Spanish general election, 1936
All 473 seats of the Congress of Deputies
237 seats needed for a majority
Areas of most support: CEDA (blue), Popular Front (red), Centre (green)
Legislative elections were held in Spain on 16 February 1936. At stake were all 473 seats in the unicameral Cortes Generales. The winners of the 1936 elections were the Popular Front, a left-wing coalition of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), Republican Left (Spain) (IR), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), Republican Union (UR), Communist Party (PCE), Acció Catalana (AC) and other parties. They commanded a narrow lead in terms of the popular vote, but a significant lead over the main opposition party, Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA), of the political right in terms of seats. The election had been prompted by a collapse of a government led by Alejandro Lerroux, and his Radical Republican Party. Manuel Azaña would replace Manuel Portela Valladares, caretaker, as prime minister, after what were widely considered fair elections – although limited cases of electoral fraud did occur. They were the last of three elections held during the Spanish Second Republic, coming three years after the 1933 general election which had brought the first of Lerroux's governments to power. The poor result for the political right would help bring about the July coup, and the ensuing civil war. The right-wing military coup initiated by Gens. Sanjurjo and Franco ultimately brought about the end of parliamentary democracy in Spain until the 1977 general election.
After the 1933 election, the Radical Republican Party (RRP) led a series of governments, with Alejandro Lerroux as a moderate Prime Minister. On 26 September 1934, the CEDA announced it would no longer support the RRP's minority government, which was replaced by a RRP cabinet, led by Lerroux once more, that included three members of the CEDA. The concession of posts to CEDA prompted the Asturian miners' strike of 1934, which turned into an armed rebellion. Some time later, Robles once again prompted a cabinet collapse, and five ministries of Lerroux's new government were conceded to CEDA, including Robles himself. Since the 1933 elections, farm workers' wages had been halved, and the military purged of republican members and reformed; those loyal to Robles had been promoted. However, since CEDA's entry into the government, no constitutional amendments were ever made; no budget was ever passed.
In 1935, Manuel Azaña Díaz and Indalecio Prieto worked to unify the left and combat its extreme elements in what would become the Popular Front; this included staging of large, popular rallies,. Lerroux's Radical government collapsed after two significant scandals, including the Straperlo affair. However, president Niceto Alcalá Zamora did not allow the CEDA to form a government, and called elections. Zamora had become disenchanted with Robles's obvious desire to do away with the republic and establish a corporate state, and his air of pride. He was looking to strengthen a new center party in place of the Radicals, but the election system did not favour this. Manuel Portela Valladares was thus chosen to form a caretaker government in the meantime. The Republic had, as its opponents pointed out, faced twenty-six separate government crises. Portela failed to get the required support in the parliament to rule as a majority. The government was dissolved on 4 January; the date for elections would be 16 February.
As in the 1933 election, Spain was divided into multi-member constituencies; for example, Madrid was a single district electing 17 representatives. However, a voter could vote for fewer than that – in Madrid's case, 13. This favored coalitions, as in Madrid in 1933 when the Socialists won 13 seats and the right, with only 5,000 votes less, secured only the remaining four.
|“||Vatican Fascism offered you work and brought hunger; it offered you peace and brought five thousands tombs; it offered you order and raised a gallows. The Popular Front offers no more and no less than it will bring: Bread, Peace and Liberty!||”|
|— One election poster.|
The campaigning for the election was generally in accordance with the law and peaceful, with few problems. Certain press restrictions were lifted. The political right repeatedly warned of the risk of a 'red flag' – communism – over Spain; the Radical Republican Party, led by Lerroux, concentrated on besmirching the Centre Party. CEDA, which continued to be the main party of the political right, struggled to gain the support of the monarchists, but managed to. Posters, however, had a distinctly fascist appeal, showing leader Gil-Robles alongside various autocratic slogans. Whilst few campaign promises were made, a return to autocratic government was implied. Funded by considerable donations from large landowners, industrialists and the Catholic Church – which had suffered under the previous Socialist administration – the Right printed millions of leaflets, promising a 'great Spain'. In terms of manifesto, the Popular Front proposed going back to the sort of reforms its previous administration, including important agrarian reforms, and those to do with the treatment of strikes. It would also release political prisoners, helping to secure the votes of the CNT and FAI, although as organisations they remained outside the growing Popular Front; the Popular Front had the support of votes from anarchists. The Communist Party campaigned under a series of revolutionary slogans; however, they were strongly supportive of the Popular Front government. "Vote Communist to save Spain from Marxism" was a Socialist joke at the time. Devoid of strong areas of working class support, already taken by syndicalism and anarchism, they concentrated on their position within the Popular Front.
