Issue Salience and Norm Change in New Democracies

68 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2020

See all articles by Elias Dinas

Elias Dinas

University of Oxford

Sergi Martínez

European University Institute

Vicente Valentim

European University Institute

Date Written: January 11, 2020


New democracies tend to create norms that stigmatize behavior associated with the past authoritarian regime. How can these norms change? We argue that when issues alluding to stigmatized symbols and practices rise in salience, they can make individuals with strong preferences on these issues breach established norms and initiate a process of normative change. We test this argument by looking at the case of Spain, where the transition to democracy stigmatized public displays of national identity. We expect the increased salience of the issue of Catalan independence to normalize such displays. Using an original dataset of national flags on the façade of buildings, we employ a difference-in-differences design that compares Madrid to Lisbon and Athens. We find a remarkable increase in displays of Spanish flags after the peak of the process of Catalan independence. Analyses of flag clustering and data from an original survey suggest that the effect is driven by normative change instead of alternative mechanisms.

Keywords: Social norms, nationalism, Spain, authoritarian transitions, flags

Suggested Citation

Dinas, Elias and Martínez Soler, Sergi and Valentim, Vicente, Issue Salience and Norm Change in New Democracies (January 11, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Elias Dinas

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

Sergi Martínez Soler

European University Institute

San Domenico di Fiesole

Vicente Valentim (Contact Author)

European University Institute ( email )

San Domenico di Fiesole

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