Taking a risky bet: the reasons behind the vote for Podemos in Spain

Juan Antonio Rodríguez Zepeda
Patricia Otero Felipe

In this paper we use the insights of Prospect Theory and the studies on economic voting to explain two things about Podemos, the left-wing party that has altered significantly Spain’s party system. Firstly, we argue that this party achieved a significant electoral success because it attracted an important pool of voters: those individuals that had a negative opinion about the country’s economic situation and who were in a vulnerable social position. We base this claim on the idea that people evaluate retrospectively the economic performance of the incumbent party, and if they don’t find it satisfactory they vote for the challenger. When there are multiple challengers common sense would tell us that the citizens would vote for the safest option. However, Prospect Theory claims that when people are in the domain of losses, such as when they are in a position of economic vulnerability, they are more willing to bet on riskier options. In this sense, voting for Podemos is a very risky bet because of its very short history and its combative nature. Secondly, we posit that Podemos has not been able to increase its electorate because the incumbent party (Partido Popular) has been very effective at convincing many citizens that Spain is on the track of economic recovery and that if they vote for Podemos this goal will not be achieved. We will use survey evidence from the last two national elections in this country to test our arguments.