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Spanish general election, 1936

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Spanish general election, 1936

Spanish general election, 1936

16 February 1936

All 473 seats of the Congress of Deputies
237 seats needed for a majority
Turnout 72.95%
  First party Second party Third party
Leader Indalecio Prieto José María Gil-Robles Manuel Azaña Díaz
Leader since 1935 4 March 1933 3 April 1934
Last election 59 seats 115 seats 5 seats
Seats won 99 88 87
Seat change Increase40 Decrease27 Increase82

Areas of most support: CEDA (blue), Popular Front (red), Centre (green)

Prime Minister before election

Manuel Portela Valladares (caretaker)

Elected Prime Minister

Manuel Azaña

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 Party (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 Generals Sanjurjo and Franco ultimately brought about the end of parliamentary democracy in Spain until the 1977 general election.


  • Background 1
  • Election 2
  • Outcome 3
  • Results 4
    • Seats 4.1
  • References 5
    • Notes 5.1
    • Citations 5.2
    • Further reading 5.3


After the 1933 election, the Radical Republican Party (RRP) lead a series of governments, with Alejandro Lerroux as a moderate Prime Minister. On 26 September 1935, the CEDA announced it would no longer support the RRP's minority government; it was replaced by a RRP cabinet, led by Lerroux once more, that included three members of the CEDA.[1] The concession of posts to CEDA prompted the Asturian miners' strike of 1934.[2] Some time later, Robles once again prompted a cabinet collapse, and five members of Lerroux's new government were conceded to CEDA, including Robles himself.[3] 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.[4] However, since CEDA's entry into the government, no constitutional amendments were ever made; no budget was ever passed.[3]

In 1935, Manuel Azaña Díaz and Indalecio Prieto started to unify the left, and combat its extreme elements, including the staging of large, popular rallies, in what would become the Popular Front.[4] 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.[5] 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 centre party in place of the Radicals, but the election system did not favour this.[6] 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.[7] Portela failed to get the required support in the parliament to rule as a majority.[8] The government was dissolved on 4 January; the date for elections would be 16 February.[7]

In common with the 1933 election, Spain was divided into multi-member constituences; for example, Madrid had 17 representatives. However, each member of the electorate could vote for somewhat less than that – in Madrid's case, 13. This favoured coalitions, as in Madrid in 1933 when the Socialists won 13 members and the right, with only 5,000 votes less, secured only the remaining 4.[9]


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' –

  • Brenan, Gerald (1950). The Spanish Labyrinth: an account of the social and political background of the Spanish Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • 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.
  • 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

Further reading

  1. ^ Thomas (1961). p. 78.
  2. ^ Thomas (1961). p. 80.
  3. ^ a b Thomas (1961). p. 88.
  4. ^ a b Preston (2006). p. 81.
  5. ^ a b Preston (2006). pp. 82–83.
  6. ^ Brenan (1950). p. 294.
  7. ^ a b Thomas (1961). p. 89.
  8. ^ Brenan (1950). pp. 294–295.
  9. ^ Brenan (1950). p. 266.
  10. ^ a b c d Thomas (1961). p. 92.
  11. ^ a b Brenan (1950). p. 289.
  12. ^ Beevor (2006). pp. 34–35.
  13. ^ Thomas (1961). pp. 91–2.
  14. ^ a b c d Payne (2006). p. 175.
  15. ^ a b Brenan (1950). p. 307.
  16. ^ Payne (2006). p. 181.
  17. ^ Payne (2006). pp. 174–5.
  18. ^ a b Brenan (1950). p. 300.
  19. ^ a b Thomas (1961). p. 93.
  20. ^ a b c Payne (2006). p. 177.
  21. ^ a b c d Brenan (1950). p. 298.
  22. ^ a b Preston (2006). p. 83.
  23. ^ Beevor (2006). pp. 38–39
  24. ^ Brenan (1950). p. 299.
  25. ^ Thomas (1961). pp. 93–94.
  26. ^ a b Thomas (1961). p. 100.
  27. ^ Beevor (2006). p. 38
  28. ^ a b Brenan (1950). p. 301.
  29. ^ a b Lozano, Elecciones de 1936.


  1. ^ Running only in Catalonia
  2. ^ Coalition of right-wing parties including CEDA in 30 constituencies
  3. ^ Coalition of right-wing parties and the Radicals in 10 constituencies
  4. ^ Coalition of right-wing parties and the centre in 6 constituencies
  5. ^ Coalition of right-wing parties and the PRP in 4 constituencies in Andalusia
  6. ^ Coalition of right-wing parties and the PRC in Lugo and A Coruña
  7. ^ Running only in Oviedo
  8. ^ Independent, separate Agrarian lists only in Burgos and Huelva
  9. ^ Independent, separate Radical lists in Cáceres, Castellón, Ceuta, Málaga (prov.), Ourense, Santander, Tenerife, Las Palmas and Córdoba
  10. ^ Running only in Soria
  11. ^ Running only in Ciudad Real
  12. ^ Running only in Oviedo, Sevilla, Toledo and Valladolid
  13. ^ Payne (2006) gives a total of 262.



Affiliation Party Name in Spanish (* indicates Catalan, ** indicates Galician) Abbr. Seats (May) Seats (Feb)
Unknown Payne[20]
Popular Front
  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[29] 267[29] 263[nb 13]
Centre Republicans
  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
  Independents     4 3
Total Centre: 57 60 54
  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
  Traditionalist Communion     9 12 15
  Conservative Republican Party     3 3 2
  Independent monarchists     2
  Spanish Nationalist Party     1 1 1
  Partido Mesócrata (Payne: "Catholic")     1 1 1
  Independents     7 8 10
Total Right: 131 146 156
Total:  473


 Summary of the popular vote in the 16 February and 4 March 1936 Congress of Deputies election results
Party Abbr. Votes %
  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
Centre 333,200 3.51
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
Total 9,465,600 100
Source: història


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.[27] 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.[18] 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.[28] 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.[28] The right began to conspire as to how to best overthrow the republic, rather than taking control of it.[22]

Just under 10 million people voted,[14] with an abstention rate of 28 percent, a level of apathy higher than might be suggested by the ongoing political violence.[20] A small number of coerced voters and anarchists formed part of the abstainers.[20] The elections of 1936 were narrowly won by the Popular Front, with vastly smaller resources than the political right, who followed Nazi propaganda techniques.[5] 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.[21] It was a comparatively narrow victory in terms of votes, but Paul Preston describes it as a 'triumph of power in the Cortes'[22] – 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.[21] 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.[21] 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.[21] 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.[23] The allocation of seats between coalition members was a matter of agreement between them.[24] The official results (Spanish: escrutinio) were recorded on 20 February.[14] The Basque Party, who had not at the time of the election been part of the Popular Front, would go on to join it.[19] In 20 seats, no alliance or party had secured 40% of the vote; 17 were decided by a second vote on 3 March.[25] In these runoffs, the Popular Front won 8, the Basques 5, the Right 5 and the Centre 2.[26] 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.[26]


34,000 members of the caciques. Similarly, some right-wing voters were put off from voting in strongly socialist areas.[18] However, such instances were comparatively rare.[19] The first results to be released, in the evening of the 14, from urban areas, were encouraging for the Popular Front.[14]

[15] Devoid of strong areas of working class support, already taken by syndicalism and anarchism, they concentrated on their position within the Popular Front.[15] 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.revolutionary campaigned under a series of Communist Party The [14].anarchists the Popular Front had the support of votes from [13]

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