Category Archives: Fifth Republic (1958-)

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: geoclip.fr)

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: geoclip.fr)

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: géoélections.fr)

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

2005

1992

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.

Reflections on the 2012 Presidential election

I haven’t talked about the 2012 presidential election in France (April 22/May 6) in much detail yet, largely because I prefer to analyse elections after the fact, because any analysis prior to any votes being cast is going to be based on a successions of polls, hearsay, personal opinions, and the usual political shenanigans and platitudes. There is also the fact that I personally can’t bring myself to care all that much about the campaign itself, though I anxiously await the results of the first round to develop some solid analyses and draw up some detailed maps of the results which will tell us, better than anything else, what exactly happened.

That being said, having been called upon by a good friend of mine who has dedicated himself to tracking (in French, naturally) the polls and patterns of this campaign  to offer my analysis and point of view on a few matters of relevance to this campaign and the patterns which have emerged in the polls thus far. I felt it reasonable to put together a post with a few personal reflections and observations of the campaign (and the polls) thus far.

Voting intentions for the first round of the 2012 French presidential election (source: sondages2012)

My friend’s blog has developed an aggregate tracker of all polls published, which he can explain far better than I can. I have copied the graphical representation of this tracker since May 2011 on the right of the screen. The main trends since December 2011, which is when the campaign entered the “serious” part, have been as follows:

On the left, François Hollande (PS) has seen his poll ratings drop by a not inconsequential amount though not for that matter at an alarming pace. He had a brief bump in early February, following a very successful campaign rally at Le Bourget. The indicator pegs him at 27.3%.

On the right, Nicolas Sarkozy (UMP) saw his poll ratings grow at a steady and fairly rapid pace between late January and this week. He started gaining at a steady pace following the official announcement of his candidacy on February 15, and maintained his dynamique following a successful rally at Villepinte and the tragic shootings in Toulouse. Symbolically, Sarkozy has now surpassed Hollande in most polls for the first round. The indicator pegs him at 28.4%.

On the far-right, Marine Le Pen (FN) has seen her support drop about at the same pace as Nicolas Sarkozy increased his support. She is a long way from her headline-making peaks of the summer of 2011, when was roughly tied with Sarkozy. She is pegged by the indicator at 15.3%, which would be a strong showing for the FN but certainly an underwhelming performance for her considering her string of successes in 2011.

On the left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FG) has been the top mover-n’-shaker of the first round thus far. Now pegged at 13.5% by the indicator and polling as high as 15% in some polls, Mélenchon began a phenomenally rapid surge in early March, a surge which has yet to peter out though it is stabilizing at a ceiling of 13-15% for him. Explanations for this surge abound, and the answers are not as simple as the graph may indicate. Mélenchon’s dramatic emergence in this race, moving up from the second tier to the first tier and rivaling Marine Le Pen for third place has been the most important event of a rather uneventful, uninspiring and stale campaign thus far.

In the centre, François Bayrou (MoDem), after a successful rapid emergence in the first tier in December following his official announcement and the launch of his trademark industrial nationalism shtick (produire français) has failed to take his early dynamique any further despite a lot of potential openings for him since then. After stabilizing at a fairly decent 12-14%, he has since shed support at a fairly alarming pace, the indicator now pegging him at only 10.9%.

In the second tier, Eva Joly (EELV) has continued her slow descent into the abyss with an unabated and general decline in all polls from a strong 4-6% base in December to a stable 1.5-3% range today, the indicator placing her at 2.2%. None of the other four candidates (the DLR’s Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, the far-left’s Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou and the LaRouchite Jacques Cheminade) have been capable of gaining relevance – or even support consistently above 1% – since the serious things began. Their last chance will be the two-week long official campaign, where official television ‘spots’ by each candidate are run.

Based on these general trends, what are the main things we can take away from this and what are the explanations for these events?

1. Why the Mélenchon surge?

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s surge, as aforementioned, is probably the most dramatic event of what has been a fairly boring and stale campaign. With support somewhere between 12 and 15%, Mélenchon could potentially place third.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a former Socialist cabinet minister and traditionally one of the top figures of the party’s left-wing, left the party following the chaotic Reims Congress (2008) to create the Left Party (PG) which claims to emulate the German Linke. Although the PG as an individual political party has an extremely limited base, it has the sizable benefit of having as its leader a dynamic, charismatic and assertive man who has proven capable of reinvigorating the left of the PS. In 2009, the PG allied with the Communist Party (PCF) – whose infrastructure, grassroots and traditional core electorate is much larger than that of the PG but which is totally devoid an inspiring, charismatic dynamic leader – to form the Left Front (FG) which achieved some success in both the 2009 European and 2010 regional elections.

The FG serves the interests of both partners. For the PCF’s leadership, an alliance with Mélenchon is a golden opportunity for them to regain political relevance and touch a wider base. In the 2007 presidential election, the PCF’s candidate, Marie-George Buffet – one of those boring party apparatchiks with which the PCF abounds – won a disastrous 1.9%, placing the party’s very survival into question. The FG, from the PCF Politburo’s point of view, is a terrific lifeline for them and allows them to reach out to voters who would not have considered voting for a party apparatchik like the party’s current boss, Pierre Laurent. For the PG, the FG is the tool with which Mélenchon can put his hands on a rather well-oiled political machine to further his political ambitions (the leadership of the “left of the left”).

Mélenchon was always going to perform much better than Marie-George Buffet (1.9%) in 2007, which is one of the main reasons why the bulk of the PCF’s base embraced him. However, beginning in January, he started creeping up from behind – without many observers taking note of it – largely because it was not a very dramatic boost, only slowly moving up from 6% to 8-9%. In early March, his surge began. The first signs of the surge actually happened prior to his massive rally at La Bastille in Paris, which is often cited as the moment at which his candidacy really took off.

What can explain this surge?

Firstly, there is his personality. He is charismatic, dynamic and extremely assertive. Besides his tendency to go on slightly amusing rants against journalists he has a grudge against, his demeanor and style – forcefully and passionately defending his political positions – seems to have convinced many left-wing voters who have been disappointed by Hollande, known for his more moderate tone. Though Hollande’s image as being “soft” is not entirely correct, it is not entirely false either. During the PS primary, Hollande’s main weakness was on his left, where he was open to criticism for his ‘softness’ and ‘weakness’. For a lot of left-wing voters who are very motivated by the urge to defeat Sarkozy and to dramatically change courses, Mélenchon can appear as a far more assertive and dynamic candidate than the “soft” Hollande whose campaign has been hesitant and fairly quiet since his successful outing at the Bourget.

Mélenchon has seen his ‘image’ improve considerably, though it is up for debate whether this is the result of the surge or if it is indeed a cause of the surge. In the past, his image as an angry, bitter man known for his tirades and bad temper against journalists gave him a fairly negative or at least polarizing image in the wider public opinion. However, voters seem to have rediscovered his charisma and dynamism, and in turn have judged him more favourably.

Mélenchon, to conclude on this point, has all the qualities needed for a successful candidate: charisma, a strong talent for the oratory, dynamic and appearing as a fairly honest person who believes in what he preaches, and who can convey his message forcefully and successfully. Hollande’s charisma is not horrible, but he certainly doesn’t have Mélenchon’s appearance as a skilled orator.

Secondly, there is the rhetoric. Mélenchon has successfully claimed the mantle of the anti-system/anti-establishment, somewhat ‘revolutionary’ candidate on the left of the spectrum.

There is a certain appetite and indeed some room in France, especially on the left and especially in times of economic crisis, for a candidate who takes a very anti-system message on issues such as the banks, high earners, tax evaders, austerity measures, social policies and defending the welfare state. Foreign observers are quick to note with some amusement how French voters always stand out in western Europe for their pronounced skepticism towards capitalism and globalization, and their penchant for economic populism and watered-down protectionism. It is hard to quantify (and I love quantifying stuff), but it is not unreasonable to claim that Mélenchon has taken on a stature as a forceful anti-system advocate for economically populist propositions (measures such as increasing the minimum wage to €1700, a ‘100% tax bracket’ on revenues above €360,000, a cap on maximum salaries) which tend to be popular in times of economic crisis.

Related to this above point, Mélenchon has likely become one of those candidates who is attractive to protest voters – those who “vote with their middle finger”. His whole rhetoric, standing outside the system and his tirades against big business and corporations, makes him a natural fit for these anti-system protest voters who in the past have flirted with the Le Pens but also, in 2007, with François Bayrou with his image as the “respectable” but still outsider, anti-system candidate.

In an Ipsos poll, 31% of his voters cited a “desire to reflect my discontent” as one of three main vote motivators – which is quite a bit above the national average (23%), but also far below the average for Marine’s voters (46%). He is not entirely a protest candidate. 22% of French voters cited “rejection of other candidates” as a vote motivator, but only 6% of Mélenchon’s voters cited this as a voting motivator (against 23% for Le Pen). For 78% of Mélenchon’s voters, his ideas or proposals were one of the top three voting motivators – the highest of any candidate besides Eva Joly. At this point, Marine Le Pen remains much more of a protest candidate than Mélenchon, but Mélenchon certainly has a base of support with these heterogeneous protest voters.

2. Where is Mélenchon’s surge coming from?

According to Ipsos, whose polling saw Mélenchon jump from 9.5% on March 3 to 13% on March 24, the vast majority of his gains come from voters who have switched their allegiance from another candidate. Ipsos estimates that Mélenchon gained 2% (out of 3.5%) from François Hollande, 0.5% from François Bayrou, 0.5% from Marine Le Pen and 0.5% from ‘other candidates’.

It seems quite reasonable that part of Mélenchon’s surge in the past few weeks came from voters who had previously supported Hollande. My theory on this matter is that Mélenchon gained the support of a fraction of the left-wing electorate which is very much anti-Sarkozyst and lying on the left of the PS. These voters may have supported Arnaud Montebourg in the PS-PRG’s open primary in 2011, but opted to support Hollande following his victory for reasons including party unity, ability to defeat Sarkozy and perhaps convinced by some of his left-wing planks (the 75% tax bracket).

However, these voters were likely frustrated by Hollande’s “soft” image following the Bourget, his inaudible campaign and in general his more centrist and moderate image which might have prompted some to support Montebourg or Martine Aubry back in the primary. For these voters, either from the left of the PS or on the fence between the PS and the “left of the left”, Mélenchon likely proved an attractive candidate who talks about the left-wing themes they want to hear and takes a forceful posture against Sarkozy. The media narrative about the inevitability of a Hollande-Sarkozy runoff, and how Hollande is the favourite dog in that race likely reduces the risk, for these voters, of voting for a candidate other than the top two. There is still a tendency on the left for the vote utile (‘useful vote’, aka voting for one of the top two contenders, not the also-rans) since the 2002 disaster, for it is not as prominent today with the narrative and appearance of Hollande’s inevitability. It is thus less risky for these voters, not too impassioned by Hollande but very determined to defeat Sarkozy, to vote for a candidate (Mélenchon) closer to their own views (which are likely to the left of Hollande) while still voting for Hollande without many second thoughts in the runoff.

Indeed, polls shows that about 85% of Mélenchon’s voters will vote for Hollande over Sarkozy in the runoff, with about one in ten of his voters likely to abstain and only a tiny fraction which will vote for Sarkozy. From this quantitative point of view, Mélenchon’s surge is not really a problem for Hollande (as long as it stabilizes at where it is now, 13-15%). However, from a qualitative point of view, one could argue that Mélenchon’s surge forces Hollande to tack left in the first round and perhaps in the runoff, in the process running the risk of losing more centrist voters who might edge towards Bayrou.

It is slightly more surprising to see Ipsos estimate that Mélenchon gained 0.5% from both Bayrou and Marine Le Pen. From a purely ideological point of view, Bayrou and Mélenchon do not have much in common – if anything at all. Marine Le Pen and Mélenchon are sworn enemies and polar opposites, especially after Mélenchon savaged her in a televised debate. However, ideology isn’t everything in the wonderful world of politics. We will come back to the issue of Marine vs. Mélenchon in more details later.

