Opinion polls indicate that turnout at the Catalan elections of December 21 could be in the 80% range, a figure that would shatter the record of 74.95% set in September 2015.
Experts believe that this unprecedented participation will mainly benefit anti-independence parties, in particular the Catalan Socialists (PSC) and Ciudadanos. This, they say, is because Catalans who wish to remain a part of Spain are now highly motivated to go and vote, whereas in the past many felt that regional elections were not something that affected them directly.
Secessionists, for their part, have been highly mobilized for years. Gabriel Colomé, head of the Catalan government’s Opinion Studies Center, feels that separatism may have already reached its electoral ceiling two years ago, and that increased turnout rates will not help their cause.
In addition to this, “they are no longer running together, but are instead rivals, and some of those voters could choose to punish them or turn to the CUP.” In 2015, the European Democratic Party of Catalonia (PDeCAT) and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) teamed up in the Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) coalition, which attracted under 50% of the vote but enough seats for a minority government that secured parliamentary support from the far-left CUP group.
This unusual voter motivation reflects highly unusual circumstances in Catalonia itself: the region’s powers of self-government have been partially suspended since late October, when separatist leaders in the region passed a unilateral declaration of independence through parliament. The emergency measures were introduced after Madrid invoked Article 155 of the Constitution for the first time in Spain’s modern democratic history.
And the race for office is also unprecedented: the ousted premier, Carles Puigdemont is campaigning for the Catalan presidency from Belgium, where he fled to avoid action by the Spanish courts. And several separatist candidates, including former deputy premier Oriol Junqueras (ERC), are campaigning from prison, where they are being held in pre-trial custody while the courts investigate charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds during the independence push.
At the previous regional election of September 27, 2015, the turnout rate grew by nearly 7% and made the unionist party Ciudadanos the second-largest force in the Catalan parliament, where it gained 25 seats. The Catalan Socialists retreated to a rock-bottom 16 seats, but could put in a much stronger performance this time around.
“The PSC has managed to convey a clear message following the crisis of three years ago,” says Colomé.
The big loser on December 21, according to the opinion polls, will be the Catalan branch of the conservative Popular Party (PP), which is currently in power in the central government.
Colomé notes that the election will be mostly decided in Barcelona province, which contributes 85 of the 135 seats in the regional assembly, and most particularly in the Barcelona city metro area, where most of the population resides. This electorate has traditionally had high abstention rates.
In another departure from the norm since regional elections were first held here in 1986, the polls will be taking place on a weekday, a fact that could drive up participation because businesses are giving workers four hours off that day to cast their vote.