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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Territorial Dimension as Political Strategy: Elite-driven Center-Periphery Cleavage in Spain 1977-2008

  • Author(s): Martinez-Tapia, Oscar
  • et al.

The Spanish democratic transition and consolidation are internationally acclaimed. Yet there is one issue that poses a major puzzle to political scientists: the persistence of conflict over Spain’s territorial model. If it is true that democracy can better address territorial disputes, why is it that the Spanish territorial model continues to be widely contested? After a brief discussion of the theoretical literature on democracy and ethno-territorial conflict, this paper develops the following hypothesis: the territorial model is still openly contested in Spain because regional political elites vehemently push territorial agendas as a way to boost their electoral power within the Estado de las Autonomías. I present evidence from the content analysis of party manifestos (1977-2008) showing that the most relevant Catalan and the Basque parties have promoted the salience of the center-periphery dimension in their electoral programs while paradoxically receiving fewer votes. Moreover, public opinion surveys demonstrate that citizen’s attitudes towards the existing territorial model are steadily improving, and regional and national identities seem to be gradually overlapping better. It is soon to say, but democracy appears to be steadily solving the political conflict between Madrid and the regions at the street but not at the elite level.

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