'It's politics, stupid!' The Spanish general election of 2004

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THE Spanish general election of 14 March 2004, which took place only three days after the Madrid bombings on the 11 March, produced a change of government that opinion surveys had not predicted. It is easy to assume, therefore, that the change of government from the right-wing Popular Party (PP), which had governed Spain for the previous eight years, to the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) was a direct result of the terrorist bombings which left 192 dead and over 1,500 injured. While the terrorist bombings undoubtedly influenced the general election, this article argues that a more detailed reading of the last four years of the Spanish political context shows that the change of government was not simply a result of the ‘four days that changed Spain’.2 The Madrid bombings acted as a catalyst for change, but the desire for change had built up gradually, following the PP’s second electoral victory in 2000, particularly amongst a key sector of the electorate, namely, that sector which places itself ideologically closer to the PSOE than to other parties, but which in the election of 2000 either chose to switch their vote to the PP or to abstain.3

As the ruling party at the time of the bombings, the PP’s conduct is the main focus of this article. One of the conclusions, however, is that the PP’s conduct cannot solely be dismissed as an aberration peculiar to the PP itself; on the contrary, such a style of governing is, at least in part, systemic. Key features of Spain’s political architecture, designed in the early years of the transition to democracy, aimed at consolidating executive power and avoiding the fragmentation and political instability characteristic of Spain’s ill-fated Second Republic (1931–36). Constitutional design aimed at consolidating executive power, however, does not translate easily into constitutional design aimed at constraining executive power when absolute majority governments occur.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-349
Number of pages19
JournalParliamentary Affairs
Issue number2
Early online date8 Mar 2006
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2006


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