34,000 members of the Civil Guards and 17,000 Assault Guards enforced security on election day, many freed from their regular posts by the carabineros. Six people were killed during the elections, and perhaps another 30 injured. Ballots were generally fair and in accordance with the 1931 constitution, although three cases of electoral fraud occurred. The first was in Galicia, in north-west Spain, and orchestrated by the incumbent government; there also, in A Coruña, by the political left. The voting in Granada was forcibly (and unfairly) dominated by the government. In some villages, the police stopped anyone not wearing a collar from voting. Wherever the Socialists were poorly organised, farm workers continued to vote how they were told by their bosses or caciques. Similarly, some right-wing voters were put off from voting in strongly socialist areas. However, such instances were comparatively rare. The first results to be released, in the evening of the 14, from urban areas, were encouraging for the Popular Front.
Just under 10 million people voted, with an abstention rate of 28 percent, a level of apathy higher than might be suggested by the ongoing political violence. A small number of coerced voters and anarchists formed part of the abstainers. The elections of 1936 were narrowly won by the Popular Front, with vastly smaller resources than the political right, who followed Nazi propaganda techniques. The exact numbers of votes differ among historians; Brenan assigns the Popular Front 4,700,000 votes, the Right around 4,000,000 and the centre 450,000. It was a comparatively narrow victory in terms of votes, but Paul Preston describes it as a 'triumph of power in the Cortes' – the Popular Front won 267 deputies and the Right only 132, and the imbalance caused by the nature of Spain's electoral system since the 1932 election law came into force. The same system had benefited the political right in 1933. The political centre did badly. Lerroux's Radicals, incumbent until his government's collapse, were electorally devastated; many of their supporters had been pushed to the right by the increasing instability in Spain. Portela Valladares had formed the Centre Party, but had not had time to build it up. Worried about the problems of a minority party losing out due to the electoral system, he made a pact with the right, but this was not enough to ensure success. Leaders of the centre, Lerroux, Cambó and Melquíades Álvarez, failed to win seats. The Falangist party, under José Antonio Primo de Rivera received only 46,000 votes, a very small fraction of the total cast. This seemed to show little appetite for a takeover of that sort. The allocation of seats between coalition members was a matter of agreement between them. The official results (Spanish: escrutinio) were recorded on 20 February. The Basque Party, who had not at the time of the election been part of the Popular Front, would go on to join it. In 20 seats, no alliance or party had secured 40% of the vote; 17 were decided by a second vote on 3 March. In these runoffs, the Popular Front won 8, the Basques 5, the Right 5 and the Centre 2. In May, elections were reheld in two areas of Granada where the new government alleged there had been fraud; both seats were taken from the national Right victory in February by the Left.
Despite a relatively small mandate in terms of votes, some socialists took to the streets to free political prisoners, without waiting for the government to do so officially. There were claims of an imminent socialist or anarchist takeover. The right had firmly believed, at all levels, that they would win. Portela would, a year later, claim that Gil-Robles and General Francisco Franco had approached him within days to the election to propose a military takeover. Portela resigned, even before a new government could be formed. However, the Popular Front, which had proved an effective election tool, did not translate into a Popular Front government. Largo Caballero and other elements of the political left were not prepared to work with the republicans, although they did agree to support much of the proposed reforms. Manuel Azaña Díaz was called upon to form a government, but would shortly replace Zamora as president. The right began to conspire as to how to best overthrow the republic, rather than taking control of it.
|Popular Front (Frente Popular)||FP||3,750,900||39.63|
|Left Front (Front d’Esquerres)[nb 1]||FE||700,400||7.40|
|Total Popular Front:||4,451,300||47.03|
|Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups and right[nb 2]||CEDA-RE||1,709,200||18.06|
|Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups and Radical Republican Party[nb 3]||CEDA-PRR||943,400||9.97|
|Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups and centre[nb 4]||CEDA-PCNR||584,300||6.17|
|Front Català d'Ordre - Lliga Catalana||LR||483,700||5.11|
|Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups and Progressive Republican Party[nb 5]||CEDA-PRP||307,500||3.25|
|Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups and Conservative Republican Party[nb 6]||CEDA-PRC||189,100||2.00|
|Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups and Liberal Democrat Republican Party[nb 7]||CEDA-PRLD||150,900||1.59|
|Spanish Agrarian Party (Partido Agrario Español)[nb 8]||PAE||30,900||0.33|
