Class and vote in Catalonia (part 1)

ESADE sociologist José Luis Álvarez recently published  this opinion piece in the Spanish newspaper El País, in which he makes some statements about class and vote in the Catalan party system. His main remarks [in Spanish, emphasize is mine] on this are:

Si el catalanismo se permite este crescendo reivindicativo es porque ha dejado atrás su gran peligro histórico: que las clases trabajadoras, de cultura mayoritariamente no catalana, se opusiesen a su proyecto. Esta amenaza era acuciante porque CiU ha sido incapaz de ampliar su espacio electoral más allá de la clase alta y clases medias de origen catalán, nunca ha superado el porcentaje demográfico de éstas, poco más del 30% de la población. El catalanismo es la plataforma de hegemonía de la burguesía de origen catalán, y CiU es su partido. […]

Pero si hay un partido que ha facilitado el avance del catalanismo ha sido el partido socialista de Cataluña. En su role de partido de gobierno desde los años del President Pujol, cuando nacionalistas y socialistas se repartieron la administración del país –Generalitat para CiU, ayuntamientos para la izquierda– el PSC se concibió a sí mismo como un partido interclasista. Pero la transversalidad del PSC fue desigual: mientras su base electoral, siempre fiel, fueron los barrios y ciudades obreras de emigrantes españoles, sólo logró avances blandos en los segmentos profesionales más cosmopolitas de la clase media.

To summarize, Álvarez states that, in Catalonia, the center-right, Catalan nationalist party Convergència i Unió (CiU) is the political platform of the Catalan bourgeoisie, since it receives most of its votes among Catalan high and upper middle class voters, while the main opposition party, the socialdemocrats of Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC) gathers most of its votes from Spanish-origin working-class and a few votes from urban middle class.

This, actually, has been a very common and popular political belief in Catalonia and Spain, reproduced over and over again by all kinds of pundits in newspapers and other media.

Here I use postelectoral panel data from the Spanish-government Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS) (CIS survey no. 2857) to test the relationship between vote and sociodemographical status in Catalonia (n=2,523; sample error = 2%) for the 2006 elections to the Catalan Parliament. My analysis is based upon two simple contingency tables.

[Edit Sep. 1, 2012: the original table in this post has been changed for a new one due to errors. In the old version, all cells were 22.4% higher than they should have been due to an error when running the R code to produce it. Since the change is linear and applies to the whole table, though, the interpretation is unchanged.]

The first table shows (row wise) how votes are distributed within each social class [click on the table for better visualization]. In effect, about 23% of the high/upper middle class votes for the Catalan nationalist center-right (CiU), but another 22% votes for the socialdemocrats (PSC), 12.5% of the high class votes for the far left green party ICV (ICV), and 18% votes for the Catalan left independentists of ERC. The Spanish right nationalists (PP) are voted only by a tiny part of the Catalan high and upper-middle class. So, almost 52.5% of Catalonia’s high and upper-middle class voted for left parties (PSC, ERC, ICV) in the 2006 election.

What the data also show is that, in fact, CiU has a strong position within all the rest of the classes (unqualified workers included). In fact, in the 2010 elections CiU was dominant among all classes, unqualified workers included (which might be due to a lower mobilization of PSC voters from the working class on that election).

Although the relative weight of all the other parties change in each class (e.g., PSC has a higher vote share among qualified and unqualified workers), the relevant point here is that CiU never gets less than 18% of vote share within any class, and it is more dominant among, say, the middle classes than it is among the richer. Of course, PSC is still the dominant party among the working class (with a difference of around 13-15 percentage points in vote share within each group), but the substantial part of workers who vote for CiU should not be neglected.

The following dotplot shows the whole picture of the distribution of each class’ political preferences, e.g., that CiU and PSC are almost equally preferred among high/upper middle and new middle class [click on the figure for better visualization], which counters Álvarez’s statement that PSC has achieved only a very limited penetration in urban (he calls them ‘cosmopolitan’) middle classes. Well almost 37% of them voted for the PSC.

However, Álvarez’s words could be interpreted in different way. He might mean that CiU’s voters come mainly from higher and rural middle classes while PSC’s voters are to be found mainly in the working class and (in a lower degree) urban middle classes. The next table shows the data on the social composition of each party (to be read column wise) [click on it for better visualization].

Again, the data show interesting patterns. Actually, only around 22% of CiU’s voters come from high/upper middle class, and only 17% from rural middle classes. In fact, 40% of its voters come from some kind of middle class, and almost 29% from qualified workers. Combinig the two categories for working class, 37% of CiU’s voters are working class. The social distribution of CiU’s voters, then, is something like 20 (top)-40 (middle)-40 (lower).

Let’s focus on the socialdemocrats (PSC). As the table shows, they too have their share of high class voters (17%, only 5% less than the right-wing CiU). Moreover, the weight of the middle classes among their voters (31%) is smaller than CiU’s, though still substantial, and this party has a larger share of qualified (39%) and unqualified (12%) workers. The overall distribution of PSC’s voters would be, then, 15 (top), 30 (middle), 55 (down).

No extreme differences, then, between the social composition of both parties, which seem to be more or less equally inter-class parties with slight socioeconomic differences among their supporters in the middle and working classes. These differences, on the other hand, may experience some changes in different elections.

What’s more striking of this table, though, is that if we are looking for the parties with higher share of high class voters, those are, first, the far-left, Green ex-communists ICV (44.5% of their voters are high/upper middle class), and the left Catalan independentists ERC (34% of their voters are high/upper middle class).

The plot below compares the social distribution of the voters of each Catalan party compared to CiU voters’ social distribution [click on it for better visualization]. The data show, therefore, that both CiU and PSC have a very similar vote base in terms of socioeconomic position, and have substantial presence among almost all social classes.

Policy positions between both parties differ in substantial issues, so other variables should be used to explain voters’ preferences for one party or the other, such as (parental) national origin, linguistic behavior, and national identification.

Álvarez points out some of these predictors, and I may pursue this in my future work. Yet, the main problem with his view is that such hot issues as national identification and linguistic questions are seen as mere tools used by the high class to perpetuate its dominant position against the ‘true’ preferences of the working class. False conscience… that rings some bells, quite old bells. Moreover, his prejudices show up when he contrasts Catalan vs. cosmopolitan middle classes in Catalonia, thus identifying Catalan people with parochialism and Spanish people with openmindedness. This is an unfounded prejudice.

This whole line of argumentation is still popular among some Spanish and Catalan political observers who are puzzled by the possibility that Catalan middle class and working class of Spanish origin may be starting to consider future Catalan independence as legitimate and desirable political objective. This, however, remains to be tested with further data.

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One Response to Class and vote in Catalonia (part 1)

  1. Thanks for the data and the very illustrative plots 🙂



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