Madrid.—Stubbornly high unemployment and a stagnant economy will deal Spain's ruling Socialists heavy losses in regional elections and give them a foretaste of the defeat they are likely to suffer nationally next year.

Polls show the Socialists will lose some key regions while the centre-right opposition Popular Party may also win Castilla-La Mancha in a close vote. The region has one of Spain's highest jobless rates and has become a key electoral battleground after 28 years of Socialist rule. “We need a change, or that's what I think anyway, a change in the economy. We've got to grow in something besides construction,” said Ana Maria, a 25-year-old forensic psychology student.

Ana Maria, who declined to give her last name, says she has voted Socialist before but on May 22 will vote any party but.
Spain slid into recession in 2008, as a housing bubble burst, destroying hundreds of thousands of construction jobs and piling up bad debt at banks.
Unemployment has risen to 21 percent, the highest in the 27 countries in the European Union.
Economy struggling
The economy is still struggling to grow but the government cannot afford stimulus since it is slashing spending to cut the deficit and avoid a Greek, Irish or Portuguese-style crisis.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has won praise abroad for austerity measures, but his approval rating at home is so low that he decided not to seek a third term in general elections, currently set for March 2012.

On May 22, the Popular Party is expected to best the Socialists, or PSOE, by six percentage points when all the votes around the country are added up, according to a poll by Metroscopia.

That compares with a one-point PP lead in the last municipal elections in 2007.