Elections in Denmark and Spain: The influence of law, campaigns and media in electoral results

Hugo Cuello Díaz & 
Jaime Giménez Sánchez de la Blanca


2011 was a turbulent year for European politics. Several countries among the European Union changed its Prime Minister during the year. Some of them -like Ireland, Portugal, Denmark and Spain- did it after an election. Other countries have seen how their government changed without going through the expression of the will of the people. This is the case of Italy and Greece. In this paper we are going to focus in the cases of Denmark and Spain, two European states that share some similarities but also have significant differences.

Denmark -along with Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland- is part of the Nordic or Scandinavian region. These countries are widely known for a strong welfare state, a democratic multi-party system and a consensual approach to policy-making. Their political system was built during the last one and a half centuries, but their actual model emerged during the interwar period. Social democratic parties ruled for several decades and shaped the efficient welfare states that have made famous the Scandinavian countries all around the world.

On the other hand, Spain is a Southern European country. In contrast to Denmark, Spanish democracy is quite young. While Denmark has experienced 150 years of democracy –suspended only by the Nazi occupation-, Spanish democratic experience is still below four decades of duration. The current Constitution in Spain was passed in 1978, exactly 25 years after the Danish one. After a 40 years dictatorship, Spanish political forces reached an agreement to create a democratic system. Spanish current democracy is based on that consensus period, known as the Transición (Transition).

Spain, like Denmark, is a constitutional monarchy. Both are parliamentary systems. Spain has an asymmetric bicameral system; the Congress of Deputies has much more legislative power than the Senate. For its part, Denmark system is unicameral since 1953. In Spain, territorial distribution is quasi federal. Decision-making power is quite decentralized. Spain has seventeen sub state entities -known as Comunidades Autónomas (Autonomous Communities)- with its own parliament elected directly by the people in regional elections. On the other hand, the Kingdom of Denmark is a unitary state with the peculiarity of two overseas regions –Faroe Islands and Greenland- which have a special status of autonomy.

In foreign policy, is remarkable that Denmark and Spain are political, economic and military allies as they both belong to the European Union and the NATO. Even so, we find a disparity in the monetary policy. While Spain decided to join the Euro, Denmark preferred to remain with its own currency, the Danish krone.

During the last semester, both in Denmark and Spain, parliamentary elections took place. In both countries the party in control of the government, changed. However, results were very different. In Denmark the right-wing coalition –after ten years in power- gave way to the social democrats and their allies. In Spain the process was inversed. Conservatives came to the government and closed seven years of socialist control of the parliament. In both cases, the economic problems derived from the global financial crisis were an essential cause of the outcome of the elections.

Both Denmark and Spain have a Proportional Representation voting system for the main legislative chamber. Both electoral laws use D´Hondt method for allocating the parliament seats. But, as we will analyze, the results that each system produce are quite different. One of the main reasons is probably the uneven distribution of the constituencies.

Historically, the Danish party system has been much more plural than the Spanish one. We affirm this because, even though the average of political parties represented in Spanish parliament since 1978 is high (9), the two most voted parties have always received, at least, 60% of votes. This demonstrates that most of votes are not really spread. The two main Spanish parties receive a lot of support election after election. This has provoked that no government in Spain has been formed by more than one party. It has always been one-party minority governments (6 times) or majority one-party governments (4 times). This is the opposite of Danish context. Since 1945, no party has obtained absolute majority in the parliament of Denmark. Therefore, most of governments in the last decades have ruled in coalition. The Danish party system is very fragmented, particularly after the “land-slide” elections of 1973, when the four old big parties –Social democrats, Agrarian liberals, Conservatives and Social liberals- reduced their aggregate votes from 84% to 58%. In that year, the number of parties in parliament increased from 5 to 10. The core element that makes the difference between both party systems is the amount of electoral support that gets the two main parties. While in Spain the socialist PSOE and the conservative PP usually receive around 75% of votes together; in Denmark, Socialdemokraterne and Venstre rarely reach the amount of 60 % of votes in total. This allows to the Danish smaller parties to achieve much more decision-making power, because they have more representation in the Folketing and they can easily be part of coalition governments.

Looking to the results of the 2011 elections we realize that in both countries the small parties have won political weight. In Denmark, the three parties with fewer seats in parliament in the last legislature -Unity List, Liberal Alliance and Social liberals- have dramatically improved their representation. In Spain, three political parties -Amaiur, Compromis and FAC- have entered for the first time in the Congress of Deputies, and two old parties -IU and UPyD- have quintupled their seats. It is remarkable that in both elections the far-left party have multiplied its support. In Denmark, Unity List or Enhedslisten went up from 4 to 12 seats. In Spain was Izquierda Unida or Left United who increased from 2 to 11 representatives.

The voter turnout is an important issue of an election. In Denmark the average turnout is higher than in Spain. While in the Nordic country it is usually between the 85% and the 90% of the electorate, in Spain turnout fluctuates around the 70%. This difference is attributed to the political culture. In Denmark, interest for politics, as well as percentage of readers of newspapers, is much higher than in Spain. In 2011 elections, traditional trends were substantiated: turnout rate in Denmark was of 87.7%, while in Spain it was of 71.7%.

