Vox and the Return of the Radical Right in Spain


Since the death of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, who ruled from 1939 until his death in 1975, Spain has been a country without a strong radical right-wing presence. In fact, in 2017, Senior Analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute Carmen González-Enríquez declared Spain ‘inoculated’ against radical right-wing populism because of the legacy of Francoism.[i] A few short months later, in Foreign Affairs, Omar G. Encarnación (2017) also proposed Spain was somehow ‘immune’ to right-wing populism—only then to describe a rise in Spanish nationalism just a short half-year later. Encarnación, in part, blames the up-swing in Spanish nationalism on the emergence of Catalan nationalism post-referendum, though he does not specifically discuss the radical right in this nationalist turn.

While the rise in regional nationalism certainly has had its effect, we can also look toward Spain’s current migration trends to better understand the return of the radical right in Spain. Today, Spain receives more migrants than any other European country, according to the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration. Across Europe and the United States, a fear of migration has motivated a more stringent form of nationalism to rise. Indeed, the once marginalised Spanish radical right currently is in the process of reorganizing itself, showing that Spain was never fully ‘immune’ to right-wing populism.

In the 1979 Spanish parliamentary elections, radical right parties received just over 2% of the overall vote in Spain, with these parties averaging less than 0.5% since 1986. In the 2008 parliamentary elections, 87,925 voters supported radical right parties of 25,900,439 total voters (0.34%). During the 2011 elections, radical right parties’ vote share dropped to only 14,031 out of 24,666,441 total votes (0.06%). With the emergence of the political right-wing populist party ‘Vox’ in the 2015 general election, the number of radical right voters more than tripled to 67,313 out of a total 25,438,532 (0.26%), marking the highest number of total votes for the radical right since 1982. In 2016, a total of 57,345 (0.24%) individuals casted their ballot for radical right parties.[ii]

While these numbers were seemingly comfortably marginal, as of 1 December 2018, Vox appeared in 895 articles in a simple search of the Spanish newspaper El País’s archival database, and 1,618 article results in the database of the newspaper A.B.C—numbers disproportional to Vox’s actual support. Of course, given that the Spanish left-wing populist party, Podemos, founded in 2014, has since managed to secure 69 of 350 parliamentary seats, one can only expect surprises from Spanish politics.

In a recent election this past Sunday, 2 December, in the Spanish province of Andalucía, Vox won 12 local parliamentary seats after securing a total of 395,978 votes in Almería, El Ejido, Cádiz, Málaga, Sevilla, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva and Jaen. The more centrist right parties Ciudadanos and the Partido Popular agreed on 4 December that they would be willing to arrange a pact to govern with Vox. Following the election of Vox former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke sent his congratulations to the party.

Since its foundation in 2013, Vox, a so-called ‘Christian-democratic’ party, has gained notoriety in Spain. More accurately, the party is a Nationalist-Catholic party that is willing to use democratic mechanisms, such as the press, to propagate its own ideology.[iii] Vox — the Latin word for ‘voice’ — adheres to radical right-wing politics whilst trying to appeal to a more mainstream audience. The party is anti-abortion, anti-feminism and against Catalan and Basque separatism. Vox is homophobic, islamophobic and anti-migrant. Furthermore, the party demonstrates heavy Euroscepticism – pitting itself against Spain’s further participation in European integration. Aesthetically, rather than using the traditional colours of the Spanish flag, red and golden yellow, which would read as more obviously nationalist, the party opted for a playful bright green logo which uses different font sizes for each letter.

Moreover, and in their attempt to appear more transparent than the mainstream conservative party, the Partido Popular, Vox proudly posts their financial information up-front on their website. In their political platform, Vox proposes to eliminate 81,934 political positions — further taking advantage of current popular distrust of corrupt politicos, especially the Partido Popular and even the Spanish socialist party, PSOE, denounced recently by Vox secretary general Javier Ortega in Sevilla, Spain. The elimination of so many political positions, of course, would also have the effect of consolidating power.

In Vox’s ‘functional manifesto, they place emphasis on: 1) individual freedom; 2) the unity of the Spanish nation and its national sovereignty; 3) a belief in Spain having a historic trajectory; 4) a belief that politics and politicians are unwilling to address an undefined ‘lamentable situation’; 5) a need to restructure the Spain’s government away from autonomous communities to a centralised state; 6) a complete restructuring of the legal system as well as the constitution; 7) a market economy governed by the state; 8) academic freedom for professors, with a focus on national priorities; 9) belief in the need for a high quality of education at the university level in service to the nation; 10) a responsible society that will defend and promote the protection of life and the basic institution of the family; 11) a belief that Spain has courage, determination, and the ability to make sacrifices to stay united, strong, and safe; 12) a belief that Spaniards have an obligation to fight mediocrity, corruption, and to follow the law, with no exceptions. Vox has affiliates in at least 37 of the 50 Spanish provinces.

When asked by the newspaper El País, Vox’s elected leader, Santiago Abascal, rejected the label “ultraderecha” [ultra-right], and claimed to be neither xenophobic or racist. When asked about whether he believed in mestizaje (a category used to describe mixed raced people in the Spanish colonist period) or the fusion of cultures, Abascal responded:

“I identify with European cultural identity and I would like for it to be preserved. I do not believe in multiculturalism nor those types of salads [describing multiculturalism] in which it is impossible to live. I do not have any problem with the colour of people but rather what they have in their heads. That is my problem with certain types of immigration and, over all, given the needs of the national economy.”

Abascal’s comments reflect a type of racism and prejudice that could only be accomplished through segregation or global apartheid-like conditions. While perhaps the Partido Popular would have legislated similar anti-immigrant policies, their rhetoric certainly would never have been so obvious.

To conclude, as Spain’s first successful radical right party, Vox attempts to colour inside the lines, preferring euphemistic nationalism when possible to attract and convince centrist conservatives to join their cause—simultaneously using design and imagery, such as its attractive green logo, that aesthetically obscures that agenda. The party continues its goal to bring nationalist and anti-migrant rhetoric into the mainstream, demanding attention, which thus far the Spanish media has been too happy to give.

Dr Louie Dean Valencia-García is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Assistant Professor of Digital History at Texas State University. His profile can be found here.

© Louie Dean Valencia-Garcia. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).

[i] See Carmen González-Enriquez, ‘The Spanish Exception: Unemployment, Inequality and Immigration, but No Right-Wing Populist Parties’, Working Paper, Elcano Royal Institute, 2017.

[ii] These numbers are based upon initial voter data which is still being parsed provided by the Spanish Ministerio del Interior—slight changes might change for a forthcoming final report. The numbers included for the radical right were limited to known Spanish nationalist parties, and did not include regional nationalist parties (such as Catalunya, Basque Country, etc.) as well as Neo-Carlist parties. Only parliamentary elections were included in this data set, as those were the most complete and representative.

[iii] Not insignificantly, the ideology of ‘National-Catholicism’ formed the backbone of the Francoist Dictatorship.