Spain 2019

Spain’s general election was on 28 April, the third one since December of 2015. For the third time in a row, the largest party will have under 40% of the seats. This time it is the Socialists (PSOE) in first place, with just 35.1% (123 of 350 seats) on only 28.7% of the nationwide vote. The last two times it had been the Popular Party (PP), but this time that party lost 69 seats to end up at 66, or 18.9% (on 16.7% of the votes). Two newer parties, whose breakthrough in 2015 had so much to do with the sharp decline in the two big parties’ votes and seats, are Ciudadanos (C’s) and Podemos. The C’s also gained, up 25 seats for a total of 57 (16.3% on 15.7% of the votes), while Podemos slipped considerably, down 24 seats to 42 (12.0% on 14.3% of the votes).

Then there’s Vox, the new nationalist party, which won 24 seats, which is 6.9%, on 10.3% of the vote. Note how significantly underrepresented Vox is, signifying its strength in rural areas which, under Spain’s electoral system, have low magnitudes (although with malapportionment, not as low as they would be if district magnitudes were redistributed to match current population shares).

The rest of the seats, as is typical, were mostly won by regional parties, with the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) being the largest, with 15 seats (4.3% on 3.9% of the total national vote). This is an increase of 6 seats over the last election.

Overall, the parties of the left did well. But the PSOE and Podemos remain short of a majority, unless they accept the support of the ERC. Which, of course, might only feed the strength of the right for next time, including Vox.

In some ways, it was actually a pretty typical Spanish result. The districted PR system, in which there are 52 districts for the 350 seats, once again allowed the two largest parties to be significantly over-represented (at least by the standards of the PR family of systems), and some smaller ones to be under-represented, except if they are regionally based. Of course, many of them are, and several of the smaller regional parties tend to be over-represented, due to having all their votes concentrated in a few districts (which often have moderate-low district magnitude). Of course, in the past–up to 2011 when the PP won a majority of seats–the two biggest parties were much more dominant in votes and therefore in seats than they have been in these past three elections. (The PP’s vote in 2011 was 44.6%; yes, manufactured majorities can happen under PR, such as when average district magnitude is on the low side.)

Note that, despite having had only 85 seats at the last election, the PSOE was the governing party going into this election, as a result of the constructive vote of no-confidence in the PP minority government in June, 2018.

2 thoughts on “Spain 2019

  1. Sunday’s election in Spain continued a trend towards concentration of votes-to-seat disparities in constituencies with fewer than six seats, while constituencies with six or more seats delivered a relatively proportional outcome. In the latter, Vox won 8.9% of seats with 10.1% of the vote, while in the former it only won two seats (1.9%) despite polling 10.7% of the vote; in constituencies with four or fewer seats, Vox was completely shut out even though it won 10.3% of the vote there. As a group, constituencies with six or more seats had a seat outcome as proportionate as that of the whole of Finland in the general election earlier this year.

    Meanwhile, C’s did very well in the smaller districts, to the point of being over-represented there – a first for a nationwide third party. In districts with fewer than six members, it won 18.4% of seats with 15% of the vote, while in districts with fewer than four it won 25% of seats with 17.4% of the vote. By the way, although C’s came up third nationwide, in terms of votes it was the second largest party overall in districts with at least five seats: PP only remained second-largest party with the votes from districts with four or fewer deputies.

    Malapportionment had little effect in the overall distribution of Congress seats: had these been apportioned among the provinces strictly on the basis of population (while allowing every province to have at least one seat), the notional outcome of Sunday’s election would have been as follows (seat changes relative to the actual outcome in parentheses):

    PSOE – 123 (0)
    PP – 62 (-4)
    Cs – 55 (-2)
    PODEMOS-IU-EQUO & ECP-GUANYEM EL CANVI – 43 (+1)
    VOX – 26 (+2)
    ERC-SOBIRANISTES – 18 (+3)
    JxCAT-JUNTS – 8 (+1)
    EAJ-PNV – 7 (+1)
    EH Bildu – 2 (-2)
    CCa-PNC – 2 (0)
    NA+ – 2 (0)
    COMPROMÍS 2019 – 1 (0)
    PRC – 1 (0)

    Put succinctly, gains in proportionality resulting from assigning more seats to the most populous provinces would have been diluted by increasing vote-to-seats distortions in the least populated provinces, seven of whom would have become single-member districts (thus choosing their members by FPTP). Specifically, constituencies with three or fewer seats at the present would have had their overall representation in Congress slashed from 28 to 13 deputies, and the distribution of seats in these – 11 PSOE, 10 PP and 7 C’s – would have changed to 9 PSOE and 4 PP (PSOE won 30.9% of the vote in those districts to 25.5% for PP, 17.4% for Cs, 13.3% for Vox and 9.5% for UP).

    However, a notional distribution of seats by the Sainte-Laguë method and the existing seat apportionment among provinces would have delivered a far more proportionate outcome:

    PSOE – 106 (-17)
    PP – 62 (-4)
    Cs – 60 (+3)
    PODEMOS-IU-EQUO & ECP-GUANYEM EL CANVI – 48 (+6)
    VOX – 34 (+10)
    ERC-SOBIRANISTES – 14 (-1)
    JxCAT-JUNTS – 6 (-1)
    EAJ-PNV – 6 (0)
    EH Bildu – 5 (+1)
    CCa-PNC – 3 (+1)
    NA+ – 2 (0)
    COMPROMÍS 2019 – 1 (0)
    PRC – 1 (0)
    BNG – 1 (+1)
    NCa – 1 (+1)

    Specifically, PSOE would have won 30.3% of seats (instead of 35.1% under D’Hondt), while Vox would have had 9.7% instead of 6.9% (perhaps not necessarily a plus), and two small regional parties from Galicia and the Canary Islands would have gained a single seat in Congress. In sum, a more proportional Congress of Deputies could be attained with a simple change to the electoral law; whether there would be a political will to enact it is another story.

    Finally, Spain will be back to the polls next May 26 for European, regional and local elections. Not surprisingly, PSOE has already let it be known it doesn’t expect to begin negotiations towards the formation of a new government prior to that date – not least because they could potentially compromise its fresh gains at the polls.

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