Ciudadanos continues to decline after the resignation of Albert Rivera in 2019. / SUR

Split loyalties

A survey at the end of last year reveals centrist Ciudadanos to be clinging on for dear life while the PP are on the rise and the Socialists are on the fall

MARK NAYLER

Superficially, it looks like a return to the two party system. According to the latest voter intention poll, carried out for Cadena Ser and El País between 27th and 31st December last year, the Popular Party (PP) are on the rise and the Socialists are on the fall. One of the most interesting statistics, though, suggests that some voters don't see much difference between the reds and the blues. The survey also reveals centrist Ciudadanos to be clinging on for dear life, despite once occupying the coveted role of kingmaker, and Podemos as struggling to regain the momentum it had under Pablo Iglesias.

Only 66.5% of those who voted for the Socialists in 2019 would do so again, compared to 80.9% of the PP's backers, making the latter's support-base the most loyal. Remarkably, 7.2% of the PSOE's 2019 voters would now defect to the PP's conservatives, a transfer that's as much a slap in the face for Podemos as it is for the coalition's leading force (by contrast, just 0.3% of PP voters would transfer to the PSOE).

It also suggests that, despite the polarity that dominates congressional mud-slinging, some voters still see the PP and Socialists as essentially interchangeable. Or perhaps they're so disillusioned with the coalition that they want to give the blue camp another shot at running the country. Both basically amount to the same thing.

Ciudadanos continues its unstoppable decline. After the 2019 election, in which the once-crucial party lost 47 of its 57 seats, Albert Rivera resigned as leader. Under the rudderless direction of his successor, Inés Arrimadas, Ciudadanos has haemorrhaged voters to the PP and Vox - a trend that looks set to continue: over half of those who opted for Ciudadanos in 2019 will go elsewhere this time, 34.7% of them to the Conservatives.

Just 30.6% are prepared to reiterate their loyalty to Ciudadanos, thus casting their votes into a void. The party's current plight makes you think of David Cameron's quip to Tony Blair, delivered during the Conservative leader's first appearance at PMQs: "He was the future once". Ironically for a group that was founded to oppose Catalan secessionism, Ciudadanos has failed to capitalise on anti-independence sentiment over the last few years. That space has been filled by Vox, which retains almost 80% of its voters.

Unidas Podemos holds steady, more or less, although it would lose four of its 35 seats and almost 10% of its voters to the Socialists. Podemos, that leftist alliance's strongest element, has been dogged by internal tensions, disagreements with the PSOE and Iglesias' departure from politics in 2021. Unidas Podemos has also been weakened by the loss of one its political heavyweights, labour minister and deputy prime minister Yolanda Díaz, who plans to run on her own platform ahead of the next election.