It’s the Ideology, Stupid!

Ana I. López Ortega

5 mins - 21 de Junio de 2023, 18:30

Things were not looking too good for the Democratic candidate in the 1992 US presidential election: a promising young man from the state of Arkansas, where he had been governor, was running against a seemingly all-powerful George Bush, who had just won the (first) Gulf War. So, a strategist for Bill Clinton’s election campaign decided to hang a poster in the candidate’s headquarters with three phrases that summed up the campaign’s approach. One of them became particularly famous: It’s the economy, stupid. Of course, it is necessary to complete the sentence to understand it correctly: it is not the war that matters to the voter, but the economy. In other words, it is not their patriotic pride but their concrete problems that concern them most. Bush eventually lost and since then the phrase has become so famous that it has become a mantra in the art of winning election campaigns.

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Well, in the last municipal and regional elections in May, it was not the economy that mobilised the vote for Vox and the PP, the clear winners of the contest, but ideology. So much so that one could improvise a corollary to the principle established by that astute political strategist to improve the effectiveness of his assertion: only when it goes wrong does the economy have a decisive influence on the electorate’s vote. Just ask Zapatero in 2011.

Because if one takes the trouble to consult the latest CIS barometer in May, one will notice how little weight economic issues have had in the decision of Vox voters, for whom the country’s main problem is immigration (4.1%), to the point of quadrupling the general average (1%) and even that of PP voters (0.6%), as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1.- In your opinion, what is the greatest problem that currently exists in Spain? And the second? And the third? 
Source: Question Number 5. PREVIEW OF THE RESULTS OF THE 3405 BAROMETER OF MAY 2023. CIS. 

We have already said on another occasion that, in Spain, immigration was a problem invented by Vox, but it is clear that the ruse has paid off electorally. Unemployment worries 8.4% of the far-right party’s voters, almost half the average of all parties (15%), while the economic crisis worries 12.6%, exactly 6 points less than the average (18.6%) and 5 points less than PP voters (17.6%). The housing problem, which worries 3.3% on average, barely alarms 0.6% of Vox voters. On the other hand, they are more concerned about the (supposed) problem of squatting, although they do not lose sleep over it either: barely two tenths (0.5%) above the average. They are even less concerned about gender violence, climate change, and inequality, which do not worry them at all. On the other hand, Vox voters are more interested than usual in political and governmental problems (15.2% compared to an average of 11.8%) and in the functioning of democracy (0.8%), where they are twice the average (Figure 2). Put more succinctly, Vox voters are concerned about the policies developed by the coalition government, simply because they are ideologically opposed to them.
Figure 2.- In your opinion, what is the greatest problem that currently exists in Spain? And the second? And the third? 
Source: Question Number 5. PREVIEW OF THE RESULTS OF THE 3405 BAROMETER OF MAY 2023. CIS.

It seems clear that Vox’s initial success was the result of the shockwave caused by the Procés and its referendum attempt in 2017. In the two general elections held in 2019, 55% of Vox voters confessed to the CIS that the situation in Catalonia had a decisive influence on their vote, ahead of Ciudadanos and PP voters (35%). It is true that the “lukewarm” response that, in their opinion, Rajoy’s government gave to the pro-independence challenge triggered the first vote for Vox. Spanish identity was at stake, or so they believed in 2018 and 2019. Four years later, when the Catalan problem seems to have been averted, a process of identification of the Vox voter with the rest of their electoral programme has taken place. The researchers Rama, Turnbull, and Villamil call this the “impregnation effect”: the moment someone incorporates being a Vox voter into their political identity, they will be more exposed to Vox’s positions on the rest of the issues, even if their vote was initially determined by a single issue, for example in this case, Catalonia.

It is this impregnation effect that largely explains why Santiago Abascal’s party has gone from 47 to 119 regional deputies and has become the key to governability in 6 autonomous regions and 30 capital cities. Despite the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and inflation, the Spanish economy is not doing badly, despite all the doom-and-gloom forecasts that have been made periodically during the legislature. And in some autonomous communities, such as Valencia, it could be said that the management of public money has even been exemplary, despite underfunding. And yet, this has not prevented the Spanish variant of the European extreme right from taking root in practically every corner of Spain. And this time it has not been because of Catalonia. Nor because of the economy. Just ask Ximo Puig.
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