The paper establishes the social and territorial factors of the 2015 and 2019 legislative election as well as the 2016 presidential election in Portugal. There are several reasons explaining the choice of country for the study. Portugal is a typical representative of the "European periphery" that had an especially hard time recovering from the global economic crisis. This triggered a steady "left turn" in electoral behavior, although much less sharp than in Spain and Greece. The primary tools used in the study are cross-territorial and cross-temporal analyses. The study reveals the effect of social stratification, regional variations of the standard of living as well as historical and cultural traditions on supporting political parties and candidates. The study reveals regional similarities and differences in electoral behavior development trends are revealed. The study established the transformations of Portugal's party system in the context of increasing fragmentation of both leftist and center-right segments of the party spectrum. The assertion is made that territorial differences in voting on the "North South" axis are preserved with the aid of newly formed small parties, mostly in big cities.
Globalization and European integration pose the risk of political polarization, which becomes especially pronounced in the countries of the "European periphery". This means a crisis of representation for social group and territorial interests in party systems, which encourages the establishment and reinforcement of populist political parties and movements as well as a trend towards regionalization. Portugal is one of the more representative countries of the "European periphery". Despite the small territory, this country is an excellent specimen for carrying out comparative electoral studies due to unique evolution of its party system as well as electoral competition agenda. As opposed to Spain and Greece, political system of Portugal indicates a relatively weak growth trend for far-left and far-right parties. Although the country is exposed to political innovations from Spain due to its geographical location, electoral behavior shifts in Portugal have their own distinctive nature. All these factors combined prove that the case of Portugal requires further study.
Our goal is to establish the social and territorial factors of the 2015 and 2019 legislative election as well as the 2016 presidential election in Portugal.
The subject receives a lot of attention from Portuguese political scientists, sociologists and geographers. André Freire studies the effect social cleavage structure and economic environment have on partisan attachment . João Cancela and Pedro Magalhães identified the state of social basis of Portuguese parties . Adriano Campos, Jorge Costa, João Teixeira Lopes, Francisco Louçã and Nuno Moniz demonstrated the representation of social classes among the country's political elite . Camila Rodrigues reveals the correlation between political participation and the quality of democracy in Portugal . The low voter turnout and absenteeism reasons are explained in collected papers edited by João Cancela and Marta Vicente . Dimensional voting patterns are discussed in dissertations by António Casimiro Marques Tavares , Diana Soraia Morais  and Daniel Cirilo Augusto  as well as papers by André Borges, Carolina de Paula and Adriano da Nóbrega Silva . Another source of important information are analytical reports prepared by the company "Marktest", which monitor the geography of party electoral areas . Ideological, political and historical factors party system development in Portugal are discussed in an analytical report by Jorge Mateus and Tiago Ramalho  as well as a monograph edited by Antonio Costa Pinto and Conceição Teixeira [40: 77‑100, 145‑166].
Russian school of thought on the subject is represented by Nailya Yakovleva [50; 51] and Vladimir Vernikov . Territorial representation in Portugal's electoral system is explored in a study by M. Arbatskaya . A study by Georgy Kutyrev where he applies the concept of heterotopia to protest movements and parties can be considered an example of academic novelty . An ad hoc study of left-wing programs in Portugal was carried out by Denis Pilash, a Ukrainian historian .
As a result, the subject of electoral behavior factors in modern Portugal is widely discussed in the research community. However, the most recent phase of electoral processes (European and national legislative elections of 2019) has been considered only tentatively. Comparative analysis of electoral cleavages in Portugal and Spain is rarely carried out. Cultural and political factors received much less attention than institutional did from the research community.
Our study is based on cross-territorial and cross-temporal comparative approaches. This allows us to interpret the historical, political and cultural context of electoral behavior as well as to identify the political significance of certain parameters of Portuguese society, such as its social stratification, demographics and dimensions. At the same time, we believe that using the "funnel of causality" concept, which ranks electoral behavior factors by significance and duration, is productive for our research . As for empirical research methods, our study uses secondary analysis of questionnaire-based surveys, ordered and time series building, political and regional regionalization.
