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Preferences For and Against Independence: Evidence from Catalonia

Laia Balcells, associate professor of government at Georgetown University, presents findings of a recent survey of Catalans on proposed independence from Spain.

May 10, 2018
from 02:00 PM to 03:30 PM

Kerr 693

Abstract: How do citizens in democracies react when deep conflicts concerning national identities and the legitimacy of the existing constitutional order escalate? How do perceived costs of conflicts or policy options alter public opinion views towards solutions to these conflicts? The recent political crisis in Catalonia has made these questions more salient and provides an important testing ground for hypotheses to addresses these questions. In December 2017, we fielded a survey of 2,600 respondents in Catalonia with embedded experiments just before the politically salient regional elections, which took place a few weeks after the unilateral referendum of October 1st, the declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament, and the subsequent suspension of regional autonomy by the Spanish central government. In the survey, we posed a battery of questions about preferences for the political future of the region, randomizing the salience of different costs to regional and national‐government actions. We find that while the Catalan public is sensitive to economic and social costs of conflict in terms of policy solutions (and overall is likely to advocate for de‐escalation in the presence of these costs), there is a division between Catalan nationalists and others regarding the sensitivity to such costs. While those who favor independence are less sensitive to economic costs of the conflict, and more sensitive to the social costs in terms of conviviality, those who oppose it are more sensitive to the economic costs to strategies to contain independence. We also explore both theoretically and empirically the mechanism underpinning these findings.

Laia Balcells’ research and teaching focus on issues of security, peace and conflict, with a special interest in civil wars, political violence, terrorism, and nationalism and ethnic conflict. Her first book, Rivalry and Revenge: the Politics of Violence during Civil War, was published in 2017 by Cambridge niversity Press (Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics).