Cablegate: Spanish Elections: Neck and Neck in The

DE RUEHMD #0274/01 0671121
R 071121Z MAR 08





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1. (SBU) Summary: Two days away from the March 9 Spanish
general election, the polls continue to suggest a close race
with Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Spanish Socialist Workers
Party (PSOE) perhaps enjoying a slight lead over Mariano
Rajoy's Popular Party (PP). The only thing analysts seem to
agree on is that high voter turnout favors Zapatero while low
turnout benefits Rajoy. No one expects the victor to take an
absolute majority in congress, so March 9 is likely to mark
the beginning of some serious deal-making with the smaller
parties. End summary.

Zapatero and Rajoy - Final Debate

2. (SBU) Zapatero and Rajoy held their second and final
debate March 3. 12 million Spaniards tuned in to watch a
heated discussion in which neither candidate said much that
was new and both devoted considerable time to events long
past. Rajoy again made the case that ordinary Spaniards were
suffering in a worsening economy. Zapatero accused Rajoy of
having only recently discovered the economic issue, leading
to a seemingly endless argument about whether Rajoy had or
had not questioned Zapatero about the economy early in the
legislature that just ended. In a discussion of foreign
policy, neither candidate had much to say about the future.
Instead, Zapatero raised the Iraq war and Rajoy repeatedly
accused him of supporting a UN resolution urging troop
contributions to Iraq after pulling out Spanish troops. On
terrorism, Zapatero repeated his accusation that the PP has
played politics, pledging he would support any opposition
government's policy against ETA. Rajoy's rejoinder was that
if Zapatero's policy with ETA was to fight rather than
negotiate, he would support him.

3. (SBU) At times Zapatero appeared genuinely angry,
repeatedly interrupting Rajoy. Perhaps this was a deliberate
attempt to stir up PSOE voters, but combined with Rajoy's
incessant attacks regarding the economy, immigration, and
public security it contributed to an overall negative
atmosphere. Snap polls after the debate (we cannot vouch for
their trustworthiness) suggested Zapatero won the debate.
The press split along partisan lines. Our guess, as with the
first debate, is that no one's mind was changed by this
debate and undecided voters did not get much help.

Polls and Turnout

4. (U) As polls have consistently shown over many months, the
final pre-election polls show the PSOE with an edge. For
example, a Metroscopia poll published March 2 in left-wing
daily El Pais showed the PSOE with 42.9 percent of the vote
and 165-169 congressional seats. The PP showed up with 38.8
percent and 148-154 seats (an absolute majority would be 176
seats; in 2004 the PSOE won 164 seats and the PP 148.). The
poll showed the Catalan Convergence and Union Party (CIU)
with nine seats, the Basque National Party (PNV) with seven
seats, the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) with five to
six seats, the United Left (IU) with four seats, and other,
even smaller parties, with a total of six to seven seats.
The poll showed turnout at 74-75 percent (it was 75.66
percent in 2004). The poll was based on 8,750 telephone
interviews conducted February 8-27 (the first Zapatero-Rajoy
debate was February 25). The margin of error was plus or
minus 1.1 percent.

5. (U) A Sigma Dos poll published March 3 in the conservative
daily El Mundo showed the PSOE with 43.4 percent of the vote
and 157-171 congressional seats. The PP showed up with 39.3
percent and 148-161 seats. The poll showed the CIU with 9-11
seats, PNV with 7 seats, ERC with five or six seats, the IU
with four seats, and the smaller parties with a total of
three to eight seats. The poll showed turnout at 76-78
percent. The poll was based on 11,000 telephone interviews
conducted between February 20 and March 1. The margin of
error was plus or minus 1.2 percent.

6. (U) March 3 was the last day polls could be published in
Spain, but a Barcelona left-leaning daily evaded the
prohibition by releasing a poll in their March 5 Andorra
edition. The poll was conducted by the Group of Social and
Public Opinion Studies (Gabinet d'Estudis Socials i Opinio
Publica or GESOP) and showed the PSOE with 41.5 percent to
the PP's 39.0 percent. A datum likely to alarm (and perhaps
motivate) the PSOE was the prediction of only 68 percent
voter turnout. The poll was based on 600 telephone

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interviews conducted March 4. The margin of error was plus
or minus 4 percent.

