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Research Webinar | The electoral weight of territorial issues: A comparison of Catalonia, Scotland and Northern Ireland

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

Laia Balcells (Georgetown University)
Discussant: Toni Rodon (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)
ChairLesley-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 autonomy or independence. However, empirical evidence is mixed as to whether clear positions on that issue benefit or disadvantage such candidates. Do individuals weight territorial issues more than other policy issues? We hypothesize that the position the candidate takes on the territorial question supersedes other issue disagreements for citizens who have clear preferences on this issue (for example, in favour or against independence). We present new evidence using detailed survey evidence from three regions in European democracies where territorial debates are salient and contentious - Catalonia and Scotland, where some seek independence – along with Northern Ireland, where some seek the unification with Ireland. Using a conjoint experiment embedded in a survey which was fielded simultaneously across the three regions, we find that, 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, for voters who have strong territorial preferences, this issue weighs more than the others in that they are less willing to trade it off. Our results have implications for political competition in multidimensional spaces where territorial issues are present. 

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.

Toni Rodon is Assistant Professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. His research interests include electoral participation, political geography, comparative politics and historical political economy, as well as public opinion and the study of nationalism.

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