AS Spain grinds slowly towards its second general election in a six-month political stalemate fraught with attrition, the Socialist Party (PSOE) have slipped into third place in comprehensive opinion polls, crystallising the new politics that has challenged the two-party dominance of the post-Franco era.
Surveys published in the country’s top newspapers see acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party receive support ranging from 27.7 to 31 per cent, analogous to the 28.7 per cent the conservative incumbents garnered when they lost their parliamentary majority in December.
More likely to raise eyebrows is the revelation that the recently inked Podemos – Izquierda Unida alliance secured higher favourability among voters than the Socialists, who have enjoyed decades as the established voice of the left.
Mustering an uninspired 20.2 -21.6 per cent across the polls, commissioned by El Pais, El Mundo and El Espanol, the Socialists are now firmly in third place behind the radical left-wing coalition which jumps to 23.7 – 25.6 per cent from the 20.7 per cent gathered in the 2015 election.
Indicative of a three way race, with an honourable mention for Ciudadanos who linger at roughly 15 per cent, the polls suggest that another hung parliament remains a distinct possibility unless the PP can rustle up a significant percentage increase.
Despite the apparent gridlock, that may well be a possibility if the election sees a clearer ideological split presented to voters, with the PP and Podemos outlining radically different visions of the country’s political and economic future.
A polarised campaign with the very real possibility of a Podemos-led victory could galvanise conservatives, traditionalists and wavering Ciudadanos supporters to the PP cause, making the Socialist manifesto an afterthought and offering voters a stark choice between the known and the unknown.
The key question for the Podemos-led alliance is whether, should the party emerge as the left’s strongest hope for power or influence, PSOE voters will join the red side, preferring to temper its anti-austerity and pro-regional impulses rather than enduring another five years of PP dominance.
Frustrating that scenario is the fact that, despite the numbers, the permanence of Podemos on political scene is weakened by the lingering impression that they are a cultural phenomenon likely to dissipate over time. A comprehensive switch from PSOE to Podemos by the party’s faithful would likely consign their party to history while placing their faith in an untested movement.
Like the rise of Syriza in Greece, a radical Labour leadership Britain, and the biting defeats handed out to Donald Trump’s establishment rivals in the US, Spain looks set to enter an era of clear cut and fierce political debate, something that has clearly been stifled by the centrist two-party system.