Another key element of an election is the campaign. The results of the election are very much affected by the way that the campaign develops. Thus, political communication and mass media become a very important item in the election results. We will discuss about this later.

In this essay we will deeply examine the electoral processes of Denmark and Spain. Firstly, we will analyze the electoral laws of both countries. And, secondly, we will focus on other features that also influence the results of the elections. We will approach to the topic with a comparative method. With this methodology we will try to find the main similarities and differences between Danish and Spanish electoral systems. We will also try to identify the elements that determine the outcomes of the parliamentary elections of both countries which are subject of our study.

First Part: Electoral system in Denmark and Spain

1)    The origin of the electoral system in Denmark and Spain

The actual electoral system in Spain was created by the government elites and the opposition in the beginning of the Spanish Transition. The civil society was still very unexpert to participate and have any opinion in the new structure. In the other hand the Danish democracy was built on mass mobilization of workers and peasants in class-based parties and associations. Participation has been comparatively high and social inequality in participation has been relatively small, and the linkages between ordinary people and their political leaders were strong as 20–25 per cent of the electorate was party members, something completely different in Spain. It could be a good beginning to understand the main differences in the two electoral systems and their direct consequences in the civil society.

In Spain the electoral law enacted by royal decree on 18 March 1977 was the product of a complex set of deliberations, involving discussions between Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez and representatives of various opposition forces. The choice of an electoral system in advance of Spain's first democratic election after Franco was of particularly great significance from the standpoint of the legitimacy and viability of the new regime itself. A difficult balance had to be struck between the need to create a party system conducive to stable government and the need to represent the interests of significant political and social groups. Excessive fragmentation of the new party system and the volatility had to be reduced in order to facilitate the formation of governments with the ability to enact legislation and carry out those programs over reasonable periods of time.

In Denmark the body of law governing elections to the Folketing comprises the Constitutional Act, the Parliamentary Elections Act, and regulations issued by the Minister for the Interior and Health in accord­ance with this Act. The Constitutional Act of the Kingdom of Denmark Act (1953) contains the main principles of the electoral system and the approval procedure. The franchise and eligibility require­ments are also laid down in the Constitution. The Election Act (1987 with later amendments) contains the detailed rules for the electoral system and rules for election administration.

A long time has elapsed since the existing proportional representation system was implemented. Only details have been changed since it entered into force.  PR electoral system is probably one of the least disputed of Danish political institutions. No party seriously wants to return to a plurality vote. Probably, the Danish electoral system will remain intact for many years more. It will retain the principle of proportionality, essential in Danish politics, while making it possible to preserve a relatively close relationship between voters and their representatives.  In Spain, the debate of the electoral law is still on the streets – actually more now than some years before- because as we will see below, this law benefits some parties and punish others, and don’t make a good relationship between voters and their representatives.

In a short historical view, between 1849 and 1915, the electoral system for the Folketing was a traditional plurality system with single-member constituencies. In 1915, the constitutional law was changed and a kind of PR system was implemented. However, an important element of the 1915 electoral system was that a considerable share of the seats was still filled by plurality elections in single-member constituen­cies.

This “mixed” system of traditional first-past-the-post elections and proportional representation elements was only used in one election (1918). In 1920, a new electoral law was enacted, which is still in use with regard to its basic principles for the electoral system: the multi-member constituen­cies and the nationwide district for the PR allocation of seats.

In Spain, the example of the 1931-1939 Second Republic electoral law of 1933 is important to understand also why they decide to focus majority method. This law was the representative of the innovations introduced by the “policy of mass” during the interwar period. The genesis and parliamentary process of this electoral reform, political interest which moved to its sponsors, volatility, fragmentation and the rest of consequences it had in the strategies and the electoral results of parties in the general election didn’t wanted to be repeated by the Transition elite. 

Spanish Congress has nowadays 350 members, and a minimum threshold of votes would be required to obtain parliamentary representation, that electoral districts would normally coincide with the 50 provinces, and that each province would be entitled to a minimum number of representatives. The 1977 electoral law resolved several issues left open by the reform law of the previous year, most importantly by determining that the D’Hondt "highest average" method of seat allocation would be used and that, in practice, the smallest provinces would receive a minimum representation of three seats. In the other hand, the unicameral Danish parliament -the Folketing- has 179 members, 175 from the main part of Denmark and two each from the Faroe Islands and Greenland. The members from these two parts of the realm are elected according to separate rules, which is why the following only deals with the election of the 175 members from Denmark strictu sensu. Further, the Constitution states that the electoral system shall be based on two main principles: The election shall be by proportional representation (PR) to secure equal representation of different opinions in the electorate; and in determining the number of seats to be allotted to localities attention must be paid to the number of inhabitants, the number of electors, and the population density.

As the Spanish, the Danish Constitution states that the members of the Parliament shall be elected by universal suffrage, and by direct and secret ballot.

