Beyond Yes and No: the 2005 Referendum

Certain elections and referendums not only have a direct short-term impact on a country or a region’s politics, but eventually have a major long-term impact on the country’s political culture. The French referendum on the European Constitution, held on May 29 2005 is an example of such a referendum whose impact was not only immediate but also long-term.

The 2005 referendum has been treated, rightly or wrongly, by French political commentators as a watershed moment in contemporary French politics. The 2005 referendum allegedly marked the crystallization of French politics around a dichotomy between the so-called ‘elites’ and the ‘people’. The victory of the NO with nearly 55% of the vote on May 29, 2005 is often interpreted as being the angry wake-up call from a ‘silent majority’ against the broadly European political ‘elites’ of the country.

The argument goes that, prior to 2005, French political leaders from the established political parties sought to win office (most notably the presidency) using fairly moderate discourse which did not wander too far off into populism. Since 2005, however, more and more aspiring political leaders have structured their campaigns around attempts to harness the popular forces which gave the NO its remarkable victory in May 2005. Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 – and 2012 – campaigns were certainly a watershed in French politics. His penchant towards a brand of right-populism represented a major break with Jacques Chirac (in his post-neoliberal incarnation) and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s old brand of consensual, moderate, ‘Orléanist’ centre-right politics. Sarkozy built his winning coalition in 2007 through a very right-oriented rhetoric focused on law-and-order, work ethic, accountability, personal responsibility and a subtle anti-system and anti-incumbent message.

The whole idea of the “droite décomplexée” (a right freed of its ‘chains’ and ‘political correctness’) which Sarkozy built in 2007 and which continues to have a major influence on the political direction of the French right has clear roots in the victory of the ‘people’ in May 2005. Sarkozy won, in good part, by harnessing the type of forces which had contributed to the success of the NO in 2005. That same year, even the European federalist and liberal François Bayrou attempted – with some success – at playing the game which had worked for the NO’s backers in 2005 – the anti-politician, anti-establishment and anti-system card.

And while the moderate and consensual Hollande won and Sarkozy lost in 2012, it was due more to Sarkozy’s personality and the ephemeral appeal of anti-Sarkozysm to wide swathes of the electorate than to any shift away from the post-2005 political ‘reality’. In fact, Marine Le Pen’s success in the first round (17.9%) in 2012 was the result of a campaign – with populist themes such as the appeal to ‘invisible’ and ‘forgotten’ France – which once again harnessed the forces behind the NO vote in 2005.

To what extent is this view of the ‘new’ reality of French politics correct? The best way to answer this question is to actually take the time to analyse objectively the results of the May 2005 referendum, in particular the heterogeneous coalition behind the success of the NO vote. To set the 2005 referendum in historical perspective, it is also necessary, for our understanding of what 2005 wrought, to look back even further – twenty years ago – at the 1992 referendum on the other European treaty – the Maastricht treaty which created the EU.

Is there such a thing as the ‘people’, which has formed a silent and homogeneous majority against the dominant ‘elites’? Finally, to what extent was the 2005 referendum the result of this alleged people-elite divide?

There are two perspectives for understanding the 2005 referendum. There is the more sociological perspective on the referendum, which encompasses the people-elite view of the referendum which has been promoted by many observers and taken up by certain populist politicians who make use of the “Eurofederalist liberal bobo elites” myth in their speeches. On the other hand, there is the more circumstantial view of the referendum which downplays its long-term significance and emphasizes instead its ephemeral, time-dependent anti-incumbent aspect. Both approaches have their merits and both can explain the results of the referendum.

The Circumstantial View: Partisanship and Ideology as Voting Determinants

To understand the results of the 2005 referendum, one must first place the event in its context. Held in May 2005, the referendum took place in a political context in which the electorate was, by and large, very hostile to the incumbent government. The Chirac-Raffarin executive had been in power since June 2002 and had grown very unpopular. In May, Raffarin’s approval stood at 22% and Chirac’s approval stood at 32%. Since the summer of 2003, the government’s ratings started dwindling thanks to the 2003 heat wave kerfuffle, tepid economic growth and high unemployment, a social policy judged to be disappointing by most voters and an unpopular pension reform in 2003. In March 2004, the governing party (UMP) was trounced by the left in regional elections, and a cabinet shuffle after the regionals failed to durably boost the executive’s popularity.

A common saying about referendums in France – it is probably true for other countries as well – is that voters have a tendency to answer the person who asked them the question rather than answering the question itself. Major referendums like the 2005 referendum but also the 1992 Maastricht vote have tended to turn into tests of the incumbent government’s popularity and the (un)popularity of these governments have played major roles in the outcomes. Of course, neither 2005 nor 1992 were like 1969, where nobody had the faintest clue of what the referendum was technically asking but knew that if they voted NO then de Gaulle would resign.

In this context, the government’s unpopularity in 2005 played a large role in the victory of the NO. There were certainly many good rationales and reasons for opposition voters to oppose the EU Constitution, but the temptation of punishing the government by handing it a significant blow was certainly quite strong on the left – but also on the far-right.

The Ipsos exit poll from May 2005 confirms that there was a strong partisan and ideological schism on the issue, which lets us presume that the incumbent government was a major factor in vote choice. 63% of those who identified with the parliamentary left voted against, only 27% of those who identified with the parliamentary right did likewise. 56% of PS sympathizers voted against, but 80% of UMP sympathizers (it is true that by May 2005, those who identified as UMP sympathizers were certainly the moderate right’s core voters) voted in favour (76% of UDF voters also voted YES). Opposition was nearly unanimous on both ends of the political spectrum: 94% of far-left sympathizers, 98% of PCF sympathizers and 93% of FN sympathizers voted NO according to Ipsos.

Ipsos also gave us slightly different ways of looking at partisanship and ideological affinity in its exit poll. Breaking the vote choice down by 2002 presidential preference, 77% of Chirac’s 2002 voters voted YES against 46% of Jospin’s 2002 voters. Breaking the results down by vote in the 2004 regional elections, Ipsos tells us that no less than 79% of those who backed the moderate right in 2004 voted in favour, while only 39% of the moderate left’s 2004 voters did likewise.

However, can we assume that all left-wingers just voted against because they hated Chirac? There were certainly good rationales, grounded in the content of the EU Constitution, for a left-winger to vote against. According to the Ipsos exit poll, 52% of those who voted against did so because they were unhappy about domestic socio-economic conditions but a good number of voters also cited reasons more directly linked to the content of the referendum itself: 40% said the proposed text was too economically liberal (49% amongst PS sympathizers), 39% said a rejection of the text would allow a better text to be renegotiated (this sentiment was particularly pronounced with left-wing nonistes), and about a quarter of left-wing no voters voted against because they opposed Turkish membership in the EU (35% overall). Only 24% of respondents openly said they voted against because it was a chance to oppose Chirac and his government (26% of PS sympathizers). 31% of respondents expressed a rejection of the ‘political class’ in general.

Hence, from this point of view, the reality might not be as simple. Before trying to answer the question of whether or not the government’s unpopularity can be the main explanatory factor for the NO’s victory through the analysis of the actual results, it is useful to compare Ipsos’ partisan breakdowns in the 2005 exit poll with its partisan breakdowns in the 1992 exit poll. The 1992 Maastricht referendum was held in a context where the incumbent government was similarly unpopular – except that in 1992 the incumbents were left-wing (President Mitterrand). Mitterrand’s unpopularity was not as big as a factor in 1992 as Chirac’s unpopularity in 2005; given that only 15% or so of voters said that their vote was influenced in a way or another by their opinion of Mitterrand. Only a small minority of NO voters said that Mitterrand was the main factor in their vote back in 1992, though that question in 1992 was not multiple response like in 2005.

According to Ipsos, the partisan split in 1992 was the opposite of that found in 2005. 63% of parliamentary left supporters in 1992 voted in favour while 51% of those who backed the parliamentary right voted against (including 59% of RPR sympathizers but only 39% of UDF sympathizers). More strikingly, 78% of PS sympathizers in 1992 voted YES.

Testing the Circumstantial View

Exit polls only say so much, an actual analysis of the results tells us much more. The map below shows the results of the 2005 referendum by canton (the Insee cantons, which do not include infra-urban electoral cantons, unfortunately) with a 5% graduated colour scale.

The general look of the map confirms the impression that right-wing voters formed the core of the 45% of voters who voted YES in 2005. The strongholds of the YES vote are, primarily, right-leaning regions: the Catholic regions of Alsace, the inner West (the Choletais, the bocage vendéen and angevin, the Léon), the high plateaus of the Aubrac and Cantal, parts of Savoie, the Lyonnais and the Jura plateau; but also affluent region such as the Parisian outskirts spreading westwards from Paris (Yvelines, Hauts-de-Seine), Senlis and Chantilly (Oise), Lille’s wealthy suburbs, the Lyonnais, most wealthy resort towns including parts of the Côte-d’Azur and ski country.

But these are not the only traditionally right-wing places in France. There is certainly no shortage of conservative regions which voted NO, sometimes quite heavily. Furthermore, the two main YES demographics highlighted above could be expected to support further European integration regardless of their political orientation or their approval of an incumbent centre-right government.

The link between religious practice and pro-Europeanism is not some 2005 phenomenon explainable only by the political orientation of Catholics towards the moderate right. Just as the French Christian democratic centre-right, from the MRP in the immediate post-war era to the UDF in 2005, has been the most consistent promoter of European integration; its electoral base has long been known for its bias in favour of European integration. Nobody seems to have come up with an acceptable explanation for why the most religious voters are strong supporters of European integration – it could be, in part, because of the vision of ‘Europe as a Christian project’ or the internationalist, pan-European values expounded by the Catholic Church in the past decades.

Similarly, the most economically privileged voters could be expected to be the strongest supporters of European integration regardless of time-dependent partisan or ideological considerations. The economic aspects of European integration: free markets, free movement of goods or economic and commercial integration appeal to the most affluent of voters, who form the so-called ‘European elites’ or, more derogatively, the “neoliberal Eurofederalist elites”.

