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Research Webinar: Electoral benefits and costs of territorial issues

Monday December 14, 2020, from 13:15 to 14:45
Research seminar

Laia Balcells (Georgetown University) and Lesley-Ann Daniels (IBEI)

Debates about territorial sovereignty complicate the politics within the regions of dispute. Regional political candidates often take positions on the contentious issue of regional autonomy.  However, empirical evidence is mixed as to whether clear positions on that issue benefit or disadvantage such candidates, as political competition within a region can be over multiple policy issues or dimensions. In this study we present new evidence using detailed survey evidence from two regions in European democracies where self-determination is very salient and contentious, Catalonia and Scotland, and another region where the territorial debate is about unification with another country (Northern Ireland). We theorize that candidate territoriality position-taking supersedes other issue disagreements for citizens who share the candidate’s position on autonomy.

We assess evaluations of hypothetical candidates and randomly vary the policy positions on a variety of issues including regional autonomy, social spending, EU powers, immigration, and the environment. We find that for the regional populations, on average, territorial positions are not the most electorally beneficial nor costly—other issues such as social spending and immigration can matter as much electorally.  However, voters who are pro-independence (in the Scottish and Catalan cases) or pro-united Ireland (in the Northern Ireland case) most strongly punish anti-independence (united Ireland) candidates. Our results have implications for the choice of issues that independence activists (or recalcitrant central governments and opposed political parties) would want to make salient, and relate to the possibility of internal cohesion of pro or anti-independence political parties in federalist or multi-tiered systems. 

Laia Balcells (Yale PhD, 2010) is Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University. She has been an Assistant Professor at Duke University (2012-17) and fellow at the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University (2015-16). Her research explores the determinants of political violence and civil wars, warfare dynamics during conflict, and nationalism and ethnic conflict. Her first book, entitled Rivalry and Revenge: the Politics of Violence during Civil War was published by Cambridge University Press in 2017. It will come out in Spanish in January 2021 (ICIP/Edicions Bellaterra). She has also published articles in the American Political Science Review, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Comparative Political Studies, Journal of Conflict Resolution, International Studies Quarterly, Politics & Society, Comparative Politics, and Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, among other journals. She has been recipient of the APSA Luebbert Prize for Best Article in Comparative Politics, the ISA Ethnicity, Nationalism, & Migration Studies Section Best Paper award, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Research grant.

Lesley-Ann Daniels is currently a research fellow at IBEI. She is a former AXA Research Fund post-doctoral fellow with her research on "Minority rights and the stability of post-conflict environments". She defended her doctoral thesis on the use of amnesty during civil wars at the Pompeu Fabra University in 2016. Prior to her doctorate, she worked for the EU Peace and Reconciliation Programme in Northern Ireland. Her research interests are political violence, civil wars, post-conflict peacebuilding, transitional justice and identity rights.