2)    Electoral law

The Danish system of proportional representation is basically a list system with provisions for effective preferential voting –different to Spanish case, where a closed party lists system is used- within the parties’ lists. Seat allocation takes place at two levels, a multi-member constituency (lower) level and a national (higher) level. For this reason, Danish electoral system can be described as a two-tier allocation system and classified with other systems with the same basic properties – such as Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, Germany and Estonia, New Zealand, and South Africa-. The procedural steps whereby seats are allocated in this category of electoral systems actually define the category. The Spanish case is simpler and based on a majority method.

The Danish system is unique, as Spanish one, and most other PR systems currently in use for parliamentary elections. Denmark, as we said, belongs to the subcategory among the two-tier systems, which Arend Lijphart calls “adjustment-seat systems,” where the electoral “districts at the lower level are used for the initial allocation of seats, but the final allocation takes place at the higher level on the basis of all the votes cast in all of the lower-tier districts that together make up the higher-tier district” (Lijphart, 1994).

In Denmark, the multi-member constituencies are subdivided into a total of 92 nomination districts. Of the nationwide 175 seats, 135 are constituency seats which are distributed among the ten multi-member constituencies, while the remaining 40 seats are compensatory seats, which are distrib­uted among the three electoral provinces as part of the higher tier seat allocation.

Therefore, before an election takes place it is clearly established how many of the 135 constituency seats each of the ten multi-member constituencies shall return. It is also known how many of the 40 compensatory seats each of the three electoral provinces shall return, the possible big difference between the Spanish and the Danish system. Depending on the actual out­come of the election, the 40 compensatory seats will eventually be further allocated to individual multi-member constituencies within the provinces to which they were first allocated.

Every five years, the 135 constituency seats are distributed proportionally to the multi-member constituencies on the basis of the aggregate of three factors: population, number of registered voters in the latest general election, and population density.

In the Spanish case there are two sources of the Spanish representational bias in the electoral system. The first derives from the law's efforts to achieve "greater territorial equilibrium in representation" by over representing small provinces in the Congress, the Spanish system doesn’t has something similar to the compensatory seats thus is less proportional. This meant, for example, that normally rural and sparsely inhabited Soria would send one deputy to the Cortes for every 34,000 of its inhabitants, while the district of Madrid would receive one deputy for more than 140,000 of its citizens. The second source of representational bias is the joint product of the existence of many small districts and use of the D'Hondt system of seat allocation. It has argued by many experts that the D’Hondt formula  penalize small parties in the extreme unless the district magnitude is very large or the party system is highly fractionalized, that is, where competitive strength is  divided among many parties. So by far the two parties who are clearly punish are the United Left (IU) and a kind of the liberal party (UPyD). 

In the other hand, the regional parties have a good position in the Congress of Deputies. And so the Senate (the regional camera) has no real power at all, the regional parties are the one who make coalitions with the PP or the PSOE, deciding the national policy buy looking for their regional interest. That situation of the regional parties doesn’t exist at all in the Folketing.

All political parties which gained representation in parliament at the previous Folketing election and which are still represented in parliament when an election is called, are automatically assigned the right to participate in a Folketing election as a registered party.

New parties have until two weeks before polling day to register, and do so by requesting registration and by presenting signatures on a special form from voters supporting the registration of the party in question. The number of signatures must be higher than the number of needed votes to achieve a parliamentary seat in the last election –namely, the number of signatures must correspond at least to 1/175 of the valid votes cast at the previous election-. In Spain, for the last elections in November 2011, the two main parties decided to get a new law for controlling new small parties. Now was necessary to get a high number of signatures in different districts, which have made than many political parties -most of them far right wing parties- couldn’t get the necessary signatures to be in  parliament.

Is also interesting to focus on the democratic offers given by the parties to the civil society in the electoral law, and we can see with the list organization. There are two forms of list organization in Denmark:

1)    Standing by District. This is the traditional form, with one candidate in each nomination district. The name of this candidate is placed at the top of the party’s list on the ballot paper in the nomination district in question. He receives all the votes cast in the nomination district for his party as such in addition to the votes he gets as preferential votes in his own nomination district as well as in the other nomination districts in the multi-member constituency. Preferential votes are always attributed to the preferred candidate.

2)    Standing in Parallel. This form of list organization is the most commonly used today. Here, all the party’s candidates in the multi-member constituency stand in each nomination district. Votes cast for the party as such (party votes) in each individual nomination district are then distributed among the party’s candidates in exact proportion to the number of preferential votes they get.

The notion of each candidate having his “own” nomination district - approaching the traditional concept of a single-member constituency -, even under the “parallel” form of list organization, can thus be maintained. After the election, one can also – to a certain degree – see the nomination district as a constituency with its representative in parliament. In the Spanish case, the distribution of representatives and districts makes still impossible to know who the direct candidate of each citizen is. As is said in the Constitution, when a representative gets to the parliament, it directly become a “representative of all the Spanish population”, not directly their regional voters. In Denmark previously, the various forms of list organization and their effects on candidate selection constituted an important theme in the scholarly literature on Danish elections, but this has changed with the dominance of the system of standing in parallel.

