Wednesday, March 22

Vox: to agree or not to agree?

When Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, president of the Junta de Castilla y León, decided to call early elections in that community last December, it is likely that he did not imagine that his options for repeating the post after the elections would depend almost exclusively on reach some kind of agreement with the radical right-wing Vox party. However, the electoral rise of the formation of Santiago Abascal, added to the worst result in the history of the Popular Party in regional elections in that autonomy and the Socialist Party’s unwillingness to agree with Mañueco, now lead the popular politician to have to decide between agreeing with the radical right or calling new elections. In this scenario, voices are strongly heard advocating establishing a so-called “cordon sanitaire” around Vox that makes it impossible for the parties to reach agreements with this radical force. But what is a cordon sanitaire and what is it for?

With a clearly epidemiological origin, in political science the strategy adopted by certain political parties that refuse to collaborate with other forces whose ideology they consider unacceptable has come to be called cordon sanitaire. Both in history (for example, in Belgium or Finland in the 1930s) and today (the cases of the National Front in France, the Swedish Democrats or the Alternative for Germany are paradigmatic in this regard), there are numerous episodes of these practices in the comparative field. Some of them are briefly reviewed in the influential book by Levitsky and Ziblatt How democracies die (Ariel, 2018). Despite how frequent these strategies have been in comparative terms and their undoubted theoretical advantages, both in terms of labeling these parties as “plagued” not only in the eyes of tactical and/or moderate voters but also in those of potential attractive candidates, as if on purpose to block their impact on public policies, the truth is that in our country the cordons sanitaires have been conspicuous by their absence. Why don’t cordons sanitary occur more often, especially in the Spanish case?

In the first place, from a theoretical point of view, a cordon sanitaire can contribute to promoting a certain image of victimization of radical parties that results in electoral gains for these political groups. But it is that there are also good reasons from the empirical point of view to doubt the absolute goodness of the conformation of the cordons sanitaires. In an investigation with Marco Pastor of the University of Oxford that will appear in the journal Party Politics next year, we examine the electoral consequences of not establishing a cordon of these characteristics around populist parties and inviting them to participate in coalition governments at the national level. in Europe with parties that are not. According to the empirical evidence provided by this work, the populist parties that come to govern with other types of political forces as minority partners in a coalition lose almost 4 percentage points more on average in the following elections than those parties that lack this character. populist. In the paper, we argue that the additional cost of governing suffered by these types of parties is mainly due to two reasons: their inability to maintain their anti-system discourse in a credible way from the government and the public exposure of their lack of competence. to deal with the problems facing the country. In addition, in the article we also show that these electoral costs are more important when the economic situation is bad, in the case of majority governments that present low levels of ideological conflict within them or when the populist party in question is more extremist.

All in all, and without going into excessive academic disquisitions, our article is still a first attempt at empirical research on the political consequences of cordon sanitaires in Europe that deserve at least three complementary reflections. In the first place, one might ask whether examining the future electoral returns of this type of party is what is really important. What good is it for us that these parties lose part of their votes in the next elections if in the meantime they have managed to undermine from the government some of the fundamental principles of our democracies? Secondly, and already in the strictly electoral field, a series of questions should be considered, ranging from identifying which voters these parties lose when they come to govern to finding out where these voters go or why they abandon them. Do they lose some of their support after these government experiences because they are penalized for being ideologically moderate when they “touch power” or is it simply a logical reaction of the electorate when their inability to govern their countries in a solvent manner becomes clear? Do these electoral effects respond to short-term dynamics or are they, on the contrary, a prelude to other electoral losses in successive electoral appointments? When do the cordons sanitaires (or their absence) produce electoral effects: when mere investiture and/or governability agreements are concluded or when coalition governments are formed? All these questions constitute a future research agenda whose theoretical interest is only comparable to its practical relevance.

Finally, and returning to the case of the Popular Party in Castilla y León or in other parts of the Spanish geography in the not too distant future (for example, in Andalusia at the end of this year), we should aspire to understand to what extent what happens In Europe, where the governmental experiences of this type of party are usually settled with resounding electoral defeats, it will occur when Vox becomes executive, either at the regional or state level. In this sense, I would like to conclude this brief note with two final ideas. In the first place, establishing a cordon sanitaire around Vox in both Castilla y León and Andalusia, either through coalition governments between the PP and PSOE or through investiture and/or governance agreements between these same two formations, would mean that this radical force became in both cases de facto the first opposition party. Is it willing to grant Vox such a prominent position in the political system of these communities with the consequent electoral gains that this may entail? Secondly, and contrary to the previous argument, politically isolating the radical right through the formation of a cordon sanitaire against Vox could mean that the right-wing electorate is convinced of the sterility of voting for this formation in order to avoid left-wing governments and the need to rely electorally on the Popular Party. If the latter is the case, it could be considered that the cordon sanitaire has borne fruit by denying the legitimacy of the radical right and generating doubts about its electoral viability.