In 1931, municipal elections ended up causing Spain to go from monarchy to republic. In 2023, that would not be possible, but municipalities, like the autonomous communities, treasure competences with a great impact on the quality of life of their neighbors. The public discourse of the pre-campaign and the electoral campaign has reduced the 28-M to a kind of plebiscite on Pedro Sánchez, a kind of poll prior to the main course: the generals. But the 36.585 million voters called to the polls in 14 days are not rehearsing. They will elect the governments of 12 autonomous communities and 8,131 city councils. That is, according to the Constitution and the respective statutes of autonomy, a model of management of Health, public education, social services, culture, sport and leisure, environmental protection ... It is the vote that decides the day to day, what citizens spend their time on: how long it takes them to get to work from home (because of traffic, where they have been able to afford housing); how much to get a doctor's appointment...
EL PAÍS has consulted politicians, sociologists and political scientists about this nationalization of campaigns. The phenomenon is not new. The study Municipal elections in Spain, the personalization of the vote, published in the International Journal of Sociology in 2017, concluded, after analyzing elections between 1999 and 2011, that the direct evaluation of the candidate can modify the meaning of the vote, "which disqualifies the simplifications of those who treat the municipal ones as a mere reflection of what happens in the national arena or of those who only consider them as primaries of the next general elections". Spain is not Madrid.
Feijóo has raised the campaign as an inventory of "reasons to repeal sanchismo". According to this logic, the regional and municipal candidates of the PSOE are branches of it and "deserve the same defeat". But the former Galician president, now national leader of the PP, is not the only one in the party who employs that strategy. Popular candidates of 28-M replicate the slogan. Thus, in Cantabria, the aspirant to preside over the regional government, María José Sáenz de Buruaga, promises to repeal "sanchismo" and "revillismo" [by Miguel Ángel Revilla, current president, of the PRC] because "they are the same", because "it has validated 93% of the decrees of the Government of Sánchez and Podemos" and because it has favored "the law of only yes is yes, that of euthanasia or trans law." In the same way, the aspirant to the Generalitat of Valencia, Carlos Mazón, presents the current president, the socialist Ximo Puig, as "a delegate of sanchismo", and the mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, affirms: "On May 28 we have to choose between Pedro Sánchez or the Spain of 78. The people of Madrid do not want to be a branch of Sánchez in the capital. His days are numbered at La Moncloa. It's up to us."
🔴 Pedro Sánchez's candidates are also responsible for the effects of Sanchismo. pic.twitter.com/FRqTelgOgw
— People's Party (@ppopular) May 12, 2023
The nationalization of the campaign has consequences. "Practically nothing is being said about Health and Education," says political scientist Pablo Simón. Cristina Monge, co-editor of the collection More political culture, more democracy (Gedisa), regrets that "these elections are despised by treating them as a first round of the general elections." And remember: "When a new social phenomenon appears, the first to attend to it is the municipality. When sexist violence began to be a public problem in this country, the first shelters, the first programs... were municipal. When a significant number of migrants began to arrive, the first to detect this need for reception policies were also the municipalities. And in the autonomous communities we are talking about health, education... This is a very, very important election. By themselves," he stresses.
The PP presides over only two (Madrid and Murcia) of the communities that hold elections on 28-M and the PSOE, nine (Aragon, Principality of Asturias, Extremadura, La Rioja, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Castilla-La Mancha, Valencian Community and Navarra). "For that reason," explains Simon, "the right plays to attack and the left to defend. The PP tries to turn this into a plebiscite to Sánchez because they know that, in general, the assessment of the management of regional and local governments is better than that of the central government. And on the other hand, the PSOE also nationalizes the debate from the Council of Ministers. For example, taking up the issue of housing now to move the focus away from the law of only yes is yes."
In 2021, Isabel Díaz Ayuso premiered the slogan Communism or freedom. We can, and by imitation, the socialists, reacted with a "fascism or democracy". The great beneficiary was the candidate of Más Madrid, Mónica García. He focused on the problems of the Community and on raising his proposals and became leader of the opposition to the PP by surpassing the PSOE in votes, which in 2019 had been the first force.