% change in the YES vote, 1992-2005, by canton (source:

So far, the circumstantial view of the 2005 referendum does not seem to hold much weight because both of the two main YES demographics highlighted are reputed as being pro-European, regardless of contemporary domestic political conditions. A comparison to the 1992 referendum (which was fought under a left-wing government) is useful at this point. The map to the right shows the percentage difference between the YES vote in 1992 and 2005 by canton. Various shades of green represent cantons where the YES vote decreased less than the national average (-5.71%) or even increased. In contrast, various shades of pinkish red represent cantons where the YES vote decreased more than the national average. Given that no less than 551 cantons in our analysis actually showed a higher YES vote in 2005 than in 1992, a second map highlights, in dark green, all those cantons where the YES vote was higher in 2005 than in 1992 (a clear counter-cyclical vote).Mapping out the difference between the YES vote in 1992 and 2005 gives some very interesting results which give credence to the view that the 2005 result is best understood as an anti-incumbent vote more than anything else. The YES vote increased or declined by a lesser amount than the national average almost quasi-exclusively in right-leaning areas, even if some ultimately voted NO in 2005. Brittany, Vendée, the inner West, Normandy, Champagne, the southern Massif Central, the Basque Country, the Côte-d’Azur and ski country are the most telling examples. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, most strikingly Alsace and parts of Lorraine, even if Alsace still voted YES in 2005. However, the map certainly reflects a clear pattern: the areas where the YES vote held up best or even increased between 1992 and 2005 are conservative, right-leaning regions.

On the other hand, the YES vote collapsed, largely, in left-wing (and oftentimes working-class) areas including the Nord-Pas-de-Calais’s mining basin, the Pays-Haut Lorrain, the Ardenne and the Seine valley’s industrial conglomeration. In rural left-wing areas, such as the Landes, the Pyrénées, the Cévennes, the Rouergue (Aveyron), the Languedoc’s wine-making backcountry or the Nièvre, the YES vote also took a thumping between 1992 and 2005. Were economic problems and concerns about the local economy, notably in the Languedoc’s wine-making regions, at play here? Or was there, instead, only a natural left-wing anti-incumbent shift away from the YES vote in 2005, which was more closely associated with the right than it had been in 1992?

The second map, which shows only these ‘countercyclical’ cantons – those where the YES vote was actually higher in 2005 than in 1992, reveals more interesting tidbits, particularly of the type of voters who were motivated to vote YES in 2005 but who had been much more reluctant in 1992. At first glance, the map is a splattering, but a few solid blocs of ‘countercyclical’ emerge. The haut bocage vendéen and the Choletais stand out in the inner West, extended to the bocage angevin (Château-Gontier), parts of the bocage normand (Manche, Orne) and western Sarthe. These regions are all traditionally right-wing and share a common Christian democratic/Catholic political tradition. The Vendée as a whole voted against Maastricht in 1992 but voted for the EU Constitution in 2005, an amusing turnaround for a department which was best known for Philippe de Villiers, the local favourite son who was one of the most forceful opponents of European integration on the right in both 1992 and 2005.However, the decline of the villieriste following in the Vendée between 1992 and 2005 does not really explain the turnaround in neighboring regions (in the Choletais and in the bocage region of the Deux-Sèvres). Similarly, in southern France, another Catholic region stands out for a pro-European turnaround between 1992 and 2005: the Aubrac and the Cantal plateau. This isolated religious and conservative region, where agriculture (herding) remains a significant employer to this day, voted against Maastricht in 1992 but switched allegiances against the grain in 2005.

Cantons where the YES vote in 2005 was higher than in 1992 (source:

The YES vote also increased in some fairly secular but otherwise solidly right-leaning rural or exurban areas: the Beauce (Eure-et-Loir, Loiret), the Vendômois (Loir-et-Cher), the Aube’s wine-making region and the Champagne (parts of it at least). The map is patchy here, and no consistent blocs emerge, but in general the YES vote still held up well in these regions. While the Beauce and Gâtinais in the Loiret and Eure-et-Loir still voted NO in 2005, suburban growth from Orléans and Paris might explain why the YES vote proved very resilient in 2005. However, in all of these regions there certainly is a partisan, political factor at work.A final boost in the YES found is found in the affluent suburbs to the west of Paris. The YES vote increased in Paris itself, the result in good part of demographic changes (tied to high property prices) which have made the capital even more exclusively white-collar and middle-class. However, in 1992, there seems to have been some reluctance in solidly right-wing affluent suburbs in the 92 and the Yvelines to vote heavily YES, but in 2005 these voters – the (in)famous ‘liberal European elites’ went against the tide and confirmed their natural inclination towards European integration.Of course, even if the pattern appears straight-forward and apparent, it is admittedly quite reductive and a bit foolish to assume that partisan considerations related to the incumbent power were the only role in informing both these ‘countercyclical’ swings in the opposite direction or heavier than average swings against the YES. In 13 years between 1992 and 2005, not only are we dealing in a lot of these places with some significant demographic changes which could have had a significant impact on the political leanings of the region in question (but the ‘countercyclical’ cantons are pretty much all old, established right-wing strongholds since 1946 at least) but also with a not insignificant renewal of the electorate with immigration, emigration, deaths and births. It is tough to claim that these ‘countercyclical’ swings are primarily the result of partisan considerations dependent on the incumbent power. However, there is undeniably a partisan element to these swings – even if it is not the only element.A quantitative analysis confirms these observations. Comparing the percentage change (by Insee canton) in the YES vote between 1992 and 2005 to the ‘pro-European right-wing’ vote in 2002 (the sum of Chirac, Bayrou and Madelin votes), we arrive at a correlation coefficient of 0.59 which indicates a strong positive correlation between a high pro-European right-wing vote in 2002 and a strong(er) resistance in the YES vote in 2005. The correlation becomes even stronger, at 0.69, if the DOMs are excluded. The correlation between the right-wing vote in the second round of the 2004 regionals and the change in the YES vote is 0.56, or 0.61 without the DOMs.

The correlation between the YES vote itself in 2005 and the ‘pro-European right-wing’ vote in 2002 is very strong: 0.68, and again jumps to 0.72 if the DOMs are excluded. The correlation between the right-wing vote in the 2004 regionals and the YES vote a year later is 0.78, or 0.84 with the DOMs excluded. These are extremely significant correlations.

If the YES vote in 1992 is compared to the ‘pro-European right-wing’ vote in 1995 (Chirac and Balladur), the correlation is still positive but fairly insignificant: 0.23 with the DOMs, 0.13 without.

The YES vote in 2005 was thus significantly more right-wing in origin than the YES vote was in 1992. There are certainly a good number of reasons beyond disapproval of Chirac to explain why left-wing voters might have been more reluctant to support the EU Constitution than Maastricht. The EU Constitution was presented as a ‘(neo-)liberal’ constitution and the left-wing NO campaign was largely structured around opposition to the neoliberal constitution. However, with such a stark difference in the partisan composition of the YES vote in these two referendums, domestic political and partisan considerations were certainly a factor in the NO vote in 2005.

Europe: A New Cleavage beyond Left and Right?

The opposing view holds that the referendum represented something more profound, a fundamental divide between the political elites and the bulk of the ‘people’ which went beyond just the simple issue of the referendum.

Since 1992, many observers and academics have stressed the emergence of a new divide in French politics, which has broken or at least weakened the old left-right cleavage based on socio-economic and religious questions. This new divide, which transcends old notions of left and right, opposes those who favour European integration to those who oppose it. The moderate parties of the centre-left to the centre-right form the ‘elite’ in the middle which favours European integration, while both extremes – far-left and far-right – are, at least on the surface, united in a counter-nature opposition to European integration. Some would argue that the emerging question of Europe has reduced the relevance of the ‘archaic’ left-right cleavage to contemporary politics, transforming the political battle to one between ‘elites’ and ‘people’ (or the ‘anti-elites’) rather than one between old notions of left and right.

Certainly, in both 1992 and 2005, the official stances of the various political parties to both Maastricht and then the constitution would confirm this theory. In both referendums, despite major oppositions on domestic policy, the moderate parties – the PS, the Greens, the UDF and the UMP (the RPR was split in 1992, but Chirac backed the YES) – officially endorsed a YES vote (even if a very significant minority of the PS and Green leadership endorsed a NO vote). On the other hand, the parties which lie at the extremes of the political spectrum – both on the right (FN, Pasqua-Villiers) and on the left (PCF, LO-LCR) – officially endorsed a NO vote. On these extremes, despite major differences between the individual parties, their voters were homogeneous in their opposition. In 2005, 93% of FN sympathizers, 75% of MPF sympathizers, 98% of PCF sympathizers and 94% of far-left sympathizers voted NO.

However, are the far-left and the far-right’s opposition to European integration not rooted in traditional left-right ideology to begin with? The terms left and right have always encompassed a wide range of ideologies and political attitudes, as the very use of a term such as ‘far-right’ in opposition to ‘centre-right’ indicates. The NO vote in 2005 and 1992 should probably be referred to as the NO votes, in plural, given the heterogeneity of the NO’s electorate and the plethora of concerns, fears, and motivators which influenced their opposition to the constitution.

The FN and the right’s opposition to European integration are based on traditionalist, nationalist or paleo-Gaullist ideology. The FN’s opposition to the European Constitution in 2005 was structured heavily around concerns related to the loss of national identity, the loss of French sovereignty in a supra-national Europe and fears linked to potential Turkish membership in the European Union.

On the other hand, the PCF and the far-left’s opposition to European integration in the form of the 2005 constitution were not based on nationalist or isolationist attitudes, but rather on economic concerns. In 2005, the PCF and most of the noniste left’s opposition was built around concerns about the proposed constitution being too economically liberal (including, most famously, attacks against the infamous Bolkestein Directive) or fears of a European free market on French industry.

Ipsos’s 2005 exit polls broke down the motivation behind the NO votes by party, including the PCF and the FN. Their numbers show that while vague circumstantial factors like anti-incumbency, socio-economic discontent and opposition to the political system were factors common to both PCF and FN voters in the referendum, there were clear and conflicting ideological distinctions underpinning the NO vote of PCF and FN sympathizers.

57% of PCF voters said they voted NO because the constitution was too liberal, but only 18% of the FN’s NO voters cited this as one of the main reasons for their vote. On the other hand, 56% of FN voters cited opposition to Turkish membership in the EU as one of the main reasons for voting NO and 44% of FN voters said that they voted NO in part because the constitution, in their eyes, constituted a threat to French national identity. However, only 23% and 20% respectively of PCF voters cited these as factors in their opposition.

It is also important to note that the PCF and the left’s opposition to European integration in the form of the 2005 constitution or Maastricht is not a nationalist or even isolationist opposition – unlike the FN. 44% of PCF NO voters – along with 55% of Green NO voters and 47% of PS NO voters – said that they voted NO because it would be an opportunity, in the future, to renegotiate a “better constitution”. Only 17% of the FN’s sympathizers said that this was a reason for their vote on May 29.

