Spanish PM Rajoy rejected by 50% of conservatives

Half of Spain's conservative voters would prefer for a different candidate to lead the ruling People's Party (PP) in the upcoming general election rather than prime minister Mariano Rajoy according to a poll by pollster Metroscopia.

Rajoy, who has fronted Spain's economic recovery and budget cuts since taking power in 2011 has led the conservative PP party since 2004. The 60-year-old's leadership, however, was dealt a blow in last month's municipal and local elections where the PP lost absolute majorities in key councils such as Madrid and Valencia as the party endured its worst result in 20 years, paving the way for left-wing coalition talks between radical new party Podemos and the PP's traditional socialist opposition, the PSOE.

A poll today finds that half of PP voters (50%) would prefer a different candidate to Rajoy lead the party into the parliamentary elections this autumn, compared with 43% who voted last July. Meanwhile the number of PP who support the prime minister has dipped to 45% compared with 50% last July.

When the poll was widened to the general public and not just PP voters, 70% said they would prefer if PP's candidate was not Rajoy, while only 22% of the general public indicated they thought the incumbent prime minister was the right person to lead the PP ahead of polling day. Last July, 65% of all Spanish voters indicated they'd prefer someone other than Rajoy to be leading the Spanish conservatives, while 19% of them expressed confidence that he was right for the job.

Extended questions of the poll included an evaluation of all major party leaders and other prominent political figures in Spain, notably showing that Rajoy's deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría Antón and the PP's Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who is regional president of Galicia, are both more popular than him with the general public.

When asked about their attitude towards the political record of the three PP politicians, 36% of Spaniards said they approved of Sáenz de Santamaría and the same number approved of Núñez Feijóo, compared with 23% approving of Rajoy. In a hypothetical scenario where Rajoy reversed his decision to run for reelection in the coming months, 65% of potential PP voters said they would like to see Sáenz de Santamaría lead the party into the election - the highest support out of any potential successor to Rajoy.

Notably Albert Rivera, leader of centre-right party Ciudadanos has retained his crown as the most popular politician in Spain, despite his party only running outside his native Catalonia for the first time last year.

57% of respondents approved of Rivera, higher than Rajoy and higher than either Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias (44%) or Socialist opposition PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez (45%).

According to Cristina Manzano director of Spanish language global affairs journal Esglobal, Rajoy has long had a strained relationship with the press and struggled to appear more dynamic than his opponents.

"His communication policy has been a disaster since the beginning of the legislature," Manzano says. "He does not feel comfortable among journalists, and keeping them far was the task of the secretary of state for communication for his first years in office. He was bitterly criticized for offering press conferences via 'plasma', that is, not in person but on screen with a pre-recorded message."

Manzano adds that after his recent humbling in municipal elections Rajoy's inability to make changes to address his party's losses has also fuelled dissent with his leadership.

"Worst than a poor media presence has been his tendency to avoid taking decisions or to publicly acknowledge errors. Right after the last elections he declared that he would continue with the same team," Manzano says. "That has provoked many negative reactions both inside and outside his party."

Rajoy has given no indication that he is planning on stepping down prior to the election, despite the ongoing rumours of disunity in the part. In April he called an unscheduled meeting of almost 600 lawmakers and officials from the PP to urge them to present a united front.

After the meeting PP parliamentarian Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo criticised her party leader for not letting her speak, publishing an article in Spanish newspaper El Mundo entitled 'What I would have liked to tell the prime minister'.

Despite the Spanish economy growing under Rajoy's government, his leadership has been linked with several public scandals. In March two former treasurers were told they would stand trial for allegedly operating a slush fund for the PP during Rajoy's first four years at the helm of the party.