In English Voices From Spain

What a bluff reveals

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Orginally published in Spanish: “A la luz del farol”. Alberto Penadés.

12th June 2018

Is the Catalonia independence process reaching for hegemony or is it acting as a vanguard looking for a decisive victory? Bluffing in this situation… is it deception or self-deception?

Desired and expected outcome of the independence process. Institut de Ciències Polítiques i Socials (ICPS) Sondeig d’Opinió Catalunya 2015-17. @Piedras_Papel

Who believes, or has believed during these years, in a real and imminent possibility of Catalonia becoming an independent nation? The latest data from the Sondeig d’Opinió Catalunya (n = 1200) of the Institut de Ciències Politiques i Socials (ICPS) have just been published. Since 2015 this poll has included two interesting questions about how the Catalans want the independence process to end and how they think that it will end. The number of people who, year after year, believe that it will result in the independence is always the same: around 16% of the population of Catalonia. These are, roughly, half of those who would want the process to culminate in that way. Almost all of them are supporters of independence, but not all: more or less one in ten of those convinced that the procés –the Catalan name of the independence process- will be successful would actually prefer something else.

A few days ago, former councilor Clara Ponsatí said: «We were playing poker and bluffing«. It has been interpreted as self-criticism, but the paradox is interesting. If only half of the supporters believe in it, it is difficult that «the government», «the Spaniards» or whatever we may name the alleged targets of the bluff -a specific form of deception- would. One may then think that the targets could be the Catalans that do not support the independence process. Even though it would have not been very effective, since only a small minority of them thinks that its result is inevitable, the possibility cannot be disregarded either: around 1.7% of the citizens of Catalonia see it coming and do not want it. In a situation in which some proudly argue that it would be enough to get half of the voters plus one -and it is implied that it is within easy reach- every victory counts. However, this doesn´t hold either since almost all of us knows that it is impossible for a region to secede without consensus in times of peace and democracy (and EU). Finally, another option would be some kind of behavior-reinforcement similar to self-deception (which does not exclude the previous possibilities), although the idea of ​​deceiving oneself is enigmatic. As much as cheating while playing solitaire, since the deck has already been upturned.

Figure 1. Failed hegemony or successful innovation

Attitudes towards the process and the independence. Institut de Ciències Polítiques i Socials (ICPS) Sondeig d’Opinió Catalunya 2017. @Piedras_Papel

There are two ways to read the figure 1. One of them requires a theory (not yet available) that connects the bars through a multiplier effect: the more people that believe in it, the more they want it; The more they want it, the more people prefer it; the more people prefer it, the more people will vote for it. And so on, until reaching a majority threshold or being, at least, too big to fail. In this sense, it would seem to be a path towards success although, for the time being, there has been none. The second way to read figure 1 presents it as a failure: there are more independence supporters than people believing in the process, there are more people willing to vote yes – in a situation, possibly, of a pact with the Spanish Government- than people who believe that independence will be achieved in that way. There has been no attempt to reach a consensus, and the hegemony of the ideals that drive the powerful pro-independence social movement and none less than the government of Catalonia itself, is not even close. [1]

The figure shows, without doubt, that the independence process is far from achieving hegemony in the classical sense, that of the pragmatic consensus that makes an idea part of common sense, as a probable and perhaps inevitable scenario; even then, it may be possible that the process has enough momentum to motivate a narrow majority of Catalans to vote in favor anyway. And this has always been the heart of the matter.

Figure 2. Talking to themselves

Believers, supporters and political parties. Institut de Ciències Polítiques i Socials (ICPS) Sondeig d’Opinió Catalunya. @Piedras_Papel

Although I do not have a theory to explain the interpretation of multiplicative growth of Figure 1, please have a look at these data. The first, and not the least important despite being already known, is that they talk mainly to their own ranks. What determines both the adhesion and the confidence in the result of the process is the party identification (the figure refers to the intention to vote in the elections of December 2017). There is a certain intermediate group that some hope that may end up not voting: the non-politicized and the more or less recognized as «equidistant» (an ambiguous term, anyway). In any case, they are not too convinced; those who believe in the outcome of the process within this group are more or less the same as the voters of the pro-independence parties that, however, do not support the process.

Figures 3 and 4. Reinforcement in conversation.

Believers and supporters by preferred media. Institut de Ciències Polítiques i Socials (ICPS) Sondeo de Opinión de Cataluña @Piedras_Papel
Believers and supporters by frequency conversations on politics. Institut de Ciències Polítiques i Socials (ICPS) Sondeo de Opinión de Cataluña @Piedras_Papel

The figures 3 and 4 provide some more light on the debate. Among the readers of Ara, El Punt Avui or Vilaweb, there is one believer in a favorable outcome of the procés for every 1.4 readers who simply support it. Among the readers of La Vanguardia or El Periódico (both in Spanish and in Catalan) the ratio is one per 3.2. The newspapers of the first group are not only read by more independent people, but, among them, the number of convinced that independence will be achieved is proportionally greater. The readers of the other newspapers are less pro-independence but, what is more important for the current topic, they are also more skeptical. We cannot say to what extent it is the newspaper that reinforces the reader or it is the reader who seeks such reinforcement, but surely the reinforcement effect does exist.

Figure 4 is not as clear- cut, but shows that talking about politics does not add skepticism to the belief in the outcome. Among those who frequently talk about politics, there is one convinced of success for every two adherents to the process; among those who do it less, or not at all, there is one for every 2.8. It’s not a huge difference, but it suggests that the political debate also reinforces the beliefs. Needless to say, that is a success of those who speak up.

It remains as an exercise for the reader (I do not dare to try) to join these dots in a drawing that is not too extravagant. But I think it’s not bluffing, since the supposed opponent knows your own cards better than yourself. It might be that we use images that are very insufficient for all these contexts of construction of reality: after all, a bubble in which some are too big to fail cannot be a bubble either.

[1] It is possible that we find a mechanism that connects the facts as in the first way to read it, but something new is needed, since the more immediate hypothesis makes us expect that, to achieve «victory» – via of the political (social, cultural) hegemony of a convinced group – we should observe how the number of people who believe in the process (the first bar) is between the number of people who want independence and the number who would vote for it (or at least would not oppose). That is to say, the victory of a hegemonic idea takes place when it is more important how many admit it as a probable situation rather than how many may have ever wished it, even if the numbers are related, because only when it becomes part of common sense can it become irresistible in the domain of behavior.

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