The Ipsos exit poll also asked voters if they supported ‘pursuing European integration’ – a vague but also interesting question. Overall, 72% of French voters said that they were – including 57% of NO voters. Some 56% of PCF sympathizers claimed that they favoured pursuing European integration, but only 32% of FN sympathizers expressed the same feelings.

It is clear that the FN and PCF might both be Eurosceptic parties in that they oppose European integration, however, they cannot be grouped into a single homogeneous anti-European populist family. The reasons which are advanced by both the left and the right for opposing European integration often have nothing to do with one another. The FN’s rationale for opposing European integration is based heavily on right-wing nationalist, isolationist or traditionalist feelings. The right as a whole, including not just the FN but also Eurosceptic Gaullists, views European integration as a danger for the sovereignty of the French nation-state or for France’s national identity. The PCF’s rationale for opposing European integration is based on left-wing anti-liberal feelings. The left views European integration, as it is currently expressed, as a danger for France’s so-called social model (including the welfare state) or French industry in a wide open free-market.

The Sociological/People-Elite View: Class and Income as Voting Determinants

Despite these differences – which should not be understated, we can still discern a common thread in the opposition of both the far-left and the far-right to European integration: a populist revolt against the ‘elitist liberalism’ which the European Union allegedly represents. Both sides make heavy use of the ‘European technocrat’ image, both speak to fears about job losses and corporate restructuring (major fears in all Western societies touched by deindustrialization since the 1980s) and both generally oppose the free-market liberalism (perhaps for different reasons) which the EU represents. Their opposition represents the fears of the so-called ‘popular classes’ (classes populaires – the working poor) of socio-economic marginalization in increasingly globalized, multicultural and morally permissive Western societies dominated by the tertiary rather than secondary sector.

In this way, the idea that the 2005 referendum represents the revolt of a silent majority (the ‘people’) against the ‘elites’ which have driven European integration since the 1980s without significant institutional opposition is quite valid.

This hypothesis is largely confirmed by Ipsos’ breakdown of the 2005 vote by socio-professional categories. These 6 professional categories are broad, vague and all very heterogeneous; but it can be said that the ‘elite’ is formed by the professions libérales and cadres supérieurs (higher managerial and professionals, abbreviated CPIS), and, to a lesser extent, by a part of the artisans, commerçants, chefs d’entreprise (artisans, shopkeepers, small business owners) though in practice they are more representative of a ‘traditional middle-class’ petite bourgeoisie living in fear of proletarization. The professions intermédiaires (intermediate grade) form a sort of broad middle-class which leans more towards the ‘elite’ than the ‘popular classes’.

On the other hand, the ‘popular classes’ or the ‘people’ are basically formed by two, perhaps three socio-professional categories. The largely feminine employé(e)s and heavily masculine ouvriers are the modern working-class in a Western economy dominated by the tertiary sector, working tough and low-paying jobs in industries which are economically troubled or at risk of marginalization. The very small category of agriculteurs now encompasses a more privileged, smaller class of farmers who own and work their own land on a full-time basis. However, they have usually stood against Europe and its regulations and quotas.

According to Ipsos, 65% of the CPIS voted YES in 2005 – down only marginally from 67% in favour of Maastricht in 1992. However, the exit poll reports that the artisans/shopkeepers rejected the constitution with 51% against in 2005, whereas 51% of them had voted in favour of Maastricht in 1992. This result is not surprising: as aforementioned, this category does not really stand at the top of the social ladder in reality. They are a middle-class petite bourgeoisie, viscerally opposed to ‘Marxist collectivism’ and fiercely, instinctively individualist, egalitarian and conservative-traditionalist.

The victory of the NO in 2005, from a socio-professional standpoint, was wrought by the shift of the broad, middle-class professions intermédiaires who voted against the constitution with 53%, while they had backed Maastricht by a significant margin in 1992 (62% in favour). The employees, a more populaire demographic than the intermediate grades, nonetheless straddles the invisible border between the lower middle-classes and the working classes. These employees had already rejected Maastricht in 1992 with 53% against, but their vote against the constitution increased dramatically to no less than 67% according to Ipsos.

These major shifts in these two middle-class type of demographics, which are largely found in smaller provincial cities and more distant suburbs/exurbs, represent the fears and insecurities of a middle-class which was being hit hard by socio-economic problems: job losses and industrial restructuring, poor job security, poor wages, a higher cost of living, unemployment, and in some cases other fears (safety and criminality, immigration and so forth). After all, for 52% of those who voted NO, discontent about the country’s social and economic situation in 2005 was one of the main reasons for their vote against the constitution – and this was true across the board, for all partisan categories.

However, the strongest opponents of the European project as symbolized by Maastricht in 1992 and the constitutional treaty in 2005 were the ouvriers. Already in 1992, 61% of them voted NO. In 2005, their opposition increased to nearly eight out of every ten ouvrier which voted: 79% voted NO, by far the strongest NO vote of all professional categories (the agriculteurs in Ipsos’ small sample voted against with 70%, up from 62% against in 1992).

There are other variables tested by Ipsos which allow us to confirm the stark class cleavages found in this referendum.

Measuring the vote by educational attainment, the NO (and YES, by definition) vote formed a graduated scale which constantly increased as the educational attainment (last diploma obtained) of the interviewee decreased. 72% of those who obtained no diplomas or certifications whatsoever voted NO, but only 36% of those who had at least the Bac (high school diploma) and three years of post-secondary education (Bac +3 and above) voted against. Going downwards, the NO vote increased to 46% among voters who had a Bac +2, reached 53% with those whose last diploma obtained is the Bac, and climbed to 65% with those who had a technical or trades certificate below the Bac (BEP/CAP/CEP). In 1992, measured on a different scale (number of years of education, from 14 or less to 22 years or more), there was an identical pattern: only 35% opposition with those who studied for 22 years or more, but 53.5% opposition with those who studied less than 16 years.

Measuring the vote by income, Ipsos found a broadly similar pattern. 63% of those whose households earned above 3000 euros per month voted in favour, but the YES vote fell to 42% with those whose net monthly income was 2000-3000 euros, tumbled to 35% with those who earned between 1000 and 2000 euros, but somehow perked up to 40% with those who earned less than 1000 euros – probably some statistical issues here.

The Sociological/People-Elite View: Geographic Examination of the Yes Vote

Does the geographic distribution of the votes confirm this class cleavage? Broadly, the geography of the referendum confirmed Ipsos’ exit polls and the stark ‘people’-‘elite’ divide. Keeping in mind the very clear partisan undertones and colourings of the map, it is also very instructive to find those right-wing and left-wing voters who voted ‘against’ the trend: those right-wingers who voted NO and those left-wingers who voted YES.

This analysis refers, in all cases to cantons rather than communes, unless otherwise indicated.

Probably boosted by partisan and ideological considerations which were more ‘favourable’ to a YES vote than in 1992, the wealthiest regions of France distinguished themselves by very heavy votes in favour of the European Constitution, even moreso than in 1992 in a good number of cases. In Neuilly-sur-Seine, no less than 82.5% voted in favour. The surrounding very affluent bourgeois outskirts of Paris also voted in favour by a huge margin: 76.9% in favour in Saint-Cloud, 74.6% in Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, 74.3% in Le Chesnay, 73.3% in Boulogne-Billancourt, 72.4% in Sceaux, 72.2% in Le Vésinet, 69.1% in Maisons-Laffitte and 68.9% in Versailles. In the Val-de-Marne’s affluent suburbs, the YES vote reached highs such as 71.2% in Saint-Mandé, 67.8% in Nogent-sur-Marne, 67.7% in Vincennes and 64.8% in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés. The case of Paris itself will merit further analysis, but the vote in favour of the constitution reached impressive heights in the core bourgeois arrondissements of the capital: 80.5% in Paris-7, 80% in Paris-16, 79.7% in Paris-8 and 79.4% in Paris-6.

This pattern was not a uniquely Parisian affair: it held up very well outside of the Parisian basin as well. In a sea of solid opposition to the treaty in the Oise, the two very affluent suburban cantons of Senlis (56.2% YES) and Chantilly (58.2% YES) form a unique block of support for the constitution in a department which awarded only 37.6% to the YES on May 29.

In the Seine-Maritime, we find three lone holdouts for the YES in a department where the rejection of the European Constitution reached 65%. These holdouts, once again, are the most affluent parts of the department: the Victorian-style affluent coastal resort of Sainte-Adresse (outside Le Havre) with 63% for the YES, and two old strongholds of Rouen’s old bourgeoisie: Mont-Saint-Aignan (54%) and particularly Bois-Guillaume (61.5%).

In the Lyonnais region, the vote in favour of the European Constitution triumphed throughout Lyon’s affluent suburbs, which forms a sort of belt to the north of the city itself. In Lyon, a city known for its ‘bourgeois centrist’ socio-political makeup, the constitution triumphed handily with 61%. The vote in favour reached 73.1% in Lyon-6 (La-Tête-d’Or) and 69.9% and Lyon-2, the two most affluent arrondissements of the city. In Lyon’s most prized suburban communes, the YES vote, once again, reached impressive heights: 77.3% in Saint-Didier-au-Mont-d’Or, the most affluent commune in the Greater Lyon, 74% in Saint-Cyr-au-Mont-d’Or, 74% in Limonest, 71.3% in Écully, 69% in Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, 66.6% in Tassin-la-Demi-Lune and 64% in Caluire-et-Cuire.

The same observations can be made throughout France. The YES vote triumphed handily in the affluent suburbs of Lille (68.5% in Marcq-en-Barœul), Rennes (66.3% in Cesson-Sévigné, 65.1% in Betton), Nantes (64.1% in Orvault, 57% in Vertou), Toulouse (56% in the parts of Toulouse-8 outside the city itself, a canton which includes Balma and Pin-Balma), Grenoble (71.5% in Saint-Ismier, 71% in Meylan); but also in the very wealthy suburban canton of Annecy-le-Vieux on Lake Annecy (66.9%) and Geneva’s prosperous white-collar suburbs across the border in France (63% in Ferney-Voltaire, 61.5% in Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, and 60.8% in Gex).

