Surrendering to their instincts

A UPI columnist, Claude Salhani, argues that the Spanish electorate did not surrender to terrorism when it turned out Prime Minister Aznar. I agree that it is an exaggeration to characterize the election that way, but Salhani fails to make much of a case to that effect. He relies on a poll taken just prior to the terrorist attacks that showed the Socialists ever so slightly ahead. But he acknowledges that a poll taken just after the attacks had the Socialists much further ahead. Accordingly, Salhani changes his argument and claims that the post-attack decline in Aznar’s support is due to his alleged attempts to manipulate the media into blaming the Basque separatists. But Salhani’s piece indicates that these attempts at manipulation became known to the public only after the election. It is true that Aznar was pointing in the direction of the ETA shortly after the bombing, before there was any clear basis for pointing at anyone. But the left was pointing in the direction of Islamic terrorists and blaming the government for provoking them. That this apparently was the message that resonated with voters hardly supports the view that Spain did not surrender to terrorism.
My guess is that the bombings influenced the election because they brought into the forefront issues on which the Socialists had the edge with voters — the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, and relations with the U.S. The attacks didn’t change Spanish attitudes on these issues, they just increased the extent to which the issues proved decisive for voters. By way of illustration, if such attacks occurred shortly before the U.S. election, swing voters considering voting for Kerry because of the economy might well turn to Bush because the issue of fighting terrorism, on which he holds the edge, would be front-and-center again.

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