Is democracy in danger in Spain?

For those who want to impose the independence of a territory with 47% of the votes, the Spanish Constitution can be a straitjacket.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
04 December 2022 Sunday 08:33
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Is democracy in danger in Spain?

For those who want to impose the independence of a territory with 47% of the votes, the Spanish Constitution can be a straitjacket. But for those who aspire to live in a European democracy, the Magna Carta may end up being a shield for fundamental rights and freedoms. The distinction is important because the indicators of support for Spanish democracy are fragile and its main actors do not fare very well in the confidence chapter.

It is true that, according to the CIS and barely a year ago, 79% of Spaniards still considered democracy as the preferable system. However, at the same time, 21% of citizens –double the number two decades ago– were indifferent or even in favor of a dictatorship in “certain circumstances”. What kind of circumstances these would be constitutes a threatening mystery, but even then, just a year ago, the Spaniards rated the functioning of democracy in Spain with a scratch 5.

To this day, the demoscopic indicators continue drawing a democratic system with very brittle foundations. For example, political parties as essential actors in a pluralistic democracy reap a score of 3.7 in the citizen confidence index. In turn, the Government and Parliament obtain, respectively, 4 and 4.3. It is also true that these indicators have improved slightly in the last year: the Executive branch by almost two tenths, and the Chamber by more than two.

However, in a context of the rise of radical right-wing populism, the ratings given by conservative voters to some pillars of the system are significant. For example, while center-left voters place their trust in political parties very close to 5, those of the PP or Vox reflect it in scores of 3.5 and 2.4. Of course, a majority sector of the Catalan independence movement rates their confidence in the parties at 3.3.

Of course, the intense polarization of Spanish society finds its best expression in the confidence that the central government arouses. There the antagonism is maximum: while the center-left electorate scores the Executive above 6 in the confidence index -and the alternative left voters, above 5.5-, the followers of the PP, Vox or Ciudadanos rate it at around 2. On the other hand, the nationalists –especially the Basques– place their note very close to 5.

The problem is that an institution that theoretically represents all Spaniards, such as the Congress of Deputies, reproduces this partisan polarization in similar terms. While the left scores their confidence in the Chamber with notes close to 6, the center-right and right-wing voters oscillate between 3.7 and 2.8. And this severe suspense in confidence extends to the other end of the identity pole: the Catalan independence movement rates its confidence in Congress with just over a 3 (and with less than a 2 in the case of the CUP voter). Basque nationalism, on the other hand, gives better marks to the Spanish legislature: up to 4.5.

For all these reasons, in the end, the Spanish Constitution appears as the only solid pillar of the democratic system, to the extent that it enshrines basic rights and freedoms, and also arouses much broader support. If in 2021, the Magna Carta reaped a 6.2 in the confidence index, in 2022 that note is close to 6.4. It is only a loose pass but it offers the advantage of being very transversal. In fact, the Socialist voter scores his confidence in the Constitution with a 7, while that of the Popular Party raises that note to 7.7 and that of Vox reaches a relevant 6.9. The score falls to 5.5 among the Podemos electorate (and to 5.7 among the Más País electorate), but it is still above the approved one.

Regarding the Magna Carta, the most visible antagonism is around peripheral nationalism, although again to a very uneven degree. Esquerra voters give the Spanish Constitution a 2.5 in terms of confidence, a score that exceeds 3 among the Junts electorate and falls to 2 among the CUP electorate. But that note reaches 5.3 among PNV voters and exceeds 4 among those of Bildu.

Regarding the future, almost 70% of those consulted believe that, within five years, they will maintain the same confidence as now in the Magna Carta, compared to 16% who expect to trust less and another 10% who will do so to a greater extent. . Thus, democracy is fragile and the seduction of authoritarianism is still there, with varying strength.