As for Bayrou’s voters switching to Mélenchon, it must first be said that this is only a small fraction and you could very well sketch it up to margin of error problems in the polls. If we are, however, to assume that some Bayrou supporters have switched to Mélenchon, what could be the cause? The most likely option is that Bayrou, in his December surge, picked up some of the voters who had backed him in 2007 not because of centrist-UDF traditions but rather because of Bayrou’s 2007 image as the “respectable” anti-establishment candidate. His whole “industrial nationalism” shtick (produire français/made in France), which is certainly very distant from the traditional internationalism of the UDF, might have been a factor in attracting some non-centrist ‘protest-type’ voters to Bayrou in December. When his campaign started to founder, however, he might have lost these fickle voters to Mélenchon who, while not hammering the industrial nationalism stuff, does in some regards come close to the contemporary political style of Bayrou or the 2007 image of Bayrou as the “anti-establishment candidate of the establishment”.

According to an Ifop study on the dynamique Mélenchon, Mélenchon attracts the support of 11% of Bayrou’s 2007 voters.

3. Marine Le Pen vs. Jean-Luc Mélenchon

It might be tempting and indeed obvious to connect Mélenchon’s surge with Marine Le Pen’s steady erosion of support (see the graph above). This theory brings us, incidentally, to the media’s favourite theory (and my pet peeve): that the FN’s rise to prominence in the 1980s was fairly directly correlated with the PCF’s decline. Certainly if you only look at graphs, the FN grew at the same time as the PCF declined. Hence, the story goes, Mélenchon might be attracting some old left-wing/Communist voters who had taken to voting for the Le Pens in recent years.

One cannot really dispute the idea that the FN attracted traditionally left-wing voters, usually lower middle-class or working-class, who were disappointed by the economic crises and corruption scandals of the Mitterrand years and attracted by the working-class, anti-immigration populism of Jean-Marie Le Pen and the FN. In past posts, I have talked at some length about the idea of gaucho-lepénisme which denotes a certain category of traditionally left-wing voters who vote for the FN in the first round but tend to vote for the left in the runoff. The 1990s, especially the 1995 presidential election, was perhaps the peak of gaucho-lepénisme, which subsequently declined a bit in 2002 but might have had a little renaissance of sorts in 2010-2011.

Let us be careful, however, about equating gaucho-lepénisme with some concept of a “communists for Le Pen” phenomenon. The media loves to claim that there exists a strong correlation between a Communist tradition and a strong FN base, while Communist sympathizers categorically deny any such correlation (often using the 1984 European elections as proof!). Neither side is entirely correct, because the issue can’t be black and white.

There are certainly grounds for PCF voters to switch to the FN: two protest parties, both attracting support from “unhappy” protest/anti-system voters, both speaking out against the big corporations and those who prey on the working poor. People vote the way they do for all kinds of reasons, and switch partisan allegiances in a manner which may appear crazy or contradictory. Thus, there is certainly a small minority of PCF voters who flirt with the FN on occasion. In 2002, 5% of Robert Hue’s 1995 voters voted for Jean-Marie Le Pen as did 7% of PCF sympathizers. In 2007, again, 7% of PCF sympathizers voted for Jean-Marie Le Pen. In 2010, only 1% of PCF-PG sympathizers voted for the FN though 6% of those who had voted for the FG in the 2009 European elections voted FN.

However, the FN’s gains in working-class areas since the late 1980s have been most important in right-wing working-class areas (they certainly exist) or left-wing working-class areas where the PS has tended to be the dominant party. Using a sample of 122 working-class municipalities with a significant population, there was, in 1995, a strong negative correlation of -0.56 between Hue and Le Pen, which was carried on to 2002 (-0.48) and 2010 to a lesser extent (-0.32). There was, in addition, a strongish negative correlation of -0.36 between the FN’s 2010 performance and Robert Hue’s 1995 performance. This is, of course, only a limited sample, but in these core working-class areas (the sample includes PCF, PS and right-wing dominated locales), the FN clearly performed much better in traditionally right-wing working class areas (Cluses-Scionzier, Oyonnax, Moselle’s mining basin, Mazamet or the Yssingelais for example) while its performances in historically Communist working-class areas was rarely very strong and much more often average, mediocre or even weak.

In the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, for example, the FN’s “new” working-class bases have historically been municipalities where the PS, not the PCF, dominated politics. Hénin-Beaumont, was just as left-wing as other surrounding mining basin communities, but the PCF has not been particularly strong there since the 1980s. Lens, Halluin, Roubaix or Tourcoing are other examples of PS-dominated working-class or working poor communities where the FN is strong. In contrast, the Communist strongholds of the mining basin in the same region (Divion, Auchel, Carvin, Avion, Denain, Saint-Amand-les-Eaux, Somain, Marchiennes) have not really distinguished themselves by particularly strong FN performances – even in the Marine-mania of 2010. The same results can be observed in Meurthe-et-Moselle and Moselle, where the PCF’s strongholds are weak points for the FN while working-class areas of Socialist or right-wing tradition tend to distinguish themselves by strong FN performances.

The traditionally Communist regions where the FN has tended to be strong tend to be inner suburban “red belt” municipalities (notably in Paris’ red belt but also the Rhône or Isère), where the presence of large immigrant communities might lead some old Communist supporters to switch allegiances to the FN. In addition, a lot of these inner suburban ‘red belt’ communities are no longer working-class areas but rather lower middle-class areas with large population of low-level employees, some public servants, other working poor, unemployed workers and so forth. The PCF’s lingering support in these inner suburbs as compared to “mining basin” urban areas (in the Nord or Lorraine) might be more the result of family tradition, local party infrastructure and Communist machinery than any remaining attachment to the parti du prolétariat.

Communist voters who abandon the party are more likely to switch their allegiances to the PS, or, between the 1990s and 2010, the far-left. Indeed, between about 1995 and 2007, the far-left – both Arlette Laguiller’s LO and later Olivier Besancenot’s LCR – was an attractive left-wing protest option for some working-class voters. In 2002, the far-left combined won 16% of the vote amongst ouvriers against only 3% for Robert Hue. In 2007, the far-left combined won 12% of their vote against only 2% for Marie-George Buffet. In 2002, 19% of those who had voted for Robert Hue in 1995 voted for either Arlette or Besancenot, while 11% voted for Lionel Jospin and only 5% for Jean-Marie Le Pen.

All this spiel can usefully point out that the correlation between PCF decline and FN gains is not as perfect as the old myth would like to make you think. But what about the links between FN decline and “left of the left” gains? The quantitative data on this is sparse, but very few people who vote FN tend to go back to vote for the PCF or the “left of the left”. In 2007, only 3% of Le Pen’s 2002 voters voted for one of the three far-left candidates and next to none of his 2002 voters voted Buffet. Same story in 1995, 2002 or 2010. If a Le Pen voter was to switch to the left, it would be to the far-left.

It is hard to see that much of Mélenchon’s gains came from voters who had once flirted with the possibility of voting for Marine. There is certainly some overlap, but I subscribe to the view that Mélenchon’s gains and Marine’s recent decline are not really correlated in any significant manner. Marine Le Pen’s decline is much more closely linked to Nicolas Sarkozy’s gains.

Ifop’s aforementioned study, to which we will come back to in more detail, showed that 3% of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s 2007 voters are opting for Mélenchon, which is very negligible. If you could ask Le Pen’s 2002 voters, I doubt the percentage would be significantly higher – considering that in 2007, Le Pen’s electorate had kept a lot of the working-class votes but shed a lot of the more middle-class or white collar votes of 2002.

It seems as if Mélenchon’s gains come on the backs of those voters who had abandoned the PCF in favour of either Arlette or Besancenot between 1995 and 2007. Given that in the absence of either of those two emblematic leaders of the far-left, their parties have been reduced to their “real” base (0.5-1%), Mélenchon has likely garnered the support of voters who voted for the far-left in the past two or three presidential contests.

Ifop’s study showed that Mélenchon stood at 63% support amongst those who had voted for Besancenot in 2007 – up 25 points from their first study on the Mélenchon vote. This is probably a small sample size, but it is not crazy to assume that Mélenchon’s surge came, in large part, from people who had voted for Besancenot in 2007 but who had put their votes “on the market” this year. It is not unreasonable, in this case, to assume that a small but significant share of the electorate shifted their sympathies from Arlette/Besancenot in 2007, Marine in 2011-2012 and abandoned Marine in favour of Mélenchon – perhaps as Marine Le Pen’s campaign was “back to basics” in terms of rhetoric (the old rhetoric on Islam, immigration, security; rather than her new working-class populism).

4. Who is voting Mélenchon?

Is Mélenchon ‘catching’ a working-class electorate, recreating the proletarian electorate of the PCF in the 1970s-1980s? Or is he instead appealing more to solidly left-wing public employees? The Ifop’s study on the Mélenchon phenomenon, very interesting and quite detailed, gives us a few answers.

In basic terms, Mélenchon’s electorate is more masculine than feminine and is heterogeneous in its age, appealing both to young voters (18-24) and older voters (50-64). He seems to have scored the most points with the youngest voters, with his support in Ifop’s March 13-27 pegged at 16% with those 18-24 against only 6% in its previous study between January 9 and February 8. These young voters likely come from Hollande more than any other candidate (perhaps Bayrou), but some might also be drawn from previous apathetic voters who were motivated by Mélenchon’s campaign.

Ifop offers us a very detailed analysis of his electorate by socio-professional category. There are certainly some cases of small samples, but the results are quite interesting. In table form, translated into English, it gives:

Socio-professional category  % Mélenchon, Ifop Mar 13-27 (avg. 13%) vs. Ifop Jan 9-Feb 3
Artisans, merchants, farmers and business owners 10% +5
Liberal professions (some doctors, lawyers etc) 11% +6
Cadres (middle management) of businesses (engineers, admin, commercial, financial analysis etc) 9% +4
Cadres (middle management) of the public sector (middle-level public servants, some doctors, professors, school administration, artists, librarians) 17% +9
White collar professionals (professions intermédiaires) of the public sector (public servants, teachers, social workers, healthcare sector) 19% +5
White collar professionals (professions intermédiaires) of businesses (representatives, salesmen, supervisor, technicians) 15% +4
Public sector employees and police/military 12% +5
Business employees (private sector workers, employees, secretaries) and commerce employees (cashiers, sellers) 12% +5
Direct services to individuals (concierge, hairdresser, childcare, housewives etc) 8% +1
Qualified workers 15% +6
Non-qualified workers 20% +10

Mélenchon is catching a very diverse electorate, performing best in the most left-leaning categories and not doing as well in the most right-leaning categories. The core of Mélenchon’s base is made up of public servants, especially those which form a sort of weird left-leaning petite bourgeoisie (though that is not the correct word, you get the point). He appeals to a middle-class electorate, which is concerned about things such as unemployment, cost of living, salaries, poverty and public services. As you can see in the above table, he performs very strongly with professionals and middle-level managerial types in the public sector, a category which includes teachers, social workers, healthcare workers, professors, healthcare and education professionals, school administrators, employees in state enterprises or similar professions. This was Mélenchon’s base before his surge, which gave him a strong footing with ouvriers – especially non-qualified workers. Mélenchon is not recreating the PCF’s old proletarian electorate entirely, but he is doing so in part. Hammering on the leftist rhetoric likely gained him some support or sympathy with unionized workers, who are concerned about losing their jobs or the cost of living or salaries.

Still, Mélenchon’s electorate is much more white-collar than the old PCF’s electorate in the 1970s and 1980s would have been. It is hard to quantify, but he might be attracting some support from particularly left-leaning bobos who are public employees. This is not a particularly ‘revolutionary’ electorate or a ‘protest vote’ electorate, but some might feel Hollande is too soft or too centrist. Furthermore, the collapse of Eva Joly’s candidacy might be attracting some “red greens” to his tent.