While a lot of France’s notoriously right-wing and wealthy seaside resort towns had been somewhat reticent in 1992, they, by and large, adhered to the European Constitution in 2005. While the NO triumphed comfortably in the Alpes-Maritimes and Var for example, the YES vote found a few bases of support in some famous coastal resort communes: 53.7% in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, 53.1% in Saint-Raphaël, 52.7% in Sainte-Tropez, 52.6% in Antibes, 52.3% in Sainte-Maxime and 51% in Cannes. The YES vote also triumphed in other famous resort – either sun or snow – communes throughout France: 58% in Cassis, 58.6% in La-Grande-Motte, 61.5% in Biarritz, 61.6% in Arcachon, 54.8% in Royan, throughout L’Ile-de-Ré, 53% in Les Sables, 55.5% in Pornic, 63.5% in La Baule, around the Golfe du Morbihan, 56.8% in Perros-Guirec, 57.4% in Dinard, 56.2% in Saint-Malo, 59% in Deauville, 67.5% in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage or 64.5% in Chamonix and 69.2% in Megève.

Regardless of the actual percentages throughout these cantons or towns, the image is clear. The most affluent regions of France, which tend to concentrate a population of highly educated white-collar professionals who share a liberal, pro-European and internationalist mindset, voted heavily in favour of the European Constitution, against the ‘rest’ of France.

The YES vote was not only the affair of a few wealthy right-wing suburbs. It was, primarily, an urban affair. There was a clear urban-rural divide, but it was not universal. For example, while Paris (66.5%) and Lyon (61.3%) both answered in the affirmative, the NO triumphed in Marseille with 61.2%. Large cities such as Nice, Montpellier, Rouen, Lille, Limoges all rejected the constitution (in some cases, however, by margins noticeably smaller than the department in which they are located). Provincial cities and towns which had voted in favour of Maastricht in 1992 joined the bandwagon of opposition in 2005: the constitution was rejected in Avignon, Valence, Nîmes, Perpignan, Montauban, Agen, Le Mans, Beauvais, Amiens, Arras, Charleville-Mézières, Troyes, Clermont-Ferrand and Saint-Étienne – among others.

However, the list of the cities which, in contrast, responded in the affirmative, is enlightening about the nature of the YES vote in urban areas, where the partisan explanation holds less weight than in the aforementioned privileged suburbs.

Results of the 2005 referendum in Paris by polling station (source: géoé

Parisian electoral geography has, since the beginning of time, been conditioned by a very stark polarization between the west side and the east side of the city, the former being right-wing and the latter being left-wing. However, in the 2005 referendum, the city’s famous polarization is almost erased. As this map shows, while the traces of the partisan divide are visible due to the YES’ major gains (vis-à-vis 1992) in the wealthy west side, the differentiation between the NO and the YES vote in the capital does not replicate a partisan cleavage. While those Parisian areas which voted NO in the sea of YES are solidly left-wing neighborhoods, other neighborhoods whose partisan habits are quite similar in quantitative terms awarded impressively high shares of the vote to the YES.In 2005, in addition to the expectedly strong showing of the YES vote in Paris’ wealthiest neighborhoods, the YES vote was also the product of the Parisian left’s new base: young professionals, fairly well-off salaried middle-classes and the well-known bobos. Hence the YES vote reached high levels not only in the core affluent arrondissements such as the 6th, 7th, 8th or 16th but also the central arrondissements, gentrified or boboized: the 2nd, the 3rd, the 5th, the 9th, the 10th or the 14th. Socio-economic status, in this case, trumped partisan considerations.Instead of a partisan east-west divide in the geography of the referendum in Paris, there is a certain centre-periphery divide apparent in the geography. The NO’s only bridgeheads in the capital were all located on the periphery or outskirts of the city. The explanation, again, is a demographic rather than partisan explanation. Social changes in Paris, gentrification and other things wrought by property prices, have changed the character of the city into an overwhelmingly white-collar and highly educated liberal metropolis. The old working-classes or impoverished classes have been pushed out of their former central neighborhoods in the centre-east into the peripheral areas of Paris proper or, more often, outside city limits. Hence, the immediate surroundings of the peripheral highway in north-eastern, eastern and south-eastern Paris are the last remaining holdouts of working-class Paris, concentrating, nowadays, a multiethnic population combining lower education, lower incomes, more blue-collar jobs and higher unemployment. In these neighborhoods, the NO found its only sizable base of support in the capital. This interesting study, based on the 2007 election, illustrates this socio-economic split, which is more complex than the left-right divide, quite nicely.

Lyon, where the YES won 61.3% on May 29, tells a similar story. The YES vote was highest in the right-wing bourgeois arrondissements, but, once again, socio-economic status and attitudes trumped partisanship for the left’s new base of professionals, salaried middle-classes and bobos. The YES won 63.4% in Lyon-4 (which includes the plateau of the Croix-Rousse) and 60.6% in Lyon-1. Only one arrondissement in Lyon rejected the constitution – Lyon-8 (50.3% NO) and the margin was tight in Lyon-9 (53% YES). Both of these arrondissements lie on the periphery of the city, outside the city core. Lyon’s 8th arrondissement includes the low-income neighborhood of Les États-Unis, while the old low-income neighborhood of La Duchère accounts for a significant share of the vote in the 9th.

Marseille, however, handily rejected the European Constitution, with 61.2% voting against. While both Paris and Lyon are known for their social liberalism and cosmopolitanism, Marseille presents starker socio-economic contrasts and a bleaker outlook on the future. With a large share of the population living in economically deprived areas, Marseille on the whole is far less affluent, educated and white-collar than either Paris or Lyon. While both Paris and Lyon’s favourable economic outlooks made them particularly receptive to the European Constitution’s content, the southern metropolis has been in economic decline since the 1980s and has long wrestled with poor urbanism, high unemployment, poverty, exclusion and criminality.

The distribution of the vote in Marseille, however, shows that the vote was clearly influenced by socio-economic considerations, like in Paris and Lyon. The YES vote gained the upper hand in only two of the city’s 16 administrative arrondissements: the 6th (51.9%) and the 8th (55.2%). The 8th is made up of Marseille’s most affluent neighborhoods on the hills overlooking the sea, while the 6th includes both the more bobo Cours Julien and older bourgeois areas being overrun by left-leaning young professionals and middle-classes. The vote was also close in Marseille-7 (51.1% for the NO), adjacent to both these two arrondissements, which includes some very wealthy hilly coastal neighborhoods shared with the 8th. In stark contrast, the quartiers populaires of northern or eastern Marseille (which, unlikely solidly left-wing parts of Paris or Lyon, have not seen major gentrification) broke records with their opposition: 78.6% for the NO in Marseille-15, 76.7% in Marseille-16, 76.6% in Marseille-14, 74.7% in Marseille-3, 69.5% in Marseille-13, 68.6% in Marseille-11 and 67.1% in Marseille-10. Even Marseille-1, still quite deprived but somewhat gentrified and trendier, gave only 42.2% support to the European Constitution (two other arrondissements, 4th and 5th, with some gentrification also voted heavily for the NO).

Outside these main cities, the urban areas which voted in favour of the constitution are those, generally, which – regardless of partisan habits – are, on the whole, more white-collar, slightly more affluent, more educated. In western France, major cities with a large population of educated professional middle-classes (with a certain bobo element, but that is not dominant) formed the base of the YES vote. For example, the European Constitution received 59% approval in Rennes and Nantes, 58.2% in Angers, 58% in Bordeaux, 55.7% in Brest, 55.2% in Laval, 55.1% in Quimper, 54.7% in Caen, 51.9% in Tours, 51.3% in Poitiers and 51.2% in La Rochelle. These are predominantly economically vibrant cities, whose populations – largely middle-class (rising property prices play an important role, of course, here), educated and professional – are optimistic about the future and more favourable, as a natural result, to support European integration.

Similar observations can be made for Toulouse (51.3% YES), Grenoble (55.7%), Chambéry (54%), Annecy (60.3%), Dijon (54.4%), Besançon (52.5%), Metz (53.8%), Nancy (60.2%) and of course Strasbourg (62.8%).

Increasingly, it would appear as if the large metropoleis were becoming powerful centres of attraction for the best-paying jobs, the strongest industries and the most highly educated and socially previleged residents. As such, these cities would be the geographic locales of the so-called European ‘elites’ while the silent majority of 2005 – the ‘people’ – are those who have been pushed outside the large cities, (increasingly exclusive places due to rising property prices) and compelled to lower-paying, less prestigious jobs. However, while it is very true that major urban centres across France and Europe have lost most of their old working-class character and been transformed into service and tertiary-driven metropoleis, to call these urban cores the exclusive hunting grounds of the so-called European ‘elites’ would be incorrect.

While the contrast between the votes of these aforementioned cities and the bulk of France is fairly significant, the YES vote is not extremely overwhelming in a good number of these cities. Additionally, other urban cores which are just as large voted against. The emblematic case of Marseille was presented above, but the NO vote eked out a narrow majority in Lille (50.4% NO), Rouen (50.5), Montpelier (51.4%) and Nice (53.5%) to say nothing of Limoges (55.2%) or Amiens (58.6%).

It would be interesting to be able to take the analysis down another level in these cities, given that no one city is identical and that no city is homogeneous throughout. Unfortunately, data by polling station or even infra-urban canton is not available to the wider public. Géoélections presents a map which includes small insets showing details by electoral canton within large cities. The patterns which can be discerned in these cities confirm the predominance of the socio-economic/class cleavage over any partisan predeterminations.

In Toulouse, the YES vote was dominant in the city’s downtown areas which are a mix of older bourgeois (more right-leaning) neighborhoods and more intellectually-oriented bobo or younger middle-class white-collar areas of the city’s downtown areas. Support for the YES extended into the equally well-off southeastern areas of the city, home notably to a large air-and-space university. However, in the city’s southwestern areas, particularly those which include a major ZUS (zone urban sensible, economically deprived ‘inner-city’ neighborhoods defined by the government), the NO vote was predominant.

In Bordeaux, the referendum highlighted a similar contrast between the bourgeois or middle-class neighborhoods on the one hand, which backed the YES, and the economically deprived areas to the north of the city and to the east of the Gironde River – extended into Cenon, Lormont and Bègles (the city’s lower-income working-class suburbs), which backed the NO by solid margins.

In Lille, the YES was strongest in the affluent and older bourgeois neighborhoods downtown, including the Vieux Lille and Lille Centre. However, the NO was very strong in low-income areas such as Lille Sud, Moulins, Fives or Hellemmes.

In Nantes, the NO vote was triumphant in only one canton – a solidly left-wing canton centered largely on a low-income neighbourhood/ZUS. In Nice, the YES vote was triumphant only in the city’s wealthier neighborhoods. In Strasbourg, while the YES avalanche carried every canton, it was noticeably weaker in the quartiers populaires of western and southern Strasbourg (Elsau, Neuhof, Cronenburg, Koenigshoffen) but strong in both northern Strasbourg’s upscale neighborhoods (Robertsau) but also some more left-leaning gentrified bobo/trendy areas downtown (Gare, Krutenau, Neudorf).