In the issue of public financial support for political parties, the Danish rules were enacted in 1986 and took effect from 1987. Support is handed out by the government, regional councils, and municipal councils. Government support is available to parties as well as to independent candidates who participated in the latest Folketing election, provided they obtained at least 1,000 votes at the election. Each party or independent candidate is entitled to receive a certain amount of money per year and per vote obtained in the latest Folketing election.

The fund to parties is awarded to the central party organization which is then supposed to distribute the money to the various parts of the organization according to its own wishes. The parties (or independent candidates) do not have to account for how the money is spent. The only requirement is that once a year recipients return a written declaration to the Ministry of the Interior and Health stating that the amount has been used for political purposes in Denmark, and that such activities will be carried on. Nevertheless, measures to prevent corruption have been implemented –although Danish politics are much less affected by this problem than Spain, where several corruption cases have been discovered lately-. Since 1996 the Danish parties have been required to submit a copy of their statutory annual account in addition to this declaration.

In Spain, in 1987 a regulatory law stipulates that most of the fund of the political parties will be public, by the State. The money depends on the number of votes in the last elections. Furthermore, they have a great concrete funding for electoral campaigns. In the private sector it exist a limitation for donations, but not for credits. The Courts of Auditors can also control the funding, but the reality is that the accounts are still very dark to analyze them -some years ago, the treasurer of the conservative party went to jail because of fraud-.

3)    Impact of the electoral system

The direct consequences of the electoral laws are probably the best way to understand the two ways of the electoral politics in both countries, and realize about their differences.

If a Danish party in a multi-member constituency chooses the form of Standing by District list organization, it can further indicate that it wants to present the candidates in a fixed order, which reduces the voter’s chances of influencing the selection of candidates within the party. This latter form of list organization is termed “party list.” In Spain the political parties have all the decision of who is going to be on the top of the list, presenting it as the possible candidate for leading the government. Some parties decide to do primary elections to decide their leader, however is not common for big national elections. A prime objective of the Danish electoral system is to ensure the highest possible degree of propor­tionality among the political parties passing the electoral thresholds.

Spain has been led by single-party governments because of the electoral law, and has not experienced an unacceptable level of cabinet instability: the socialists and the conservatives have been supported by "manufactured" majorities in the Congress of Deputies 4 times –the last this November-. The coalitions are normally taken with simple majority governments with regional parties, but not forming the government as the blocs of the Danish polity, where the principal party of the coalition decides, along with the remaining parties, the composition of the government. This term of coalitions creates also the concept of intra-party politics that has a systematic impact on the coalition behavior of political parties. This confirms that even though they behave as unitary actors in joining accommodations, parties consist of different actors, and the internal relationship between these actors affects the way in which they choose between different goods and, consequently, how they behave.

Thus, the Spanish electoral law overrepresented the two largest nationwide parties and substantially underrepresented small parties with geographically dispersed bases of support, denying the vast majority of them parliamentary representation. Instead, the Danish as in all PR electoral systems where the decisive part of the seat allocation process takes place at a national level, the degree of proportionality is high among contestants above the thresholds. Various measures have been used over the years by political scientists to illustrate the degree of proportionality of electoral systems. Figure of page 7 (Table 3), confirms that Denmark is a country with a very high degree of proportionality.

The case of Spain is also of considerable interest because it illustrates the extent to which the shape of a party system may be substantially influenced by the independent actions of party elites. Danish parties instead, whose parliamentarians also are able to negotiate policy compromises comparatively independently of their national party organizations participate in legislative accommodations more often than parties whose national party organization is in control. However, this relationship only exists for parties that are close to the government in terms of policy. (How intra party power relations… pp.751) In the Spanish parties, there is not such a big space for parliamentarians to negotiate in different position of the parties’ official approach. The bad relationship between parliamentarians and citizens gives no choice to have their own personal view.

The electoral system in Denmark creates two important blocs, led by the powerful party in the ideological sphere. Anders Fogh Rasmussen was the candidate of the "blue bloc", this consisted of the three centre-right parties who held a parliamentary majority since 2001 until 2011.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt was the candidate of the "red bloc", which gathered four parties as well as her own SD. This relationship between parties makes policies more rich and valuable I opinions but also lose power convictions for the consensus between them. The Spanish parties, as they don’t normally need to make long-term coalitions, they can progress more in their campaign targets –at least theorically-. But the idea of a coalition with different opinions with the same base is, at the end, an example of a rich political culture, not only by the parties but also by the citizens. In Spain, as it just exist one main conservative political party, most of their voters don’t realized on the differences between the center right and the conservatives itself, for example. Neither in economic or social issues, different opinion as the official made by the party is not allowed inside the discussion, at least is not shown to the civil society. In the leftist parties, they allow a bit more of discordances between the official views, but always controlled and structured. Some of these differences between intra-parties issues would create different parties in Denmark, but as the electoral law punish national small parties is better to accept it and show unity.