Ifop’s study also looked at what were the top policy priorities for Mélenchon’s electorate, compared to the French electorate as a whole. Clearly, Mélenchon’s voters are far more concerned than the average voter about salaries/cost of living (76% vs 54%), poverty (68% vs 52%) and saving public services (52% vs 32%). They are also concerned about matters such as education, healthcare, unemployment or the environment. But compared to the average voter, they are not really concerned as much by the reduction of the public debt (Sarkozy’s voters tend to rank this as one of their top priorities), insecurity/criminality (27% vs 43%) or illegal immigration (12% vs 36%). Marine Le Pen’s voters are disproportionately concerned by such issues, but for Mélenchon’s voters, the top priority are largely middle-class public sector preoccupations (very ‘social’ in nature, rather than ‘moral’ or ‘law and order’). Of course, some of Marine Le Pen’s voters are concerned by ‘social’ issues like these, but her electorate is by far one which is concerned by issues such as immigration or criminality.

5. Nicolas Sarkozy’s gains and a potential runoff victory

The gains made by Nicolas Sarkozy since he announced his candidacy is the second most notable story of this campaign thus far. Once performing extremely weakly in the first round, with only 22-24% support, he has now increased his support to a stronger 27-30% range. He is polling below his first round result in 2007 (31%) which had been a very good result, but he has certainly made up lots of ground. Even in the runoff, where he still trails by a large margin, he has cut Hollande’s lead pretty significantly. From a fairly crazy 20 point gap (60-40), he now trails by a smaller (though still fairly big) margin of 6-10 points.

The graph shows it clearly: Sarkozy’s gains have come at Marine’s expense. Marine Le Pen polled between 16-20%, which could have won her a result higher than her father’s historic 2002 showing (16.9%). She is now down to 13-16%, which would still be a very pleasing result for the FN after the 2007 routs, but underwhelming considering their successes in 2011. Worst, Marine Le Pen is now left fighting Mélenchon for third place.

Nicolas Sarkozy kicked off his campaign on a very right-wing note by placing emphasis on issues such as immigration, security, law and order. In this way, he plays upon the concerns and preoccupations of FN voters. His entourage has made it very clear that Sarkozy’s strategy for underdog reelection is faire campagne “au peuple”, which roughly means a very populist campaign oriented towards the lower middle-classes and working-class.

Sarkozy’s gains with traditionally left-wing or frontiste workers had been, in 2007, one of his main advantages. In 2007, he had already played a similar game with the rhetoric about work, effort, merit and so forth which appealed to FN voters and some working-class voters. However, during his presidency, he lost significant support with this same electorate which became very much anti-Sarkozy by cause of his image (too close to rich people and money), corruption and economic troubles. He is clearly aiming to reconquer the sympathies and vote of those who had voted for him in 2007 (working-class voters, old FN voters) but who had abandoned him in droves beginning in 2009-2010.

Thus far, he has had some success. His standing with ‘CSP-‘ voters (lower socio-professional status) has improved rather significantly since 2011, and while it is still not good enough to win, it gives him reason to hope. With FN voters, he clearly has had some success in ‘poaching’ votes from Marine Le Pen. She peaked too early, banking on the fickle support of unhappy right-wing voters who have jumped back to Sarkozy’s vessels, either convinced by his rhetoric, his new image (for the seven hundredth time) or sympathy for a president who isn’t perfect but who “has done a good job”. Because she peaked too early, she now faces a decline in support as voters look twice on her, especially on her weak points (experience, economic/fiscal policy, foreign policy).

Nicolas Sarkozy banks on three first round results to give him a boost ahead of the runoff: clearly outpolling Hollande, winning over 30% and perhaps winning more than he won in 2007 (31%). It would give him a media narrative as a “comeback kid” who has overperformed expectations (historically, ‘first round boosts’ in runoffs are given to those who have overperformed expectations – such as Jospin in 1995) and who has patched his 2007 electorate back together.

Secondly, to win in the runoff, Sarkozy needs to perform very well with those who voted for Marine Le Pen in the first round. He needs at least two-thirds of their votes, whereas he now wins at most a bit over half of their votes. The problem is that, as Sarkozy eats up her electorate, her base becomes, like her father’s 2007 base, much more working-class/protest voting than otherwise. As in 2007, Sarkozy’s gains with the FN this year have likely proven strongest with the FN’s old base with exurban voters, the petite bourgeoisie and CSP+ (higher socio-professional status). In contrast, she hangs on to a CSP-/working-class electorate which is far more reticent towards Sarkozy and could prefer to vote for Hollande or not vote at all in the runoff.

Ifop had an interesting article which included some observations on vote transfers from Marine’s electorate. Unsurprisingly, those Marine voters who were most likely to go for Sarkozy in the runoff were CSP+ voters, while Marine’s ouvriers were far more resistant of Sarkozy, leaning in large part towards not voting at all or going for Hollande.

Beyond that, Sarkozy also needs to reconquer votes on the centre-right if he is to win in the runoff. This likely means outpolling Hollande  by a comfortable margin with Bayrou’s first round supporters. Bayrou’s campaign has been a flop, following a successful entrance in December, where he took some centrist votes from Hollande (former Borloo votes?) and Sarkozy. He has been squished out of a polarized left-right fight, hurt by his lack of charisma and the boredom he generally inspires. He has lost some anti-Sarkozyst moderates to Hollande, but has also failed to cash in from any potential dissatisfaction with UMP moderates from Sarkozy’s right-wing populist campaign. He is probably keeping a more centre-right-UDF style electorate at this point, having lost those left-wing, bobo and anti-system votes he had won in 2007.

Sarkozy has not concerned himself all that much with his problems with moderate and centre-right voters, who have proven, in the past at least, to be clearly unhappy with Sarkozy and the UMP’s right-wing rhetoric and focus on controversial issues such as immigration or criminality. In his present state, it is imperative that Sarkozy regains the support of at least some of these voters, some of whom are attracted to Hollande’s image as a calm, reasonable and fairly pragmatic candidate. Sarkozy should play on his strengths – and Hollande’s weaknesses – that is, his “presidential image” as the best possible leader to deal with the economic crisis and the debt/deficit. In this way, he could appeal more to centre-right voters… but he must resist any urge to go “too far” on the debt reduction theme as to prevent any losses on his right with populist voters hesitating between Marine, him and abstention.

Nicolas Sarkozy remains in a very tough spot for the runoff. In polls, he seems to have “peaked” in the runoff thus far. He has not polled any better than 47%, and consistently polls in a small 45-46% window. This would represent a fairly decisive defeat, a margin which would, if played out on May 6, be much larger than Giscard’s 1981 margin of defeat against Mitterrand. There is, especially on the left, a very strong anti-Sarkozyst element which will be very difficult for him to break.

2012 will most likely resemble 1981 out of any presidential election, rather than the incumbent reelections of 1988 and 2002. In 1988, an incumbent president was reelected because he benefited from a cohabitation which turned him into the “opponent” to an unpopular “incumbent” Prime Minister. Mitterrand no longer took the blame for unpopular government policy, because he was no longer the government. In contrast, he could brand Chirac as a sectarian, divisive right-winger, appearing as a ‘uniter’ against ‘the divider’. In 2002, we all know why Chirac was reelected, but even then, he semi-successfully played on his non-incumbent image to underline the left’s weakness with voters on issues such as immigration and security which played to Le Pen’s strengths and to Jospin’s weaknesses. In 1981, by contrast, an incumbent president was really the incumbent (like Sarkozy), bore the brunt of unpopular policies (Sarkozy perhaps even more so, because of his centralist style) and faced trouble within his own majority (Sarkozy’s problems with his right and ‘left’). On the left, a candidate who had some rivals on his left (Marchais > Mélenchon?) but who could nonetheless play a somewhat left-wing but still fairly moderate campaign which appealed to more centrist, moderate middle-class voters (like Hollande) who were hurt by the economic crisis or unhappy with the incumbent.

I do not plan on making any more detailed posts on the election on this blog until the first round. However, I might write a fairly detailed ‘preview’ of the first round for my other blog, World Elections.

50 years ago: the Évian Accords

50 years ago, the signature of the Évian Accords on March 19, 1962 signaled the end of the Algerian war and led to the independence of Algeria on July 5, 1962. In the Gaullist tradition of popular sovereignty, voters in metropolitan France were to ratify the accords in a hastily-organized referendum on April 8 while voters in Algeria – including, on paper, French citizens of Algeria – were to formally decide on their independence in a referendum on July 1. French voters on April 8 ratified the terms of the Évian Accords with 90.8% support and only 25% abstention. In Algeria, the result was an even bigger blowout: 99.7% voted in favour of Algerian independence, which was recognized by France on July 3 and proclaimed officially on July 5.

Already in January 1961, Charles de Gaulle had received popular approval through referendum of a rather vague program concerning self-determination in Algeria. de Gaulle had already privately decided that the sole solution to the Algerian crisis was Algerian independence, a fact which he recognized as early as 1959/1960. In reality, de Gaulle had never cared much for Algeria and his Algerian policy was first and foremost pragmatic. Following the 1961 referendum on self-determination, the French government and the Algerian nationalists (the GPRA and FLN) began talks in Évian, which broke down before re-opening in 1962.

The two main blockage points between the French government and the GPRA were the rights of Europeans residing in Algeria and the control of newly-discovered petroleum resources in the Sahara. France wanted some sort of “guarantees” concerning the rights of the European (white) residents of Algeria – the pieds-noirs, a population numbering about a million people and 10% of Algeria’s population. Similarly, French strategic interests were concerned about the control of French military bases (used for nuclear testing) and the ownership of the Sahara’s black gold. In the end, the Évian Accords (on paper) set out rights guarantees for the Pieds-Noirs during a three year period, while also allowing France to continue secret uses of its military bases for nuclear testing for 15 years and advantages in the control of the Sahara’s oil resources. Following Algerian independence, rights guarantees for European residents in Algeria were quickly forgotten: on the very day of Algeria’s independence, hundreds of French civilians were massacred in Oran.

The Évian Accords included a cease-fire and the organization of a self-determination referendum in Algeria in a three-month window to be held a minimum of three months after the signature of the treaty. In the period between the signature of the Évian Accords and the self-determination referendum, France retained sovereignty over Algeria through an interim executive and high commissioner representing France.

The opponents of Algerian independence, the so-called ultras who had formed the underground Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS) in 1961 which staged terrorist attacks with the aim of preventing Algerian independence. Following the Évian Accords, the OAS’ last hope was to prevent the timely organization of the self-determination referendum in Algeria. A mix of bombings, terrorist attacks and sniper shootings by the OAS with the aim of harassing the FLN into breaking the cease-fire and destroying the accords made the period between March and June 1962 one of the bloodiest periods in the war’s history. However, the OAS leader, General Raoul Salan was captured in April 1962 and the OAS compelled to a cease-fire in June.

The OAS or the cause of l’Algérie française never found a strong base of support with the metropolitan French population, which was in large majority exhausted of the bloody conflict and which harboured no sympathies for people they judged to be reactionary colonialists who were keeping them hostage in a futile conflict. However, the OAS and their cause had much more institutional support than popular support. A good number of government deputies from the UNR and the ‘moderates’ (CNIP) were favourable to l’Algérie française. Charles de Gaulle’s own Prime Minister, Michel Debré, was a not-so-secret opponent of Algerian independence. The OAS had received the backing of former UNR cabinet minister Jacques Soustelle and former MRP Prime Minister Georges Bidault amongst others. In November 1961, 80 deputies had voted in favour of the so-called amendement Valentin, which was widely interpreted as being dictated by Salan and the OAS. The ’80’ included CNIP deputy Jean-Marie Le Pen, Compiègne mayor Jean Legendre, ex-SFIO deputy Léon Delbecque, Perpignan mayor Paul Alduy, Pascal Arrighi, former Prime Ministers André Marie and Georges Bidault, and Tours mayor Jean Royer.

