Two weeks ago in Madrid, bombs tragically took the lives of more than 200 Spaniards, leaving more than 1,500 people wounded. Spain’s then-administration insisted multiple times that the Basque separatist group ETA was responsible. But it became apparent al-Qaida carried out the attacks, targeting Spain both because of its 16th century treatment of Muslims and its participation in the war in Iraq. National elections took place three days after the attack, and the ruling Popular Party lost. The party led in polls before the attack, even though it supported the largely unpopular war in Iraq.
Quickly, many claimed the situation in Spain set a dangerous precedent because the Spanish people allowed terrorists to change the outcome of their elections. The error in this conclusion is that it fails to look at why Spaniards changed their minds on the eve of an election. Exit polling clearly shows that Spaniards were upset more with the administration’s handling of the tragedy than the idea that Spain’s involvement in Iraq motivated the killers.
In short, if the majority had been more upfront with the Spanish population, it might still be in power. The Spanish population’s decision was theirs to make and, on investigation of their actual logic, the people made a sensible choice.
Still, there is an unfortunate disconnect between perception and reality. Honesty might not have saved Jose Maria Aznar’s administration from a grieving population needing someone to blame. Unfortunately, others might seize on that possibility and try to affect other elections in the future, including those in the United States this fall.
If any group succeeds in executing an attack close to an election, people should evaluate the current administration’s conduct, as it seems the Spanish people did. Citizens should look to how their governments protect and inform them. But if a terrorist group targets innocent civilians to indicate its political preference, their inhumane conduct should not be a factor in an election.