The Spanish general elections of 2008 and 2011 held attributes familiar to Western democracies: permanent campaigning, negativism, and personalization. In other way, the change in political cleavages in Denmark is not only an effect of immigration but also an effect of mobilization and party competition. From 1985, immigration became the rallying issue for the Progress Party which had entered the Danish Parliament in 1973. Party competition was intensified from 1995 as the successor of the Progress Party, the Danish People’s Party, turned to the left on traditional (economic) left–right issues. Internal conflict on the issue of immigration within the Social Democratic Party reinforced media attention to the issue. From1998, the Liberals also moved to the left on economic issues in a deliberate attempt to capture Social Democratic voters who had become alienated from their party on the value dimension. In the 2001 and 2005 elections, this was decisive in building an absolute majority to the right for the first time since 1920. In the Spanish case, is typical to talk about the “punishment vote” which is hardly used by the civil society related directly with the economic cleavage. In 1996 and in 2011 the punishment votes were clearly against the Socialist Party –the conservative voters are more faithful-, when they have lost most of their influence. In the other hand Secularization of Spanish society, the avoidance of conflict over religious issues by political elites throughout the first two decades following the restoration of democracy, and the softening of the class cleavage as a long-term consequence of economic modernization have all contributed to a depolarization of Spanish society. But the organizational dimension of parties and their ties with other secondary organizations also played a key role, particularly with regard to the increasing electoral availability of the working class.

In the last elections, both Spanish and Danish parties focused on the economic cleavage, with an irruption –in the Spanish case, it has been a more common topic in Denmark- of the power and decisions of the European Union and the economic governance, nothing very known an popular because most of the Spanish population used to consider themselves as pro-European, so was not an issue of debate. In Denmark, characterized more by euro skepticism, the new Prime Minister is a discordance voice in the European cleavage in Denmark. In the other hand, conservatives and socialist are commonly agree in the European positions, normally a very pro-European view, which are believed to deserve a more important role in the people’s opinion.

Also political engagement at the national level – political interest and participation in political discussions – is unusually high in Denmark, and it has increased over time. At the same time, interest in local politics has declined, especially among the young. Thus, we find incongruence between the levels of politics that attract citizens’ interest and the levels that attract their participation.

Spain's electoral law has given rise to a considerable amount of "sophisticated" or "strategic" voting, indicating that the psychological effect hypothesized by Duverger is very much at work. There is evidence in support of Duverger's claim that under certain kinds of electoral law, voters will cast ballots for parties other than their preferred first choice rather than risk "wasting" their votes on a party with no real prospects of victory. Consistent and substantial evidence from our survey data clearly reveals that the Spanish voter is very "sophisticated" and is quite concerned about casting a voto útil (useful vote, the opposite of a wasted vote).

This could be also shown in other elections. The victory of the Peoples Party in the national election was preceded by an enormous victory in the local elections in Spain, less than a year before. Of 17 regions, the PP controls the government in 12 of them, even when people thought that the Socialist Party has done a good work in their region; they vote PP to punish them by the actuation at the national level. In the other analysis of electoral results at the national level in most of the Scandinavian countries is that, although the swing model to a high degree can predict the outcome of local elections by the swing at the national elections, the model is an unsatisfactory instrument for understanding the long-term dynamics of the electoral process.

Therefore, the election system in Denmark is a smooth-running combination of a centralized and a decentralized system, involving a considerable number of local administrators and politicians. The system is, almost without exception, believed to produce fair and reliable. As we have seen, in Spain the electoral law was looking for other different targets such as cohesion, governability and regional integration.

Second Part: Political culture, campaigns and mass media

1)    Political Culture

Political culture is a concept related to the orientation and the involvement of the citizens in the political issues that affect their country. In this regard, Spain and Denmark have few similarities. Spain suffers the so-called “South European Syndrome” (Morales, 2010). This implies the following items: high support to democracy as a system, high disaffection with politics, and relatively low participation in public affairs. In contrast, Danish citizens share the Scandinavian tradition of high interest and participation in political and social affairs. This phenomenon is known as “participatory corporatism” (Hernes, 1988) – participation through intermediate organizations -. Also, in Denmark we find high level of trust in politicians and general satisfaction with democratic performance.

Scandinavian countries have a strong tradition of collective mobilization. Trade unions, mass parties, farmer’s associations, cultural and religious associations have a lot of members in this region, compared to other parts of the world like the South of Europe. Political participation is equitably distributed among all the social strata. In countries like Spain, participation and concern about public affairs is concentrated in the wealthier classes. Instead, in Denmark there is a high degree of social equality in political participation. The reason to explain this could be the state model. Scandinavian welfare state ensures distribution of national wealth among every citizen. This provides equal opportunities and resources and, as a result, more equality in political participation. However, it is difficult to affirm if the Scandinavian collective mobilization tradition is consequence of the strong welfare state or vice versa. The equalization of income provided by welfare state facilitates that every citizen, no matter the social class he comes from, involve in public affairs. But the achievement of no welfare state would have been possible without the previous mobilization of the workers calling for just social policies. Anyway, the truth is that Danish civil society is much more engaged in political and social action than Spanish one.