50 years ago: the Évian Accords referendum

On April 8, voters in metropolitan France ratified by a huge 9-to-1 majority the contents of the Évian Accords. The referendum was hastily organized, in part to prevent the organization of serious opposition, and the rules set up to keep French citizens in Algeria – constitutionally eligible to vote – from voting in the referendum. Nearly 17.9 million voters voted in favour of ratifying the accords, with only 1.8 million voting against. 24.6% of registered voters abstained while 4% (1.1 million) cast white or null votes.

In the 1961 self-determination referendum, opposition to the government’s vague Algerian agenda reached 25% – but largely because the French Communist Party (PCF), hostile to the government but a supporter of Algerian independence, had instructed its supporters to vote against. However, in April 1962, all political parties – the Gaullist UNR, the Socialists, the PCF, the MRP and the Radicals – supported a favourable vote. The CNIP gave no indication, while the left-wing PSU called in favour of a white vote (hence the high number of such ballots). The only source of opposition was to be the far-right, the nationalist sectors which had sympathy for the OAS and remained loyal to the cause of French Algeria.

The overwhelming victory of the yes vote on April 8 (91% of valid votes) represented two or three things. Firstly, and most importantly, a profound desire for peace and tranquility after years of war and recent terrorist attacks. In metropolitan France, by 1962, the war was no longer seen as being about upholding the French nation in Algeria and defending the French empire, but rather as a bloody futile conflict which stole the lives of countless young men from villages and small towns a across France. The pieds-noirs were not seen as the vanguards of empire, but rather as reactionary colonialists who had held the country hostage with their terrorist actions. Secondly, especially for Gaullist voters, support for Charles de Gaulle. In 1962, his support far surpassed that of the Gaullist party, the UNR, as his success in the face of cohesive left-right opposition in the November 1962 referendum proved.

Following Algerian independence, the pied-noir exodus to France was 10 times bigger than what the government had predicted. Official predictions believed that some 300,000 or so would move back to France but that the rest would opt to stay in Algeria. Over a million moved to France, only a handful remaining in independent Algeria. The massive exodus created a housing crisis in the regions where they settled (PACA, Languedoc-Roussillon, Midi-Pyrénées, Aquitaine, Corse) and the rapatriés often faced discrimination or exclusion once they arrived. The communist left was particularly violent, but they were generally perceived by most as being backwards, racist, violent, less educated colonialists who had exploited the Algerian indigenous population.

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Percent voting against the Évian Accords, as a percentage of valid votes (own map)

Let us stop for a moment on the 1962 referendum, in order to analyse who voted against the Évian Accords now that we know why people voted in favour. The map to the right shows the percentage of no votes by department in the Évian referendum.

The bulk of opposition was concentrated along a sort of line stretching from Bordeaux to the Italian border in the Alpes-Maritimes, following the Garonne valley and the Mediterranean coast in Provence. Opposition was highest in the Gironde department (14.4%), Tarn-et-Garonne (14.3%) and in Paris (14%). Other sizable opposition was found in the Lot-et-Garonne (13.3%), Gers (13.8%), Haute-Garonne (12.7%), Tarn (12.3%), Hérault (11.8%), Bouches-du-Rhône (13.4%), Vaucluse (13.8%), Var (13.1%), Alpes-Maritimes (13.4%) and Corse (12.1%). The only departments with similarly high opposition lying outside this region were the Indre-et-Loire (12.2%), Indre (11.9%) and Seine-et-Marne (11.9%).

The pattern of opposition to Évian in the south of France, following the Garonne valley and Mediterranean coast, resembles the pattern of support for 1965 far-right candidate Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour who won his best results in this region. The reason is, of course, fairly simple: these were the regions which attracted the most pieds-noirs who settled along the coast or in urbanized areas (Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille, Toulon, Orange, Lyon). The Pyrénées-Orientales also received a large pied-noir population, though apparently post-exodus since opposition to Évian was only 8.5% in 1962. Lyon (Rhône) and the high-growth inner suburbs (and new towns) in the Paris outskirts also received a large pied-noir population.

The 1962 referendum was held prior to the mass exodus, but a smaller share of pieds-noirs had already moved to France from Algeria since 1961 and there were, in addition, European settlers from Tunisia and Morocco who moved to France following the independence of both of these countries. It is of course hard to quantify the percentage of the population of each department which was of North African ‘ancestry’, especially in 1962.

Why the pieds-noirs voted against Évian does not merit a detailed explanation. There was a deep, profound sentiment in the pied-noir population which still endures to this day that they were ‘betrayed’ by the French government, especially by the ‘traitor’ Charles de Gaulle who had exclaimed, in 1958, vive l’Algérie française! Évian and the exodus turned the pied-noir community into an irremediably anti-Gaullist electorate. In 1965, Tixier-Vignancour had endorsed François Mitterrand over Charles de Gaulle in the runoff. Jacques Soustelle backed Jean Lecanuet in 1965 and Alain Poher in 1969. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was the favourite of the traditional far-right in 1974, especially over Jacques Chaban-Delmas.

The pied-noir explanation alone is a large part of the explanation, but pre-exodus it cannot account for a million voters and 9% of valid votes. Understandably given the low academic interest for the results of this plebiscite, there has been little if anything of note written about the results of the referendum and the electorates touched by the no vote. The following explanations take the form of assumptions and theories, which are not backed up by much academic literature but only by personal interpretations.

Paris placed third in terms of highest no votes, which is the first sign that the pied-noir explanation cannot explain it all away. Paris probably did not receive many pied-noir settlers, especially prior to July 1962. It is unfortunate that we do not have results down to the constituency level for this election, but the 1965 presidential election – specifically Tixier-Vignancour’s support – may give us indications about 1962. In 1965, Tixier-Vignancour’s support in Paris had been heavily concentrated in the most bourgeois upper-class neighborhoods on the west side of the city. He took over 8% of the vote in the very affluent 8th and 16th arrondissements, and over 7% in the equally bourgeois 7th and 17th arrondissements. Prior to the appearance of the FN in 1984 (and even then…) the far-right’s base in Paris had been with a comfortable, very affluent, traditional upper-class segment of society which had certain aristocratic roots and harboured sympathies for traditionalist causes such as that of the Action française. It is likely that the cause of French Algeria found some supporters in the Parisian upper bourgeoisie, expressed through a surprisingly large vote against Évian.

This 60s-70s phenomenon of far-right inclination amongst the upper middle-classes and the traditional bourgeoisie was largely a Parisian thing, but it also found expression in other large urban areas, including Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Rouen, Le Havre or Lille. As in 1984, Tixier-Vignancour tended to perform better in the more right-leaning affluent neighborhoods of large urban areas than the more left-wing working-class areas. This was not a particularly solid base for the far-right, in fact it only appeared in large numbers in 1965 and 1962. There existed some kind of natural bridge between far-right sympathies, sometimes expressed electorally, and traditional support for the ‘moderates’ (CNIP). The CNIP had a similar appeal to these types of voters, which harboured conservative views on matters such as French Algeria among other things. It is quite possible that in some larger urban areas, such as Paris or Lyon, some ‘moderate’ voters opted for a negative vote on Évian through support or understanding of the OAS and the nationalist cause of French Algeria.

There was an interesting outcrop of opposition in the Touraine – particularly in Indre-et-Loire (12.2%), Indre (11.9%) and Loir-et-Cher (11.5%). There is not much record of a large pied-noir population in this region, and besides Tours there are not many large urban areas with a large bourgeois electorate. Poujadism had done well in some of this region and in 1965, Tixier’s map revealed a similar outcrop of support in these departments. In this region, especially Tours and Indre-et-Loire, the French Algeria inclinations of conservative icon and Tours mayor Jean Royer (DVD) had some impact in stimulating a larger no vote. Boosted by Royer’s traditionalist influences, the local petite bourgeoisie and traditional middle-classes might have been inclined towards a no vote. A similar explanation might work for the Oise (11.5% no), where Compiègne mayor Jean Legendre (CNIP) had voted in favour of the ‘OAS amendment’. In the Côte-d’Or (11.1% no), perhaps the influence of viscerally anti-FLN CNIP Senator Roger Duchet and of the fairly conservative Dijon mayor Félix Kir (who had called for abstention himself) played a role in the department’s above-average opposition to Évian. In all these cases, the no vote was more the result of conservative ‘moderate’ (CNIP) voters with far-right inclinations than of any pied-noir vote.

Opposition to Évian was quasi-null in Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne, the Nord, Brittany, parts of Maine and Savoie. All of these regions were more or less solidly Gaullist regions, most of them (especially Alsace or Brittany) inherited from the MRP. The Catholic departments come out pretty clearly on the map (the southern Massif Central also had very little no votes) as total dead zones for opponents of Algerian independence. Did faith have a role to play with opposition to the war, or was it Gaullism or perhaps a general isolation from the war activities? Being distant or isolated from the war theaters and the terrorist actions of the OAS perhaps solidified or intensified opposition to war which by the time of the Évian referendum had a very bad name in metropolitan France. Alsace and Lorraine are certainly not devoid of nationalist sentiments, past or present, but eastern France’s nationalism has historically tended to be driven by opposition to Germany than any imperialist or colonialist ambitions or sentiments.

50 years later: A Pied-Noir vote?

50 years after the independence of Algeria and the pied-noir exodus, how large is the “the pied-noir electorate” and what is its electoral impact? The traditional view is that the pied-noir community has retained a strong bias in favour of the far-right and hostility towards Gaullism and skepticism towards the left. This view is not too bad as far as generalizations go. It is often assumed that the FN’s strong support in PACA and Languedoc-Roussillon can be explained away, almost entirely, with the the large presence of the pied-noir electorate in these regions.

In January 2012, the CEVIPOF in collaboration with the pollster IFOP published a short analysisof the pied-noir vote 50 years later as part of a wider series of “sociological electorates”. According to the IFOP’s research, the pied-noir community proper would number around 1.2 million voters (2.7% of registered voters) but could be expanded to as large as 3.2 million voters (7.3% of voters) using a more liberal definition to include those who have a pied-noir parent or grandparent. The weight of the pied-noir community was found to be greater, logically, in Languedoc-Roussillon (15.3%), PACA (13.7%) Midi-Pyrénées (11.2%) and Aquitaine (9.6%). We can safely conclude that while the pied-noir electorate in these regions does likely play a role in strengthening the far-right, it is only one factor with many others which explain the far-right’s above-average support in these regions.

IFOP’s research also included a survey of the voting intentions of pied-noir looking ahead to next month’s presidential election. According to the study, the pied-noir vote in 2007 had favoured Nicolas Sarkozy with 31% against 20.5% for Ségolène Royal – an average vote for the right, a below average vote for the left – but Jean-Marie Le Pen, with 18%, had performed 8 points better than he did with the entire electorate. François Bayrou, on the other hand, did about 11 points worse with the pied-noir electorate (7%). In 2002, the study notes that about three out of ten pieds-noirs had voted for one of the two far-right contenders. In the perspective of 2012, the survey (conducted in October 2011 and based on a national sample of 29% for Hollande, 22.5% for Sarkozy, 19.5% for Le Pen and 15.5% for all centrist candidates) showed that Marine Le Pen led voting intentions with pied-noir voters with 28% against 26% apiece for Hollande and Sarkozy, with only 9% support for centrist candidates. Voters of pied-noir ancestry would opt for Hollande with 31% against 24% for Marine and 15% for Sarkozy.

