Until very recently, the competition in the space of the left seemed to have entered a phase of relative calm, with a PSOE consolidating itself as the hegemonic progressive force and a United We can relegated to an increasingly marginal electoral space. However, I think that in the last year two elements have appeared that have once again energized the partisan confrontation on the left, making it more attractive and less predictable. These two elements are: (i) The progressive consolidation of the Más País project, which is managing to correct that blurry and erratic profile that it presented in the beginning; and (ii) the change of leadership in United We Can, which could have important consequences in the redefinition of the space of the left in Spain.
Survival of the founding leader is not always easy for newly created parties. The fact that Podemos is facing this operation in a planned way, without the pressure of an imminent election is something that the potential candidate, Yolanda Díaz, should take advantage of. The history of Podemos is undoubtedly full of achievements. In just five years it has managed to enter the Congress of Deputies with force, promote the first coalition government in recent history and decisively influence many public policies. However, over the years Podemos has also suffered a very notable accumulated electoral wear. Along the way, it has lost many of the complicities that it initially enjoyed and has been progressively cornered to an electoral space more typical of the old United Left.
Now Unidos Podemos has an opportunity to redefine itself and gain part of the lost ground. And for a project to the left of the PSOE to overcome the milestones of the old IU it is necessary that it be able to attract a relevant portion of the center-left electoral bases (which currently vote massively for the PSOE). Yolanda Díaz can be an asset in that task. There are strong indications that the second vice president could help regain some of that space that Podemos has been losing over the last few years. In graph 1, I show the evaluations of Pablo Iglesias and Yolanda Díaz compared to those received by President Pedro Sánchez. The data is clear: most of the center-left voters and former voters of United We can value Pedro Sánchez better than Pablo Iglesias. The percentage of those who had a better opinion of Iglesias than of Sánchez was really marginal. Thus, Podemos had a clear leadership problem in its fight with the PSOE to seize the moderate progressive voter.
However, with Yolanda Díaz something very different happens. In that case, the percentage of those who value her better than Pedro Sánchez is similar to those who think otherwise. And among the ex-voters of United We Can, the balance is clearly positive for Yolanda Díaz. Ultimately, survey data indicates that Díaz’s leadership is better able than Iglesas to attract that much-needed center-left voter to broaden the base.
But is a simple candidate replacement enough to reverse Podemos’s eternal electoral crisis? I think this is the key question and the main task that Yolanda Díaz has for the coming months. It is true that the candidate has a more transversal electoral appeal in ideological terms. He is capable of gaining sympathy among those who do not vote for Podemos now but could eventually do so in the future. But the candidate is not everything. The initials (or the party brand) are crucial to understand the electoral success of a political formation. It is for this reason that it is worth asking how the Podemos brand is perceived and to what extent the party’s image could overshadow the potentially positive effects of Yolanda Díaz’s candidacy.
Let me provide some information to help us resolve this issue. In graph 2 I show the percentage of people who perceive the ideology of Iglesias, Díaz and Podemos as extreme left. The majority of center-left voters (and a very high percentage of those of the center-left) place Iglesias in the most extreme ideological positions, something that does not happen in the case of Díaz. Ironically, the so-called “communist vice president” is not perceived by public opinion as a radical. But the most interesting thing here is not the differences between Iglesias and Díaz but how the party, Podemos, is perceived. The percentage of people who believe that Podemos is from the extreme left is certainly higher than that of Yolanda Díaz, but much lower than that of Pablo Iglesias. In this sense, the data show that the attribute of “radical” was more typical of the leader (Iglesias) than of the party.
Thus, in order to “broaden the base”, should Yolanda Díaz avoid presenting herself under the name of Podemos and promote a transversal platform? My reading of the data is that effectively the Podemos brand could push Yolanda Díaz’s candidacy to more radical positions than the center-left voters would like. In this sense, it seems logical that a left-wing platform that relegates the initials of UP to the background could help the cross-sectional profile of Yolanda Díaz.
However, we should not exaggerate the magnitude of this contagion, because, as we have seen, Podemos does not perceive himself as radical as Pablo Iglesias. In reality, I believe that Yolanda Díaz’s reservations to appear under the acronym United We Can do not respond (only) to her fear that they will prevent her from winning the complicity of moderate voters. There are actually other more important factors such as (i) the problem of being a candidate who does not organically control Podemos (with the difficulties that this entails to condition its strategy and political ideology) and (ii) the problem that there are different parties to the left of the PSOE, especially Más País, that could overshadow it and damage its electoral expectations.
The benefits of a transversal platform to “broaden the base” seem obvious to Yolanda Díaz. Another question is what effects it has for both Podemos and Más País. The former could lose part of its power of influence; the second could even put your existence as an organization at risk. Más País is immersed in a phase of construction of a cosmopolitan green project whose fruits (if any) will be harvested more in the medium than in the short term. Any collective adventure of the left, be it an electoral coalition or another type of transversal platform, can easily put at risk everything built up to now, blurring its incipient ideological profile. For a few months, Iñigo Errejón had finally assumed the need for Más País to clearly bet on being the new green party in Spain, something that he did not know (or did not want) to see in the last general elections of November 2019. At that time, Errejón preferred to gain a foothold by appealing to the progressive vote unhappy with the inability of the PSOE and Podemos to reach a government agreement. At that time, Más País sought more to connect with disaffection than with the cosmopolitan green ideology. But the More Country of today already has a clear roadmap set. Any coalition or collective adventure with United We Can blow up all their efforts to create their own profile and build a new electoral space in Spain.
In short, Yolanda Díaz may consider appropriate a transversal platform that allows her to “broaden the base” and better control the project. But, for Podemos and especially for Más País, it is an offer that they might do well to reject.