The empirical basis of the study includes Portuguese legislative acts governing the conduct of legislative and presidential elections; pre-election party programs and resolutions; statistical vote returns as well as the data on the economic environment and voter demographics; results of sociological studies; political and administrative maps of the country, periodical press materials (newspapers: Diário de Notícias, Público, Observador).
Portugal is a small country in Southern Europe with a population of 10,276,600 (2019), 40% of whom reside in urban areas of Lisbon and Porto. Let us look at the structure of the electorate. Pordata website reports 9,318,400 registered voters in 2019, all residing within Portugal, including 14.9% younger than 30 y.o., 57.9% between 30 and 65 y.o. and 27.2% older than 65 y.o. Apart from that, 1,511,200 Portuguese citizens residing abroad are eligible to vote, as well as 27,600 foreign nationals residing in Portugal (no data on their age distribution) . M. Arbatskaya discovered a significant overestimation of the numbers by force of permanent emigrants and the deceased (she estimated the actual number of voters at 8.4 million) [4: 36]. As a result, there is a deliberate overestimation of eligible voters by 2.4 million. As we will see further, this number reduces voter turnout in the election. Only 1% of Portuguese citizens residing abroad voted in the 2019 legislative election [51: 189]. Age affects party preferences in a very tangible way. Senior citizens mostly vote for communists and socialists while young people tend to vote for the Left Bloc (a union of Trotskyists, Maoists and anti-globalists). The PSD (Social Democratic Party) electorate is almost equally distributed as far as the age demographic is concerned [9: 5].
The level of inequality is an important social factor in voting. In the fourth quarter of 2019, the GDP per capita amounted to 20,660 Euro, which not much compared to other countries in the European Union. The national debt amounts to 117.7% of the annual GDP, which is at the crisis level of 2011 . The average monthly wages amounted to 1,038 Euro by early 2020 while the state-established minimum wage is 635 Euro [33; 51: 192]. Eurostat 2018 report states that 21.6% of the population are exposed to poverty (meaning their income is below 60% of the national average). The people that are most exposed to poverty belong to age groups between 18 and 24 as well as 50 and 64 . In 2018, the Gini coefficient amounted to 32.1 and continues to grow; Portugal is the ninth EU country in terms of inequality [25; 42]. According to Camila Rodrigues, 10% of the richest citizens reached 29.8% in total incomes, and 1% of the richest reached 9.8% [45: 80]. Carlos Farinha Rodrigues reported that poverty level between regions ranged from 15.4% in Lisbon urban area to 28.3% in the Azores in 206; the size of the population cluster is still an important factor in the income level (the real income in major cities it higher than in rural areas by 35.3%). Consequently, the poverty level in rural areas is 22.9%, 17.8% in major cities and 15.1% in small towns and suburbs (2016). At the same time, the degree of real income inequality is highest in major cities . The highest average incomes have been registered in Central Portugal and Lisbon with the lowest in the Alentejo and Northern Portugal. The important aspects other than inequality include differences in level of innovation, education as well as age difference. The population of major cities ultimately supports the Left Bloc while rural population supports the center-right and the Communist Party [36: 12‑16].
On the territorial level, income disparity fully coincides with differences in the level of support for parties. António Casimiro Marques Tavares proved that the level of turnout is directly linked to income level of voters [34: 72]. Through correlation analysis of stratification features of citizens and their party affiliation (by exit polls), João Cancela and Pedro Magalhães established that large and small business entrepreneurs, people of "liberal professions" and managers support Social Democratic Party (PSD, center-right) while workers and farmers support Socialist (PS) and Communist (PCP) Parties. The same level of variance can be seen between supporters of PSD and the Left Bloc (the key element here is the fact that the Left Bloc is largely supported by the intelligentsia). Workers are most numerous among the PCP (more than 40%) and PS (40%) supporters as well as among absentees (38%). The small and middle business entrepreneurs mostly vote for PSD and the Left Bloc. A voter's level of education largely depends on his or her social status. The level of support for PSD and the Left Bloc increases along with the level of education. Support for PS, however, decreases, while support for PCP remains unchanged [9: 7‑12]. As we can see, Portugal demonstrates pronounced social cleavages, like "the rich – the poor" and "center – periphery".