The pied-noir vote is thus not homogeneously biased in the FN’s favour either. Further demographic studies of far-right support among pieds-noirs voters, broken down by age and social class, would prove even more interesting. Still, a sizable portion of the pied-noir demographic retains a tradition of far-right support. It is likely strongest with those who have not “moved on” entirely and still remain active in association or clubs for ex-French settlers in Algeria. The demands of these clubs and associations include the official recognition by the French government that it was responsible for abandoning them in the summer of 1962 (particularly the Oran massacres, which pieds-noirs claim de Gaulle’s government turned a blind eye to) and some sort of financial compensation for the loss of their property in Algeria in 1962. There is still resentment towards de Gaulle and hostility towards the FLN and Algerian government(s). Similarly, the harkis (Muslim Algerian supporters of France during the conflict) usually demand official recognition by the state that they were “abandoned” to be massacred in summer 1962. In 2007, Sarkozy had talked about compensation and a memorial law recognizing the state’s role in the ‘betrayal’ of the pieds-noirs and harkis. None of that has happened yet.

Unlike in the United States where it is easy to identify ‘symbol’ communities for various ethnicities or ancestries (such as Hialeah for Cuban-Americans), the lack of ethnic or ancestral statistics in France makes such analyses much more difficult. In a search for a ‘pied-noir symbol community’, the best possible ‘symbol community’ appears to be the small Marseille suburban town of Carnoux-en-Provence (canton of Aubagne-Est). A recent Le Monde human-interest article on the town estimates that about 60% of the town’s 7000 or so inhabitants are pieds-noirs. Its demographic profile is somewhat reflective of the general pied-noir community: middle-class and aging (27% of the town is made up of retirees). The table below summarizes recent election results in Carnoux-en-Provence:

Main elections in Carnoux-en-Provence since 1995

P-1995 (runoff) P-2002 (runoff) L-2002 (runoff) R-2004 (runoff) P-2007 (runoff) L-2007 R-2010 (runoff) C-2011 (runoff)
Left+EXG 25.3% (29.1%) 29.4% 23.3% 31.1% (32.4%) 23.1% (28.3%) 17.6% 31.2% (30.3%) 23.9%
Centre Balladur 21.7% 8.7% 14.8% 7.8% 5.1% 5.2%
Right 26.9%
(70.9%)
29% (66%) 49.4% (70.6%) 35.8% (41.7%) 45.9% (71.7%) 64.3% 33.2% (41.5%) 30.6% (48.5%)
Far-Right 26% 33% (34%) 26% (29.4%) 33% (26%) 16.4% 10.1% 30.6% (28.2%) 40.3% (51.5%)

If we treat our ‘symbol community’ as a fair representation of pieds-noirs in France, which it perhaps isn’t but which seems like an accurate representation, we can form some basic observations:

For the left, remarkable stability at low levels of support, which are not even broken by ‘red waves’ such as the 2004 and 2010 regional elections. Pieds-noirs might have opted for Mitterrand over the “traitor” in 1965, but the left has never been the first choice for most pieds-noirs. Around the time of the exodus, the Socialist mayor of Marseille, Gaston Defferre had, in not so polite terms, suggested that they go “readapt elsewhere”. The PCF, which favoured Algerian independence before anybody else, was long hostile towards the pieds-noirs. Unsurprisingly, the PCF, which held Carnoux’s constituency until 1999, always performed well below average in Carnoux.

For the centre, save for the exceptional “not-so-centrist” Balladurian vote in 1995 and Bayrou’s “not-so-centrist” electorate in 2007, a general absence from the electoral game. The post-UDF centre, which we can call a “humanist Christian centre-right”, has never appealed to pieds-noirs. The Giscardian RI had some support with pieds-noirs on the back of anti-Gaullism, but Bayrou’s MRP-CDS tradition has never had a natural base with the pied-noir electorate.

The right has tended to be the main rival to the far-right. Against the far-right, it can garner the support of the bulk of the first round left and centre; against the left, it can take the bulk of the far-right’s first round support (not much gaucho-lepenisme for the pieds-noirs). Chirac performed decently in Carnoux in 1995 and 2002 (in the first rounds), but Nicolas Sarkozy (43.4%) clearly took a significant amount of support from Le Pen in 2007. This is not unsurprising, given that mixed with Sarkozy’s appeal to pieds-noirs specifically he generally picked up the most FN votes in those areas, like Carnoux, where the FN vote is predominantly right-wing and fairly middle-class petit bourgeois. In the 2010 regional elections, the UMP’s resistance was surprisingly strong. Perhaps there was a small ‘boost’ for Thierry Mariani, the UMP’s top candidate in PACA, who has been vocal on the issue of recognition and memorial laws for pieds-noirs. In legislative elections, both in 2002 and 2007, the right usually performs very strongly. There is likely considerable cross-over support from Le Pen voters to the constituency’s right-wing deputy since 1999, Bernard Desflesselles (UMP).

The far-right has been very strong in Carnoux. In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen won 34% in the runoff (only 18% nationally). Even more spectacular was 2011, when the FN’s candidate took 51.5% of the votes in Carnoux (40.1% in the canton) in a two-way runoff against the incumbent NC general councillor. There might have been some first-round left-wing voters who voted against Sarkozy by voting FN in the runoff. Save for 2007 and 2011, the FN’s general range has been between 25% and 30%. In 2007, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as pointed out above, clearly lost many of his 2002 supporters to Sarkozy and lost more to abstention and the UMP in the subsequent legislative elections.

The 2012 elections will prove interesting in the pied-noir community, and in Carnoux-en-Provence. 50 years later, the impact of France’s last colonial conflict still rears its head electorally.

1984: Emergence of the FN

In 1956, the Poujadist movement won 11.5% of the vote and 51 seats, marking the first emergence of the far-right in the post-war era. The rapid death of the Poujadist in the wake of the crisis of May 1958 would leave the French far-right practically dead – save for the brief resurgence of 1962-1965 – until 1984 and the European elections.

The Front national (FN) had been founded in 1972, but until 1983 its support had remained derisory. In 1974, Jean-Marie Le Pen had won only 0.75% of the vote running in that year’s presidential election. Between 1973 and 1981, the FN’s emergence was checked a bit by the dissidence of the Ordre Nouveau faction (which created the PFN in 1973), which had been one of the two main founding factions on the FN in 1972 alongside Jean-Marie Le Pen’s conservative nationaux. The intense competition between the PFN’s Pascal Gauchon and Le Pen in 1981 had prevented either of them from running in that year’s election. In the 1982 cantonal elections, the far-right won only 0.2% of the vote, but in four cantons the FN obtained pretty spectacular results. Similarly, in the 1983 municipal elections, the far-right nationally did very poorly but Le Pen won over 11% running in Paris. The turning point for the FN, the date at which the FN as a serious electoral force was born, was the September 1983 municipal by-election in Dreux, a working-class city in Eure-et-Loir. Jean-Pierre Stirbois’ list won 16.7% of the vote in the first round, and merged his list with that of the parliamentary right which would eventually win the election. At this point, national media started paying serious attention to the FN and Le Pen’s media presence increased significantly between 1983 and the June 17, 1984 European elections. In that election, the FN won 10.95%, basically tying the Communist Party which was a big deal.

European elections have since 1999 been pretty mediocre for the far-right, as a lot of its traditional protest-vote electorate usually doesn’t bother to vote. However, European elections are very much tailor-made for the FN, or at least they were before people stopped caring. The electoral system, list PR in a national constituency, allowed parties such as the FN with a weak grassroots implantation and activist network to gain a national presence through the leadership of a particularly charismatic leader like as Le Pen. The European elections have traditionally been low-turnout affairs and stakes have been pretty low, allowing voters to vote as they wish – often by expressing discontent with the government and/or main opposition.

The rapid disillusion which followed Mitterrand’s election in 1981; a period which was marked by an economic crisis, economic changes and rising unemployment; played a crucial role in the emergence of the FN. The traditional misconception is that the FN immediately took votes from the left, and particularly the PCF whose decline by this point was marked and unabated. The reality is not that simple, especially in 1984. In its first incarnation, in 1984, the FN was very much on the right in terms of its electorate.

% vote for the FN by legislative constituency (1978-1986 redistricting)

Parties usually have pretty stable geographic bases of strength. Their strength in particular areas varies over times, and over a longer period of time certain regions trend away or towards that party but it is generally a long-term process over ten years or so. It is pretty rare for one party’s stronghold in one election to be a terre de mission (weak zone) for it five years later. The FN’s electoral implantation east of the famous Le Havre-Valence-Perpignan line is stable, but the FN’s electorate jumps around a whole lot from one election to another.

The Mediterranean coast has been a constant for the FN and the French far-right since 1962. It has always been strong there, and Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour had won his best results along the Mediterranean and in the Garonne valley in 1965, which had been the region most opposed to the Évian accords in 1962. Jean-Marie Le Pen had done best there in 1974. The main factor at play here is the pied-noir factor. The pieds-noirs were the French citizens who lived in French Algeria (or North Africa) until Algerian independence and who were shipped back to France en masse following Algeria’s independence in 1962. They settled largely in lower-income or lower middle-class neighborhoods along the Mediterranean coast, from Menton to Perpignan, or in the Garonne river valley from Bordeaux to Castres. The pieds-noirs strongly supported French Algeria and resented the “abandonment” of Algeria by de Gaulle in 1962. The pieds-noirs were so viscerally anti-Gaullist, for example, that Tixier-Vignancour actually supported Mitterrand over Charles de Gaulle in the 1965 runoff. The pieds-noirs felt alienated from the power elites, both because of 1962 and because they were largely “abandoned” and shunned once they settled in France.

The other factor in this region (at least in 1984) was North African immigration. One can easily imagine what kind of cocktail comes out of a mix of pieds-noirs – colonialist in their mindset – and North African immigrants. It is a mix perfect for the emergence of a strong FN vote.

There is a strong correlation, at the departmental level, between a high percentage of immigrants (or foreign-born) and a strong FN vote. Unlike Poujadism in 1956, which was the last stand of a traditional and rural France opposed to urbanization and rapid industrialization, the FN vote by 1984 and to this day is concentrated in the most urbanized and industrialized regions of France – that is – basically – the east of the country. These are regions which have attracted the most immigrants, mostly from North Africa, since the 1950. The highest proportion of immigrants are found in the industrial centers of the Parisian basin, Alsace-Lorraine, Rhône-Alpes (Lyon, Grenoble, Savoie) and the Mediterranean coast. The industrial crisis of the 1980s, especially pronounced in 1984, marked a certain popular rejection of immigration which had been increasing since the 1970s. In a context of high unemployment, the feeling that North African immigrants are unnecessary elements who jobs away from the locals is pretty pronounced. It is a battle between a native white population for whom the relative prosperity and good life of the trente glorieuses is past, and an immigrant population which is poorly integrated in French society and who struggle to find employment themselves.

The 1980s marked a period of socio-economic problems including unemployment, poor immigrant integration, urban decay, youth disillusion, poverty and criminality. For FN voters, the two variables of criminality and immigration are closely correlated to one another. Basically put, they hold that immigrants are the causes of criminality and contribute in large part to the insecurity of their neighborhoods. At a departmental level, it is certainly true that the map of immigration is similar to that of criminality as they are both predominantly urban and eastern. Whether it is a fair comparison or not is one’s own political view.

At a departmental level, you would probably find a strong correlation between high immigrant populations and strong FN vote. One of the reasons why I dislike simplistic analyses at a departmental level is that departments are large regions which include a number of different socio-economic realities. If you were to do an analysis comparing immigrants and FN vote at a cantonal level, you would a much weaker correlation. Simply put, the FN vote – especially in 1984 – was not concentrated in areas with large immigrant populations. Rather, similar to what can be seen with the BNP in places such as London, the far-right vote is strongest in peripheral areas bordering neighborhoods with large immigrant populations. It is perhaps not, in most cases, living side-by-side to North African immigrants but rather a fear of immigration and insecurity which causes a strong FN presence in one area. In most cases, these peripheral neighborhoods are lower middle-class suburban areas.

