How did you decide to study Spanish nationalisms, and what makes Spain in particular such an interesting case study?
What fundamentally interests me is public opinion. I seek to explain why people at certain times and places have a set of political attitudes and beliefs, whereas people at different times and places feel and think differently. In my dissertation, I’m trying to explain why regional nationalism becomes a powerful force in certain linguistically distinct regions, while it does not in other such regions.
Spain is a fascinating case to study, because of the amount of variation available for analysis. One way to study nationalism, or any other aspect of public opinion, is to use cross-sectional survey data for a particular population. Such data, unfortunately, only allow us to explain differences among individual survey respondents. We generally don’t have sufficiently long time series to look at changes over time and we often lack other populations to compare our analyses to. Spain is different! At least four regions have the major precondition associated with regional nationalism, a distinct language. These are the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, and the Valencian Community. Therefore, it is possible to explain variations across regions, while controlling most country-level variables. Moreover, while lack of data is generally a major problem faced by those of us who study political behaviour, such a problem does not exist in Spain. Spain has vast amounts of surveys conducted at the regional level. Moreover, annual, and in one case quarterly, time series of questions related to nationalism exist, allowing me to look into changes over time, in addition to individual-level variation. In one of the regions, an annual panel study has also been conducted since 2001, allowing me to test arguments about individual change over time. Finally, detailed records of parliamentary activity in each region are easily accessible, allowing me to measure the level of elite nationalism over time and relate it to public opinion data.
What insights into nationalism have you gained through your research?
The economy seems to play a role. Cross-regional statistical studies have shown that better off regions tend to have stronger nationalist movements. Moreover, political elites also appear to be an important factor. However, to my knowledge, no one has explained how the economy affects nationalist success. Are people just rational, deciding to be nationalist in wealthier regions in order to avoid redistribution and not nationalist in poorer regions, seeking to benefit from transfers from better-off parts of the country? I’m not too sure about that. No one has shown either what the role of the elite is. Studies showing a correlation between what political elites do and what the population thinks face a serious endogeneity challenge. It’s far from clear that elite nationalism, or non-nationalism, influences the population, rather than the other way around.
I propose the following explanation which I will seek to support with empirical evidence. I argue that the most educated segment of the population tends to identify with the political community offering them opportunities for social mobility. In better-off regions, that means that such people identify more with their region. On the other hand, in less-well-off regions, highly educated people tend to identify with the central state. This highly educated sector of the population influences the positions adopted by the political elite, which, in turn, influences less educated people.
How did you get into communication with the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and find supervisors, and why did you choose this university specifically?
I was lucky to benefit from the international connections of CSDC faculty. In particular, my supervisor at Université de Montréal, André Blais, has been working with my supervisor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Ignacio Lago, for a number of years. That way I could be confident that I would receive adequate guidance in Spain.
In what ways did conducting research abroad contribute to your experience as a researcher and scholar?
My research abroad benefited me in two major ways. Most fundamentally, it has provided me with new political phenomena to explain. As I explained, Spain has very interesting variations to study as well as extensive data to use to explain them. The second advantage of conducting research abroad is being exposed to new theoretical and methodological approaches. At Universitat Pompeu Fabra, I got to interact with scholars at one of the top political science departments in Europe and was able to confront the approaches and methods I’ve learned in North America to those I encountered in Barcelona. Ultimately, I think my research skills have benefited tremendously from this experience.