Portugal ranks 8th in the European Union with the unemployment rate of 6.8% among the economically active population (the first quarter of 2020) . The level of unemployment decreased almost threefold compared to the times of the global economic crisis when the unemployment rate stood at 17.9% of economically active population in 2013 and half a million citizens left the country [31: 118]. However, we have to bump up these digits with a large number of temporary and short-term contract employees who are vulnerable to termination. Unemployment among the young people between 15 and 25 is twice as high as that of the entire country's population. According to Eurostat, 18.3% representatives of this age group were unemployed in October 2019. Youth unemployment is especially high in the agricultural Alentejo Region and in northern Portugal, although the fluctuation stays below 15% [20: 5]; 10% of the young Portuguese between 18 and 24 did not have secondary education (ranked 7th in EU) . As a result, the unemployed, particularly the young, make up a large segment of the country's population.
As for ethnic and linguistic factors of electoral preferences, they are not very pronounced. The 2018 data shows that the country's population is 95.3% Portuguese with only 4.7% non-Portuguese. Nearly all citizens speak the national language . In 2018, 477,500 foreign nationals legally resided in Portugal (4.7% of the population). Over the recent year, the number has increased to 14.6%. The immigrants are mostly concentrated in large cities and coastal tourist areas. A portion of them (21,300) gained citizenship, which grants suffrage . These factors will become more pronounced as international migration intensifies. The increased popularity of the far-right Chega (Port. for "enough") party in the 2019 election is an alarming development. The ideological counterpart of the Spanish Vox (Latin for "voice") received 1.3% in the October 6 election to the Assembly of the Republic, but the May 2020 questionnaire-based surveys revealed a 4% popularity level, especially in Lisbon and its vicinity – the area with significant immigrant presence .
The religious factor of voting manifests itself as a contrast between atheists and "formal" believers on the one hand and "practicing" believers on the other instead of the contrast between political preferences of representatives of various faiths. The 2011 census estimated 81% Roman Catholic, 3.3% other Christians, 0.6% other religions, 6.8% non-religious and 8.3% undeclared [10: 530]. At the same time, 44% Roman Catholic identify as "non-practicing" meaning they attend church 1‑2 times a year. The data provided by the Center for Public Opinion Studies and the Center for Religious and Cultural Studies (2011, a sample of 3978 respondents aged above 15) indicates that 37% of respondents agreed that without the Catholic Church "the country will develop faster and better" and "there will be more personal freedom" [26: 14, 18‑20; 30: 309‑315]. Correlation analysis carried out by João Cancela and Pedro Magalhães proved there is a clear direct correlation between religion and support for PSD, a slight increase in PS support in step with religious commitment increasing and a sharp decline in religious commitment among the PCP and the Left Bloc voters [9: 6]. The confessional factor draws a distinct line between the left and center-right electorate.
We also should not dismiss the "unfinished Europeanization" of Portugal's political culture. The 2012 Eurobarometer monitoring survey revealed that 59% of the Portuguese identify as citizens of the European Union (compared to the 73% in Spain). A study of European values carried out on a different grading scale revealed the national identity prevailing over the Pan-European identity. The Portuguese were concerned that the expansion of the European Union would increase unemployment, weaken social security, increase foreign debt, weaken the country's foreign policy and erase the nation's authentic culture and identity [43: 57‑58]. The global economic only heightened these concerns in 2009‑2015.
Let us look at the institutional factors of electoral behavior. Portugal's current political system is an offspring of the 1974 Carnation Revolution. Historians and political scientists uphold that the democratic transit ended in 1987. Portugal has been considered a consolidated democracy ever since. The country is a semi-presidential republic. The President of Portugal is elected every 5 years by a nation-wide secret ballot [Constituição da República]. The party or coalition that wins the majority in the legislative election forms the government. The President holds little power over vetoing the laws and dissolving the parliament.
The unicameral parliament – the Assembly of the Republic – is elected every 4 years under proportional representation system without an electoral threshold. The seats are allocated by the D'Hondt method, which gives advantages to two most popular parties. The elections under proportional representation system are held in constituencies with a mostly small number of members. Combined with the D'Hondt method, the small-sized constituencies allow to "cut out" the small parties without an electoral threshold.