In academia-oriented towns, finally, support was high for the European Constitution. In the Bouches-du-Rhône, Aix-en-Provence and its immediate suburbs form a stark contrast to Marseille. Aix-en-Provence, a fairly affluent town strongly influenced by the presence of academia, the YES vote triumphed with 54.9%, and was even stronger in the very affluent white-collar suburbs of the city (sometimes over 60% for the YES). In the Essonne, the famous research corridor around Orsay, Gif-sur-Yvette and Palaiseau endorsed the constitution by a wide margin: 56.8% in Palaiseau, 65.1% in Orsay and 73.4% in Gif-sur-Yvette. In the Val-de-Marne, the referendum highlighted demographic differences between the left-wing strongholds in the east of the department: the research and academia-influenced towns of Cachan (53.9% YES) and L’Haÿ-les-Roses (55.1%) approved the constitution, but it was handily rejected in neighboring Arcueil, Gentilly and Villejuif (over 60% for the NO), three typical banlieues populaires.

At the same time, it would be reductive to reduce the YES vote to some suburbs and urban areas, which concentrate the demographics favourable to a YES vote. It is very important to point out the importance of rural Catholic (clerical) regions of France to the overall YES vote, already in 1992 but even more so in 2005. One would be hard pressed to use only a sociological or class-based perspective to explain the results in the rural inner west (Anjou, Maine, Vendée, Poitou), the Léon, the rural Basque Country, the Jura plateau and especially the Aubrac. These regions remind us of the importance of ideological/partisan considerations in vote choice but also the impact of tradition.

As previously noted, the strongly pro-European tradition of Catholic France has been one of the constants of French politics and attitudes towards Europe since the 1960s at the least. Whether the stability of this tradition (even in an era where the Church is out of politics and its influence much diminished) is due to actual religious considerations or rather the (unconscious?) impact of past religious traditions on an individual mindset has not been established. Whatever the case, however, France’s old religious cleavage continues to rear its head in every election or referendum, telling us that we should be careful not to downplay the role of tradition in contemporary vote choice.

The Sociological/People-Elite View: Geographic Examination of the No Vote(s)

Above it was noted that the NO vote on May 29 was perhaps best described as the NO votes (or the ‘noes’), in the plural, to indicate the complexity and heterogeneity of the NO’s winning coalition, even more so than the YES’ losing coalition. The analysis of Ipsos’ exit polls highlighted the significant differences which existed between those who voted NO on May 29, on ideological issues or even their attitudes towards European integration. A geographic analysis (at a cantonal level unless otherwise indicated) confirms the heterogeneity of the NO vote.

In urban and suburban areas, as touched on above, the referendum showed deep socio-economic cleavages between the affluent privileged neighborhoods or suburbs on the one hand and the quartiers populaires or banlieues populaires on the other hand. This social cleavage in a fairly small geographic environment is most remarkable in Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Lille.

The greater Parisian region is marked by deep social inequalities and stark class divides in a densely populated urban conglomeration. As listed above, the French capital’s most affluent suburban communities proved to be some of the strongest areas for the YES in the whole of France. On the other hand, their social opposites – Paris’ infamous banlieues populaires – ran up some of the strongest margins for the NO. A few minutes only from Neuilly-sur-Seine’s 82.5% for the YES, the working-class or low-income suburbs of the old Red Belt in the 93 (Seine-Saint-Denis), Val-de-Marne or Val-d’Oise were the NO’s strongest points in the region. The NO took 78% in Valenton, 73.3% in Gennevilliers (Hauts-de-Seine), 73% in Drancy, 72.3% in Stains, 72.2% in Bobigny, 69.4% in La Courneuve, 68.6% in Saint-Denis, 67.7% in Aubervilliers, 67% in Garges-lès-Gonesse, 66.6% in Trappes (Yvelines), 64% in Grigny (Essonne) and 62.7% in Argenteuil.

In Lyon, there was a similar contrast at work. The YES vote was very high in the northern outskirts of the city, which include Lyon’s most affluent suburban communities. On the other hand, the NO won by significant margins in the old working-class suburbs of the city, to the east: 69.6% in Vénissieux, 69.4% in Vaulx-en-Velin, 62.4% in Givors and 60.8% in Saint-Fons. The PCF remains a dominant political force in all of these towns.

In Lille, the YES was predominant in the very affluent suburban towns of Bondues or Marcq-en-Barœul. However, the NO was very strong in the city’s working-class suburbs: 68% in Wattrelos, 64.4% in Seclin, 61.5% in Haubourdin, 61.1% in Tourcoing and 60.4% in Roubaix. In Wattrelos and Roubaix, the YES had won by a tight margin in 1992, thus the dramatic reversal between 1992 and 2005 might be due to partisan factors as well, given that these two communities are PS strongholds with only a weak PCF presence.

The same fairly stark class cleavages between poorer, downtrodden suburbia and more upscale suburbs can be observed in Bordeaux (over 60% for the NO in the old working-class suburbs of Bègles, Lormont, Cenon and Floirac), Grenoble (strong opposition in the old working-class Red Belt suburbs of Échirolles, Saint-Martin-d’Hères, Fontaine), Dijon (a stark contrast between upscale Fontaine-lès-Dijon with 41.9% for the NO and downtrodden Chenôve (62.3% NO), Metz (the poor banlieue commune of Woippy with over 62% for the NO, the upscale suburbs all for the YES), Caen (rejected notably in the ville nouvelle of Hérouville-Saint-Clair) and Tours (71.9% for the NO in the PCF stronghold of Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, a cité cheminote).

These towns – all strongly left-wing (oftentimes old PCF strongholds) banlieues populaires with a large multiethnic population living in large social housing projects (cités) or low-income neighborhoods (the share of the population living in areas designed at ZUS are some of the highest in France) – had already been strongly opposed to Maastricht in 1992 (except Roubaix and Wattrelos) but solidified their opposition in 2005. There is certainly some partisan element at work in these areas, especially where the PS rather than the PCF has been politically dominant. The fact that the NO vote is noticeably strongest in those towns where the PCF has retained some electoral and institutional strength to this day is important: demographic factors might be reinforced by local partisan factors.

However, it is clear that socio-economic factors were the key factors in the NO vote for these low-income communities. These towns are marginalized from the rest of France, and their economic outlook is bleak. Unemployment is high (especially amongst the youth, a large share of the population in these deprived suburbs), jobs do not pay much, inequalities and social problems are major problems and criminality is high. The support for the NO vote was a partly of vote of anger, frustration and resentment at their social and economic marginalization. These low-income suburbs do not recognize themselves in Europe as it has been expressed by the EU, and they resent the ‘liberal’ and ‘elitist’ character of Europe as a political project. The NO vote in these communities is obviously a ‘left-wing’ one, based on social and economic considerations, rather than any nationalist or traditionalist sentiments.

Between 1992 and 2005, the swing towards the NO was strongest in the industrialized, historically working-class regions of the country. While in 1992, the attitude of working-class areas was slightly more divided, with a slight penchant towards the NO. However, in 2005, there emerged a clear image of a more homogeneous ‘class vote’ against the European Constitution.

There was a partisan factor at work in these areas, considering that the political leanings of these areas taken as a whole show a traditional predisposition towards the left, be it the PS or the PCF. In fact, taking the analysis down a notch again shows that, in general, while those working-class locales historically dominated by the PCF had already been largely against Maastricht, socially similar areas with a Socialist tradition had shown a more favourable attitude towards Maastricht (with some exceptions). However, in 2005, partisan factors reinforced demographic factors. Discontent with a right-wing government and partisan habits went hand in hand with socio-economic factors. Furthermore, reading the heavy trend solely as the result of partisan voting would be incorrect. In the 13 years which elapsed between these two votes, the social and economic situation of these communities hardly improved: more jobs were lost, more old industries closed their doors, unemployment crept up, income and education levels remained low and their social marginalization in French society deepened.

These regions represent the economically deprived and marginalized France, which were the proud standard-bearers of French industry in the 1960s but which have slowly turned into economically depressed, crisis-stricken territories which have been increasingly ‘invisible’ in French society. There is a deep social malaise in these regions, with a rancorous population frustrated and exasperated by their marginalization in society. This is a population which feels that they have been the forgotten, ‘invisible’ victims globalization, economic integration, European construction and tertiarization. Since the 1980s, they have been upset at the lipservice which the ‘political elites’ – including the PS and PCF – have paid to their situation. Discouraged or angry, they have either withdrawn from politics altogether or have expressed their rejection of the ‘political elites’ by a protest vote (either for the FN or the far-left). In 2005, the NO vote in these territories was a widespread ‘popular revolt’ of an exasperated population which feels forgotten and marginalized. Their NO vote was not only the rejection of a constitution, it was also a rejection of the incumbent ”political elites” (the old bande des quatres as Le Pen styled it in the 1980s) and a vote of despair by a socially disadvantaged segment of the population which has not been able to catch the train to the white-collar, service-driven post-industrial society.

Throughout France’s old industrial territory, the NO vote reached spectacular levels. This was more than a partisan vote, it was a solid ‘popular revolt’, as explained above. Certainly, partisan factors – particularly the historical electoral/institutional implantation of the PCF – played a role, but they only added to or reinforced a vote which was predominantly driven by socio-economic considerations.

In the Nord, the NO reached huge levels in the old mining basin (78.2% in Douai-Sud outside of Douai, 77.5% in Denain, 75.5% in Condé-sur-l’Escaut, 75.4% in Marchiennes and Bouchain, 73.5% in Arleux or 69.7% in Anzin), but its margins were similarly impressive in the small industrial towns in the south of the department or the old steel mills of valley of the Sambre (71.9% in Carnières, 70.3% in Clary, 69.6% in Solesmes; 76.2% in Berlaimont, 73.5% in Hautmont, 71.2% in Maubeuge-Sud outside of Maubeuge proper or 67.3% in Bavay).

In the Pas-de-Calais, the swing towards the NO between 1992 and 2005 was huge, resulting in spectacularly high margins for the NO in the old mining basin. Rejection of the constitution was no less than 85.3% in Rouvroy, 84% in Avion, 82.2% in Divion, 79% in Wingles, 78.4% in Liévin, 77.4% in Bully-les-Mines, 75.9% in Hénin-Beaumont and 71% in Lens. Outside the mining basin, in other working-class cantons, the NO won big as well: 74.4% in Calais, 71.1% in Arques, 68.3% in Lumbres and 64.5% in Boulogne-sur-Mer.