We can check this looking to figures of membership organization. In Denmark, there is a high rate of affiliation to organizations such as trade unions and political parties. 70.4% of Danish workers belong to a union. Although it is declining –union density in Denmark decreased by 4.9% since 1990 to 2003 (Visser, 2006) -, this “participatory corporatism” is still very important in the Nordic countries. For its part, Spain has a weak membership organization. Union density is as low as 16.3%, and only 3.5% of Spaniards are members of political parties (Magone, 2004).

The disparity reflected in this data gives us an idea of how separated are Spaniards and Danes in their political behavior. As a direct consequence, electoral indicators such as voter turnout or class voting prove to be quite different. Voter turnout is closely related to the interest of citizens in politics. The 2006 European Social Survey showed that 36% of Spanish population was not interested in political affairs. On the other hand, only the 6% of Danes did not care about politics. This substantial difference allows us to understand the existing gap in turnout figures in both countries. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, voter turnout average in Spain is approximately 73%, while in Denmark it is about 85.5%-since 1945-.

Class voting is another important issue that determines the result of an election. It is widely accepted among the scholars that social cleavages have lost relevance in last decades. The Postmodern era appears to have overcome the mere materialist motive in electoral behavior. What seemed to be an immutable axiom is being questioned in the XXI century. Nowadays, throughout the West -including Spain and Denmark- right-wing and left-wing parties do not get their votes only in the high and low social classes, respectively. Today, parties have muted into “catch-all” entities; they seek votes in every social stratum. Increasing levels of education and increasing mass media consumption explain the decline of social cleavages. As Oddbjørn Knutsen states, since 70’s dealignment and realignment have occurred. Traditional cleavages enunciated by Lipset and Rokkan have lost weight against new ones. Dichotomies such as Owner-Worker and Land-Industry have given way to new structural and value-based cleavages. For instance, a new cleavage in Denmark is the employment sector. Public workers usually vote left-wing, while private employers vote right-wing. However, social cleavages are not dead; they still determine voting choice of a big part of electorate. For its part, religious cleavage seems to be the most enduring one. In Spain, Catholicism influence – although decreasing - is still strong. PP, the conservative party, takes a lot of votes thanks to the Church support.

2)    Political Campaigns

Political campaigns only last a few weeks, but they are so intense that decisively determine the final result of the elections. They have a huge impact in citizen’s electoral behavior. Due to the decline of social cleavages, postmodern voters are more likely to decide their electoral preference just before the elections. This trend has more presence in Spain than in Denmark. Both disinterest in politics and weak membership organization, drive many citizens to decide their ballot during the campaign. Parties, as well as other organizations, are aware of this scenario.

Nowadays, most of Western political parties have become “catch-all”. Otto Kirchheimer coined this concept, which main characteristics are: “drastic reduction of the party’s ideological baggage; strengthening of top leadership groups; downgrading of the role of the individual party member; deemphasis of the protected class of loyal voters; and willingness to secure access to a variety of interests groups”. “Catch-all” parties focus on collecting votes everywhere. Campaigns are the crucial stage for this task. During this period, parties implement mass persuasion sophisticated techniques trying to convince as much voters as possible.

North American campaign model has had a major impact in Western Europe. Denmark and Spain are no exception to this phenomenon. Personalization, emergence of civic platforms in support of a candidate and spectacularization are symptoms of the Americanization of campaigns. In both countries subject of our study, political parties inspire their campaign strategies in the Anglo-Saxon format. Nevertheless, once again, this trend affects more the Spanish than Danish politics. Spanish party system, with two huge parties and a bunch of small ones, encourages a high degree of personalization - and bipolarization - around both main party leaders. Also, taking into account the lack of interest for politics of Spaniards - and the subsequent party’s difficulty mobilizing grass-root supporters -, candidates exploit their own image trying to mobilize the public opinion for their electoral goals. Spaniards are now more likely to vote for the persons than for the parties.

On the other hand, political campaigns in Denmark are not as personalized and bipolarized as in Spain. Personalization is much related with the modern mass media information model. So Danish politics, while living with this kind of media, could never escape from personalization. However, the Scandinavian country has not been influenced as much as Spain by this matter. We could find a coherent explanation for this issue in the different voting systems used in both countries. While in Denmark voting for an individual candidate –and not only for a party- is possible due to the preferential voting; in Spain, citizens can only vote for a closed party list. So, if citizens can also choose to vote for candidates who are not the leaders of their parties, then citizens should receive information beyond the first candidate of the party lists. In the Spanish case, where voting only for party leaders is allowed, makes more sense that the whole campaign revolves around these individuals.

In the same vein, Denmark is not as affected as Spain by bipolarization. Although only the candidates of the two main parties - Socialdemokraterne and Venstre - have real chance to be appointed Prime Minister, the remaining political parties still have big prominence during the campaigns. Television debates are proof of that. While in Danish debates usually participate up to eight candidates, in Spanish ones only two parties are represented.