The concentration of population in densely populated coastal regions is growing while dropping in peripheral inland regions. This resulted in introducing fixed quotas for representatives in the legislative election, applicable to unequally sized districts where population ranges from 37182 to 54066 people. The most populated district (Lisbon) is represented in the Assembly by 48 members out of the overall 230 while the least populated district (Portalegre) is represented by two members. Out of all EU countries, only Greece and Spain outrank Portugal by disproportionate constituencies [14: 16-17; 46].
Despite 21 registered political parties, two major political powers were competing authority between 1977 and 2014: the Socialist Party on the center-left side of the spectrum and the Social Democratic Party on the center-right. They controlled up to 79% of the seats is the Assembly of the Republic (1995) combined [49: 69].
The post-revolution model of Portugal's political institutions started to get old during the 2008‑2014 global economic crisis. In its turn, the crisis coincided with rising impact of globalization and information society on social framework, as well as post-materialism and protest movements becoming a fixed part of the agenda. The party system was not left untouched, becoming more complicated . Manuel Braga da Cruz criticized the political system and its decisive reform measures. He proposed replacing the proportional representation with a mixed system, especially on regional and local levels, as well as restoring the bicameral parliament in order to "personalize the vote" and create a more proportionate geographical and social representation of Portugal . The fact that more than 50% of deputies and government officials have corporate connections is extremely sensitive in a massively center-left society [8: 66‑67].
The entire party system is rebuilt following the described crisis events. As of 2008, the Left Bloc (est. 1999) is starting to secure its position in the political arena. 2011 gives rise to a number of parties: centrist "People‑Animals‑Nature" and "Livre – Tempode Avançar" (Port. for "Free – Time to Move On"), center-right "Liberal Initiative" and far-right "Chega" (Port. for "enough"). The priorities in party programs and election manifestos change as well. Issues like fighting unemployment and corruption, protecting the environment as well as gender an immigrant equality come into focus, along with changed attitudes to macroeconomic stabilization of the country on the terms proposed by the "big three" (European Central Bank, European Union and International Monetary Fund) [12; 5: 266].
Table 1 shows quantitative changes in votes in the 2011, 2015 and 2019 legislative elections. A significant turnout decrease should be noted: from 58.1 to 48.6% of those eligible to vote. This trend persists when comparing the 2011 and 2016 presidential election as well. This does not come as a surprise, given that 80% of the population does not trust any political party [29: 32]. A survey carried out by Daniel Cirilo Augusto in 2015 revealed that 52% were more dissatisfied than satisfied with democracy (in its specific forms apparently) and 28% were completely dissatisfied. The older the voters, the less satisfied they are with democracy [5: 80, 84]. The questionnaire-based survey carried out by RTP, a national TV-channel, in September 2015 indicated that 27% were undecided with their vote while 8% refused to reveal it .
The combined share of votes casted for the two major parties dropped from 69.2% (2015) to 64.1% (2019). The Assembly of the Republic was composed of five parties and blocs in 2011 and 2015. As of October 2019, the number increased to nine. The main "party families" (left, center-left and center-right) become fragmented, and the left wing has already changed its leader: the Left Bloc now prevails over the Unitary Democratic Coalition (formed by the PCP and the ecologist party "The Greens"). The collapse of the ruling center-right alliance "Portugal Ahead" (formed by the PSD and Democratic and Social Centre – the People's Party) following the October 4, 2015 election was not unexpected either. The effective number of parliament parties (based on estimates made by Marina Costa Lobo, António Costa Pinto and Pedro Magalhães) was steadily decreasing from 3.13 to 2.71 between 2009 and 2015, only slightly increasing in the 2019 election [14: 21].