The above is a pretty broad explanation of the reasons for the FN vote, not only in 1984 but even today. It is certainly pretty interesting, but we’re making some broad generalizations on the type of voter the FN attracts and we are treating the FN electorate in 1984 as broadly equal to the FN electorate in 2007 or 2011.

The FN vote in 1984 was heavily right-wing in its origin. The traditional view is that the FN’s immediate success in 1983-1984 was caused by left-wing voters, especially former PCF voters. It might be true to an extent, and the left-wing portion of the FN electorate becomes increasingly larger after 1984. But in 1984, the FN attracted voters who had voted (if they had voted to begin with) for Giscard or Chirac in 1981, not Mitterrand. Some of this can be explained by the personality of the RPR-UDF’s list top candidate, Simone Veil. For the more conservative voters of the French right, the centrist, pro-European, viscerally anti-far right and socially liberal Veil was dangerously close to being a left-wing. The right had been radicalized somewhat by the participation of the PCF in the Mauroy government starting in May 1981, and in the international arena tensions were reaching new highs between the west and the Soviet bloc. It was not unusual for mainstream right-wing politicians, largely from the RPR, to talk about the “socialo-communist” threat which is nowadays something which only Le Pen Sr. says when he’s angry. At another level, the FN in its founding years still appealed to a type of more well-off bourgeois ultra-conservative voter who was traditionalist, socially conservative and not too fond of North Africans.

We see the right-wing nature of the FN’s electorate in 1984 by looking at a few particular constituencies. In Marseille, it did best (23-26%) in the downtown core, averagely well-off. It did almost as well (22.6%) in southern Marseille, which is very affluent, but did comparatively poorer (19.5% ) in northern Marseille, working-class and heavily left-wing. On the other hand, the FN vote is now far weaker in downtown and southern Marseille than in northern Marseille, which has become one of the FN’s strongholds. In the Greater Lyon, the FN’s electorate was not heavily marked in favour of any particular social class – it won 16.7% in Vénissieux, 16.8% in Villeurbanne and 18.5% in Vaulx-en-Velin/Meyzieu, but it is particularly interesting to note that it won 17.3% in the very affluent northern suburbs of Lyon (Caluire, Mont-d’Or). Compared to 2007 (the FN’s result in 1984 and 2007 was about equal – some 0.6% better in 1984), Le Pen won only 7.6% in Caluire. In the city of Lyon proper, the FN’s best showing was in a downtown constituency spanning parts of the 3rd and 7th arrondissements (notably including the very diverse Guillotière neigborhood), where it won 19.1%. The next two strongest results for Le Pen’s party was 17.8% in a constituency including (among others) the very bourgeois 6th and 16.5% in a constituency including (again among others) the very bourgeois 2nd. In Lille, the FN won 18.7% in a constituency including parts of working-class Tourcoing and the very bourgeois Marcq-en-Barœul. It is hard to say if the FN vote came heavily from Marcq or from Tourcoing, but a good chunk of it must still have come from the affluent Marcq, where Le Pen won only 8.6% in 2007. Yet again, the FN also did well in areas which are not at all bourgeois – 17.1% in Roubaix.

The FN’s support in Paris in 1984 is particularly interesting in that it forms some sort of peripheral belt extending from the Bois de Boulogne to Belleville and Charonne. In doing so, it breaks a particularly rigid political and social wall which has always divided the bourgeois west from the working-class east. The FN did well in working-class constituencies in the east (16-18%) but also did particularly well in the very affluent west: 16-17% in the 16th (the epitome of wealthy bourgeoisie), 19% in the 8th, 15.5% in the 7th, 16.8-17% in the 17th. In Neuilly, the FN won 17.6%, its best showing in the Hauts-de-Seine. The concentration of the far-right vote in Paris proper has jumped around, in 1995 it was particularly eastern, more mixed in 2002 and interestingly rather western in 2010. But in 2007, the FN did not do best in the affluent areas: 5% in Neuilly, 4% in the 16th and 8th and so forth.

The most interesting aspect of the FN vote in 1984 when compared to the FN vote in 2007 (which was, remember, about the same in percentage terms as 1984) is its heavily urban concentration. In 1984, besides the Mediterranean coast (pretty urbanized on its own terms), the other main base for the FN was the Parisian basin: 15.3% in Paris, 14.2% in the Hauts-de-Seine, 16% in Seine-Saint-Denis, 15% in the Val-d’Oise, 14.4% in the Yvelines, 14.6% in Seine-et-Marne, 13.9% in the Val-de-Marne and 12.4% in Essonne. These results, I didn’t check, are probably the FN’s record highs in most of these departments. The map also shows pretty well the FN’s very strong showings in other urban areas, notably Lyon and Marseille.

When looking at a map of the evolution of the FN between 1984 and 2007, an interesting outer ring of gains (FN stronger in 2007) surrounds almost perfectly the Parisian basin, which is on the contrary where the FN lost the most between 1984 and 2007. The FN receded by a full 10.7% in Paris, 8.6% in the Hauts-de-Seine, 6.9% in the 9-3 and 7% in the Yvelines. On the other hand, the FN gained between 4.4% and 4.6% in the Orne, Sarthe, Loir-et-Cher and Indre, and gained even more in the Aube (+5.5%), Haute-Marne (+6.4%), Aisne (+7.6%) and Somme (+4.6%).

One of the most interesting aspects of the FN vote between around 1984-1988 and 2007 is that it almost completely abandoned the urban areas and settled in more rural or exurban area. The FN in 1984 did best in areas which were at most 15-30 minutes away from the urban core (if they were not in the urban core itself!). In 2007, the FN did best in areas which are at least 1.5-2 hours away from the urban core (this is especially true in the Parisian Basin).

In 1984, the FN vote was largely urban or inner suburban. In 2007, the FN vote was largely rural or exurban (périurbain). In core urban areas, the FN lost over 10-15% of the vote between 1984 and 2007. On the other hand, in rural and exurban areas, the FN gained about the same amount between 1984 and 2007. Comparing in quick succession the FN’s map in the 1980s (84, 86, 88) with 1995, 2002 and 2007 the most striking aspect is the rapid dissolution of FN support in large urban areas such as Paris or Lyon (Marseille is a bit of an exception).

Two major factors can explain this evolution: white flight and socio-demographic changes. White flight is pretty obvious: lower-income residents have tended to move away from old neighborhoods which are becoming increasingly multi-ethnic. A factor closely related to the most important one, socio-demographic changes. Increasing property prices (especially in the Greater Paris) have chased low-income and lower middle-class inhabitants further and further away from the urban core and into the urban fringe into new exurbs. Urban and even inner suburban populations have been renewed by younger, more affluent professionals who in some cases might maintain the political orientation of their neighborhood despite the rapid demographic changes (this is the case in eastern Paris). Formerly working-class areas in eastern Paris or even old working-class suburbs such as Montreuil or Pantin have seen rapid demographic changes with the rise of a younger, affluent professional class which is, for obvious reasons, far less likely to vote FN. A look at a demographic map, especially in the Parisian region, confirms this: the urban cores and inner suburban areas have largely become well-educated, affluent and populated by professionals or cadres while lower-income categories are now more numerous in exurban areas. The FN certainly maintains a sizable vote in older (inner) suburbs in the 9-3 or Val-d’Oise which have remained largely low-income or with large immigrant populations (or close to those areas), but it is nowhere near as impressive a base as in 1984.

To confirm the FN vote in 1984 as being largely urban or suburban, it is interesting to distinguish the constituencies where the FN vote was below average and where it was above average. It was above average in all but four constituencies of the Île-de-France region (Paris’ 5th arrondissement, Ivry-sur-Seine, Arcueil-Cachan and Les Ulis-Orsay). The FN’s strength extended into surrounding departments, which were already suburban by 1984 or had large cities with immigrant populations (Oise, Vexin, Dreux, Gien, Sens). In the north, it was heavily concentrated in and around Lille, in Alsace is was centered around Strasbourg and Mulhouse and in the southeast it was concentrated around Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Toulon and Nice).

The FN vote in 1984 was largely a homogeneously conservative white-collar and shopkeepers vote, while in 2007 the FN was largely a heterogeneous old white working-class and lower-income exurbanite vote. In 1984, the FN’s appeal to traditional working-class voters was limited. It did appeal to some working-class locales, but predominantly those which were Catholic and right-wing (Cluses, Forbach, Freyming). What is perhaps the best proof to shoot down claims that the FN ‘stole’ votes from the left in 1984 is the FN’s poor results in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais’ mining bassin. 5% in Liévin, 7% in Lens, 6.3% in Marchiennes, 7% in Denain, 4.5% in Bruay or 6.2% in Béthune. The FN interestingly won 9.2% in Hénin, but it is still below average. Even in other left-wing working-class areas the FN’s results were nothing to boast: 7% in Dunkerque, 7.8% in Calais, 7.2% in Dieppe or 8.3% in Rouen’s industrial hinterland. In Le Havre, the FN did best (10.9%) in the more conservative 6th constituency which included the posh Ste-Adresse than in the heavily left-wing 7th which included the PCF stronghold of Gonfreville-l’Orcher. In 2007, however, Le Pen won 13.4% in Gonfreville’s constituency (which also includes parts of Le Havre, Bolbec and Saint-Romain-de-Colbosc) and 12.5% in working-class northern Le Havre while only 8.9% in the posher southern Le Havre and Ste-Adresse constituency.

This left-wing working-class vote did not abandon the left in 1984. It would only do so later, starting in 1986 and reaching a peak in 1995 and 2002. It would take more disillusion with the left in power, the evolution of the left’s demographic bases and further years of unemployment and industrial decline for this vote to fall into the FN’s arms. The department where the FN gained the most between 1984 and 2007 was the Pas-de-Calais, where Le Pen’s 2007 performance was 9.35% above the FN’s result in 1984.

Rural areas had not been particularly favourable to the FN in 1984, even in eastern France. The FN certainly did well, but its performances in the heart of rural Alsace, Champagne and Bourgogne was not particularly impressive. Clearly, the FN’s vote in 1984 was concentrated heavily in urban and suburban areas, both wealthier ones and more lower middle-class ones; areas which had been touched first hand by unemployment, immigration and criminality. The FN’s growth in rural areas would begin in 1986, when a Poujadist-like lower-income rural conservative electorate would begin voting for the FN in places like rural Alsace.

For certain parties, studying their geographic bases an election after another quickly becomes redundant as the same strongholds remain strongholds and the same weak spots remain weak spots. However, in the FN’s case, it is rarely redundant to do so. Its geographic implantation may appear to be unchanging (and in part it is), but in the details it is fascinating to observe how the FN’s electorate jumps around from one election to another. In 1984 and 2007, although polling the same percentage, the FN’s base in 1984 has little to do with its rock-ribbed presidential electorate of 2007.

The changing face of the French left (1995-2007)

In the 1995 presidential election, PS candidate Lionel Jospin won 47.36% of the vote in the runoff. In the 2007 presidential election, PS candidate Ségolène Royal won 46.94% of the vote in the runoff. A difference of barely 0.42% between the two results, even if the two elections were a full twelve years apart. The similarity of the results won by the left’s candidate in both runoffs, twelve years apart, makes these two elections particularly interesting for comparison. 2007 is the most recent presidential election, and presidential elections are the best starting points for comparisons because they are the “real elections” where people vote on issues and candidates, not on their usual hatred of the incumbent government. 1995 is, before 2007, the last election in which the runoff was “normal” – that is, a regular right-left contest.

Given that the two candidates in 1995 and 2007 won basically the same percentage nationally, surely their two maps are very similar? Things couldn’t be more different. Look at a basic map of the 1995 and 2007 runoffs and it is shocking how different the maps are considering the national picture is one of similarity.

