World

Religious, Economic Factors Critical to Spain's Election

by Cynthia English

Spaniards express more confidence in religious institutions than in 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Spain is at a crossroads. The nation's general election on March 9 will force Spaniards, the vast majority of whom are Roman Catholic, to choose between maintaining the liberal social policies of the current government and electing more conservative leaders into power. While Spaniards express more confidence in their national government than in religious institutions, Gallup Polls reveal the gap has narrowed since 2005. A projected economic downturn is also sure to weigh on the minds of many Spaniards as they consider who to vote for in March.

Since his unpredicted rise to power three days after the Madrid train bombings in 2004, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's Socialist Party has succeeded in liberalizing many aspects of Spanish life, including legalizing gay marriage and relaxing laws that had formerly made divorce more difficult, much to the chagrin of the Catholic Church. The relationship between the Catholic Church and leftist political parties in Spain has been strained since dictator Francisco Franco's rule and continued to sour after the country's return to democracy in the 1970s. Recent actions by Roman Catholic bishops and laypeople in support of the traditional values espoused by the conservative Popular Party have brought the importance of religion in Spanish politics to the surface once again.

In 2005, confidence in the national government exceeded confidence in religious organizations, with 53% and 34% expressing confidence in each, respectively. But less than two years later, the once 19-percentage point gap has narrowed to only 5 points, with 48% now saying they have confidence in the national government and 43% expressing confidence in religious institutions.

The scope of the influence of religion and the church on Spaniards' lives remains difficult to characterize. While most Spaniards identify themselves as Roman Catholic, only 43% say religion is an important part of their daily lives, and less than a third tell Gallup they have attended a place of worship in the last seven days.

The economy is also likely to play an important role in the March general election. Although Spain has enjoyed more than a decade of economic growth, a projected slowdown has many in Spain nervous. In April of last year, a majority of Spaniards said they were dissatisfied with efforts to increase the number and quality of jobs. According to the CIA World Factbook, in 2006, unemployment in Spain was at 8.1%, slightly lower than the European Union average of 8.5%. Spain earned an unemployment ranking of 96th worldwide out of 198 countries.

When Spaniards were asked if they thought economic conditions were good in their country, 68% said yes. However, fewer than that, 57%, think the economy is getting better, and about one in five (22%) of Spanish respondents say they think economic conditions are getting worse. Candidates on both sides of this election will have to address the economic concerns of the Spanish people if they hope to win a majority in March.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults in Spain, aged 15 and older, conducted in July 2005 and April 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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