Comparing the popularity of parties and blocs in 2015 and 2019 reveals increasing influence of the Socialist Party (PS; from 86 to 108 seats out of 230) as well as of the entire coalition that supported the left government led by António Costa (from 124 to 139 seats). The government was able to lead the country out of the severe economic crisis by maneuvering between the demands of voters and stringent requirements of financial institutions. The electorate on both the left and the right grows more polarized. The opinion poll organized by the service "Pitagórica" in September 2019 proves that electorates of all parties and blocs grow by weight of supporters of other parties on the same side of political spectrum . Despite the global pandemic, the Portuguese raised the popularity of the PS to 37.7% by May 2020 .
|Party / Bloc||2011||2015||2019|
|PSD||38.7% / 108||36.9% / 107||27.8% / 79|
|PS||28.1% / 74||32.3% / 86||36.3% / 108|
|CDU (PCP + The Greens)||7.9% / 16||8.3% / 17||6.3% / 12|
|The Left Bloc||5.2% / 8||10.2% / 19||9.5% / 19|
|CDS PP||11.7% / 24||1.5% / 5||4.3% / 5|
|PAN||1.0% / 0||1.4% / 1||3.3% / 4|
|Chega!||-||-||1.3% / 1|
|Liberal Initiative||-||-||1.3% / 1|
|Livre||-||-||1.1% / 1|
|Did not fill in the ballots||2.7%||2.1%||2.5%|
Source: Eleições Legislativas 5 Junho 2011. Resultados Globais [Legislative Elections of June 5, 2011. Global Results]. – Local do SGMAI. Secretaria Geral do Ministerio da Administracao Interna [Secretary General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs], 12 June 2011. URL: https://www.eleicoes.mai.gov.pt/legislativas2011/resultados-globais.html; Eleições Legislativas 2015. 4 de Outumbro. Resultados Globais [Legislative Elections of October 22, 2015. Global Results]. – Local do SGMAI. Secretaria Geral do Ministerio da Administracao Interna, 22 October 2015. URL: https://www.eleicoes.mai.gov.pt/legislativas2015/resultados-globais.html; Eleições Legislativas 2019. 6 de Outumbro. Resultados Globais [The Legislative Elections of October 6, 2019. Global Results]. – Local do SGMAI. Secretaria Geral do Ministerio da Administracao Interna, 22 October 2019. URL: https://www.legislativas2019.mai.gov.pt/ (accessed 10 May 2020). (In Port.)
PS – Socialist Party.
PSD – Social Democratic Party.
PCP – Portuguese Communist Party.
CDU – Unitary Democratic Coalition.
CDS PP – Social Democratic Center – People's Party.
PAN – People Animals Nature.
The 2016 presidential election is an interesting research subject as well, and we believe that in this case, the choice was dictated by personal rational choice patterns rather than ideological motivations or party preferences. It is noteworthy that only 3 out of 10 candidates portrayed themselves as party or bloc affiliates. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa certainly owes his victory to his own interpersonal skills and moral qualities, not PSD affiliation.
|Candidate||Party / Bloc||Votes|
|Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa||Social Democratic Party (PPD/PSD)||52.0|
|António Sampaio da Nóvoa||Independent candidate||22.9|
|Marisa Matias||Left wing||10.1|
|Maria de Belém||Independent candidate||4.2|
|Edgar Silva||Portuguese Communist Party||3.9|
|Vitorino Silva||Independent candidate||3.3|
|Paulo de Morais||Independent candidate||2.2|
|Henrique Neto||Independent candidate||0.8|
|Jorge Sequeira||Independent candidate||0.3|
|Jorge Sequeira||Independent candidate||0.2|
|Did not fill in the ballots||1.2|
Source: Eleições Presidenciais 2016. 24 Janeiro.Resultados Globais [Presidential Election of January 24, 2016]. – Local do SGMAI. Secretaria Geral do Ministerio da Administracao Interna [Secretary General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs], 12 February 2016. URL:https://www.eleicoes.mai.gov.pt/presidenciais2016/resultados-globais.html(accessed 10 May 2020). (In Port.)
In conclusion, we would like to stress territorial differentiation of party and bloc support in the legislative election of October 6, 2019. This election proved that voting differences still exist on the "North‑South" (differences linked to income level and religious commitment), "coastal‑inland areas" and "urban‑rural areas" axes. For example, in the 18 districts (distritos) and 2 autonomous regions (the Azores and Madeira), the support for PCP ranged from 44.6% in Portalegre and 40‑41% in Beja, Castelo Branco, the Azores to the minimum of 31.1% in Leiria and 33.4% in Madeira. There is an obvious pattern of the socialists receiving support from the economically marginalized, peripheral areas. The electoral geography of PSD support is opposite to that of PCP and more complicated for a number of reasons. The support for PSD comes from the more religious districts in the north – Bragança (40.8%), Vila Real (39.0%) and Viseu (36.2%) – yet from tourist hubs as well, meaning Madeira (37.2%) and Porto (31.2%).
