Catalonia, where are you going?
Support for the independence of Catalonia has grown spectacularly in the last decade. 15 years ago, the nationalist parties barely mobilized 25% of the electoral census. But, six years later, in the 2012 elections, an already explicitly pro-sovereignty nationalism won the support of 33% of the census. A growth of almost eight points. And that advance was maintained in the regional elections of 2015 (until reaching 35% of the electoral body) and was confirmed again in those of 2017, when the pro-independence parties reaped the support of more than 37% of the electoral census.
Will the independence movement maintain that speed of growth in the future? Or, on the contrary, the acceleration of the last decade would have been only a punctual phenomenon caused by a kind of perfect storm of calamities?
The result of the 14-F – beyond the symbolic effect that supposed to surpass the 51% of the votes with a participation of little more than half of the voters – represented a complete stop to this advance. Support for the independence movement fell ten points: to 27% of the census.
The electoral results since 2006 reflect the changes that Catalan society has registered in the last 15 years
Even so, the question remains valid: Has secessionism declined? Or was the 14-F just a parenthesis and the independence movement continues to maintain a potential vote above 37% of the electorate? More importantly, could support for independence regain the growth rate it has shown in the last decade, until it reaches what, according to the gravitational metaphor, could be considered an “escape speed”?
This “escape speed” was established by the European Union in the Montenegrin referendum, in which it set a support of more than 55% to recognize the separation of Serbia. But that experience showed that in this type of consultation, participation always reaches or even exceeds 80%. And that means that for the break-up to prevail, it needs to have support of more than 44% of the census.
Young people led the support for the procés, but now they are among those who least support it
Translated to the Catalan case, the independence movement would still be seven points and 400,000 votes from the “escape speed” (or 17 points and one million ballots, according to the result of 14-F).
The distance seems insurmountable, but if Catalan society were to experience another shock like the one it suffered in the last decade, support for the independence movement could grow again. Now, can something like this happen in the immediate future? The answer to this question requires identifying the factors that made the emergence of pro-sovereignty possible.
To begin with, it is clear that the jump that occurred between the weak nationalism of the 2006 elections and the growing pro-sovereignty of the 2012 elections did not occur as a result of a sudden parallel change in the electoral roll. In that period, the register incorporated more than 350,000 new voters, but not all of them were pro-independence, as the polls and subsequent results reveal.
The pro-independence cycle
The biggest support for secession today would be concentrated in the middle age groups or even those over 60 years old
Rather, it seems that the emergence of the independence movement in the 2012 elections was the result of a political situation in which the terrible management of the Catalan malaise made visible some mutations in the electoral body that had already begun in the early 90s. The surveys detected by that time a change in the identity component of the citizens (with an advance in exclusively Catalan identity) and a timid rise in support for secession.
In other words, in 2012 the electoral acceleration of the independence movement would have coincided with a phenomenon of accumulation of identity tension. And the proof of this is that the nationalist parties, which came together for the first time with a breakthrough offer, seduced more than 30% of the Catalan electoral roll, something that had not happened since 1995.
This accumulation of the secessionist vote was accompanied by other changes. For example, new voters since 1990 accounted for about 25% of the 2012 electoral roll. And if the count was carried out until 1980, that renewal represented at least one third of the 2012 electoral body.
Surveys reflect a certain loss of support for independence among new generations of voters
The progressive incorporation of new voters, many of them with a more accentuated identity than that of their predecessors, would explain the existence of a fertile ground for the crystallization of a growing independence space in the last decade.
However, neither the 14-F results nor the indicators from the latest surveys support the hypothesis that support for independence will continue to grow at this rate. Quite the contrary. And the balance that polls have been registering between supporters and opponents of secession (always around 50%) would confirm this.
The future does not augur a majority for secession but a persistent tie between supporters and opponents
In this sense, until 2017, the new voters (young people between 18 and 24 years old) led the support for independence in the polls. And they also expressed higher percentages of only Catalan identity. But that drift is broken as of 2019. The new groups that enter the census exhibit lower rates of support for secession and a more plural identity than the rest of the population. The combination of some degree of Catalan and Spanish identity components reaches 77% among young people, ten points more than in 2015.
From there, the speed of expansion of the independence movement should be reduced, until a certain contraction of the critical mass of support for secession is propitiated. And that would point to an infinite tie between supporters and opponents of the break-up, forced to find a satisfactory way of living together in the same country.