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The trends discussed in Pew Research's recent study Citizens in Advanced Economies Want Significant Changes to Their Political Systems was of no surprise to me, except Spain stands out in an interesting way. The data suggests those in Spain who are dissatisfied with Spain's political system are really dissatisfied, even when compared to those who are dissatisfied in other countries.

I find this interesting because I hear little about Spain in the news. Even as far as Europe is concerned, I hear much about dissent, division, dissatisfaction, or turmoil in the United Kingdom, Greece, France, and Italy. I even hear more about Poland, Hungary, and Germany than I do about Spain. Yet, when it comes to extreme dissatisfaction (dark green bar in the illustration), Spain leads every other country by a significant percentage, including the U.S., which has reached a record-high level of political division.

What makes Spaniards especially dissatisfied with their political system? I'm looking for something unique to Spain, as I know much about why the West in general is dissatisfied with Western political systems.

Pew

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    The difference between "needs major changes" and "completeley reformed" may be very thin, and in this case the 86% of Spain fits nicely between Italy's 89% and USA's 84%.
    – Rekesoft
    Oct 28 at 12:46
  • 5
    I have to say, I read this title as meaning "why are Spaniards more dissatisfied with Spain's political system than people of other nationalities are", and my instinct was to say "well, these other people aren't living in Spain"... Oct 29 at 11:17
  • The baffling thing about that graph is how similar the UK and Germany are. Oct 29 at 20:05
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Some plausible possibilities:

  • Two significant regions of Spain (Basque Spain and Catalonia) are seeking independence and are facing strong resistance from the central government. Catalan independence movement disputes precipitated a constitutional crisis in 2017. A recent pardon of nine Catalan independence leaders left neither side happy with the way the situation is being handled.

  • Numerous serious instances of massive government corruption have been exposed in the connection with the prosecution of José Manuel Villarejo and 32 co-defendants which have been prominent in Spanish political reporting:

José Manuel Villarejo has been the most mysterious and vilified person in Spain. Now he is due to have his day in court.

The 70-year-old former policeman is widely believed to have been at the center of a deep-state apparatus stretching back decades whose tentacles reached into the media, judiciary, big business and politics. His activities are believed to have tarnished the reputations of an array of ministers, business leaders, senior figures in the judiciary, and even the monarchy.

Prosecutors have probed 30 separate lines of investigation related to his activities and he is accused of a barrage of crimes ranging from bribery and extortion to forgery and influence peddling. The court will try him over the next few months for a handful of the cases in which he has been implicated, along with 32 other defendants. If found guilty, he could face a prison term of over 50 years.

  • Recent elections have been marred by far right political violence and "big lies" with these parties denying that the violence these parties instigated ever happened. Many Spaniards feel this echoes the political violence that occurred in the lead up to the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s in which the fascists prevailed. This sense wasn't helped by coalition talks between the center-right PP party and the far right Vox party in a regional assembly including Madrid.

  • Spain has only had a democratic constitutional monarchy since 1977, and narrowly avoided a coup in the early 1980s with intervention from the King, so the automatic reverence and legitimacy that a government can accumulate from long successful operation hasn't yet accrued fully.

  • Spain was very badly hit by the initial coronavirus outbreak and citizens feel that the response by the government was so bad that it indicates that there must be serious structural problems behind this lapse.

  • Spain's economy has underperformed the rest of Europe for a sustained time period earning it membership in the unfortunate acronym the "PIGS" of Europe (for Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain) all of which fared poorly in the (almost forgotten in the U.S.) European sovereign debt crisis that started in late 2009. The Great Recession hit Spain hard through 2014.

  • Spain's economic malaise has been viewed by many in Spain as part of a larger multifaceted Spanish social crisis implicating constitutional reforms in 1992 and 2011 that failed to bring improvement, controversies related to misconduct by the Roman Catholic church in Spain, and failings by the monarch, among other issues.

  • The government's handling of a surge of migrants and refugees from North Africa has made it look incompetent.

