Original version in Spanish: La excepción española: el fracaso de los grupos de derecha populista pese al paro, la desigualdad y la inmigración


Very few European countries have proven immune to the appeal of right-wing populism. The exception is Spain: despite economic crisis and fast-eroding political trust, Spain has not seen any right-wing populist party obtain more than 1% of the vote in national elections in recent years. What might explain this remarkable absence of an electorally successful Spanish right-wing populist party?

Using public data (including statistics and opinion polls), interviews with experts and original polling, this case study scrutinises various factors influencing right-wing populist success in Spain – or lack thereof. First, it sets out why it is so remarkable that Spain should not have a right-wing populist presence in politics. Several explanations are discussed, includingthe historical weakness of the Spanish national identity and the Spanish people’s pro-Europeanism. These factors all seem to influence the (lack of) demand for a populist message by Spanish people. In and of themselves, however, these factors fail fully to explain the absence of a right-wing political party. Finally, this case study considers so-called supply-side factors, particularly the failure of parties that have tried to appeal to right-wing populist sentiments in Spain and the effects of the Spanish electoral system.

This report takes part of the Research Project “Nothing to fear but fear Itself?”, an initiative of the British think tank Demos, which covers six countries: Germany, Poland, France, the UK, Sweden and Spain. The full report can be found in its web.

1 Jose Pablo Martínez, Research Assistant at Elcano Royal Institute, has gathered a good part of the information on which this Working Paper is based. Also Elena Sotos, from the Elcano Royal Institute, has been very helpful in the data collection process. I am especially grateful to Xavier Casals Messeguer, who generously travelled to Madrid to offer us his insight on the extreme right in Spain. The chapter of this paper dealing with these kind of parties benefits greatly from his work. Finally, I thank the experts who attended the meeting in Madrid on 27 September 2016, where some of the hypothesis of this report were discussed, and whose names are included in appendix A.

Crowd in the center of Madrid. Photo: Manolo Gómez (CC BY 2.0)