7. (SBU) We also have unpublished poll conducted by ASEP
(Juan Diez Nicolas, a member of Spain's pre-PP conservative
party but well-regarded for the technical rigor of his
polling). Diez does not predict an outcome (he once told us
that given Spain's provincial voting scheme, one would need
roughly 30,000 interviews to make worthwhile predictions, and
since he eschews telephone interviews as inherently
unreliable, the cost would be prohibitively high).
Nevertheless, he mentions a 1.6 percent PSOE advantage and
argues that the outcome will be close (no more than three
point if the PSOE wins or no more than two points if the PP
wins -- the PSOE won by 4.9 percent in 2004). He predicted
turnout at 68-72 percent, noting that at 72 percent or above,
a PSOE victory became more likely, while the reverse was true
at 68 percent or less. The poll was based on 1,201
face-to-face home interviews conducted February 11-17. The
margin of error is unknown. The poll can be found at

8. (U) As we have noted previously, the conventional wisdom
here is that low turnout favors the PP. In 2004, the Iraq
war and the Madrid train bombings three days before the
elections sent 75.66 percent of voters to the polls, and the
PSOE won a surprise victory. The percentages of voter
turnout (and victors) in other general elections: 79.97 in
1982 (PSOE absolute majority); 70.49 in 1986 (PSOE absolute
majority); 69.93 in 1989 (PSOE); 76.44 in 1993 (PSOE); 77.38
in 1996 (PP, the anomalous result was attributed to PSOE
corruption scandals); and 68.71 in 2000 (PP absolute

Absentee Voters and Recounts

9. (U) The polls will close here at 8:00 pm and the first
results should start coming out shortly thereafter. By
midnight, and perhaps as early as 10:00 pm local, we should
know who won. However, if the margins are razor thin, the
absentee (including overseas) vote could become a factor.
There are approximately 1.2 million voters overseas. The
largest numbers are in Argentina, France, and Venezuela.
Like absentee voters in Spain, they could request an absentee
ballot (the deadline for doing so was February 28). Overseas
voters also had the option of going to a Spanish embassy or
consulate to vote (March 2 was the deadline). The deadline
for posting absentee ballots was March 6 (or March 8 for
overseas voters who chose to mail their ballots). Absentee
ballots are counted in the province in which the voter is
listed in the census. In 2004 the absentee vote favored the
PP by nearly 20 percent (but it predated the terrorist
attacks in Madrid three days before the election). Requests
for absentee ballots have been heavy this year (770,000)
compared to 2004 (559,730). This might suggest higher voter
turnout across the board, but remember that the 2004 absentee
ballot requests were made before the train bombings raised
voter interest. As a footnote, we know of at least one
controversy in recent years regarding overseas voting. The
PP alleges that in 2005 it failed to capture Galicia because
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez held up a Spanish diplomatic pouch
containing -- according to the PP -- a large number of PP

10. (U) If the results in a given race a very close, there
might be a call for a recount. However, the Spanish system
of voting is uniform and simple. Voters choose the ballot of
the party for which they wish to vote and seal it in an
envelope. They then identify themselves to the poll workers
and are allowed to place the envelope in a ballot box. When
the polls close, the four poll workers (selected randomly
from the census - similar to jury duty in the U.S.) open the
envelopes and count the ballots. If an envelope contains
more than one ballot or if the voter has made any marks on
the ballot, that vote is void. After counting and certifying
the results (under the watchful eyes of any party observers
present), the election materials are taken by courier to the
electoral commission offices, where the results are entered
in a computer.

11. (U) Regardless of any glitches with absentee ballots or
recounts, the election results are supposed to be finalized
and the official count published as early as March 12 but no
later than March 15. Then follows the roughly month-long
process of forming a government described in reftels.


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12. (SBU) We expect a close race. We have no reason to doubt
the conventional wisdom about turnout. A party needs 176
congressional seats to have an absolute majority and no one
here is predicting either party will achieve that. With
fewer seats, the winner will have to court the small parties,
which gives the advantage to the PSOE. There are two other
potential twists to keep in mind. One, if the winner comes
out with more seats than votes (which has never happened), he
will be in an embarrassing position, although both candidates
have recently backed away from saying they would not try to
form a government in that circumstance. Two, because of the
difficulty the PP could have in forming a coalition (see
reftels), it could win but find itself unable to form a
government (which has also never happened). We do not
predict either outcome, but the possibilities are there.

© Scoop Media

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