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  • Generally, pocketbook issues can trump even political loyalties! Your answer does not reflect this reality, and in my opinion, certainly does not support a call for a significant overhaul of the government, which IS the question. Credit for citing fiscal issues.
    – AJKOER
    Oct 27 at 23:19
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    Is it the case that Euskadi is seeking independence? I wonder whether it might be more accurate to say that a significant minority wants it. These days, only about 22% of Basque people directly support independence in polling, unlike Catalunya, where the supporters of independence outnumber the remainers, even though the Basque parliament has a majority of pro-independence politicians.
    – Obie 2.0
    Oct 28 at 1:01
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    Polling suggests that sizeable majorities of residents of Euskadi are against independence (actually a plurality in this case), in favor of the current Basque political situation, and critical of the current Spanish political situation overall. Reading between the lines, there are likely many anti-independence Basque voters that nonetheless vote for the pro-independence parties because they trust them to manage the region's politics better than the national parties, and know that the parties' ambitions of independence are not likely to be realized in the near future.
    – Obie 2.0
    Oct 28 at 1:11
  • @Obie2.0 Assuming that the polling is correct & that only a minority of Euskadi residents seek independence, this doesn't necessarily imply that this independence struggle, historically and now, doesn't contribute to the perception that the political system needs to be completely reformed or have major changes. In most places in the world, support for succession is in the single digits or approaches zero and significant minorities favoring independence can be a huge problem for a functioning state which relies upon uniformly assumed legitimacy. 22% could, e.g., support revived ETA terrorism.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 28 at 19:43
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    @ohwilleke - OK...but I was talking about the fact that your answer said that Euskadi is seeking independence, when it seems to be more that a majority of its political leaders and a non-negligible minority seek independence.
    – Obie 2.0
    Oct 28 at 20:17
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As a Spaniard, and one quite into political and economical issues, Spain's political system is broken from the bone. It was created in 1978 with our Constitution after the death of Francisco Franco, and people call it a democracy although it is far from it.

Why? In a representative democracy, you have to elect and vote for your local representatives AND the president. Here, until recently, we only had two main political parties, like in the US, but there was a key difference. Those two parties were ruled from Madrid, and your local representatives are selected by the central committee of the party. That means you can only vote for one party or the other one. Then, the president is elected by Congress, so when you vote, you are actually also voting for your president. Then, the party with the most Congressmen (which all obey the parties wishes, they don't vote independently because if they do they won't be able to be elected next term) also has the ability to choose the government body of the judicial system, including the judges that are suppose to judge the politicians themselves. So it is pretty corrupt altogether.

This doesn't result in a democracy, but in a system where the parties divide the pie and the government has absolute and total power (like Franco had) and then the next party has it. Real opposition to the government is impossible, because the president controls the military, the judges (he also elects the Attorney General, our actual president elected his ex-secretary of justice as AG and when asked about it said "Who elects the AG... Yeah, so that's that"), the senate and parliament, and total control over his party, meaning he can also manage local regional governments and townhalls with impunity. Then, the next party comes and has absolutely the same powers, it is called a partitocracy; but not a democracy.

And that is just talking about the structure of the central government, then we have another local 16 parliaments, townhalls, something we called "Diputaciones" which we have 52 of... It is just a big mess.

Lastly, we have a pretty divided and radical society, we Spaniards are generally the most passionate people on the planet about every issue. America looks like child's play compared to us. So, everyone is usually not happy about anything because they always feel like they are being ripped off in some way in their lives.

I hope I gave an introductory "brief" explanation of our political system XD

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    Forgot to say, that is without mentioning scandal after scandal that the above mentioned system gives birth to. I didn't mention any because I felt that is not what you were asking about. I'll answer if you have anymore questions or want to hear more Oct 28 at 13:50
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    Your insider insight, of course, should be taken very seriously.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 28 at 19:47
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    But what you describe is not too different from the Westminster system, except, perhaps, for the tighter link to judiciary. Usually two parties with fairly strict discipline, which you elect to the parliament, which then selects the executive branch...
    – Zeus
    Oct 29 at 0:30
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    @Zeus And except that in the Westminster system, I think local party sections have, at least in theory, a major say in who becomes the candidate in their district (and therefore, in "safe" districts, the MP).
    – gerrit
    Oct 29 at 7:31
  • @Zeus and I think you are able to go talk to your local representative. We aren't. Also, I don't know if in Westminster you have as many cases of one party protecting the rest as we do, demonstrating they just protect each other. Lastly, the question was why WE, Spaniards, have that opinion. Same reasons may not apply to the rest, English are not like Spanish people. As an example, here is a reddit meme I love, because it ilustrates that to perfection: i.redd.it/0z8y8wlkd8q61.jpg Oct 29 at 19:44
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You can add political instability. There have been 4 general elections in 6 years. The two main traditional parties have lost significant shares compared to the new (more or less populist) parties that have arisen in the past decade, but alliances insofar have been pretty short lived. The current government, although it's a coalition, it's a minority coalition and its dialogue (or perhaps unofficial support) from the regional parties esp. the Catalan open it to accusations of treason from the right-wing parties (which themselves are more fragmented than the left).

