Secessionist Conflict and Polarization: Evidence from Catalonia

Laia Balcells | Associate Professor, Georgetown University

Monday, December 3, 2018 12:15 PM to 1:30 PM


Laia Balcells (Georgetown University), José Fernández-Albertos (Spanish Higher Council of Scientific Research), Alexander Kuo (Oxford University) Do self-determination movements and crisis over independence lead to social polarization? Who is likely to polarize in such instances? The recent political crisis over independence in Catalonia has made these questions more salient and provides an important testing ground to addresses these questions. We argue that policy-based polarization in the case of highly salient self-determination issues can spillover into social polarization, and we try to capture variation and persistence of such social polarization. We fielded a two-wave survey in Catalonia embedding experiments that randomized evaluation of groups as well as consequences of policies related to independence of Catalonia from Spain. The first wave was fielded just before the politically salient 2017 regional elections, which took place a few weeks after a unilateral independence referendum, a declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament, and a subsequent suspension of regional autonomy by the Spanish government. We find strong evidence of policy-based polarization that spills over into social polarization, and that such polarization is partially driven by those with pro-independence stances, as well as with those with strong pro-state preferences. However, we find limits to polarization in terms of the economic costs that even strong independence and status-quo supporters are willing to incur. The second wave was fielded in September 2018 to test the durability of this polarization.