The victory of the NO was overwhelming throughout most of northern France. The north of the country – the Nord-Pas-de-Calais but also Picardy and Seine-Maritime – were the most industrialized and working-class areas of France in the 1960s and the economic crises and downturns of the 1980s hurt all these regions badly. In the Aisne’s core working-class areas, the NO won 79.8% in Tergnier, 71.9% in Hirson, 70.7% in Chauny and 70.2% in Guise. In the Somme, the NO trounced with 77.1% in Friville-Escarbotin, 72.6% in Ault, 72.4% in Gamaches and 70.4% in Abbeville. In the Oise, the NO dominated in the very left-wing city of Creil (67%) but won all of 68.7% in Montataire, a PCF stronghold outside of Creil.

In the Seine-Maritime, the NO vote obviously went beyond the left (just as in the aforementioned departments), but the strength of the NO in the rural regions of the historically clerical Caux and the solidly right-wing Bray were impressive. In the Seine valley industrial conglomeration, once again, the NO vote was impressively massive: 81.3% in Laurent Fabius’ turf of Le Grand-Quevilly (it had actually voted YES in 1992), 77.8% in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, 76.6% in Le Petit-Quevilly, 72.8% in Elbeuf, 72.4% in Maromme, 68.8% in Lillebonne and all the way to 82.7% in Gonfreville-L’Orcher, the PCF stronghold outside Le Havre (which itself gave 64% to the NO, less than Dieppe’s 68.2%).

The same pattern can be observed in the industrial Ardennes (over 70% against in most of the left-wing working-class cantons in the north of the department), but also in declining small industrial towns in the east of the country which are not necessarily solidly left-wing (the area around Vitry-le-François in the Marne, the Saint-Dizier area, working-class regions in Alsace). In the Pays-Haut Lorrain, a very industrialized and left-wing area, the NO vote was, once again, very high: 73.9% in Homécourt, 73.1% in Audun-le-Roman, 69.9% in Moyeuvre-Grande, 68.9% in Villerupt, 66.8% in Herserange or 66.6% in Rombas.

However, the heavy swing towards the NO in working-class areas was replicated in the Moselle’s mining basin, a very industrialized area but with a much more divided political tradition. The YES had triumphed throughout the mining basin in 1992, but it was heavily rejected in 2005. The NO peaked at 63% in Freyming-Merlebach but reached 60% in Stiring-Wendel, 59.6% in Behren-lès-Forbach, 58.8% in Faulquemont, 56.9% in Saint-Avold and 55.9% in Forbach.

The NO’s dominance was equally as spectacular throughout France’s old industrial bedrock. To ennumerate quickly these regions, they include (but are by no means limited to) Belfort, the Montbéliard-Sochaux-Héricourt industrial basin (Haute-Saône, Doubs), parts of the Jura, old industrial or mining towns in the Saône-et-Loire (Montceau-les-Mines with 64.3% against), the mining or industrial basins of the Nièvre (La Machine, Decize, Guérigny, Clamecy: all well over 60% for the NO), Vierzon (Cher), Montluçon-Commentry (Allier), the Brivadois mining basin (Haute-Loire, Puy-de-Dôme), the Loire mining basin (Firminy, Chambon-Feugerolles: 69.5% against in the latter town), the Gier valley (Loire), the Nord-Isère, the Dauphiné mining basin (66.3% against in La Mure), the Cévennes mining basin (77.3% NO in La Grand-Combe, 65.2% in Alès), the mixed small town industrial-winemaking backcountry of the Languedoc (but also the coastal towns of Béziers or Sète), Carmaux (Tarn, 67.7% against), Decazeville-Aubin (Aveyron, 71.6% for the NO in Aubin), Saint-Nazaire and its poor working-class backcountry in the Brière (Loire-Atlantique).

In Marseille’s industrialized waterfront ‘suburbs’, finally, the NO was just as dominant: 85.2% in Port-de-Bouc, 83.2% in Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône, 71.6% in Berre-l’Étang, 71.4% in Martigues and 70.8% in Fos-sur-Mer.

Even if the margins are not as incredible, working-class areas with a right-wing tradition (parts of Alsace, Oyonnax, Cluses-Scionzier) also rejected the constitution by not insignificant margins. Thus, the strength of the NO in working-class areas, while undeniably closely connected with the strength (or past strength) of the left, especially the PCF, also has clear socio-economic roots. As noted above, the NO vote expressed the rejection of a great number of things. Despite the homogeneity of the vote choice in these aforementioned regions, the NO vote likely were NO votes based on a mix of ‘left-wing’ concerns (neoliberal nature of the constitution, fear of free markets, fear of losing social benefits) and some ‘right-wing’ concerns (largely national identity – the fear of Turkish membership or open borders bringing competition for the scarce jobs, but perhaps crime and immigration). The diversity of these areas, especially in terms of their voting patterns in partisan elections, should also suggest prudence. The FN is strong in most but by no means all of these regions, indicating that its discourse does not resonate equally throughout France.

Thus far, the explanations for the NO vote in downtrodden suburbia and depressed working-class areas all seem very ‘left-wing’. Indeed, the general shape of the NO’s map is quite similar to that of the left – but that of the left prior to the mid 1980s (the heavy dominance in the north, some bastions in the east, the famous C shaped string running from the Bourbonnais to the Comté de Nice). At the same time, however, in the noes of 2005, there were a lot of ‘right-wing’ noes.

Ground-zero, seemingly, for the right-wing noes were lower middle-class exurban/outer suburban communities. The Parisian region is reflective of this pattern, which extended into the Oise, Eure, Eure-et-Loir, Loiret, Yonne and Aisne. The YES was extremely strong in the wealthiest, most upscale suburbs of Paris (west of the capital). However, the NO started winning cantons by the confines of the Essonne and Val-d’Oise (the dominance of the NO in Mantes-la-Jolie and parts of the Yvelines is more reflective of downtrodden left-wing suburbia). In the Seine-et-Marne, the patterns are quite stark. While the YES won or the NO won by margins below the national average (54.7%) in the older suburban outskirts nearer to Paris, the NO won by margins above the national average, in some cases in the 60-65% range, in the cantons which are furthest from Paris, often wrongly described as ‘rural’ parts of a very urban region. The NO was equally as dominant in the most distant cantons of the Essonne, the Eure (Vexin), Eure-et-Loir, Loiret (Beauce around Pithiviers, Gâtinais), Yonne (Sens and outskirts) and Aisne (Château-Thierry, Tardenois and Brie).

These regions are often wrongly described as ‘rural’, but in the twenty-first century, there are very few parts of France which fit the old definition of ‘rural’ (farmers, countryside, no urban influence, small villages). The aforementioned regions are under the heavy suburban influence of Paris. In recent years, these rapidly growing areas have become home to distant exurban communities.

High property prices in the urban cores, urban decay in the old suburbs, white flight have forced them to live further and further away from their workplaces in the downtown cores. These transformations of the Western urban landscape, which is not uniquely franco-français, have had major social and political impacts. Those who have been ‘forced’ to move away from the downtown cores did not do so by choice, their low incomes and lower-paying jobs (there are, obviously, few young professionals or cadres sups in these exurbs, but lots of middle-aged employees) meant that they could not afford to live in increasingly costly downtowns and inner suburbs. Clearly, white flight and security concerns motivated some to ‘escape’ the old proletarian suburbs of the 93, but they probably did not particularly wish to live where they may live today.

The French term for this phenomenon is the périurbain subi (the ‘suffered’ or ‘constrained’ suburban-exurban life) – as opposed to a périurbain choisi (the ‘chosen’ suburban lifestyle). The expression périurbain galère (the French idiom la galère refers to a particularly tough or unfavourable siutation) is a good expression of their lifestyle. By their lower education levels (most have a Bac or trades certificate) they can only rarely aspire to higher paying jobs. They are forced to a long commute to work, and suffer from public transit strikes or traffic jams. A lot those who suffer the périurbain galère struggle to make ends meet: mortgage payments on their houses or car(s) and rising gas prices.

This is a politically apathetic population, which nonetheless turns out in fairly solid numbers (but below average numbers) in presidential elections or the 2005 referendum. While exurbia is core right-wing territory where the left is perennially weak, its voting patterns are bit all over the place. The FN carries a natural appeal to a lower middle-class, middle-aged population with low paying jobs and lower education levels. Furthermore, exurban lower middle-class voters often seek political authority and are concerned by immigration or criminality (the old ‘halo’ effect, first theorized by Pascal Perrineau after the 1984 elections, comes back). Their votes also express a rejection of the ‘political elites’, especially the “bobo gauchiste bienpensant” (a Eurofederalist, socially liberal/tolerant leftist intellectual who patronizes lower income petites gens like them – whether or not this exist is a subjective matter).

In 2005, exurbia rejected the constitution by very solid margins. Partisan factors, such as the influence of the FN with these voters, certainly played a role, but the dominant note must have been socio-economic. The NO vote expressed the fears and insecurities (perhaps also the despair) of a non-urban middle-class, concerned by uncertain job security (fear of losing their job), low wages and incomes, high costs of living but also ‘right-wing’ concerns about the loss of national identity, immigration or security.

This ‘type’ of NO vote was most important around Paris, but also had a clear influence around the other metropoleis of France: Lyon, Marseille, or Nice.

In Lyon’s exurbs (which spread out into the  Ain and Isère), the constitution was rejected by consequential margins. The NO vote was 55.9% in Meyzieu (Rhône), 65.2% in Pont-de-Chéruy (Isère), 54.7% in Montuel (Ain), 58.6% in Crémieu (Isère) and so forth. In the Nord-Isère, a phenomenon of ‘urban decay’ or ‘urban crisis’ is also at work, in large post-industrial towns which have wrestled with crime, economic decline and marginalization by the white-collar metropolis of Lyon. Throughout the north of the department, the constitution was rejected. A similar phenomenon mixing exurban growth with existing large/medium-sized towns extends into the Loire, northern Ardèche (the old textile town of Annonay) and Drôme (Romans-sur-Isère). The NO won consistently 55-60% in these regions.

