Phobia and philia: what Catalans and Spaniards think of one another

  • Catalanophobia is much more widespread than hispanophobia

Joe Brew
25.01.2020 - 08:05

If one’s only source of information about Catalan society were Spanish politicians, one might conclude that there is a high degree of anti-Spanishness in Catalonia. This belief is widely-held, and appears to be increasing among the public: for example, Google searches in Spain for the term ‘hispanophobia’ increased sharply at the time of the 2017 Catalan independence referendum, and have remained elevated above their pre-referendum levels ever since.

A similar trend can be detected by examining the frequency of the word ‘hispanophobia’ (and its variants in Catalan and Spanish) on Twitter: after the October 2017 peak in the term, the frequency never quite returned down to its pre-referendum baseline.

The focus on the supposed anti-Spanishness of Catalans has made its way into mainstream Spanish politics. Its main promoters are the Spanish nationalist far right, such as the ‘Vox’ party, which, in a clear reference to Catalan independence parties, has gone so far as to call for the illegalization of ‘organizations which promote hispanophobia’.

But it’s not just the right; politicians of the Spanish socialist party have joined the bandwagon, regularly raising the issue of their opposition to the ‘supremacism’ and ‘hispanophobia’ of Catalans.

Likewise, much of the supposedly centrist ‘Citizens’ party’s rise to prominence came from a political discourse focused on the plight of Spanish-speakers in Catalonia. Albert Rivera, for example, tweeted the term dozens of times in reference to Catalonia during his early political career.

Like the other Spanish nationalist parties, the mainstream ‘Popular’ party has repeatedly tried to link Catalonia with anti-Spanishness. The week before the 2017 Catalan independence referendum, for example, the official Twitter account of the party tweeted the hashtag ‘#Hispanofobia’ 9 times… in just one day.

But is the impression based in reality? That is, are Catalans really hispanophobic? Or are the frequent references to Catalan anti-Spanishness the product of a manufactured political campaign actively promoted by politicians?

Fortunately, there are data that directly address the matter. And the data are quite clear on the subject: No, Catalan society is not ‘anti-Spanish’. In fact, an analysis of the data reveals the opposite: Catalans like Spaniards more than Spaniards like Catalans.

In other words, if Spanish politicians were truly concerned about cultural phobias in their State, they should worry less about what Catalans think of Spaniards and more about what Spaniards think of Catalans.

Let’s dig in to the data.

The question

What is the degree of ‘hispanophobia’ in Catalonia, and of ‘catalanophobia’ in Spain?

The data

This analysis uses publicly-available survey data collected from 3,600 residents of the Spanish State (800 from Catalonia, 2,800 from the rest of the Spanish State) in late 2019. More details on the data are available at the end of this article.

The results

The below chart shows the average value (on a 0 to 10 scale in which 0 is ‘I don’t like them at all’ and 10 is ‘I like them a lot’) of how people from one place (x-axis) feel about people from another place (y-axis).

If one takes a step back from the plot, two lines are clearly decipherable:

  1. A diagonal blue line, going from the bottom left to the top right, showing the relatively high-scores that people of each place give to themselves.
  2. A horizontal red line in the middle of the chart, showing the large degree of antipathy towards Catalans from residents of the rest of Spain.

When Catalans are asked how much they like the residents of the rest of the Spanish State (excluding Catalonia, see technical note), the average score they give is 6.8. When Spaniards (excluding Catalans) are asked how much they like Catalans, the average score they give (weighted for sampling bias) is 5.6.

Perhaps, though, it’s wrong to focus on averages. After all, both numbers are above 5, suggesting that both Catalans and Spaniards like each other more than they dislike each other.

So, instead of averages, let’s focus on proportions: what is the percentage of Catalans that dislike Spaniards, and what is the percentage of Spaniards that dislike Catalans (we’ll 4 or below on the 0-10 scale to be ‘disliking’, and will remove from our denominator those who don’t give any answer)?

As with the previous chart, the same horizontal-line pattern emerges. That is, with the exception of the Basque Country and Catalonia itself, large percentages of residents of the rest of Spain ‘dislike’ Catalans. In the areas of Castilla (la Mancha and León) and Asturias, more than 1/3 of people dislike Catalans. If we take the whole of Spain (excluding Catalonia), the percentage of people who profess to dislike Catalans is 26.1%.

The percentage of Catalans that dislike Spaniards is comparatively lower: 10.2%. Even though a relatively high percentage of Catalans say that they dislike those from Madrid (19%), this is still significantly lower than the percentage of people from Madrid who say that they dislike Catalans (28%).

In other words, Catalans are the most disliked people in the Spanish state. But the dislike that many Spaniards feel for Catalans is not bidirectional. In fact, if we break the data down region by region, we say that in all cases, Catalans like the people from each of the state’s other 16 regions more than those people like Catalans (Ceuta and Melilla being excluded for reasons of sample size).