So I suspect that if you ask those 89% who want specific changes to the political system they actually want, you'd probably not see much consensus, besides the usual stuff like less corruption etc. Speaking of which, the monarchy itself has been involved in such scandals (and not just politicians/parties), which probably didn't do much good to public confidence; in a 2017 Special Eurobarometer 94% of Spaniards said that corruption is widespread in their country (only Greece was higher with 96%).

Also, the justice system is somewhat more politicized in Spain than in other EU countries; this is actually reflected in the public perception, ranking it 19 of the EU's 27 in 2020 on that angle. Reforms of the judiciary have been mired in the general political deadlock.

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ohwilleke's answer does a good job of touching on a lot of the various issues that come into play here, but I think it's worth expanding more on the economic issues in particular.

Spain has been suffering from major economic issues continuously since 2008. The unemployment rates in Spain have been particularly exceptional for more than a decade now. Even before Covid hit, Spain's unemployment rate was around 14%. And that was the best it had been since 2008. To demonstrate just how exceptional that is, here's a graph showing all of the OECD countries. The blue line is Spain, the red one is the Euro area as a whole, the black one is the OECD as a whole, and the purple one is the United States. The line that is above Spain is Greece.

OECD Unemployment Rates
Source: OECD Unemployment Rates

As you can see from the graph, the best time in Spain since 2008 was similar to what the U.S. had for a couple of months during the height of the Covid shutdowns last year when a large percentage of the population was literally ordered to not work.

It's unsurprising that with such high unemployment, productivity per capita and household disposable income would also lag well behind other European countries.

OECD GDP per capita (PPP-adjusted)
Source: OECD GDP/capita (PPP-adjusted)

OECD Household Disposable Income (PPP-adjusted) Source: OECD Household Disposable Income/capita (PPP-adjusted)

It's not at all surprising that unemployment levels that have been between 14% and 27% for 13 years running and the associated economic lag behind its neighbors would lead to very high levels of general dissatisfaction with the status quo. As such, it's quite understandable why Spain would have quite high levels of dissatisfaction with their current political system.

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    Twas in fact newsworthy that the Czech Republic (a former Soviet-block state) overtook Spain in GDP per capita. Depending on the exact indicator (PPP adjusted or not; current dollars or constant dollars) it happened sometime between 2019-2021. Hers's one such article discussing that english.elpais.com/economy_and_business/2021-02-08/… Also, Spain (in fact all the PIGS) hadn't even recovered their GDP per capita (in current dollars) to 2008 levels... by 2019! (Spain barely managed that in constant dollars.)
    – Fizz
    Oct 29 at 0:17
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    And that goes hand-in-hand with the much higher political volatility in the PIGS after 2008, compared to rest of the EU. link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11615-020-00231-9
    – Fizz
    Oct 29 at 0:19
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    (+1) It might be interesting to note that this ”long time” has actually a very definite beginning, it's 2008. Before that, Spain was hailed as a success story for European integration and was (apparently) in a very different position than Greece or Italy. For example, in 2007, government debt (which is sometimes presented as the source of all problems) was a third that of Italy and lower than in France or Germany.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 29 at 8:46
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Well, I am Spanish so I have an insider opinion, but I live in Germany, have lived in Norway and my wife is Belarusian so I can compare.

Satisfaction and (dissatisfaction) come from the cross of your expectations with the reality.

Expectations of Spaniard are high. They may assume a bad economic situation but they (or us) consider Spain a historic, old, "important" country in the general aspect. Is not a question of patriotism but your expectations are higher when in the past you have been higher in culture, political power or so on. Also we are placed in Europe, surrounded by "rich" countries and we assume we want to have the same lifestyle, the same statal covers... (This is obviously subjective, but the matter of satisfaction is also subjective so is impossible to answer in other way)

Now come the reality, the reality is that Spain is in a very very very bad situation.

