MADRID — An exit poll said Spain's opposition conservatives scored a landslide win to ousted the ruling Socialists in general elections Sunday that were dominated by a staggering unemployment rate and Europe's debt crisis.
The Popular Party led by Mariano Rajoy has won an absolute majority in parliament, according to the TNS-Demoscopia survey by Spain's state-run television said, obtaining between 181 and 185 seats, compared to 154 in the last legislature. A majority in the 350-seat lower chamber is 176.
"The political change led by Mariano Rajoy has won tonight in Spain," PP campaign manager Ana Mato said, although she stopped short of declaring outright victory.
The Socialists, saddled by a stagnant economy and a 21.5 percent jobless rate, plummeted from 169 seats to between 115 and 119 seats, according to the poll, which gave no margin of error.
The numbers suggest Spanish voters have shifted clearly to the right as they confront their worst economic crisis in decades and choose new leaders to pull them out of it.
As part of that mess, the country is also at the forefront of Europe's sovereign debt crisis, with the Spanish government's borrowing costs rising last week to levels near where other eurozone countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal had to request huge bailouts from the European Union and the IMF.
Pre-election polls had pointed to a crushing win for the conservatives, with Spanish voters expected to punish the Socialists for a jobless rate that the government itself has said will take years to chip back down to even the upper teens.
If Rajoy does win, it will come after two election bid losses — in 2000 and 2004 — and present him with the daunting challenge of resurrecting an economy that posted no growth in the third quarter of this year and meet Spanish commitments to the EU on deficit-reduction with tax rises or spending cuts without jeopardizing prospects for desperately needed economic expansion.
In its first official reaction, Socialist party spokeswoman Elena Valenciano said her party was awaiting official results but she seemed resigned to a Socialist defeat.