the polls has actually given them more power and potentially made them kingmakers.



There could be another election 

Weeks of negotiations likely lie ahead now.

Both blocks will do the maths and try to reach the 176-seat majority, and both will continue to claim the election as a victory. The only thing we can say for sure is that the result was indecisive, has further complicated things, and likely compounded divisions between left and right.

If coalition talks fail and neither side can form a government, it seems likely that Spaniards could go back to the polls later in the year for another general election - the third vote of the year.

Pedro Sánchez became Prime Minister on the back of a repeat election in 2019, perhaps he will defy the odds and do it again.


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