Economy:

  • Around 15% in the moment of writing this answer is the official unemployement. In reality is a little more close to 16th due to the way of counting. Spanish people are used to high unemployement, it has been a constant since the seventies, but in anyway is too high.
  • Crazy high young unemployement. Reaching 40% or 50%. Apart from engineers, doctors and some other specialized areas most of the young people have hard times finding a job. This specialized jobs also pay much less than in other european countries.
  • Very high structural deficit and debt. Spanish debt is pretty high (around 120%), deficit now with covid is 11%, but even in a normal year of moderate growth deficit remains around 4%. Is really unsustainable.
  • Net International Investment Position of Spain is very bad. Spain is often compare with Italy. This is far from be real. Net International Investment Position of Spain
  • 80% and Italy is 1% (note the positive). This is the difference between the debt of the country and their investments.

Here you can notice how bad is Spanish situation. Very high debt and deficit combined with a very high unemployement leave you in a lethal combo. You can not spend more to incentive the economy. The lack of opportunities in Spain is tremendous, it is a very hard country to leave in if you want to develop a career in any aspect. Research, engineering, management... hard.

Education:

  • Level going down in the official analysis year after year. Spain systematically perform worst than most European countries and the level in math is frankly very bad.

There is more, but with these is enough to get a picture.

Now we come to the responsible of this situation. You see that the government and the political of Spain have not done a great job. Of course is arguably that they were elected by their ideas, so Spanish people have what they voted but apart from this the corruption scandals are uncountable, and affect most of the parties. As a fast overview:

  • PSOE (socialists): They have a major scandal in Andalucia, where they stole lot of millions from the money dedicated to unemployement courses. The quantity was estimated around 1000 million euro in total, although i am not sure how accurate is this:
  • PP (kind of conservative): They also have some big scandals that involves traffic of influence. They paid their central with money from one of this scandals and have over salaries coming from it. I think the quantity was more than 500 million.
  • CIU (catalanist separatism): They have one major scandal called of 3%, they make companies pay a 3% extra and steal this money. Pujol (ex president of the region of catalonia) took lot of millions to Andorra. There are more, also with the extreme lefties, with different branches of the previous name parties and with others.

Ah, don't forget the previous king. I think he probably was a good king in general, but his last years were horrendous. It was kind of unofficially demonstrated that he also got millions from traffic of influences (what is bad but maybe not a crime because it was international) but he didn't pay taxes for this money, what is indeed a crime. He paid his delayed taxes but in anyway... His son in law directly again traffic with influence to have a crazy big high level of life, he was having a pretty good salary as a member of Royal Family but he wanted more.

So here we have a overview picture of problems of Spain, bad government, and corruption of politics during the bad government. So, all western societies are generally divided between lefties and righties, millennials against boomers, coast vs inside and so on and so forth. Spain has all of this. But none of the other "develop" countries has such a critical situation as Spain in "objective" metrics. People is aware of this, and therefore they are not satisfied even if any of them have a different view (communism or liberalism or centralism or separatism...) of how to solve.

-5

Actually, when you take into account that the unemployment rate in Spain in 2021 was 14.0%, nearly twice the rate for the Euro-zone at 7.6%, and, per the chart posted on this financial website is second only to South Africa, Spain's government has/is obviously suffering from fiscal irresponsibility.

In America, the Federal Reserve System monitors the economic health of the nation with market tools to control inflation and unemployment. There appears to be a major structural failure with Spain's government, hence those seeking significant/fundamental reforms are clearly correct.

[EDIT] I would add, interestingly, that the combined number for major and total change is the 2nd highest on the survey (Italy being 1st) at 86. As such, one could argue that this is a concern crossing party lines (as in a pocketbook issue) supporting my position, and not a largely partisan matter.

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    I don't think unemployment obviously results from “fiscal irresponsibility”. Also any evidence that “fiscal (ir)responsibility” is what people care about as opposed to the unemployment or living standards themselves? Importantly, Spain doesn't even control its central bank. That's indeed a major weakness of the Euro zone but an odd thing to blame the Spanish government for, except if the fundamental reform you have in mind is leaving the EU.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 27 at 22:27
  • Relaxed: Thanks for the comment. Actually, if your assessment is correct (the people of Spain should elect officials to emulate the British departure from the EU), that would be a significant change,
    – AJKOER
    Oct 27 at 23:10
  • In my opinion, the correct answer remains that Spain is one of the PIGS of Europe (in a purely fiscal sense) and it will remain so until there is a significant overhaul of the government. The people know it and hence the survey's results for "The Need for Complete Reform".
    – AJKOER
    Oct 27 at 23:35

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