Both Chris Brooke and Matthew Turner have raised the suggestion that the Socialist victory in Spain may not have been caused by an actual swing in the electorate from the Popular Party (PP) to the Socialists (PSOE) after Thursday, but rather by the attacks in Madrid inspiring more people to go out and vote. With the majority of these new voters trending towards the left and the PSOE, the argument goes, this meant that they can attribute their victory to these new voters, rather than voters who switched from the PP to the PSOE.
Curious about whether or not this is true, I took a look at the actual election results and there is evidence there to support this view. However, any conclusions from this evidence are necessarily tentative and speculative, as the evidence could be interpreted many ways.
Firstly, there was a definite rise in participation from 2000 (68.71%) to 2004 (77.21%), representing approximately 2,500,000 extra voters. This is a return to the participation level of 1996 (77.38%), though, not a new record high, at least in percentage terms – it may be in actual numbers. However, this does buck the recent European trend of generally lower turnouts in elections.
As for the parties themselves, the total cast for those other than the PSOE and PP (the United Left (IU), nationalist and regionalist parties) remained roughly static numerically (approximately 3.8 million votes) but, as a percentage, dropped from 16.4% to 14.8% of the total. This is consistent with the idea that the majority of extra voters were for the PSOE, and it’s also worth noting that the only one of the smaller parties to make noticeable gains both in number of votes and vote share were the Catalan Republican Left (ERC).
The most noticeable effect of the higher turnout, however, is amongst the two main parties. As a whole, the PP have lost approximately 700,000 voters since 2000 – a drop of 6.7% in their number of votes, returning them to roughly the same level numerically as they got in 1996. However, the Socialists have gained close on 3 million extra voters, an extra 37.7%. This obviously skews the result heavily in the PSOE’s favour – if they’d merely captured the 700,000 voters the PP lost, they’d still have been almost a million votes behind the PP in the final count – it’s the extra 2.3 million votes they’ve picked up that have made the difference. And, as we saw earlier, there were approximately 2.5 million more votes cast in 2000 than in 2004.
If we remove the ‘extra’ 2.3 million PSOE votes from the reckoning, then turnout drops to about 70%, the PSOE’s share of the vote drops to 36.6% and the PP’s rises to 40.9% and, if I remember correctly, a 4% or so lead for the PP was what the polls were showing last week before the Madrid bombings.
Obviously, this isn’t a conclusive proof, and I doubt very strongly that all those who voted on Sunday who hadn’t planned to before last Thursday voted for the PSOE. However, it seems likely that a majority of those who did vote having not planned to would have been voters for one of the left parties and this contributed strongly to the PSOE’s victory on Sunday. The bombings may have elected the election, but not in the way some think – they caused people to vote, but didn’t affect the way they voted.
Of course, this is just speculation, and there are no doubt other explanations for the voting patterns. It’s hard to say anything conclusively without decent polling data, but the results do show enough of interest in themselves to make looking at them a worthwhile exercise.