Other distinguishing features in modern democracies are “permanent campaign” and “negativism” (Sampedro, 2008). Electoral strategy of political parties goes beyond the election time. As their main goal is reaching or holding on to government, parties carry out a permanent campaign during the whole legislature period.

Negativism relates to the increasingly common practice of focusing on criticize the political opponent. This aims to demobilize adversary’s voters and, also, mobilize the own ones. As negativism is more effective as more bipolarized are the national politics; in Spain it plays a more important role than in Denmark.

Political campaigns are key periods in democratic systems. Parties set out their election manifesto to the public opinion, and citizens vote accordingly. Debate among parties must revolve around those issues that matter to people. European countries share most of their concerns, although with a different priority. Thereby, Danish and Spanish citizens are both worried about economic crisis, immigration, housing, unemployment and Europeanization. Also, every country usually has its own concerning matters. For example, in Spain, terrorism has been a quite important topic, due to the Basque separatist ETA killings. In Demark, one particularly relevant topic is Islamophobia. Danish People’s Party has captured plenty of votes during the last decade thanks to the rejection of immigration – particularly of Muslims - present in Danish society. On the other hand, there are lines considered insurmountable. Neither in Denmark nor in Spain, political parties dare to question the existence of the social services provided by the welfare state. Some of them, as Liberal Alliance in Denmark or People’s Party in Spain, argue the need of cutting public spending, but always with the pretext of ensuring the survival of the welfare state in the long-term.

In any case, there is life after parties. Other actors also play an important role during political campaigns. Traditional interest organizations, such as trade unions and employer’s associations, are particularly prominent. In last decades, these organizations have moved away from political parties. As class voting falls, organizations can no longer assume that their members will vote to a certain party. Then, they do not risk giving full support to any party, so that no members feel alienated. Also, supporting a party means a risk, because if that party loose, group interests may be put in jeopardy. Now, interest organizations have their own electoral strategies. They try to place their particular preferences in the parties' agenda. This is known as “postmodern campaigns”, as non-party actors seek to achieve their own goals indirectly -without openly supporting parties-. But traditional interest groups are not the only ones that participate in campaigns. As we stated above, large-scale ideological mass movements are in decline. Lately, other kind of organizations, with more specific interests and not ideology based, has emerged. Some civic associations, for instance, participate in campaigns publishing reports or designing computer tools. Their objective is giving unbiased information and producing so called “vote helpers”.

3)    Mass Media
One of the pillars of democracy is press freedom. Independent media are essential so people are able to vote freely. However, Western media depend on commercial interests, so the information that they provide is conditioned by the advertisers. Priority is not the quality information, but gain audience. When we apply this to electoral politics, we realize why media coverage is so poorly distributed among parties. Anyway, this problem affects each country differently. Public media, as they receive state funding, do not depend so much on advertisers. So public media could escape the commercial logic, and provide information to citizens beyond the mere seek of audience. Both Spain and Denmark have strong public television channels. Nonetheless, Danish one (DR) is the undisputed leader in national market –unlike the Spanish (TVE), which competes with powerful private companies-. Also, Spanish public media has traditionally been closely controlled by government. These involves that in Denmark small parties have better chances of visibility in TV and therefore more opportunities to be voted.

Attending to Hallin and Mancini media system typology, Nordic countries belong to Democratic Corporatist model. This means a high degree of political parallelism, strongly developed mass-circulation press, strong journalist professionalization and significant involvement of the state in the media sector but equal high protection of press freedom. Spain, on the other hand, is part of Polarized Pluralist model. Main differences with Danish model are that, in Spain, mass-circulation has historically been weak, press readers are the elites; state’s involvement in media lead to biasing information; and private media are extremely partisan and polarized.

In both countries, TV is more influencing than other media -like radio or newspapers- in political campaigns. Parties and interest organizations fight for visibility in TV. Nevertheless, Denmark TV access is more pluralistic than in Spain, as this fragment explains: “The heavy use of broadcasting in Scandinavian election campaigns together with the principles of equal access and equal time have made it easier than in most other European countries to establish and keep new and small parties alive. Broadcasting and especially television make them visible to the electorate, although they can seldom set the overall campaign agenda. New parties in Denmark have a greater chance to set the agenda for a national or local election, since they get news coverage on top of access to programs structured around the principle of equal access” (Siune, 1987).

In Spain there are also the principles of equal time and access. But the way how they are implemented is different. Spanish electoral law is restrictive and not facilitates the access to free prime time political advertising to parties which are not already present in the parliament. As in Denmark, in Spain is illegal that political parties pay for advertising on TV. So, for non-represented parties it is very difficult to reach visibility. Also, during electoral campaigns, Spanish public TV has to inform about parties in the same order and in the same proportion as the parliamentary seats that they achieved in the last election. So, the most voted party is always the first one to appear on news, and the one who stays longer on the TV screen. On the other hand, the criterion used in Denmark to choose the news structure in public TV channel is just journalistic.