|Total National Bloc:||4,375,800||46.48|
|Basque Nationalist Party (Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea-Partido Nacionalista Vasco)||EAJ-PNV||150,100||1.59|
|Radical Republican Party (Partido Republicano Radical)[nb 9]||PRR||124,700||1.32|
|Conservative Republican Party (Partido Republicano Conservador)[nb 10]||PRC||23,000||0.24|
|Progressive Republican Party (Partido Republicano Progresista)[nb 11]||PRP||10,500||0.11|
|Falange Española de las J.O.N.S.[nb 12]||6,800||0.07|
|Source: història electoral.com|
|Affiliation||Party||Name in Spanish (* indicates Catalan, ** indicates Galician)||Abbr.||Seats (May)||Seats (Feb)|
|Spanish Socialist Workers' Party||Partido Socialista Obrero Español||PSOE||99||89||88|
|Republican Left||Izquierda Republicana||IR||87||80||79|
|Republican Union||Unión Republicana||UR||37||36||34|
|Republican Left of Catalonia||Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya*||ERC||21||21||22|
|Communist Party of Spain||Partido Comunista de España||PCE||17||15||14|
|Catalan Action||Acció Catalana*||5||5||5|
|Socialist Union of Catalonia||Unió Socialista de Catalunya*||USC||4||4||3|
|Galicianist Party||Partido Galeguista**||3||3||3|
|Syndicalist Party and Independent Syndicalist Party||Partido Sindicalista||2||2||2|
|Democratic Federal Republican Party||PRD Fed.||2||2||2|
|Union of Rabassaires||Unió de Rabassaires*||2||2||2|
|National Left Republican Party||PNRE||2||2||1|
|Workers' Party of Marxist Unification||Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista||POUM||1||1||1|
|Proletarian Catalan Party||Partit Català Proletari*||PCP||1||1||1|
|Valencian Left||Esquerra Valenciana*||EV||1||1||1|
|Independents (Payne: "Leftist independents")||2||3||4|
|Total Popular Front:||285||267||263[nb 13]|
|National Republican Centre Party||17||20||21|
|Catalan League||Lliga Catalana*||12||12||12|
|Basque Nationalists||Partido Nacionalista Vasco||PNV||9||9||5|
|Progressive Republicans||Derecha Liberal Republicana||EAJ/DLR||6||6||6|
|Radical Republican Party||Partido Republicano Radical||5||8||9|
|Liberal Democrat Republican Party||3||1||1|
|Mallorcan Regionalist Party||1||1||–|
|Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right||Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas||CEDA||88||97||101|
|National Bloc||Renovación Española||12||13||13|
|Spanish Agrarian Party||Partido Agrario Español||PAE||10||11||11|
|Conservative Republican Party||3||3||2|
|Spanish Nationalist Party||1||1||1|
|Partido Mesócrata (Payne: "Catholic")||1||1||1|
- Running only in Catalonia
- Coalition of right-wing parties including CEDA in 30 constituencies
- Coalition of right-wing parties and the Radicals in 10 constituencies
- Coalition of right-wing parties and the centre in 6 constituencies
- Coalition of right-wing parties and the PRP in 4 constituencies in Andalusia
- Coalition of right-wing parties and the PRC in Lugo and A Coruña
- Running only in Oviedo
- Independent, separate Agrarian lists only in Burgos and Huelva
- Independent, separate Radical lists in Cáceres, Castellón, Ceuta, Málaga (prov.), Ourense, Santander, Tenerife, Las Palmas and Córdoba
- Running only in Soria
- Running only in Ciudad Real
- Running only in Oviedo, Sevilla, Toledo and Valladolid
- Payne (2006) gives a total of 262.
- Thomas (1961). p. 78.
- Thomas (1961). p. 80.
- Thomas (1961). p. 88.
- Preston (2006). p. 81.
- Preston (2006). pp. 82–83.
- Brenan (1950). p. 294.
- Thomas (1961). p. 89.
- Brenan (1950). pp. 294–295.
- Brenan (1950). p. 266.
- Thomas (1961). p. 92.
- Brenan (1950). p. 289.
- Beevor (2006). pp. 34–35.
- Thomas (1961). pp. 91–2.
- Payne (2006). p. 175.
- Brenan (1950). p. 307.
- Payne (2006). p. 181.
- Payne (2006). pp. 174–5.
- Brenan (1950). p. 300.
- Thomas (1961). p. 93.
- Payne (2006). p. 177.
- Brenan (1950). p. 298.
- Preston (2006). p. 83.
- Beevor (2006). pp. 38–39
- Brenan (1950). p. 299.
- Thomas (1961). pp. 93–94.
- Thomas (1961). p. 100.
- Beevor (2006). p. 38
- Brenan (1950). p. 301.
- Lozano, Elecciones de 1936.
- Beevor, Antony (2006). The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-84832-1.
- Brenan, Gerald (1950). The Spanish Labyrinth: an account of the social and political background of the Spanish Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-04314-X.
- Ehinger, Paul H. "Die Wahlen in Spanien von 1936 und der Bürgerkrieg von 1936 bis 1939. Ein Literaturbericht," ['The 1936 elections in Spain and the civil war of 1936-39: a bibliographical essay'] Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Geschichte (1975) 25#3 pp 284–330, in German.
- Payne, Stanley G. (2006). The collapse of the Spanish Republic, 1933-1936: origins of the Civil War. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-11065-0.
- Preston, Paul (2006). The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, revolution and revenge (3 ed.). HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-723207-1.
- Thomas, Hugh (1961). The Spanish Civil War (1 ed.). London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.
- Vilanova, Mercedes. "Las elecciones republicanas de 1931 a 1936, preludio de una guerra y un exilo" Historia, Antropologia y Fuentes Orales (2006) Issue 35, pp 65–81.
- Villa García, Roberto. "The Failure of Electoral Modernization: The Elections of May 1936 in Granada," Journal of Contemporary History (2009) 44#3 pp. 401–429 in JSTOR