Rajoy Remixed as Podemos Seeks Votes Beyond the Dreadlock Crowd

  • Campaigns seek to attract voters jaded by endless politicking
  • PP set to win most seats with prime minister’s job at risk

Raquel Gonzalez emerged from an Ikea store near Madrid this month with a bag of home accessories and a decision to make.

Voters like Gonzalez -- city dwellers in their 30s and 40s -- are one of the key demographics that party strategists are targeting in the final days of campaigning for Sunday’s election in Spain. And middle-aged urbanites with a taste for low-cost Swedish furniture are particularly sought after.

Podemos election prospectus cover

Source: Podemos

The anti-establishment group Podemos, which emerged from the street protests of 2011, has produced an election prospectus in the style of an Ikea catalogue as it reaches out to slightly richer, slightly older voters to consolidate its grip on second place in the polls. Policies for social services are listed in the “Kitchens” section, housing and immigration is tackled under “Bedrooms” -- and restructuring Spain’s 1.1 trillion euros ($1.2 trillion) of public debt comes under “Offices.”

“It’s very modern and could make people change their vote -- at least those who are more drawn to images,” said Gonzalez, a 32-year-old office manager. She still hasn’t decided who she’ll support on June 26.

Election Stunts

Spanish parties are battling to keep voters interested in the country’s second election in less than a year after failing to form a government through months of politicking that followed the last ballot. With policy proposals barely changed since December’s vote, candidates are focusing on the packaging rather than the content of their plans, said Antony Poole, a professor of marketing at EADA business school in Barcelona.

“The parties have pretty much laid out their wares by this stage and now the fight is on for visibility,” Poole said in a telephone interview. “They’re aware that people are getting tired of this whole process at this point and so now the focus is on style rather than substance.”

The latest round of electioneering has seen party all manner of attention-grabbing stunts. Caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s campaign released a latin merengue remix of his party’s anthem, the liberals of Ciudadanos held a rally in downtown Barcelona wearing the national soccer team’s colors -- a strict no-no in the separatist capital -- and the leaders of the four main parties have all been interviewed by children on television.

One young inquisitor told 61-year-old Rajoy that his aunt worked in parliament and that she’d seen him sucking on a fat cigar. The premier said that was probably true but he’d given up smoking in 2013.

Target Demographic

Opinion polls suggest that Rajoy’s People’s Party will win the most seats again and will again need the support of at least one other group to govern. So in the final days of campaigning party leaders are looking to strengthen their hands for the brinkmanship to come.

While Podemos dominates among young voters, and the PP has the most support among retirees, Spaniards between 35 and 54 are more evenly split and they may hold the key to any shift in the balance of power. That explains Podemos’s marketing strategy, said Ivan Redondo, a political consultant who has run campaigns for the PP and the Socialists.

“The Ikea catalogue works for Podemos -- they’re trying to say they’re nice, they’re about the people and not the elite,” he said. “It’s totally consistent with their target.”

Podemos has transformed the atmosphere in the Spanish parliament since taking its seats for the first time in January. One lawmaker sports long dreadlocks down his back, another brought her baby to the first session and breastfed during the debate, while two male lawmakers celebrated a particularly power speech with a lingering kiss on the mouth, to the shock of traditionalists on the PP benches.

For sure, their gimmicks haven’t impress older voters like Alicia Garrido and Roberto Gomez, both 66-year-old retirees, who were also shopping at the furniture store on the outskirts of the capital this month.

“It’s very childish and ridiculous,” said Garrido. “If they wanted to attract attention they’ve certainly managed that, but it is not funny at all. You’ve got to be more serious.”

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