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Who will win Spain’s 2023 election – Sánchez or Feijóo?

With Spain's next general election 12 months away, recent polls suggests that the 'Feijóo effect' is softening and Pedro Sánchez's PSOE is regaining ground. Is the PP still capable of winning a majority, or can Sánchez stay in power?

Who will win Spain's 2023 election - Sánchez or Feijóo?
Face off: Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (L) and right-wing Popular Party (PP) leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo. Photo: Oscar DEL POZO/AFP

Over the last year, the received political wisdom has been that Spain’s centre-right Partido Popular (PP) are all set for a return to government.

After the disruption of the pandemic, followed by war in Europe and consequent energy and inflation crises, Pedro Sánchez’s ruling Socialist party (PSOE) would be cast aside at the ballot box, the logic went.

The question wasn’t if PP would win the next general election, but by how much. Or in other words, would they be forced to rely on the far-right Vox to party to prop them up in government, like they have at the regional level in Castilla y León, or could they rule alone?

READ ALSO: Spain’s far-right Vox sworn into regional government

After PP brought in the Galician Senator Alberto Núñez Feijóo to replace the erratic Pablo Casado as leader in March, PP jumped up in the polls. Painted as steady, moderate, and calm conservative voice, Feijóo was thought to be a safe pair of hands that would guide the PP back to La Moncloa.

PROFILE: Feijóo – The new leader of Spain’s opposition party

The polls

But recent polling released this week has cast doubt on that thinking, with Sánchez’s PSOE cutting PP’s lead in half – going from 7.1 percent behind in the polls to just 3.2 percent, according to two major polls – and evidence that the Feijóo effect might be wearing off.

Though PP is still ahead in the polls, their lead is shrinking, and the fact that Sánchez’s Socialists seem to be rallying after all the external events that have plagued their time in office suggests there may be more life in the 2023 election than many anticipated. 

According to polling carried out by 40dB for Spain’s leading daily El País, PP continue to lead the vote and would win an estimated 127 seats (29.9 percent of the vote) if a general election were held today. PSOE would win 107 seats, around 27 percent of the vote.

Projected Deputy seats according to the latest polling from El País. Source: El País.

According to the IMOP-Insights barometer for El Confidencial, carried out between October 10th and 22nd, Sánchez’s PSOE has gone from an estimated vote of 24.4 percent (96 seats) to 26.8 percent (103 seats) since their latest poll published on October 12th, a difference, they say, of 582,000 voters.  

El Confidencial also has PP’s lead falling, though slightly less than El País, to 30 percent and 122 seats. The difference between the two main parties in terms of voters and MPs, they say, is around 800,000 votes and 19 MPs.

In short, PP’s lead is shrinking but still relatively significant. 

Vox in government?

According to polling from El Confidencial, PP and Vox would between them win 173 seats, which would leave them 3 seats short of a majority, and though almost all polling suggests that the Spanish right block (PP and Vox) would win the election in some form, there is no polling yet to suggest they would win a parliamentary majority. 

Despite PP’s slight fall in the polls, Vox have not been the beneficiaries thus far. In fact, according to the El Confidential model, if elections were held today far-right Vox would lose up to 13 of its current 52 deputies, going from a 15.2 percent vote share in November 2019 to an estimated 13.8 percent if elections were now.

This continues a six-month downward trend for the far-right party and is likely reflective of a poor showing in the Andalusian elections over the summer, as well as public infighting with its former candidate Macarena Olona. 

Analysis by El Confidencial suggests Vox’s historic entry into the regional government of Castilla y León has actually hurt them, and they are currently recalibrating their strategy with an eye on mirroring the tactics of Italian Prime Minister and Vox ally, Giorgia Meloni.


Head to head – Sánchez vs Feijóo

As is the case in many European countries in the 21st century, the steady Americanisation of politics has elections much more presidential in nature, with a greater focus on the personality and performance of party leaders as opposed to policy. How does that play out in Spain?

Polling data from El Confidencial in August put the PP’s projected vote share at 33.4 percent (equivalent to 137 seats) but since then the so-called ‘Feijóo effect’ has slowly died off. 

Sánchez and Feijóo are pretty much neck and neck when it comes to personal ratings, according to El País, with both on 19 percent (Sánchez’s deputy Yolanda Díaz is not far behind on 17.8 percent, and Vox leader Santiago Abascal is on 11.6 percent).

However, when you remove the rest of the field and focus solely on the two main party leaders, the results are stark.

The SocioMétrica poll for El Español found that 28.4 percent of respondents preferred Feijóo, among all leaders, compared to 24.6 percent for Sánchez. But between these two, 57.2 percent went for Sánchez and just 42.6 for Feijóo.

In the six months since May, when El País last polled Spaniards on the leaders individually, Feijóo has suffered some significant setbacks. In May, 52.5 percent of respondents valued his experience, a figure that has now dropped to 35.6 percent. Similarly, the percentage of those polled who considered him prepared for government has shrunk from 37.9 percent to 32.5 percent.

Though the ‘Feijóo effect’ does seem to be wearing off somewhat, the PP leaders remains popular with his core voters. His drops in approval ratings are likely due to what the Spanish media are calling the ‘wear and tear’ of politics, and suggests that his early high numbers were symptomatic of the customary bump new leaders often get.

One thing that is significant is the fact that Feijóo’s steady approval ratings on the right suggest he is losing popularity among centrist swing voters, a subsection of the electorate many assumed was the natural terrain of Feijóo and the PP. With the polls suggesting that Vox aren’t picking up these votes, PSOE are.

Feijóo’s slip in the polls also coincides with Pedro Sánchez recovering his image, and he now leads Feijóo in most characteristics, including language management, charisma, intelligence, determination, empathy, courage, and honesty.

