© The Author(s) 2018. Most of the Spanish media have portrayed Catalan independentism as nationalism and populism. This article argues that this political and social mobilization does not fit into the usual definitions of populism as anti-elitist, anti-liberal and anti-pluralistic movement. Catalan independentism is here interpreted by stressing its democratic features, namely as a form of democratic populism: horizontally organized, and critical of procedural safeguards and counter-majoritarian powers. The popular organization of the referendum on 1 October 2017 and the vigorous democratic experience by almost half of the population of Catalonia allow for a characterization of this populism as a hybrid phenomenon that includes bottom-up and top-down dynamics, thereby contrasting with the usual leader-centred understanding of populism.