Honors Thesis Spotlight: Splintering Off: Catalonia’s Search for Sovereignty

In 2017, the Catalonia region of Spain held a referendum for independence where 2.26 million people flocked to the polls to vote on the region’s secession from Spain. Catalonia’s bold campaign for autonomy sparked a country-wide debate and garnered international attention. The Spanish Central government declared the referendum illegal, thereby nullifying the Catalonian Declaration of Independence on the grounds of Constitutional infringement. Despite the rejection, citizen support for the Catalan independence movement continues to rise. In 2019, a public opinion poll showed 48.4% of respondents favored an independent Catalan state—a drastic increase from 14% in 2006. To better understand the increased support for self-governance, this research examines how the relationship between citizen’s political affiliation, economic opinions, and regional identities impact their support for independence.

         Previous literature pertaining to Catalonia cites regional identity as the prevailing reason for seeking Catalan independence. As a result, citizens who self-identify as Catalan are more likely to advocate for independence than those who identify themselves as Spanish. Some research suggests that regional identity alone may not be enough for succession. Independence research highlights that the economic grievances of a wealthier region can motivate complete secession from the state. Economically better off groups can become disgruntled when forced to sustain poorer regions. This dynamic can be observed in the case of Catalonia. Economic appeals, in conjunction with regional identity, can be used to legitimize independence movements, among other factors. Group affiliations, like political parties, can also influence the decision-making of citizens. Much of the literature specific to Catalonia fails to consider how these other factors along with regional identity work to influence secessionist movements. It is an important contribution to the literature on Catalonia to consider how these characteristics work together to produce the phenomenon that is happening in the region.

         The multimethod thesis gathers data assessing the correlation between different personal characteristics and a citizen’s support of the independence movement. Quantitative characteristics in this study include partisanship, economic beliefs, and personal identity; qualitative characteristics include opinions of Spanish citizens on the independence movement. These opinions are sourced through in-person interviews with forty Spanish citizens from various regions. The primary quantitative data used in the research is sourced from The Political Opinion Barometer of Generalitat de Catalunya of 2019.

         Results from the quantitative data find that economic opinions, partisanship, and regional identities were all significant in relation to support for Catalan self-governance. The health of the economy impacted opinions as well; as the perception of the Spanish economy worsened, the support for independence increased. Political preferences are also significant. Respondents who align themselves with pro-independence political parties are more likely to support the independence movement. Finally, data supports the expectation that citizens who identify as Catalan rather than Spanish are significantly more likely to support a fully autonomous Catalonia. Despite clear unrest in the country, the interviews reveal enduring confidence in the democratic system to negotiate a solution for the issues concerning Catalan autonomy. Most respondents remain hopeful for an official referendum vote or alternate agreement between the central government and Catalonia. 

Ultimately, the future of Catalonia remains unclear. The region remains fueled by a strong regional identity, divergent interests, and complex politics. The independence movement appears to be here to stay until a sufficient agreement between Catalonia and the central government is made.

Sabrina Mato is a graduate of Florida State University with a degree in International Affairs and Political Science. This post was based on Sabrina’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP Blog Intern Dara Begley. You can learn more about Sabrina here. You can learn more about this project here.

Source for featured image: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sabrina-mato

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