Andrea Comas/Associated Press

MADRID — Before Sunday’s election in Spain, politicians had exchanged dire warnings over whether the country would break apart if the left won, or return to the dark days of Franco’s authoritarianism if the right did.

Voters responded to the politics of fear with one of their highest turnouts since Spain’s return to democracy in the 1970s — 76 percent — mostly to confirm their attachment to a left-wing social agenda and to the country’s regional diversity.

The vote also gave Vox, an anti-immigration party, its first seats in Parliament — the crossing of a significant threshold for Spain, a country in which nationalism was long stigmatized by the legacy of the Franco dictatorship.

Vox’s national debut showed that Spain was not immune to the advance of far-right parties that have made inroads elsewhere in Europe. But the emergence of Vox did as much or more to mobilize its opponents on the moderate left.

Over all, the result was one that was likely to hearten defenders of center-left solutions to the challenges of unsettling global times. If not the beginnings of a backlash against the populist far right — though it may be — then the result seemed at least to be a fortifying of defenses.

It was the kind of turnout that Democrats in the United States might hope for in 2020 or, more immediately, that defenders of the European Union, such as President Emmanuel Macron of France, are seeking in elections in May for the European Parliament, where much the same big stakes are in play.

None of that is to say that the forces of political fragmentation that have bedeviled Spain’s politics, and those elsewhere in Europe and the United States, are over. If anything, Spanish politics splintered further, just four years after the collapse of the country’s two-party system.

But even the highly polarized result confirmed Spain as one of the last bastions of socialism in Europe, at a time when center-left parties have all but collapsed in countries including France, Germany and Italy.

“In a Europe now dominated by center-right governments that seem to live in fear of the far right or in the hands of the far right, Spain stands out instead as a fortress for social democracy,” said José Ignacio Torreblanca, the head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.

“Everything in the campaign seemed to push Spanish voters toward the extremes, but they mostly responded by voting for the more moderate center,” he said.

Vox’s proposals, which included abolishing the autonomous administrations in Spain’s regions, lit a fire under left-wing voters, but they also seemed to galvanize smaller regional and nationalist parties, which made significant gains on Sunday.

Fear of Vox, as well as concerns about a traditional, conservative Popular Party willing to embrace…

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Mayra Rodriguez

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Mayra Rodriguez
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