Relegated to third

Over the last few months, the popularity of the Spanish government has been steadily declining, but the most recent test of voters' intentions puts it in third place for the first time. According to a survey conducted by Metroscopia for El País, centrist newcomer Ciudadanos would win if a general election were held today, with 29.1% of the vote. Leftist alliance Unidos Podemos would come second with 19.8% and the ruling Conservative Popular Party (PP) third with 19.5%.

Prime minister Mariano Rajoy fares even worse, with 86% of Spaniards saying he should go. The message is clear: the PP can no longer rely on its much-vaunted economic credentials to maintain voters' support.

Ever since it took office in 2011, the PP has presented itself as the only party fit to preside over the Spanish economy. On paper, it appears entitled to make that claim: Spain's GDP has been expanding at one of the fastest rates in the eurozone for the last three years, and unemployment is down to 17%, from a peak of 26% in 2013. Indeed, the Conservatives' pledge to reduce the jobless rate has been their other election-winning mantra: half a million new jobs a year, says Rajoy, is the amount required to return the Spanish workforce to health.

Most of the new employment contracts are temporary or part-time, though, and have done nothing to strengthen a perilously insecure labour market. Also remember that the Spanish economy was unaffected when Spain went without a government for ten months in 2016. Actually, its expansion continued apace. These two facts alone provide sufficient motive to doubt the PP's economic competence; but there's another reason why the Conservatives have slumped to third place in the opinion polls.

The PP's responses to Spaniards' concerns appear utterly unconvincing. In February, there were protests all over Spain when the government announced a 2018 pension raise that wouldn't even match inflation. Rajoy only pledged to increase the proposed hike of 0.25% to secure parliamentary support for this year's budget (which still hasn't been passed). And when more than five million Spanish women participated in the country's first female strike at the beginning of March, all Rajoy could do was mumble that gender pay inequality was no longer at the bottom of the PP's priority list. Do you believe him?

This is not even to mention the Conservatives' nonexistent line on corruption. The circumstances surrounding the recent resignation of Cristina Cifuentes, former head of the PP in Madrid, revealed a laughable inconsistency: lying and cheating are tolerable (other PP members have lied about their qualifications without consequence) but shoplifting is a sackable offence. Unless the PP suddenly takes a zero-tolerance stance on corruption and starts heeding the concerns of the electorate, it stands no chance of winning the 2020 general election.