Spain’s Podemos

shutterstock_180762212The Spanish political party Podemos officially registered as a party in March 2014 and enjoyed immediate electoral success; in Spain’s May 25, 2014, European Parliamentary elections, the party won 8 percent of the vote and gained five seats, despite polling at less than 3 percent in the week before the election.[1] Its strong showing has been credited to both strong reforms and its innovative use of technology that turned decision making into an inclusive, transparent process.[2] By focusing on social media and participatory democratic values, Podemos was able to to engage citizens better than Spain’s two traditional major parties — the center-right Popular Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) — had. Furthermore, the party’s focus on crowdfunding limited conflicts of interest, and informal norms encouraged both online accessibility and offline participation.

Podemos experimented with various internet platforms and social media venues to approach Spanish politics differently than other political parties had. For example, since transparency and anti-corruption were key tenets of Podemos’ platform, the party relied significantly on online crowdfunding in order to remain financially independent of corporate and special interests. Between March and August 2014, Podemos raised over $200,000 from more than 10,000 people online.[3] Similarly, Podemos used platforms like Agora Voting, TitanPad, Appgree, Loomio and its own Plaza Podemos to hold inclusive, citizen-led discussions, creating an accessible dialogue on policy development. Using Agora Voting, the party held open, online primaries for the 2014 European Parliamentary elections and to select executive leadership for the Constituent Party Assembly. Although only 33,000 votes were cast, Podemos placed no requirements on party membership, creating an open primary that was truly accessible to the Spanish people.[4]

One of the keys to Podemos’ successful use of ICTs has been its system for piloting new tools. The party is divided into local associations called circulos, which often serve as testing grounds for new technology before it is implemented by the national party. When the circulos first met, many members used TitanPad, a collaborative document application that allowed them to share notes or discussions. Furthermore, the circulos tested out Appgree and Loomio, applications which allow users to pose questions or communicate with people within their circulos and receive nearly instantaneous responses.[5] The constant while piloting these innovative applications was Podemos’ Reddit board, Plaza Podemos, an open, online discussion forum where party members can debate policy specifics.

Podemos espoused democratic values by encouraging and empowering grassroots activism, creating structures for members to participate directly in party affairs — e.g., policy development — and operating in a transparent manner. Using the internet, social media and digital platforms for many party functions created a convenient and accessible structure that has helped encourage participation. Although Podemos is not the only political party in the world to conduct online organizing or use social media, Podemos’ ability to utilize its web 2.0 prowess to address a perceived representation crisis helped the party achieve electoral success, winning five European Parliament seats in 2014, breaking PP and PSOE majorities in May 24, 2015 regional elections, and polling as a top party in advance of Spain’s 2015 general elections.[6]

Key Takeaways

  • Online organizing helped Podemos develop policies in response to citizen interests, increase political support and encourage supporter participation;
  • Crowdfunding lower-value donations from a higher number of supporters can empower supporters by increasing their confidence that their party or candidates are responsive to their needs rather than special interests;
  • Local circulos connected the party’s national online organization to traditional grassroots activists; and
  • One key to Podemos’ success, was testing. By piloting new tools and approaches at the local level, Podemos was able to identify and address any possible technical glitches and other problems before  deploying them nationally. While this approach may delay the initial release date, it can save money and time in the long run.

[1] “El PP saca 8 puntos al PSOE y Vox alcanza un escaño,” Libertad Digital España, 2014, http://www.libertaddigital.com/espana/2014-05-18/el-pp-ganara-las-europeas-por-ocho-puntos-y-vox-sacara-un-escano-1276518883/.

[2] Carola Frediani, “How Tech-Savvy Podemos Became One of Spain’s Most Popular Parties in 100 Days,” TechPresident, 2014, http://techpresident.com/news/wegov/25235/how-tech-savvy-podemos-became-one-spain%E2%80%99s-most-popular-parties-100-days.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Kathryn Cave, “Spain: Podemos & the Rise of the New Left Online,” International Data Group Connect, 2014, http://www.idgconnect.com/abstract/8817/spain-podemos-rise-new-left-online.

[6] Katrina Eckweiler, “Podemos, the New Threat on Spain’s Political Horizon,” International Policy Digest, 2015, http://www.internationalpolicydigest.org/2015/01/27/podemos-new-threat-spain-s-political-horizon/.