Since 2014 in Spain, political competition has been a carousel of acronyms and leaders. the policy of do stuff It doesn’t seem to go any faster, but the horse race for power has accelerated. In ten years we have seen a dozen formations emerge, from UPyD to Podemos, Ciudadanos, Vox, Más País, Junts or España Vaciada, sometimes to deflate. Ciudadanos became the first force in the 2018 polls and is now around 3% in votes. The leaderships feel fleeting, like when you think that of the four great candidates of 2019 (Sánchez, Casado, Rivera and Iglesias) only one will repeat, who is also the president.
But what are the reasons behind this volatility? There will not be a single answer, because there never is; the party system was broken after the economic crisis of 2008 and its reconfiguration can be influenced by lots of elements, including the tiny factors we call chance. But one hypothesis particularly interests me: the role of the internet in fast-paced politics.
The Internet made it easier to get noticed. Today a candidate can become viral on social networks, organically, and from there capture the attention of the mass media. You don’t need big plans or organizations to support you. This Sunday, to give an example, one of the candidates to preside over Colombia is Rodolfo Hernández, an effervescent enigma they call ‘the old man from TikTok’. Thirty years ago, reaching the general public required mediators, starting with your party, which had the power to take you to the media or let you give a big speech. Now the apparatuses matter less, as the trajectories of very different leaders, such as Pedro Sánchez, Emmanuel Macron or Donald Trump, suggest.
The Internet is often just a first step. When someone exaggerates the importance of the networks, the anti-example of Podemos is usually remembered: Pablo Iglesias assaulted Spanish politics not so much on the internet as on television. What’s more, the digital party of those European elections was another, Party X, which you probably don’t even remember because it failed. It is possible that the rise of Vox in 2018 does owe more to YouTube, WhatsApp and Instagram, at least to light the fuse, although later its success required massive radio, press and television audiences.
The Internet may have fueled populism. This is what Eduardo Suárez, editorial chief of the Reuters Institute in Oxford, suggested to me: “I would say that the internet has fostered a type of candidate and campaign that politicians around the world are emulating. In the recipe for the success of this type of insurgent (often populist) candidate, digital platforms play a role, helping to spread simple, often misleading messages and introducing marginal issues into public debate. There is conflicting evidence on this (Yo, II, III), but I tend to think like Suárez.
The Internet may also have made political media (more) for the politically motivated. is the Ezra Klein’s thesis about the United States, but it seems to me exportable: “In an era of election, political journalism is a business that serves people interested in political news, and that tries to create more people interested in political news. And being interested in politics is, for most people, choosing a side.”
Different studies have shown that most of us do not live in media echo chambers. For example, Sílvia Majó-Vázquez and her collaborators They have shown that the ‘mainstream’ media in the United States “offer a common ground where ideologically diverse audiences converge”. But with a hint of doubt: many people do not watch news and perhaps only converge to read about sports, data or recipes.
The Internet produces niches, also for politics. Interest in politics continues to be a minority, according to the CIS: 60% of people say that they are “little” or “not at all” interested. However, in recent years the group of motivated people has grown: the percentage of “very” interested people has risen from 3% in 2000 to 9% today. This group does not decide the elections —on the contrary—, but they dominate the conversation on Twitter and in your WhatsApp groups; and they will be the ones who consume the most purely political information (that is, about parties). They are a polarized and hyperactive minority, and I think we need to think about their role: won’t they speed up politics?
Exclusive content for subscribers
read without limits