The More Things Change in Catalonia, the More They Stay the Same

Catalans voted for different parties, but the balance between supporters and opponents of independence hasn’t changed.

Cable car in Barcelona, Spain
Cable car in Barcelona, Spain (PxHere)

There are two ways to look at the result of Spain’s general election in Catalonia.

Change

  • Turnout was up, from 65 percent in 2016 to 77 percent.
  • The Republican Left replaced the center-right Together for Catalonia — the successor to the Democratic Convergence party that governed the region for decades — as the largest party in the independence camp.

More of the same

  • Turnout was already up in the last two regional elections, from 68 percent in 2012 to 75 percent in 2015 to 79 percent in 2017.
  • The balance between pro- and anti-independence parties is virtually unchanged.

So what to make of the result?

  • Turnout doesn’t affect the outcome. When the separatists mobilize their supporters, so do the unionists. Catalan society is split down the middle.
  • The center is shrinking. Democratic Convergence used to be for self-government, not independence. It joined the separatists when the then-conservative government in Madrid refused to negotiate about more autonomy, but many pro-independence voters still mistrust it. The left-wing alliance of Catalonia in Common and Podemos, which is for a legal independence referendum but against secession, won 15 percent on Sunday, down from 25 percent in 2016.