Half a million marched
HE August 17 terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, in Catalonia, have reminded Spaniards of the horror of this type of political violence. From 1959-2011, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), a Basque terrorist organisation, carried out hundreds of attacks (killing 829 people), aimed at forcing the creation of a separate Basque state.
ETA completely disarmed in 2017, but Spain was also the target of al-Qaeda bomb attacks on four Madrid commuter trains in March 2004, right before national elections that led to the Socialist Party victory against the incumbent party, the Partido Popular (PP).
TDo terrorist attacks shake up voters? Will the 2017 attack lead to political fallout for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s PP? Will it change support for the Catalan regional government led by Carles Puigdemont? While ETA, al-Qaeda and Islamic State are different actors with different goals, our research on the political consequences of ETA terrorist attacks gives a clue how Spaniards might react to the latest attacks.
In a recent paper, we examined the impact of ETA terrorist attacks that took place while Spain’s leading survey organisation (Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas) was conducting interviews to assess citizens’ political participation. The arguably random occurrence of the attacks with respect to the survey fieldwork lets us compare the reported political behaviour of people surveyed a few days before the attacks with interviews from nearby citizens surveyed a few days afterwards. We find that people did not plan on changing the direction of their vote after the attacks, which suggests they would not “punish” the incumbent party for failing to protect citizens from this sort of political violence.
However, Spaniards interviewed after the ETA attacks expressed a greater intention to go out and vote. Voter participation reported in surveys is not the same as actual participation, but our design and identification strategy brings us close to estimating the causal effect that a terrorist attack would have on voting behaviour.
Other types of violence also influence political participation
A number of scholars have documented increased political participation of victims of civil war violence, crime or terrorist violence. Our study shows an increase in reported political participation among people across Spain, not just victims of the ETA attacks.
We find that the impact on political participation is greater when civilians were targeted, as opposed to attacks against members of the police or military.
This suggests voters tend to empathise more with their fellow civilians. The impact is also stronger among people who did not participate in previous elections, indicating that the attacks mobilised non-voters.
Will there be any impact on Catalonia’s independence bid?
In Catalonia, there were many signs of increased civic engagement in the hours after the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils.
Thousands congregated in Les Rambles and Plaça de Catalunya to show solidarity with the victims and condemn the attacks. Last Monday, thousands of Muslims marched in Barcelona against terrorism and in support of its victims.
There have also been spontaneous displays of support for the Catalan police and their handling of the investigation.
This Saturday, half a million citizens marched in Barcelona, along with key political players. A clear message guided the march: No tenim por (“We are not afraid”) The aim was to show political and social unity against terrorists. There have also been rallies in the small towns of Cambrils and Ripoll. This enlarged civic engagement and political participation is consistent overall with what we observed in our quasi-experimental research on the ETA attacks. Our research suggests the attacks are unlikely to lead to significant changes in how people see political parties and how they vote.
Terrorist attacks make people more politically engaged
Some analysts argued that the 2004 al-Qaeda attacks in Madrid, which left 193 dead and more than 1 700 injured, triggered a change in behaviour among voters that led to the ousting of the incumbent party. Those attacks were followed by misinformation and deception – the PP had to admit that al-Qaeda, not ETA, was behind the attacks. This makes it hard to know whether voters punished the party because of the attacks or because of the misinformation that followed.
Our research on ETA suggests terrorist attacks are likely to make people more politically engaged and support the democratic system.
While the effects of the current attack might fade by the time a new election takes place in Spain, the boost in civic engagement and trust in democratic institutions seen in Catalonia in the aftermath is highly consistent with our study. The key takeaway? If terrorists are looking to undermine democracies they are achieving the exact opposite.
Laia Balcells is an associate professor at Georgetown University
Gerard Torrats-Espinosa is a doctoral candidate in sociology at New York University A LEADER of the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party said on Monday that US President Donald Trump should devote more energy to governing and less to tweeting, but she insisted that his unpopularity in Germany is not harming her party’s standing ahead of next month’s election.
The AfD party’s antiimmigration, anti-Islam stance has often been compared with Trump’s positions, and members welcomed Trump’s election and some of his policies.
Alternative for Germany hopes to enter parliament in the country’s September 24 election, in which conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to win a fourth term.
“If I had a wish list, I’d like Donald Trump to tweet less, clean up his own shop more and deal more humbly with his governmental responsibility,” Alice Weidel, one of AfD’s top leaders, said in Berlin.
She also blamed the media, however, for painting what she called an “absolutely exaggerated” picture of Trump.
Polls show AfD on track to top the 5% of votes needed to enter parliament, but short of the support levels it reached following the massive migrant influx to Germany in 2015 and last year.
Migration has receded as a political issue in Germany.
Weidel insisted that Trump’s often-criticised performance has “no influence” on AfD’s popularity. “We are completely independent of what Donald Trump does,” Weidel said. “I can draw no parallels.”
AfD drew criticism on Monday for reported remarks by Weidel’s co-leader in the election campaign, Alexander Gauland, who said the German government’s commissioner for immigrants’ integration could be “disposed of in Anatolia”.
The commissioner, Aydan Ozoguz, has Turkish roots. Gauland was also referring to comments in which she said that “a specifically German culture is, beyond the language, simply not identifiable”.
Merkel’s spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, said Gauland’s comments made no sense – noting that Ozoguz comes from Hamburg, not Turkey.
But Weidel defended them, saying “you can certainly argue about the style but (Gauland) is right in terms of substance”. – AP
CONNECT: A Muslim man holding a Spanish flag and a placard reading ‘I am Muslim, this criminal group does not represent us. Islam is a religion of peace and security’ shakes the hand of a woman during a march against terrorism.