López García, G. (2015): “Economic crisis, new media and new political structures. The case of “Podemos”: a Spanish ‘Yes, we can!’ against the two-party system in Spain”. Comunicación presentada en el congreso de la International Political Science Association “Communication, Democracy and Digital Technology“. Croacia, 2-3 de octubre.
For decades, Spanish politics has revolved around two major parties, which have divvied up power between the two of them in most institutions since 1982. They are the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and the People’s Party (the conservative PP). In recent years, their hegemony has suffered as a result of, above all, the economic crisis that has beleaguered the country since 2007 and generated a high rate of unemployment (25%), which surpasses 50 percent among Spanish youth. As a result, protests against Spain’s ruling class (spearheaded by the 2011 “indignados” [the outraged] movement and significant protests in other sectors of society) have become widespread.
Nonetheless, until quite recently no political party capable of articulating that citizen indignation had arisen. The results of the May 2014 European Elections, as well as opinion polls published afterward, indicate that party may be Podemos [literally, “We can”], which came on the scene in March 2014, earned 8 percent of the vote in the aforementioned elections and, since then, has continued its marked upward climb in the polls. In fact, the most recent polls show that Podemos enjoys levels of support near those of the PP and the PSOE (with each one near 25 percent).
Podemos features a bottom-up party structure, as seen in citizen associations connected through a series of “Circles” (local assemblies) which make decisions through voting. On the same token, decisions and nominations are also made through an online voting process, which led to the selection of the party’s leader, Pablo Iglesias. But, at the same time, in the party’s genesis and its success we also find a top-down strategy: Iglesias’s front-and-center position as a guest on several national television programs, which transformed him into a well-known person throughout the country. This circumstance has benefited Podemos by allowing the party to combine its assembly model with a hyper-leadership structure represented by Iglesias.
In this paper we propose an analysis of the internal functioning of the party and its structural make-up in terms of two electoral processes: the 2014 European Elections, when Podemos was still an unknown; and the internal elections process developed by Podemos in October and November 2014, which defined its organizational structure and the leadership of Pablo Iglesias. The proposed methodology will consist of: 1) a descriptive analysis of the development of both campaigns, based on available information in the media; 2) an analysis centered on the presence of Podemos in social networks and the mainstream media, in addition to electoral results and polls; and 3) a qualitative study of the internal structure of the party and its internet-based mobilization strategies, through in-depth interviews with leaders and supporters of Podemos.
The analysis will attempt to determine: the party’s decision-making process, along with the type of relationships established between leaders and supporters; to what extent the Internet is used as a primary tool for organization, mobilization and political propaganda; and the extent of the clash or harmony between the party’s opposed dynamics: on one hand, the bottom-up structure of the citizen assemblies and, on the other, the top-down structure inferred from Pablo Iglesias’s hyper-leadership and the media presence of the party’s principal leaders.
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