The Rhône valley has turned into a giant semi-urban behemoth, joining the southern metropolis of Marseille with Arles, Avignon, Nîmes and Avignon. There is a solid far-right tradition predating the FN in this region, which has been maintained by the FN to make the low lying plains in the Gard, Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhône a core far-right stronghold. These ideological and partisan factors, mixed in with social realities (once again, a predominantly lower middle-class, post-industrial population hit by urban decay or economic difficulties), contributed to a very overwhelming NO vote in 2005. The FN strongholds of Saint-Gilles (Gard, 68.5% NO), Vauvert (Gard, 68% NO), Beaucaire (Gard, 69.7% NO), Bédarrides (Vaucluse, 69.8% NO), Orange (Vaucluse, 62.6% NO), Bollène (Vaucluse, 70.2% NO) and Pierrelatte (Drôme, 65.9% NO) rejected the constitution by a huge margin. The FN’s political and electoral influence certainly played a role, but the elements which explains the FN’s strength in these cantons were also central to vote choice. The FN’s clientele in this region is structurally right-wing and conservative, socially it is a largely petit bourgeois electorate of shopkeepers, small business owners and lower middle-classes.

The constitution was also heavily rejected in more exurban communities outside Marseille where the FN is strong. In Vitrolles, an old working-class town hit by rapid urbanization and subsequent urban decay, the NO won 70.2%. The NO also won 70.7% in Marignane, 66.5% in Les Pennes-Mirabeau, 65.1% in Aubagne, 63.9% in Brignoles (Var) and 62.4% in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume (Var).

In the Alpes-Maritimes, while the YES found bases of support in upscale seafront resort communities or even affluent backcountry cantons (57.2% in Le Bar-sur-Loup), the NO vote was very strong in less affluent, outer suburban/exurban cantons of Nice: 69.4% in Contes, 68.7% in L’Escarène, 64.8% in Carros and 60.8% in Contes. The results showed rather similar patterns of rejection in other exurban areas across the country, notably Toulouse’s outer suburban ring.

Finally, rural areas besides those which are more affluent and those with a Catholic tradition, generally opposed the constitution. It is hard to speak of purely ‘rural’ areas, given that most rural areas are nowadays a collection of small towns rather than a patchwork of small farms. A number of communities could be described as semi-rural, lying outside the direct influence of major urban centres, but with smaller towns being the main source of jobs. A number of these semi-rural communes have become some sort of hinterland between important small or medium-sized towns. They are fairly isolated from the main road networks, and many of these semi-rural communities offer very few jobs, forcing inhabitants to commute to a smaller town (referred to as petits pôles or pôles moyens by Insee). The average age of the population in these towns is very quite high, and in terms of active socio-professional categories, ouvriers and employees dominate.

These rural or semi-rural areas are devitalized, with few job opportunities and placed in a situation of socio-economic disadvantage. Some of these communities used to be small manufacturing or industrial centres, which were hit particularly hard by successive economic crises since the 1980s. There is a forgotten “rural crisis” of sorts in many parts of France, with many of these demographically (and economically) declining communities fearing the gradual loss of local public services (a local post office, a local school and so forth) and their extreme marginalization in a country dominated demographically, economically and politically dominated by urban or suburban areas. The political expression of this “crisis” takes a number of forms: removal from the political process, a protest vote for the far-left or the FN or maintaining a traditional vote for either the right or the left.

In 1992, “rural communism” – those more rural parts of France with a strong Communist tradition (Allier, Cher, Indre, parts of the Limousin, Lot-et-Garonne, Trégorrois/Monts-d’Arée) heavily rejected Maastricht, but traditionally Radical or Socialist rural areas (Rouergue, Lot, rural Cévennes, Landes, Pyrénées, Diois) had tended to vote in favour of Maastricht. In 2005, however, all these strongholds of “rural leftism” voted heavily against the constitution. Partisan factors certainly played a role, given that partisanship appears to be have been a more decisive factor in vote choice than it did in most urban areas. However, left-wing concerns about the impact of the constitution on social policies or the vitality of local and public services certainly contributed to the significant NO vote. Many of these hotbeds of “rural leftism” are fairly deprived economically, and they have suffered from demographic decline, an aging population and the loss of local jobs.

In eastern France, these types of semi-rural or rural areas voted heavily the European Constitution in 2005. In the Bas-Rhin (Alsace), for example, the NO won in l’Alsace bossue, the Vosges and parts of the Fôret de Haguenau. While there is an amusing confessional pattern to come out from this map (the places where the NO vote was strongest are largely Protestant), the main explanation is that these are semi-rural cantons, isolated from Strasbourg or Metz. This region, one of the FN’s strongest regions in the country, is one of economically marginalized small towns with a large working-class population (ouvriers and employees) who work in neighboring petits pôles or pôles moyens. The same phenomenon was replicated throughout Alsace but also most of Lorraine and parts of Champagne and Burgundy.

These are the regions where Bernard Schwengler, a specialist of the FN vote in Alsace, identified the little-known phenomenon of l’ouvrier caché (the ‘hidden’ worker/working-class), as explained in this article.

The fact that Alsace, taken as a whole unit, combines a strong pro-European outlook with one of the highest votes for the far-right in the country may appear very paradoxical. However, at a cantonal level, the correlation between the 2002 Le Pen vote and the NO vote in Alsace was actually much stronger than in metropolitan France as a whole (0.62 in Alsace, only 0.36 in metro France).

This examination of the NO revealed four main strongholds of the “noes” in 2005. Firstly, the (in)famous banlieues populaires of France’s major cities, especially Paris, where the NO expressed the rejection of a Europe in which they did not recognize themselves. Secondly, almost throughout the entirety of the old industrial proletarian heartlands of France (particularly left-wing ones), where the NO vote expressed the social malaise of an economically, socially and politically disadvantaged and marginalized population still hurting from the deindustrialization of the 1980s-1990s. Thirdly, the growing outer suburban and exurban ‘lower middle-class’ France, where the NO vote  expressed the fears of a non-urban middle class which felt worried, isolated anfd forgotten in the rising tide of globalization and economic integration perfectly embodied by the European Constitution. Finally, the NO was dominant in most of semi-rural or rural France, expressing the dissatisfaction of poor, isolated and demographically depressed regions. The common thread was a rejection of the political elites (particularly the incumbent ones on the right…), of the economic liberalism and globalization symbolized by the European Constitution; and a protest against the socio-economic marginalization resented by all of these regions and voters.

Top Factors in Vote Choice: Partisanship or sociology?

Of the two perspectives on the issue of the 2005 referendum – the circumstantial view (placing the referendum in context, the vote as driven by ideology, partisanship or public opinion) or the sociological view (the vote as driven by socio-economic considerations, class status and income, highlighting a people-elite divide), which can best explain the results of the 2005 referendum?

The following table compares a number of partisan/political and socio-demographic variables to the NO vote in the 2005 referendum, by Insee canton in metropolitan France and, in parentheses, France as a whole including the DOM-TOMs. Given the nature of vote choice in the DOM-TOMs, especially on the European issue in 1992 and 2005, it is best to consider only metropolitan France.

The results are expressed as correlation coefficients, either negative or positive, with 0.3/-0.3 and up/down indicating a medium correlation and 0.5/-0.5 and up/down indicating a strong correlation. When available, the correlation coefficient for the same variables compared to the NO vote in 1992 is given.

NO vote vs. variable



Pro-EU Right 2002 (Chirac + Bayrou + Madelin vote in 2002) -0.72 (-0.68) -0.13 (-0.23) – Balladur + Chirac 1995
UMP/Right R2004-R2 (Moderate right/UMP vote in runoffs, 2004 regionals) -0.55 (-0.5)
Eurosceptic 2002 (Gluckstein + Laguiller + Besancenot + Hue + Chevènement + Saint-Josse + Mégret + Le Pen) 0.80 (0.75) 0.40 (0.53) – Laguiller + Hue + Villiers + Le Pen
Eurosceptic Left 2002 (Gluckstein + Laguiller + Besancenot + Hue + Chevènement) 0.54 (0.59) 0.33 (0.38) – Laguiller + Hue
Eurosceptic Right 2002 (Saint-Josse + Mégret + Le Pen) 0.49 (0.54) 0.19 (0.33) – Villiers + Le Pen
R. Hue (PCF) 2002 0.54 (0.55) 0.39 (0.40) – Hue 1995
J-M. Le Pen (FN) 2002, first round 0.28 (0.36) 0.12 (0.25) – Le Pen 1995
Median Household Income (2006) -0.58
Cadres, prof. intell. sup. (% of labour force, 2006) -0.59 (-0.52) -0.46 (-0.36) – 1990
Ouvriers (% of labour force, 2006) 0.47 (0.45) 0.32 (0.29) – 1990
Employees (% of labour force, 2006) 0.31 (0.23) -0.22 (-0.25) – 1990
Unemployment rate (% of labour force, 2006) 0.38 (0.07) 0.31 (-0.12) – 1990
Cadres, prof. intell. sup. (% of population, 2009) -0.59 (-0.52)
Ouvriers (% of population, 2009) 0.36 (0.36)
Employees (% of population, 2009) 0.10 (0.06)
No diploma (% of labour force, 2006) 0.41 (0.18)
University diploma (% of labour force, 2006) -0.61 (-0.51)
No diploma (% of population, 2009) 0.48 (0.17) 0.47 (0.05) – 1990
University diploma (% of population, 2009) -0.62 (-0.53) -0.50 (-0.39) – 1990

The preceding table reveals the importance of a good number of variables. It is rather impressive the number of very strong correlations (considering that very few political correlations breach the ‘strong’ level) which appear in this table.

The correlation between the vote for the candidates of the “pro-European right” in 2002 and the YES vote is very reflective of the nature of the YES vote in 2005 – a vote which came predominantly from the ideological centre-right. The correlation between the “Eurosceptic vote” in 2002 and the NO vote in 2002 is also extremely strong, especially when considering that the correlation between the “Eurosceptic vote” in the 1995 election and the vote against Maastricht was nowhere near as closely correlated. This little statistic shows how the 2002 presidential election was truly the epitome of protest voting. In 1995, the “pro-European” candidates (Chirac and Jospin especially) certainly received the support of a significant minority of voters who had voted against Maastricht in 1992. In 2002, however, it appears that a much smaller share of those who would go on to vote NO to the European Constitution three years later backed “pro-European” candidates.

Both the share of the vote by canton for Eurosceptic left-wing candidates and Eurosceptic right-wing candidates in 2002 correlate well with the NO vote in 2005, indicating that while the NO vote was on the whole more left-wing it also had a significant element stemming from the far-right. On the other hand, the correlation between Le Pen’s first round vote in 2002 and the NO vote is weak. Unsurprisingly, the PCF vote (Robert Hue in 2002) is more closely correlated with the NO vote.

