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Hardly anyone disputes that the pro-independence process has left deep emotional wounds in Catalan society

Carles Castro, 30 november 2022

The last Diada, last September, brought together some 150,000 people, far fewer than in previous years. / Xavier Cervera / Own

An ICPS study reveals that since 2012 negative emotions and aversion to politics among Catalans have skyrocketed.

Hardly anyone disputes that the pro-independence process has left deep emotional wounds in Catalan society. The question is to what extent and in what specific aspects has affective polarisation grown in Catalonia. In other words, how have feelings of sympathy and rejection among Catalans evolved and what other effects has the procés that began a decade ago had. An ICPS study, carried out by Lucía Medina, lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the UAB, reveals that the process has led to a rise in aversion towards politics and, at the same time, a significant increase in polarisation – and even “visceral rejection” – between supporters and opponents of independence.

However, the study – based on the use of ICPS polls between 1995 and 2021 – detects other equally worrying phenomena. For example, “the emergence of the independence issue has led to an increase and politicisation of differences over identity” among citizens. And, above all, the “climate of high affective polarisation” had a “more negative impact on emotionally moderate people” with “a more lukewarm emotional attachment to the different parties”. This drift – that “less polarised people” end up developing “more negative feelings” towards politics in a climate of conflict – points to the possibility of a gradual deterioration of democratic coexistence, governability, or institutional legitimacy.

Disturbing paradox: the climate of conflict has radicalised emotional moderates to a greater degree.

In this sense, ‘interest in politics’ was initially a dominant sentiment among different groups of Catalan voters. Between 2003 and 2004, for example, it reached 37 per cent and remained above 25 per cent for a decade. But “it did not increase during the procés” and, from 2016 onwards – “when the difficulties of the sovereignty challenge became apparent” – this interest “began a downward trend”. In parallel to the decline in interest in politics, “distrust, irritation and indifference are the emotions” that are growing the most. For example, distrust went from 12.4% of voters in 2008 to more than 28% in 2013, and to almost 34% in 2018.

This rise in negative feelings towards politics initially affected voters opposed to independence to a greater extent and seemed to be linked both to the great recession that broke out in 2008 and to the radicalisation of the sovereignty process itself. In contrast, among pro-independence supporters, “the dominance of positive feelings towards politics” lasted longer and only began to decline in favour of negative perceptions after the failed attempt to declare independence in 2017. Even so, the balance of negative sentiments towards politics remains higher among those opposed to secession. In fact, among pro-independence supporters “the percentage of people expressing positive feelings is ten points higher”.

Young people have been the least prone to polarisation, and older people the most inclined to radicalism.

As for the “growing distance between supporters of pro-independence and anti-independence parties”, as a factor in the increase in political polarisation, the study confirms that “it coincides with the start of the procés in 2012 and reaches its peak in 2016”, when it reaches the highest score. In other words, by “placing the territorial issue at the centre of the dispute”, there is a hardening of the positions in favour or against secession.

In this sense, the indicators of successive polls reveal that “the great increase” in the affective bias of pro-independence supporters as a bloc since 2012 would show that this “escalation did not occur as a result of the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the Statute but had its origin in CiU’s pro-independence turn” and in the strategies of “other influential political actors”. To this it should be added that the affective polarisation between blocs reached its peak in 2017 and that the level of “polarisation between blocs of pro-independence supporters is always greater than that of non-independence supporters”. The latter are much more divided over Catalonia’s status in Spain and also ideologically, and only “become intensely polarised in 2017”, when the threat of independence “became effective”.

Radicalisation increases among those who are on the right, support secession or believe themselves to be only Spanish or Catalan

Finally, with regard to “individual affective polarisation” during the procés, the “bias is especially high” among people “who feel only Catalan”, among those who consider themselves “only or predominantly Spanish”, among those “who are on the right” (followers of the PP and Ciudadanos) and “among supporters of independence”. Likewise, the “affective bias is lower among young people and higher among adults and, above all, among older people”.



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