Map 1. The geography of increased support for the Socialist Party of Portugal in the 2019 legislative election.
Map 2. The geography of increased support for the Social Democratic Party of Portugal in the 2019 legislative election.
Voting for the Left Bloc is unexpectedly less active in Lisbon, yet very active in the "suburbs" – residential areas in the outer perimeter of an urban area: Setúbal (12.1%), Santarém (10.2%) as well as in the university city of Coimbra (11.2%) and the tourist city of Faro (12.3%). The unifying factor for these different areas is their post-industrial nature. The Left Bloc has little support in economically depressed districts: Bragança, Guarda, Vila Real and Madeira. Interestingly enough, increased support for PCP and the Left Bloc coincides geographically only in Setúbal (a proletarian suburb of Lisbon). The more traditionalist and ageing districts tend to lend their support to communists instead of the Left Bloc. For example, PCP got 22.8% in Beja, 18.9% in Évora and 15.8% in Setúbal – all these districts are located in the south of Portugal. PCP is least popular (2‑4%) in northern districts as well as in the Azores and Madeira.
Map 3. The geography of increased support for the Left Bloc in the 2019 legislative election.
Map 4. The geography of increased support for the Portuguese Communist Party in the 2019 legislative election.
The far-right Chega (Port. for "enough") is very popular in the districts with a visible immigrant presence: 2.1% in Faro, 2.0% in Lisbon as well as in the traditionally leftist areas (Beja, Évora, Portalegre, Santarém).
Map 5. The geography of increased support for the Social Democratic Center in the 2019 legislative election.
Map 6. The geography of increased support for the party “Chega!” in the 2019 legislative election.
As a result, comparing the territorial popularity of the major parties and blocs in 2015‑2019 gave definition to the trends identified by Lyudmila Ablova in 2009-2011 . Territorial support for PCP remains extremely erratic, and support for the major parties (PS and PSD) became more erratic as well. The electoral base of parties became more regionalized. The more prosperous coastal areas (Faro, Leiria, Aveiro) have developed a more pronounced electoral character.
|District, autonomous region||PS||PSD||Left wing||PCP-UDC||CDS-PP||PAN||Chega (Port. for "enough")||LI||LIVRE (Port. for "free")|
|Viana do Castelo||34.8||33.8||8.5||4.0||6.2||2.4||0.7||0.6||0.6|
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Source: LEGISLATIVAS 2019 [The 2019 legislative election]. – Local do Publico, 09 October 2019. URL: https://www.publico.pt/legislativas-2019/resultados (accessed 11 May 2020) (In Port.)
Let us make some final deductions. Social inequality, which is a consequence of delayed and unfinished modernization and has a geographical dimension on the "North‑South" axis, as well as a strong influence of religion are the basic factors that determined electoral preferences in 2015‑2019. Party preferences rely heavily on how religious a voter is. Electoral preferences during the studied period were more pronounced in the aftermath of the economic crisis. The already high and still growing level of absenteeism remains Portugal-specific, especially among young people and low-income groups. The global economic crisis and rising Euroscepticism brought about a moderate transformation of the party system that developed in the post-revolutionary era of 1977‑2014. Both left and rights wings of the political spectrum became fragmented as a result. The unique feature of electoral behavior in Portugal is the fact that the "left turn" happened during the upward movement of the economic cycle. The study established the transformations of Portugal's party system in the context of increasing fragmentation of both leftist and center-right segments of the party spectrum. As compared to PCP, the Left Bloc's social basis relies on intelligentsia, small business and highly qualified hired workers. The far-right Chega is projected to gain influence. The assertion is made that territorial differences in voting on the "North‑South" axis are preserved with the aid of newly formed small parties, mostly in big cities.