As the 2012 election approaches, I figured it would be interesting to look at the changing face of the French left in terms of its electoral clientele and the type of voter it has lost in twelve years and the type of voter it has gained in that period. The map below compares the runoff performance of Jospin and Royal by constituency. A constituency shaded in red indicates that it voted more heavily for Royal than Jospin, of course a deeper shade of red indicates that Royal performed far better than Jospin while a lighter shade of red indicates that Royal outperformed Jospin marginally. Conversely, a constituency shaded in blue indicates that it voted for heavily for Jospin than Royal, and again a deeper shade of blue indicates that Jospin did far better than Royal had done. Because overall Jospin did some 0.38% better than Royal (in metropolitan France), the constituencies which are shaded in light blue (cyan) indicate that while Jospin did better than Royal, the margin between his performance in 1995 and her performance in 2007 was smaller than -0.38% – meaning that overall that constituency did not swing towards Royal but trended (swing below national average) towards Royal.

Note: this article uses exit poll data from 1988, 1995, 2002 and 2007 from Ipsos – because they’re the most easily accessible, and because they tend to be quite accurate pollsters. For the 2010 regional elections, data from OpinionWay is used.

The two most shocking aspects of this map are its close correlation with the traditional map of the FN vote and its concentration east of the Le Havre-Valence-Perpignan axis and, on the other hand, the emergence of three major red blocks: Île-de-France and the Parisian basin; the Massif Central and Limousin in the centre; and Brittany, Maine, Anjou and Poitou in the west (Béarn and the Basque County are a smaller but just as significant fourth block of red). I think the first comment about the shockingly close correlation of the map of the left’s decline since 1995 with that of the FN strength east of the old Le Havre-Valence-Perpignan axis is the most important one and the one which merits the most explanations.

The regions east of the Le Havre-Valence-Perpignan axis are the most industrialized areas of France. This is, of course, a pretty reductionist analysis but, in general, the areas west of that axis tend to be less economically marked by heavy industry and more marked, at least historically by agriculture and today by tertiary service-oriented industries. The regions east of the axis certainly include some very rural areas, but most of the large industrial centres of France are here: the coal mines of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the petrochemical industry around Le Havre, the working-class hinterland around Rouen and the Seine valley, the coal mines of the Lorrain basin, the steelworks of upper Lorraine, the large petrochemical and shipping installations outside Marseille or the isolated cités cheminotes along the Paris-Lyon railway. These are the most industrial areas, and by consequence the most working-class areas.

Once upon a time, the French left – like most of the European left – was the uncontested party of the working-class and dominated the working-class vote with some 70% of the vote. The tough reality of power for the left, among other factors, has weakened its hold on the working-class vote. From the highs of the post-war years (estimated at 70%), the left has seen its support dwindle pretty drastically with working-class voters (ouvriers) to the point where their voting is no longer markedly different with that of the wider electorate, or only marginally biased in the left’s favour by less than 5%. The main benefactor of the slow decline of the left’s support amongst workers was the FN, whose emergence as a potent political actor beginning in 1983 (Dreux by-election) corresponds to the electorate’s rebuke of the left in the midst of the early-1980s recession. While many serious analyses have indicated that the FN actually gained more amongst the 3 in ten workers who were traditionally right-wing than amongst historically Communist or left-wing working-class voters, the FN still drew at least some of its new support in the mid-1980s from working-class voters who had voted loyally for the PS or PCF in the post-war era.

As time went on, the left’s decripitude with the ouvriers was progressively accentuated. Conversely, while the FN’s presidential vote was stable at 15-16% between 1988 and 2002, there was a pretty dramatic realignment of forces within the FN electorate: the FN progressively lost strength with shopkeepers and the lower middle-classes while gaining quite dramatically with ouvriers. The trend was confirmed in 1995: in the first round, Jospin won 20% of ouvriers against 27% for Jean-Marie Le Pen, 17% for Robert Hue (PCF) and 14% for Chirac. In 1988, Mitterrand had received the support of 40% of ouvriers against 21% for Le Pen, 15% for Lajoinie (PCF) and a paltry 9% for Chirac. Yet, there exists the phenomenon of gaucho-lepenisme – traditionally left-wing voters who vote for Le Pen in the first round but then return to their left-wing roots in the runoff against the traditional right (23% of Le Pen’s first round voters in 1995 voted for Jospin in the runoff). Jospin still won 65% of ouvriers against 35% for Chirac, and a look at his results by constituency or cantons confirms that. The left-wing slant of the vote ouvrier had declined, but it remained, with teachers (67% Jospin) the most solidly left-wing constituency.

The left in power between 1997 and 2002 certainly did not strengthen the left with its old core electorate. In 2002, Jospin won only 15% of ouvriers in that fateful election which shook the left to its core. Le Pen polled 30% with those voters, making them by far his best socio-professional category.

In 2007, Le Pen’s strength with these voters was weakened, though with 23% he still narrowly won them over Royal (21%) and Sarkozy (21%). A word could be said about François Bayrou’s success (16%, up from 2% in 2002) with these same voters, proof that despite his Christian democratic map, Bayrou’s anti-system candidacy did have an impact on this traditionally anti-system electorate (nearly 80% against the EU constitution in 2005). Really, in 2007 the new factor was Sarkozy’s vitality with these voters who had historically been the most “anti-right wing” voting bloc there could be. Nicolas Sarkozy’s gains with Le Pen’s 2002 voters – some 38% of those who had chosen Le Pen on April 21, 2002 chose Sarkozy by the first round – had actually not been most pronounced with those working-class Le Pen voters but rather with the more professional and traditionally conservative portion of Le Pen’s former electorate (those in PACA, the southwest or Alsace). Le Pen’s resistance had been strongest with working-class voters and especially exurban or rurban lower middle-class voters. Nicolas Sarkozy as the candidate of the working-class might have surprised in 2002, when Sarkozy was considered too liberal (in the French sense). He was still a typical balladurien, with a more liberal, internationalist and elitist approach rather than the more nationalist, populist and statist chiraquien style which had prevailed in 1995. But Sarkozy is a wily politician and he knows how to tailor his message to the electorate. In 2007, the liberal Budget Minister of Balladur was replaced by the populistic-nationalistic Interior Minister who struck a chord with a poorer, less educated and more working-class electorate with the themes of controlled immigration, national identity, meritocracy and la France qui se lève tôt (the France which wakes up early). Regardless of what one personal opinion is of Sarkozy and the avered results of this rhetoric, those themes worked for Sarkozy and his strong showing with ouvriers by the first round confirms that. In the runoff, while Royal still won ouvriers with 54% against 46% for Sarkozy, Sarkozy’s showing with this core left-wing electorate had been 11% superior to Chirac’s showing in 1995.

A look at the map confirms what the exit polls read. Some of the right’s heaviest gains between 1995 and 2007 came in traditionally left-leaning (or even more mixed) working-class regions. Sarkozy did about 9% better than Chirac in the core constituencies of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais coal basin. In other constituencies, the same results: +6.9% in Longwy, +8.5% in Rombas, +7.6% in Forbach, +13.9% in Cernay, +8.2% in Montbéliard, +8.6% in Marignane, +7.4% in Istres, +7% in northeastern Marseille, +7.9% in Gonfreville-L’Orcher, +4-5% in Roubaix and Wattrelos or +6.3% in Tourcoing. In other industrial or heavily working-class departments of the north, such as the Oise, Somme, Ardennes and Aisne the right’s gains were just as equally impressive. The bluest areas on the above maps, at least in the east of the country, correlate strongly with a map of ouvriers. Gains were less pronounced, even in the east, in rural areas which are not as marked by a strong presence of ouvriers.

The other area which has shifted strongly to the right are those coastal Mediterranean regions or Provencal back country which have, in recent years, seen major demographic changes, most notably the influx of conservative retirees replacing more left-leaning locals, oftentimes working-class in background. These communities along the Mediterranean riviera and the Provencal back country also include other categories where the left has lost steam, somewhat, since 1995: artisans, shopkeepers and small business owners or employees. In these areas, Sarkozy scored other impressive gains: +5% in Narbonne, +6.8% in Sète, +7.3% in Nimes-2/Vauvert/Saint-Gilles, +7% in Orange and Carpentras, +6% in Brignoles.

The blue regions, which have swung to the right between 1995 and 2007, correlate strongly with an FN map. Not only east of the Le Havre-Valence-Perpignan axis, which is the reductionist view of the FN’s map, but also in other FN strongholds, notably the Garonne river valley for example and its small business owners/artisans and pieds-noirs. 

In contrast, the northwestern half of the country sticks out for its sharp trend to the left. One of the major themes in French electoral geography since the turn of the century has been the sharp shift to the left in regions such as Brittany, the Pays-de-la-Loire, Lower Normandy and Poitou-Charentes. In 1965 and 1974, some of these regions – especially Brittany and the Pays de la Loire were some of the most markedly right-wing regions with the left struggling to even break 30% in some of the deepest rural constituencies of Brittany or the inner west. There are many explanations to this shift. The most important one, in my eyes, is the declining importance of religiosity as a variable. The inner west and Brittany, alongside the southern Massif Central and Alsace, were and remain the most Catholic regions of the country (Catholic being the code word for ‘clerical’ or ‘religious’ as opposed to ‘anti-clerical’). As the left moderated over the course of the post-war era, as the boogeyman of the left being godless communists turned out wrong and as the society moved from a rural society to a urban society; the left gained in strength (the background of local grassroots activism by Christian left organizations such as the JAC or JOC also played a key role). The declining force of the right, compared to 1965 or 1974, in the inner west and Brittany was visible – though not in an extremely pronounced fashion – by the late 1980s and 1995. This trend to the left, like the working-class’ trend away from the left, only intensified between 1995 and 2007. In 2004, the left’s victory in the local elections in Brittany and the Pays-de-la-Loire was if not a shock a groundbreaking change. The other major factor in this trend was urbanization, which I touched on in my previous point. From agricultural regions, the inner west and especially Brittany have transformed into pretty urbanized modern societies. Urban and suburban growth between the 1999 and 2008 censuses was extremely pronounced in the periphery of the region’s large urban cores: Rennes, Nantes, Angers, Brest, Caen, Niort, Poitiers, Vannes, Saint-Brieuc, Le Mans and even La-Roche-sur-Yon. Those who make these regions booming are not old retirees like in the south, but rather middle-aged families who are averagely well-off, work in mid-level jobs (typically) in tertiary industries in the large urban centre.

Although some regions such as Cholet, the Vendéean bocage, eastern Ille-et-Vilaine and the Vannetais gallo were hotbeds of royalism and chouannerie up until the turn of the last century, Catholic regions in France are countries of moderate political orientation: strongly pro-European and generally more progressive on issues such as social policy or immigration. These are the strongholds of the centre, and François Bayrou had done very well in the first round in 2007. When the French right under Giscard or Chirac represented the Orleanist view of the right, these regions felt more at home. But these regions did not necessarily feel right at home in Sarkozy’s Bonapartist view of the right and the more right-wing populist policies of his government and before that his more controversial policy proposals on national identity alienated the more moderate centrist voters who had in the past felt comfortable with Chirac (in his later more moderate version).

Some of the left’s biggest gains came in areas which were traditionally rural and Catholic, but affected by suburbanization in recent years. The numbers on the above map speak for themselves: +8% in Landerneau (Albert de Mun’s old constituency in the 1900s), +5.4% in the Mer d’Iroise region of Léon, +4.5% in Ploërmel, +5.1% in Vitré, +4% in Redon, +3.5% on average in the greater Rennes, +5.3% in Nantes’ wine country, +3.7% in Ancenis, +6% in Angers-Ouest, +4.2% in Avranches and perhaps most shockingly +10.1% in Mortagne/Montaigu – Philippe de Villiers’ heartland and the real, deep ultra-conservative core of the bocage.