Whereas a few months ago Spanish political pundits were likely to point to the pandemic and inflation crisis as reasons Sánchez would lose the next election, the electorate now seem to increasingly see it as good experience. El País data shows approval of his experience has skyrocketed from 26.7 percent in May to 41 percent in November, and so too his preparation, from 26.9 percent to 32.4 percent.

Spain’s 2023 general election has no fixed date yet, but it expected to go ahead in November 2023 and no later than December 10th.

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For members


Time running out for left-wing Spanish parties to agree electoral pact

The Spanish left is negotiating an electoral pact for the upcoming general election, but the parties are divided and time is running out. Failure to reach an agreement would likely give the government to the right and far-right.

Time running out for left-wing Spanish parties to agree electoral pact

Time is running out for Spain’s left-wing parties currently locked in tense negotiations to form an electoral pact before the deadline – the night of Friday, June 9th – when any agreement must be registered. If they don’t, the left-wing vote will likely be split in July’s general election and the Spanish right will return to government.

The negotiations, which are descending into a series of bitter briefings and counter-briefings in the press, involve all the parties and groups to the left of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s ruling Socialists party (PSOE).

They are primarily between Sumar, the electoral platform of Spain’s Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz, and various other smaller, more regional leftist groups. Many of these groups have already agreed to run under the Sumar banner, but the main sticking point in negotiations seems to be between Sumar and the Podemos leadership, the junior coalition partner currently in government with PSOE.

It is unclear if Podemos leaders are willing to take a step aside and let someone else lead the Spanish left.

READ ALSO: What’s going on with the Spanish left?

Podemos suffered devastating electoral losses in last week’s regional elections, losing a large chunk of its deputies and even failing to gain representation in key battleground regions such as Madrid and Valencia.

Podemos ministers are among the most unpopular politicians in Spain, and the party’s brand has become increasingly toxic in recent months following legislation by Equality Minister Irene Montero that accidentally reduced (and even released) the sentences of hundreds of convicted sexual convicts. Some of the smaller parties incorporating into Sumar feel uncomfortable with the Podemos leadership playing a visible role in the election campaign. 

Several regional Podemos figures have resigned or stated publicly that they believe Podemos should join forces with Sumar, but the national leadership seem (so far) reluctant to do so. As of Thursday afternoon, Ione Belarra (current Minister for Social Rights and Agenda 2030) announced she would consult party members.

The consequences 

If the two factions fail to reach an agreement before Friday night, the split left vote could have drastic consequences for July 23rd’s general election – a difference of as much as 12 or 15 seats.

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour and Social Economy Yolanda Díaz is trying to unite the left under the Sumar brand. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

Like in the local and regional elections, several smaller left-wing parties each running separately will likely split the left-wing vote and hand seats to the right – namely Spain’s far-right party Vox. This was most glaringly made clear in Huesca, where 4 different left-wing parties gained almost 20 percent of the vote between them, but as none of the candidates gained the minimum five percent threshold for representation, didn’t win a single seat.

READ ALSO: Five key takeaways from Spain’s regional and local elections

With an agreement

Though polling suggests (as do the regional results) that the PP is very likely to win the most votes in the upcoming election, it is unclear if a right-wing coalition (between centre-right PP and far-right Vox) will win an overall majority or not. With the result likely to be incredibly tight, a difference of 10,11, or 12 (or more) seats could tip the balance and prevent a right-wing majority in the Spanish Congress. 

According to projections from El País, a unified Sumar (including Podemos) would win 14.7 percent of the vote and 41 seats. This will leave the PP and Vox with around 179 seats between them, very slightly over the minimum necessary for a majority (176), but barely so.

Given the unpredictability of election campaigns and leaving room for the margin of polling predictions, a united left-wing ticket would leave a right-wing majority (and perhaps even government) in the air.

Without an agreement

If Podemos and Sumar can’t come to an agreement, however, the left vote would be split. El País forecasts that Díaz’s Sumar would win 10.4 percent of the votes and 26 seats, and Podemos would be all but wiped off the electoral map, taking just 4.3 percent of the vote and a measly three seats, meaning that the difference in left-wing seats with or without a deal would be around 12 seats (41 with a deal versus 29 without).

Without an agreement, the split left vote would gift seats to the Spanish right and likely ensure a governable majority. 

The main players

In the last few days, several smaller regional left-wing parties have joined Sumar and will head into the elections on a united front. The deadlock in negotiations centres around Podemos, and whether their national leadership is willing to take a lesser role in the left-wing campaign.


Podemos was born from the 15M anti-austerity movement and entered government as the junior coalition partner in 2019.

The party was led by former leader Pablo Iglesias, the controversial former Deputy Prime Minister who quit politics all together after unsuccessfully running for the Madrid Presidency in 2021.

He is married to Irene Montero, and despite retiring from politics and beginning a media career, it is widely accepted in Spanish political circles that the decision-making power rests with them rather than nominal leader Ione Belarra.

The recent regional elections were disastrous for Podemos, for many the confirmation of their increasing unpopularity. The mistakes made over the Solo sí es sí sexual consent law and generally perceived radical positions on gender, abortion and other sociocultural issues, have made the Podemos brand toxic. 


Sumar is the newest party in Spanish politics and is actually more of a coalition group that seeks to keep 15 different left-wing parties under one banner. So far, Sumar has managed to incorporate most of the various factions on the Spanish left.

It was launched by Spain’s Deputy Minister and Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz.

Sumar will likely campaign on Díaz’s personal popularity, present a different face to the Spanish far-left, a unifying message, and highlight the economic successes of the Sánchez government and Díaz’s role in them. Under the PSOE-Podemos coalition, Spain has achieved record employment levels and one of the lowest inflation rates in Europe.