One of the most decisive parts of campaigns is the televised debates. In Spain, debates have taken place only in four campaigns -1993, 2004, 2008 and 2011-. Only the two main party’s candidates meet. One journalist chairs the discussion, but does not ask questions. Previously, both parties have already agreed the topics and timing. In Denmark we find the opposite sort of TV debate. Debates take place every campaign since the 50’s. All the relevant political parties participate. And parties do not control every detail of the debate, because journalist takes part proactively in the dialogue.

Radio and newspapers are also important in creating public opinion. Actually, for Spaniards trust more in the credibility of radio than any other media. In Denmark, something similar happens. In last years, pundits have considerably increased their presence on Danish TV, and have introduced bias. Politicians have been sidelined by this “media punditocracy” (Hopmann, 2010). Although TV is the media with less credibility, it is yet audience leader. Print press is not so popular, but is still important. In Spain, 48% of population never read the papers. However, although having few readers, Spanish press is quite influential in decision-making circles, as it is followed by the upper classes. In Denmark, newspaper reading is more extended and only 21% of Danes never do it. Even though in last decades press has certainly moved away from partisanship to a more commercial and independent model, political plurality still leaves something to be desired. Right-wing newspapers dominate –in number of titles- both Danish and Spanish market (Goldenberg, 1987).

However, media are not omnipotent. Some studies indicate that opinions of circles of associates –family and friends- are more crucial than media in electoral behavior (Schmitt-Beck, 2003). Also, new technologies contribute to increase citizen empowerment and diminish media influence. The Internet enables direct communication candidate-voter, avoiding the media filter. In Denmark candidates send newsletters, while in Spain they prefer social networks websites, specially Twitter.


Denmark and Spain are quite different countries. Although they both share some normative aspects, as constitutional monarchy, parliamentary system and proportional representation; in our study we have identified significant disparities between this two states.

First, as the figure of page 7 shows (Table 3), Danish electoral system is much more proportional than Spanish. In fact, Spain is ranked even lower than other non-proportional representation systems like United States or Japan. The high disproportionality of Spanish electoral system is due to a series of correctives which were designed to make the outcomes as majoritarian as possible. The low average district magnitude and the threshold of 3% -at district level- are the main reasons for this paradox. Although it is formally a PR system, it is no exaggeration to say that Spanish electoral law is less proportional even than majority systems.

On the other hand, Danish voting system –in line with the rest of Scandinavian countries- is one of the most proportional in the world. In contrast with Spanish case, Danish electoral law’s prime objective is to ensure the highest possible degree of proportionality among political parties passing the electoral hurdles. In Denmark, the match between the proportion of votes and proportion of parliamentary seats obtained by each party often happens (see Table 4 in this page). This is unthinkable in Spain. For example, in 2011 election, both Spanish parties UPyD and PNV got 5 parliamentary seats out of 350 (1.4% of seats) yet UPyD had obtained up to 4.7% of votes and PNV just 1.3%. This shows how disproportional that Spanish electoral system is, especially with those political parties whose base of voters is not highly concentrated in few constituencies.

Taking into account all the aforementioned, we realize that both the Spanish and Danish electoral laws have completed the goal for which they were created. In Spain there is a relatively stable party system with two big national parties that compete for the government and a number of small parties –regionalist mostly- with not enough power to determine national polity but with enough parliamentary weight to influence occasionally policy measures - enough to keep the moderate Basque and Catalan nationalists quiet and ensure political stability-.

For its part, Danish electoral law has also achieved its aim of utmost proportionality. It shall faithfully reflect the existing plurality of political views in the parliament composition. Spanish system, places stability, efficacy and accountability over proportional representation. Danish does the opposite. Although, Denmark has mostly been governed by party coalitions, Danish model is far from being instable and ineffective. It encourages consensus among parties, thus policies passed in Denmark are always sustained by various parties. This means more legitimacy for the new laws and makes it more unlikely that next coalition in government freezes or cancels this laws or policies. This kind of government behavior is usual in Spain, where a government change often means a revision of the policies carried out by the previous party in power.

Second, Danish citizens are more involved in public affairs than Spanish. Danes show a higher degree of concern about politics than Spaniards in a variety of aspects such as voter turnout, membership organization, political awareness and readership of newspapers.

Third, Spanish and Danish political parties suffer from “catch-all syndrome”. Class voting has relatively lost relevance and nowadays parties have to look for votes beyond their traditional vote sectors. However, class cleavages are still important in Denmark, while in Spain they have never been truly decisive.

Fourth, political campaigns in both countries are affected by the common trends in Western democracies. Personalization and bipolarization are present in Denmark, but not in the same grade as in Spain.

Fifth and finally, mass media –and especially TV - are important actors in the formation of public opinion and, thus, have a big influence on the electoral results. Due to the different implementation of equal access and equal time principles, Danish public TV proves to be more pluralistic than Spanish during political campaigns. This makes easier the entry into Parliament of new parties in Denmark than in Spain. Spanish mass media, extremely focused on the two main parties, seem to be the best guarantors of the order created during the Transition (García, 2005).


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