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Why is Madrid traditionally so right wing?

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Why is Madrid traditionally so right wing?
The right wing PP Madrid regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso (L) celebrates with the PP Mayor of Madrid Jose Luis Martinez Almeida. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO/AFP.

A combination of history, politics, ideology and uninterrupted pro-business policies could explain why the Madrid region has been governed by the Spanish right for almost thirty years.


Generally speaking in European politics, capital cities lean (and vote) leftward. This is how the theory goes, anyway. But not in Spain.

The Madrid region has been governed by the centre-right Partido Popular (PP) for almost 30 years. Instead of being viewed as a bastion of progressive, liberal politics like many other capitals, it is a stronghold of the Spanish right and was the breeding ground for countless pivotal Spanish political players over the years.

In fact, Madrid has become so right-wing that Spain's Socialist Party (PSOE) has not governed there since the days of Joaquín Leguina, who was the last PSOE President of the region in the late-1980s and early-1990s.

Even at the city hall level, except for the brief four year interlude of PSOE mayor Manuela Carmena between 2015 and 2019, Madrid's mayors have been right-wing since the mid-1980s.

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Yet there is a paradox here. Many in Madrid complain about dwindling health and educational services, plus Madrileños stuck in the rental sector are facing spiralling living costs.

So why do the majority of them vote for the Spanish right time after time?



Some argue that it comes down to history.

In the years following Spain's Civil War, many former nationalist soldiers, civil servants and other supporters of Franco settled in the city. For many, the aim was to punish what had, until then, been perceived as a "red and resistant city" according to Spanish journalist Ana Martínez Rus writing in El Diario.

Serrano Súñer, a key minister in early years of the dictatorship, even briefly considered moving the capital to Seville to punish the city for its "no pasarán" elements but instead many Franco sympathisers moved to Madrid and settled in the city.

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Though this may seem like ancient history, in historical terms it is not. It is just a couple of generations removed, meaning that in some cases the children and grandchildren of these people still live in the city. Rus suggests that this influx of right-wing people into the city in the post-war period has left a right-wing legacy in Madrid.

"You only have to look at the street-by-street voting to see how, still, in the many buildings of the victorious military and civil servants," she says, "people vote massively for the Spanish right."


Money talks

Over recent decades Madrid has also increasingly become both a wealthy city and a city for the wealthy. Though, of course, there are a significant number of people in Madrid living in poverty. Income inequality in Madrid is stark, with neighbourhoods and streets separating rich from poor.

But it's not simply that Madrid is a city inhabited by rich people. Rather, it is that wealth creation is part of the city model and mindset. Not only in terms of the money generated in and by the city, but also because the PP's fiscal policies over the decades have attracted the wealthy from not only across Spain but around the world.

Madrid's smooth transition to a post-industrial economy and its courting of financial and multinational companies has helped to create a conservative upper-middle class strata of society overrepresented in the capital -- and more likely to vote PP.

These sorts of people live in private housing estates, send their children to fee-paying schools, and use private healthcare, all things encouraged by the so-called 'aspirational' approach of the PP in Madrid.

In richer neighbourhoods of the city, Chamartín or Salamanca, for example, there are now large numbers of wealthy Latinos living there. Many of these people got residency through Golden Visas by making property investments of at least €500,000, (something approved by the PP Rajoy government in 2013) and were attracted by low tax measures put in place by Madrid's regional and local governments.

The region as a whole boasts of having the lowest tax rates in Spain. Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, a political adviser to Madrid's regional President Isabel Díaz Ayuso, described the PP's offer in the capital as the following: "People vote for the right in Madrid because of the model of life. The taxi driver who has a taxi strives to have another one. Madrid is aspirational."


Pro-business and entrepreneurship

This self-professed aspirational mindset combined with pro-business policies mean that many are drawn to the city's low tax rates.

Madrid has become Spain's leading region in terms of GDP, but this wasn't always the case. For a long time Spain's economic engine was Catalonia, but Madrid now accounts for 19.4 percent of national GDP, while Catalonia stands at 19 percent.

That's a relatively small difference, but per capita income in Madrid is almost €5,000 higher than in Catalonia. According to a recent report by the Institute of Economic Studies, the tax burden in Madrid is 13 points below the EU average, while that of Catalonia is 34 points above.

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Home ownership

Another facet of the aspirational, pro-entrepreneurial model employed by the Spanish right in Madrid has been an emphasis on home ownership.

In this sense, journalist Fernando Mendizabal argues that the PP's approach is reminiscent of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's home buying programmes of the 1980s. Like Thatcher's 'right to buy' scheme, the PP's emphasis included the working class (traditionally PSOE voters in Spain) and tried to absorb them into the aspirational mantra of individualist PP politics and pull them away from the more statist PSOE offering.

Mendizibal argues that the Spanish right in Madrid has built a city perfect for an aspirational bourgeois way of life, "a sort of American dream to which almost any Madrileño, regardless of social class, could have access," in his words.

"Little by little and quietly," Mendizabal goes on to say, "the right wing has managed to successfully complete one of the greatest experiments in social engineering in the history of modern Spain."

"The population of Madrid and its metropolitan area is mostly right-wing because for more than two decades a social and economic model has been planned and constructed that generates liberal-conservative behavioural logics,” he concludes.

In short, if a city has an almost three decade run of uninterrupted right-wing policies, ideological commitments to individualism and aspiration will likely become embedded in its DNA.


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