Again, sometimes averages are less interesting than the extremes. And perhaps one could argue that ‘disliking’ somebody (ie, giving them a rating of less than 5 on a 0-10 scale) does not quite constitute a ‘phobia’. So, let’s look at the extremes. What is the percentage of people from each area that give a zero on a 0 to 10 scale to people from other areas. Let’s see:

Again, the same pattern emerges: the horizontal red line. 9.6 percent of people from the rest of the Spanish State say that they ‘don’t like Catalans at all’ (0 on a 0-10) scale, whereas only 1.3 of Catalans say the same about Spaniards, on average.


Why does such a high portion of Spaniards say that they don’t like Catalans at all? And why is the corresponding portion (the percentage of Catalans who say they don’t like Spaniards at all) so low?

If the answer were only political, then we would expect that Catalans would dislike Spaniards at a similar rate. But it’s not the case; Catalans largely like Spaniards, far more than Spaniards like Catalans. What might explain this?

I don’t claim to have the definitive answer to this question, but the data offer some hints. One factor which could plausibly explain why many Spaniards dislike Catalans is ignorance.

I don’t mean ‘ignorance’ as an insult, but rather as a simple descriptive word to describe lack of familiarity. As any parent of a child or owner of a pet can tell you, the more you know something, the easier it is to love it (and the harder it is to dislike it). Catalans, to a large extent, know Spanish culture and Spaniards; they speak the language, and in addition to a large percentage of them having non-Catalan Spanish ancestry due to (relatively) recent waves of immigration from Southern Spain to Catalonia, Spanish pop culture has a predominant role (TV, movies, etc.) in Catalonia. The same cannot be said of linguistic familiarity in the rest of Spain, or the extent of Catalan ancestry among non-Catalan Spaniards, nor of the penetration of Catalan pop culture into non-Catalan areas. For example, how many Leonenses speak Catalan? 77% of Andalusians have 4 Andalusian grandparents, while only 20% of Catalans have 4 Catalan grandparents? How many Catalan-language films are screened in Madrid theatres? Very few.

Let’s test the theory. If ignorance indeed drives hatred, then we would expect that those who are least familiar with Catalonia would be the ones who like Catalans least, and those who are most familiar with Catalonia would like Catalans most.

The below chart shows the assocation between the number of times Spaniards have travelled to Catalonia, and their feelings towards Catalans.

As expected, those who most dislike Catalans are the ones who have never been to Catalonia. Directional causality is a bit difficult to establish here (of course, perhaps the reason they have never gone to Catalonia is their dislike of Catalans!), but the association speaks for itself.

Let’s examine the same data, but focusing on ‘haters’: those who give a score of 0 to Catalans (ie, ‘I don’t like them at all’). The below chart shows the percentage of extreme aversion (0 score) by the number of times he/she has travelled to Catalonia.

Among Spaniards who have been to Catalonia 10 times or more, the percentage which say they ‘don’t like Catalans at all’ is relatively low: 3.8%. On the other hand, the group that most professes to dislike Catalans are those who have never been to Catalonia (11.7%).

Personal feelings and experiences have political consquences. For example, among Spaniards, the more one has travelled to Catalonia, the more in favor he/she is of Catalans holding an independence referendum.

Travel correlates with liking, and liking correlates with granting freedom. A large majority of Spaniards are opposed to a Catalan independence referendum, but much of this opposition is driven by people who say that they don’t like Catalans. The below chart shows the association between how much one likes Catalans (0-10 scale) on the x-axis, and their stance on a Catalan independence referendum.

Among those who dislike Catalans (0-4), only a small minority are in favor of permitting Catalan self-determination. Among those who like Catalans (6+), it is much closer to a 50-50 split.


Does there exist a large degree of hispanophobia in Catalonia? The data are clear: no.

The rise in concern about hispanophobia in Catalonia is not reality-based. On average, most Catalans like Spaniards, and most Spaniards like Catalans. Where there are differences in the rates of sympathy and antipathy between Spaniards and Catalans, these are in the direction of catalanophobia, not hispanophobia. That is, 26.1% of Spaniards dislike (<5 on a 0-10 scale) Catalans, while only 10.2% of Catalans dislike Spaniards. By the same token, 9.6% of Spaniards ‘don’t like Catalans at all’ (0 on a 0-10) scale, but only 1.3% of Catalans say that they same about the inhabitants of the rest of the Spanish State.

If the degree of catalanophobia in Spain is greater than the degree of hispanophobia, why does the latter get so much more attention from mainstream Spanish political groups? There are two possible explanations: (1) the myth of hispanophobia is a ‘moral panic’, a collective fair that has emerged organically out of some Spaniards’ anxiety about their political future; or (2) hispanophobia is not an organic social phenomenon but rather an intentionally artificial one, engineered by political and social actors to justify interventionist/centralist policies. That is, questionable Spanish political decisions aimed at ‘correcting’ Catalan polical decisions appear less questionable when framed in the (false but useful) context of a hispanophobic society which needs to be ‘corrected’.

Should one be concerned about hispanophobia in Catalonia? Of course. But the magnitude of concern should be proportional to the magnitude of the problem. And the problem of catalanophobia in Spain is demonstrably of greater magnitude than that of hispanophobia in Catalonia. Politicians would do well to take into account the data before accusing others of hatred or claiming to be its victims.


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