In the Deux-Sèvres, which has shifted left on its own as well, the left’s showing in 2007 was perhaps inflated by a strong favourite-daughter effect for Ségolène Royal. She outperformed Jospin by 6 to 8% in her department’s four constituencies, but interestingly the regions where she outran Jospin the most were the northern constituencies of Thouars and Parthenay (+8% and +7.6%) which cover the more right-wing and Vendéean-style north of the department rather than her own constituency (Saint-Maixent, +6.2%) which is more naturally left-leaning.

The constituencies in the west where the swing towards the left was most pronounced were the ones which were most right-wing. Those who had been the lone holdouts of the left when the right was dominant swung, but not with such impressive margins. The Côtes-d’Armor, northwestern Morbihan, Saint-Nazaire, Fontenay-le-Comte or Cherbourg – all older areas of significant left-wing strength – had smaller swings. In the Maine-et-Loire and the Sarthe, it is even more amusing. In the Maine-et-Loire, the old chouan Choletais had the biggest swing to the left while the Baugeois, historically left-wing, swung to the right. In the Sarthe, the swing towards the right was strongest in the east of the department (Saint-Calais) – historically the department’s left-wing region.

The same effect of declining religious practice and alienation with Sarkozy’s populist style can be seen in other Catholic regions: Lozère and the southern Massif Central and especially the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Voters in François Bayrou’s home department swung particularly heavily towards the left, with the most pronounced swings in Bayrou’s Bearnese highlands east of Pau and the Basque Country (+10.5% for the left in Oloron). But certainly not the same story in Alsace, a region where Royal did extremely poorly in – winning only one commune in the whole region! Jospin had done fairly well in Alsace in 1995, which is not as homogeneous in its political orientation as one might be led to believe. More influenced by Muslim immigration – particularly heavy in Mulhouse and Strasbourg – rural voters in Alsace, Catholic and Protestant, have been more tempted by the FN and the Sarkozy-style UMP than voters in the inner west or southern Massif Central.

There is a huge, solidly red, blob of red right smack in the middle of the map in the Limousin and Massif Central. This is the extended domain of the Chiraquie, Jacques Chirac’s particularly strong electoral base outpouring from his fiefdom in Corrèze. Chirac had a strong favourite-son vote in his constituency but even beyond his department into surrounding departments, and his favourite-son vote tended to break old partisan boundaries: his constituency was the most right-wing in Corrèze on its own but the department and the Limousin is traditionally a base for the left. With Chirac gone, the explosion of his core of support was inevitable and perhaps all the more impressive in its form because of the antipathy between Chirac and Sarkozy, apparently shared by Chirac’s favourite-son electorate. All major candidates besides Sarkozy and even Le Pen did better or as well than in 2002 in the Chiraquie. In the runoff, Royal narrowly won Chirac’s constituency and registered a huge 16.2% swing towards the left. The left gained 15% in Tulle and 12% in Brive. Beyond there, in the Catholic plateaus of the Cantal, Lozère and Aveyron, a dispersion of the Chirac vote and the right’s difficulty with Christian democratic voters mixed to create major swings towards the left: +9.5% in Saint-Flour, +5.8% in Millau and Rodez, +5.8% in eastern Lozère and +5.5% in western Lozère. Some other pretty sharp trends in the Creuse (+8.3% in Aubusson), the Puy-de-Dôme (+8.3% in the Giscard constituency, +5% in Issoire and Riom) and Dordogne (+5% in the Périgord Nord).

The final significant shift towards the left between 1995 and 2007 was that in urban cores. France often talks about Americanization, and regardless of whether it is true in practice, there is a clear Americanization of voting patterns in Europe which is a bit unlike any other EU country. Just as the ouvriers have shifted away from the left towards the FN or the right, the white working-class in America has shifted away from the Democrats towards the GOP. Similarly, just as more liberal affluent suburban or urban voters in America break from the GOP and prefer the Democrats in recent years, similar types of voters have shifted towards the left in France in recent years. The evolution of an urban, young-ish, well educated, generally affluent and professional electorate (the cadres intermédiaires and professions libérales/cadres supérieurs) towards the left is a reversed carbon-copy of the evolution of an older, less educated, poorer and blue-collar electorate away from the left. Traditionally, up until the 1980s and mid-1990s, the CSP+ electorate leaned pretty sharply towards the left. In 1995, Chirac won 65% with professions libérales/cadres supérieurs and 55% with the cadres intermédiaires. In 2007, Sarkozy won the former with only 52% (+13% for the left) and lost the latter with 49% (+6% for the left). The upper middle-class was 60% for Chirac, but only 52% for Chirac. The high income-earners were about 63% for Chirac but only 57% for Sarkozy. In reverse, the lower middle-class had given 51% to Chirac but gave 53% to Sarkozy. Low income-earners, only 38% or so for Chirac gave 44% to Sarkozy. In the first round, Sarkozy did only 4% better than Chirac+Madelin+Boutin with those with higher education, but 8% better with those with less than the BAC (high school diploma).

The map shows this stark evolution well, and no region shows it better than the Île-de-France. There are other factors at play in this specific region: Chirac was mayor of Paris and had another favourite-son vote in Paris, and departments such as the Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne have large and growing immigrant communities with which Sarkozy did particularly (unsurprisingly) badly. But Paris itself and especially its inner ring of suburbs have large and growing populations of young professionals, a lot of whom increasingly move to the suburbs for cheaper property prices. Within Paris itself and other neighbouring cities such as Montreuil, gentrification or boboïsation has been at work changing the makeup of old working-class hinterlands in eastern Paris into urban, trendy neighborhoods with increasingly large young and multicultural populations.

All constituencies in the Petite Couronne, even Sarkozy’s own Neuilly-sur-Seine, swung to the left in 2007. The largest swings were unsurprisingly concentrated in Paris, where Chirac had always outperformed a generic right-winger, especially in 1995. In some cases, the swings are impressive: +7.7% in the four core arrondissements, +16.5% in Paris-18th arrondissement (which includes Montmartre), +15.7% in Paris-10, +15% in Paris-18 and 19, +14.5% in Paris-11 and 20, +7.1% in Paris-5 and 6, +11.1% in Paris-11 and 12, +9.6% in Paris-13, +9.9% in Paris-14 and so forth. Swings were smaller in the old bourgeois west end, especially the core-wealthy arrondissements 7, 8 and 16. Outside Paris, the swings were generally higher in those places which have seen significant boboïsation or are otherwise home to large populations of younger, generally well-off and highly educated voters. In the most significant examples, we find +10.1% in Montreuil, +6.8% in Pantin, +6% in Fontenay-sous-Bois and Vincennes, +3.7% in Orsay, +4.3% in Versailles Nord, +8.7% in Epinay, +7% in Colombes (south) and +3.4% in Cergy. Generally, the further you get from the downtown core and the more you get into not-as-bobo parts of the Parisian basin, the swings become minimal or they become swings in the other way (note the “red belt” of swings concentrated around the core in the Grande Couronne departments).

You will tell me that perhaps the Parisian basin could be an exception or better yet is thrown off by the abnormally high vote for Chirac in Paris in 1995. The same pattern is seen with perfect and remarkable stability throughout France. Notice the isolated spots of ‘red’ constituencies even in deep blue areas (or, in some cases, light blue indicating a mere trend). In Lyon, where Chirac had also done very well in 1995 (59%), there were large swings in the downtown core. +8.9%, for example, in the 2nd constituency which is the most bobo constituency. In Marseille, which maintains some starker contrasts between deprivation and affluence, the white working-class northeast saw a big 7% swing towards the right. But in the more trendy areas downtown, there was a 6.6% swing towards the left. In varying strengths, the same swings towards the left are repeated in other urban areas – particularly the more educated and well-off areas or neighborhoods and not as much poorer working-class areas. We see +3.2% in Grenoble’s northeast, but -3.9% in Échirolles in Grenoble’s red (communist) belt. In Dijon, the poorer and more left-wing Chenôve/southern Dijon constituency swung 3.7% towards the right, but in the more well-off (and more right-wing) northwestern Dijon/Fontaine-lès-Dijon, the swing is 1.5% towards the left. In other cities, the same stories: +4.4% in Strasbourg-centre, +3.6% in Nancy (east, north and south), +3.1% in Lille (south) and +3% in Lille (centre), +5.9% in Rouen, +3.6% in western Caen (in contrast to -0.4% in the more populaire east), +3.7% in Rennes (sud), +6.3% in Limoges,  +4.3% in Poitiers (south), +7 and 8% in Toulouse, +5.7% in Montpellier (north-centre), +5.6% in Saint-Etienne (south) and finally in the impressive category: +5.2% in Nantes-Orvault, +8.8% in Nantes (centre) and +11.2% in Bordeaux (centre) which is Alain Juppé’s old constituency.

You will rightfully tell me that 2007 is a bit old now, given what has changed since then. Where are we left off today? The most significant shift since 2007 is that Sarkozy (and the UMP) have lost the ouvriers and his spectacular inroads from 2007 now seem a long way away.

Era % PS 95-R2 % PS 07-R2 % Left R10-R2 % Right R10-R2 % PS 12-R2 (poll) % FN 02-R1 % FN 12-R1 (poll)
France 47% 47% 54% 36% 60% 17.2% 17%
Ouvriers 65% 54% 60% 20% 76% 30% 32%
Ouv/Fra +18% +7% +6% -16% +16% +13% +15%
CPIS* 35% 48% 58% 37% 64% 30% 6%
CPIS/Fra -12% +1% +2% +1% +4% +13% -11%
PI* 45% 51% 63% 29% 61% 14% 16%
CPL/Fra -2% +4% +9% -7% +1% -3% -1%

* The most recent poll which gives crosstabs was Ifop on October 20, with Hollande at 60% nationally.
* Cadres supérieurs, professions libérales or Cadres et professions intellectuelles supérieures
* Professions intermédiaires or cadres moyens

The above chart is based on exit polls, and, for 2012, on actual polling, so it is perhaps not the most accurate picture but it paints a pretty clear overall picture.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s winning coalition in 2007 had been possible because, in part, of his success with ouvriers with whom he poll 46% whereas Chirac had garnered just 35% with them 12 years prior. His gains with lower-income voters in eastern France had compensated for his weaker showing with middle-income voters in western and urban France, where his 52% with the CPIS category was quite tepid compared to the margins Chirac had posted with them in 1995. Since then, the government’s more right-wing policies on matters such as immigration and particular incidents such as the Roma expulsion affair tacked the government and the UMP to the right and did little to please more centrist, moderate voters which CPIS voters can be broadly seen as politically. As a result, CPIS voters have only moved further and further to the left. But the government’s tack to the right appears increasingly desperate and has had little success in wooing over FN voters or lower-income voters such as ouvriers. A poor economy, unpopular fiscal and social policies, an elitist style (bling-bling) and corruption scandals have worked in tandem to make Sarkozy’s strong showings with these voters in 2007 seem like a very distant dream for the right. The exit polls are pretty stark on this point: the UMP polled only 17% with ouvriers in the first round of the regional elections when the UMP polled 27% nationally. In the runoff, the right won only 20% with these voters – tied with the FN. Actual polls for next year’s election shows Marine Le Pen reaching her father’s 2002 levels with ouvriers and Sarkozy collapsing to lows rarely seen even in the days of left-wing dominance of ouvriers – as low as 9% in some polls!

To tie in this story with that of 2012, the fundamental thing here is that Nicolas Sarkozy has lost the ouvriers and has been further isolated with cadres and other middle-income voters. I think that is the fundamental dynamic at work behind the polls.

This article is certainly not thorough. I have made no comment about the fact that ouvriers and lower-income voters form a big part of non-voters, I made only passing references to the FN’s strengths with ouvriers and I completely ignored the Greens’ potential challenge to the PS for the control of CPIS and middle-income voters. A lot more could be said about all these topics, but I think that I’ve covered what I wanted to cover and hit the main points in the exploration of the changing face of the French left between 1995 and 2007.