MADRID -- Campaigning started Friday for Spain's Nov. 20 general elections with a new poll indicating Spaniards will severely punish the governing Socialist party and hand the opposition conservatives a major victory.
As flyposters hit the streets, a survey by the government-run Center for Sociological Research indicated Mariano Rajoy's Popular Party would win 46.6 percent of the vote, or 195 seats in the 350-seat lower house of Parliament, against 29.9 percent, or 121 seats, for Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba's Socialists.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Socialist prime minister since 2004, is not running for re-election.
Polls say the Socialists will be ousted because of their handling of the economic crisis that has left Spain with 21.5 percent high unemployment. Although Zapatero's government has introduced several labor reform and austerity packages, they have so far failed to lift the country.
According to the Bank of Spain, the economy posted zero growth in the third quarter, a stagnation it said was bad news for government efforts to meet deficit-reduction requirements.
The Labor Ministry said Thursday that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits rose by more than 134,000 last month, the biggest for October since 2008. The increase raised the total seeking benefits to 4,360,926.
The overall number of people unemployed in Spain is 4,978,300. It is different from the jobless claims figure because it includes people whose benefits have run out.
Popular Party leader Rajoy – a 56-year-old career politician, and a lawyer by training – called the increase "intolerable and unacceptable."
"It is not in Spain's interests to continue with a government that is not up to the challenge. We are up to that challenge," he said.
Rajoy – who held several ministerial portfolios in the governments of Jose Maria Aznar between 1996 and 2004 – has pledged to make cuts wherever necessary, except in pensions and health.
Socialist Rubalcaba, meanwhile, has tried to put a positive spin on his chances.
"The important thing is not how you enter the final stretch but how you cross the finishing line," he told reporters.
Rubalcaba, 60, stepped down as interior minister under Zapatero in July to run for prime minister. One of Spain's most respected politicians, he is credited with leading the battle that obliged the armed Basque separatist group to finally announce Oct. 20 an end en to its 43-year-long campaign of violence.