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Unhappiness With Spain's Economy Plays A Major Role In Upcoming Election

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And to dig into more detail about exactly how older Spaniards have always voted, and more, we got Lauren on the line from Madrid. And what you're saying, Lauren - talking about a creeping economic recovery but lots of unhappiness, still, among Spanish voters as an election looms. Talk to us about that.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Well, the Spanish prime minister is said to be the most unpopular politician in Spain's democratic history. You know, Spaniards are generally really gregarious. I don't mean to stereotype here, but they're full of personality, and their prime minister is not. I mean, he's notoriously tongue-tied, not terribly charismatic - to give you an idea of how disliked the prime minister is here, he was punched in the face this week. He was walking around, shaking hands in his hometown, and a 17-year-old came up and walloped him - broke his glasses, left a bruise on his face. The prime minister's security jumped on this young man, and he was detained. He was reportedly part of a leftist debate club at his high school. And by the way, it turns out he's a distant relative of the prime minister's wife.

MONTAGNE: Wow, well, that sounds a bit complicated.

FRAYER: Right, you know, despite Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's personal unpopularity, his conservative party is leading in the polls. Many Spaniards credit Rajoy's party with fixing the economy. Also, when we talk about how Spaniards are accustomed to voting, Spaniards often vote for who their parents and grandparents voted for. The left-right divide is pronounced here. It goes back to the 1930s civil war. There's a right-wing party and a left-wing party. And there are very few people who tend to change their votes. Now, in this election, that's changing because this is the first time there are more than just two choices. Some new parties have emerged.

MONTAGNE: And those new parties, how are they expected to do on Sunday in this election?

FRAYER: So there are new parties on the left and center right. On the left is anti-austerity party, Podemos, which means we can in Spanish - sort of an echo of Barack Obama's old yes we can slogan. The party was founded two years ago. Its leader is a 37-year-old former political science professor with a ponytail, Pablo Iglesias. He promises to raise the minimum wage, hike taxes on the rich, wipe away corruption. On the center-right is Ciudadanos. It means citizens in Spanish. It was a regional anti-independence party in Catalonia - that's the northeast region of Spain where there's a strong separatist movement. The party's just gone national. It wants to change Spain's labor laws and help people like that young couple you heard my piece, Laura and Ricky, get permanent work contracts. That party's leader is Albert Rivera. He's 36 years old. So you see a theme here - young politicians challenging the old order. Prime Minister Rajoy, by the way, is 60 years old.

MONTAGNE: And what is the opinion on that? What do the polls say about what might happen come this Sunday?

FRAYER: It looks almost like a four-way tie with Rajoy's conservatives slightly ahead, with the leftist Podemos slightly behind. But it's unlikely any party will win an absolute majority. So they'll have to build coalitions, or possibly hold fresh elections early next year.

MONTAGNE: Lauren, thanks very much.

FRAYER: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's Lauren Frayer, speaking to us from Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.