The strength of the correlations, be they positive or negative, between socio-demographic indicators and the NO vote is quite impressive. However, should we be careful of implying direct causation between some of these indicators and the NO vote? After all, variables such as the percentage of CPIS or the median income by canton could be assumed to have a strong correlation with the “pro-European right” vote in 2002 and its impact on the NO vote might be cancelled out if the right-wing vote is controlled. However, the correlations between these socio-demographic statistics and the NO vote is much stronger, in all cases, than the correlations between these same statistics and the “pro-European right” vote in 2002. For example, median income had a positive correlation of only 0.22 (weak) with the right-wing vote in 2002, but a much stronger correlation of 0.58 with the YES vote. Similarly, the correlation (in metro France) between the share of CPIS or manual workers in the labour force of a canton and the right-wing vote in 2002 is weak, in both directions (0.16 positive correlation with CPIS, -0.1 negative correlation with manual workers).

It must be pointed out, however, that in the Île-de-France (IDF) region alone, the correlations between the right-wing vote in 2002 and these socio-demographic numbers is much stronger: 0.82 with CPIS, -0.74 with manual workers and 0.85 with median income. In the region, the correlation between the YES vote and the right-wing vote in 2002 is 0.90! That being said, the correlations between the socio-demographic variables and the NO vote is still a bit stronger than that with the right-wing vote: -0.95 negative correlation between the CPIS (!) and the NO, 0.9 with manual workers and -0.89 with median income.

In France as a whole, the percentage of CPIS, the median income and the percentage with a university diploma in a given canton had a negative impact on the NO vote. The higher the share of CPIS and university graduates and the higher the income, the lower the NO vote. Of course, this correlation is imperfect, but it is remarkably strong, and is even stronger in urban areas, as the separate numbers for IDF show.

On the other hand, the percentage of ouvriers and the percentage of the population with no diploma had a positive impact on the NO vote. The higher the share of ouvriers and inhabitants with no diploma in a given canton, the higher the NO vote. Once again, this correlation is imperfect but nonetheless impressive, and would likely be much stronger in urban areas.

The unemployment rate (in 2006) and the percentage of employees by canton had a positive impact on the NO vote, but it was not particularly strong. It is quite interesting to point out that in 1992, the percentage of employees actually had a negative impact (although, again, not extremely significant) on the NO vote. Does this reflect the changing attitudes of this lower middle-class socioprofessional category, found largely in smaller urban and most suburban areas, towards European integration between 1992 and 2005? The YES’ narrow victory in 1992 which became a significant victory for the NO in 2005 was due largely to the changing attitudes of the provincial and suburban middle-classes.

From these numbers, which of the two approaches to understanding the 2005 referendum holds the most merit? In reality, both hold keys to understanding the final result. The circumstantial explanation and the impact of the incumbent government’s unpopularity should not be understated, and neither should the weight of partisanship and 2002 vote choice. However, the 2005 referendum did reveal a major, significant schism between some kind of ‘elite’ and some kind of silent majority/’people’. The NO’s victory expressed more than just rejection of a government which had terrible ratings. It expressed the disillusionment, frustration, anger, fears and resentment of a wide swathe of the French electorate. The NO vote spoke volumes about a number of important social, economic and political malaises which existed in French society in 2005 and still exist in 2012.

Furthermore, partisanship and vote choice are the outputs/end products of a model in which socio-demographic situation or social class are inputs. A vote for the “pro-European right” in 2002 was an output, which was the result of the input of variables which include class.

Therefore, the 2005 referendum was neither a pure circumstantial affair driven by time-dependent public opinion on a government and partisan considerations, nor was it a purely sociological ‘people’ vs. ‘elite’ battle. Both factors played a role in the final result, even if the socio-demographic explanations of the result could hold more weight. Regardless of what explanatory method one prefers, the results of the 2005 referendum revealed a wealth of information on the state of French society, on the concerns or aspirations of French voters or about the different “types” of left and right-wing voters.

The Attitudes and Values of YES and NO voters

The CEVIPOF’s Panel électoral français from 2007 broke down its questions, which include some very interesting questions about the values, attitudes and subjective social situation of the interviewees, by the vote in the 2005 referendum. The YES and NO vote were further divided into a ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ category (leftist YES, leftist NO vs. rightist YES, rightist NO). This table presents the most interesting questions from this vast resource.

The CEVIPOF’s PEF, one of the best resources for quantitative data on politics and elections in France, is a massive opinion poll. The data used in this table come from 4,006 phone or in-person interviews held between May 9 and 23, 2007 (after the May 6 runoff).

Issue or question (answer, % nationally) YES (left / right) NO (left / right)
How do you make out with your income? (% answering easily or very easily, 46% overall) 56% (51% / 62%) 39% (42% / 39%)
“We can trust most people” (% agreeing, 24%) 32% (33% / 32%) 22% (30% / 16%)
State should trust business & give them more liberty (% agreeing, 48%) 59% (42% / 71%) 40% (29% / 53%)
Priority to improving salaries (% agreeing, 68%) 55% (73% / 42%) 72% (84% / 57%)
EU membership (% saying it is a “good thing”, 50%) 77% (74% / 82%) 30% (33% / 28%)
EU: Less social protection in France (% who fear, 68%) 54% (66% / 46%) 79% (86% / 73%)
EU: More unemployment in France (% who fear, 68%) 52% (57% / 48%) 79% (74% / 83%)
EU: Losing culture and identity (% who fear, 50%) 36% (34% / 36%) 61% (49% / 72%)
EU: More immigrants (% who fear, 48%) 40% (34% / 43%) 56% (37% / 74%)
Globalization (% saying it is a good thing, 24%) 39% (27% / 47%) 12% (11% / 15%)
Fearing the future (% saying that they sometimes fear the future, 62%) 54% (56% / 50%) 66% (67% / 64%)
Parental authority (% saying that nowadays parents have no more authority, 57%) 55% (44% / 60%) 59% (51% / 65%)
Social justice (% saying we should take from the rich to give to the poor, 57%) 49% (70% / 35%) 60% (77% / 42%)
Too many immigrants in France (% agreeing, 48%) 44% (32% / 51%) 54% (37% / 73%)
Reestablish death penalty (% agreeing, 36%) 28% (21% / 30%) 43% (24% / 55%)
Ban immigration from East European workers (% agreeing, 36%) 28% (25% / 31%) 42% (30% / 53%)
Democracy in France (% saying it doesn’t work well, 36%) 24% (28% / 18%) 42% (43% / 39%)
“European Union” (% with positive opinion of the word, 68%) 90% (87% / 92%) 46% (52% / 41%)
“Profit” (% with positive opinion of the word, 57%) 65% (54% / 73%) 49% (38% / 62%)
“Privatization” (% with positive opinion of the word, 40%) 51% (32% / 65%) 32% (17% / 50%)
Attention of politicians to what people think (% saying politicians care enough/a lot about what people think, 28%) 39% (29% / 48%) 21% (17% / 26%)
Trust in the justice system (% tend to trust, 56%) 64% (62% / 66%) 48% (51% / 47%)
Trust in political parties (% tend to trust, 34%) 41% (35% / 49%) 30% (28% / 39%)
“Politicians are corrupt” (% often or sometimes, 83%) 80% (82% / 78%) 88% (89% / 85%)

The crosstabs of CEVIPOF’s 2007 PEF reveals some interesting additional information about the attitudes and values of YES and NO voters. While the answers on a good number of these questions seem to be divided more along partisan lines than vote choice in 2005, there are some generalizations which can be made about who voted which way.

Left-wing YES voters broadly shared the political outlook of left-wing NO voters on some broad issues (concerned about wages, unemployment, social justice, moral and cultural liberalism/tolerance), but they were far more open than left-wing nonistes to globalization, economic competitivity, economic liberalization and (of course) European integration. Left-wing YES voters were even more morally and culturally liberal/tolerant than leftist nonistes. On economic matters, even when there was broad agreement on the left, those left-wingers who opted for the YES in May 2005 are more open to economic liberalism than those who voted for the NO: the percentage of left-wing YES voters who took the ‘economically liberal position’ on free enterprise, social protection, unemployment, globalization, social justice, profit or privatization was higher – or much higher – than among left-wing NO voters. Finally, left-wing YES voters trusted others, public institutions, the justice system, political parties and politicians more than their noniste counterparts, sometimes more than even the French electorate as a whole.

Right-wing YES voters agreed with right-wing NO voters on some issues (authority, some measures of economic liberalism) but there were major differences between these two ‘rights’ (which includes the far-right) on other matters. Those right-wingers who backed the YES were far more economically liberal and, to a certain degree, more morally and culturallty liberal than those who did not. Like those left-wingers who voted YES, these voters were more trustful of others, institutions, the judiciary or politicians. As expected, those right-wingers who voted YES said that they could make ends meet far more easily than right-wingers who voted NO.

Left-wing NO voters represented the “authoritian left” quadrant of the political spectrum. On economic matters, despite agreement on some matters, their positions were even further to the left than among left-wing YES voters. Very few had positive impressions of the words profit or privatization, for example, while a sizable minority of left-wing YES voters held a more positive view of these two politicized terms. Comparatively, however, some left-wing NO voters opted for the more authoritarian position on moral or cultural issues. They appeared slightly less receptive than left-wing YES voters on issues such as immigration.

Right-wing NO voters held very conservative outlooks on moral or cultural issues, and appeared considerably more nationalist than right-wing YES voters. This was very much a “law and order”-type electorate which supported stronger authority and were concerned about immigration. A significant share of the right-wing NO vote was formed by the far-right and FN voters, which explains the overlap between the attitudes of FN/Le Pen voters in 2007 and right-wing NO voters.

The common thread in the NO votes was, of course, a distrust in public institutions (including the justice system) as a whole, in politicians and parties but also a certain lack of trust in other people. To a certain extent, NO voters felt “alone in the world” and had, in general, a far more pessimistic view of the country’s social, economic and political situation (and the country’s future).


The impact of the European Constitution’s rejection by French voters in 2005 was not only immediate, but also long-term. The 2005 referendum was a much more complex issue than yes and no, with these two ballots expressing much more than just agreement or disagreement with the actual question presented to voters. The vote on May 29, 2005 was driven by a wide variety of factors, from very circumstantial factors to more fundamental sociological/socio-demographic factors. Beyond the headlines and the spin, the intricacies of the 2005 results show how complex the issue was.

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