The macro-survey on trends in regional voting of the CIS – 6,000 interviews between last November and December in the 12 communities of 28-M – reveals that "when it comes to voting" in these elections, citizens are more influenced by "the own issues" of their community than the "generals of Spain". The autonomous regions where they give more importance to regional affairs are Navarre (66.6%) and the Principality of Asturias (59.1%). Those that give more relevance to national issues are Castilla-La Mancha (49.2%) and the Valencian Community (43.5%). In Madrid, the paradigm of political polarization and the Sánchez-Ayuso duel, 56.9% give priority to regional issues and 37.5% to national ones.
The Centre for Opinion Studies (CEO) of Catalonia published a similar study. Those over 64 tended to vote for the same party regardless of the type of elections, but in the range between 35 and 49, those who admitted to vote for one party in the municipal elections and another in the regional elections predominated. As the size of the municipality increases, the proportion of people who always vote for the same party regardless of what kind of elections they are, increases. Asked why they would do if "a good candidate from a party they do not like" were presented in their municipality, 42% would give priority to the name and 41% to the party. In municipalities with less than 10,000 inhabitants, there are more supporters of prioritizing the candidate, even if his party did not generate sympathy; in Barcelona, for example, the acronym could precede.
"I am surprised," says sociologist Belén Barreiro, director of the research agency 40dB., "that some parties try to nationalize the campaign because regional and local factors weigh much more now than before on the citizen, who, in addition, has more criteria, greater ability to know how his city really is. That is why the hoaxes typical of the campaigns are less successful here."
Dual voting and differential abstention
Juan Rodríguez Teruel, professor of Political Science at the University of Valencia, explains that the PP will improve its results by pure thematic math – "before the right was divided into three and now, after the virtual disappearance of Ciudadanos, in two" – but insists that the national element is "secondary" in this type of elections, "very conditioned, especially at the municipal level, because of the personal factor and local dynamics." "The parties, especially those that have high expectations of change in the generals, tend to try to anticipate that change already in the municipal, but that is not so clear. There is the dual vote, people who opt for different parties according to the type of elections, although it has been reduced a lot in the last decade, especially in Catalonia, Navarra, the Basque Country ...". Pablo Simón recalls, for his part: "The PP presides over Castilla y León, but in the region it only has the City Council of Salamanca. Despite the tsunami of Juanma Moreno in Andalusia, the PSOE governs in Seville, Huelva, Jaén, Granada ...".
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Teruel also points out another phenomenon, "differential abstention" according to the type of elections. "It depends a lot on the context. If there is now a high level of abstention, we will have to see which party harms the most." Polls show that PSOE voters are less mobilized than PP voters. But Teruel warns: "Normally, in polls, those who support parties with expectations of change are also more likely to say that they will vote safely. And those who don't want change tend to be less stressed." Simón recalls, in that sense, that "the right-wing bloc is usually more stable, while, since 2007, in the municipal elections, support for the PSOE has varied by more than one million voters, less or more."
In this context, campaigns are increasingly important, as Barreiro points out. "Many people have not yet decided their vote. It has to do with the fact that the offer is now wider, and it costs more to choose when there are many than when there were two."
Santos Cerdán, general coordinator of the socialist campaign of 28-M, recognizes that the main objective of the party is to "mobilize" its electorate. "The right mobilizes the contras with a campaign of lies about the supposed apocalypse and we are going to control that disinformation, explaining the management of the central government and that of the autonomous and local governments. The PP wants to turn this into a plebiscite. Ayuso has marked that agenda within the PP, where it is debated if she will be the substitute of Feijóo, but there are great differences in how things look, in the messages ... in Madrid and the rest of Spain". Asked if they will enter the rag of the nationalization of the campaign, Cerdán insists that each community and municipality has its own program, "hospital beds, sports centers ...", but at the same time recalls the trump card "of the Council of Ministers, the policy of facts".
The parties maintain the traditional campaign resources: posters, rallies, mailing... But social networks and videos, commissioned to advertising agencies, gain weight, above all, to reach young people. "With new technologies," says Cerdán, "we now have tools to differentiate electoral sectors and specifically target them." Monge warns, however, of the risks of "microtargeting": "You get home a personalized letter with proposals that they think may interest you as a woman, for example. Instead of the general program, a part is chosen. As if a couple saw each other only on Saturdays for dinner, when a relationship is much more." On 28-M, 36.5 million voters decide who they marry in Health, Education, Social Services...
He receives every afternoon the bulletin Diario de elecciones, written by the deputy director of EL PAÍS Claudi Pérez. And here, the x-ray of all the communities that go to the polls.
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