Category Archives: Left (PS, PRG, PCF, Greens, DVG etc)

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.

The face of France in June 1946

About a month ago, I had explored the political map of France following the June 1951 legislative elections. The 1951 elections had been marked by the emergence of the Gaullist RPF, which won around 22% of the vote and seriously disturbed the rather solid party system which had been established since 1945. As such, the 1951 elections do not really offer us with a “classic” view of the Fourth Republic’s main parties (the PCF, SFIO, MRP, moderates and Radicals) at their strongest or at least in a period where they were the only major political forces which weighed something at a national level. By 1951, the PCF’s decline had already begun, the SFIO was very much below its 1945 level and the MRP was in collapse. It is thus interesting to look at the political map of France in the elections to the Second Constituent Assembly of the GPRF in June 1946. They provide us with a view of the PCF and MRP at some type of ‘equilibrium’, while the SFIO, moderates and Radicals remained fairly strong as third parties.

In the history of constituent assemblies around the world, it is fairly rare for there to be two successive constituent assemblies. Usually one constituent body is elected, drafts a constitution which is approved and the constituent body dissolved shortly thereafter to make way for the new regime’s elected legislature. As France wrote a new constitution following Liberation, however, the first constituent assembly ultimately failed to see its constitutional project approved, which meant that a second constituent assembly needed to be elected to start again.

The constituent assembly elected in October 1945 shortly after the end of the war was heavily dominated by the left, with the PCF as the largest party with 27% of the seats and the SFIO as the third largest party with 25% of the seats. The PCF’s goal by this point was not to take power unilaterally on its own. Thus had been its strategy in 1944, but it had rather quickly changed its strategy as the war ended as it was not in Moscow’s interest to have the PCF creating a revolutionary situation in western Europe, which would have compelled the Americans to intervene militarily in France and disturb the new European balance of power. Instead, in 1945, the PCF’s objective was to work within the regime. Whether or not its final goal was still the establishment of a single-party communist state is up for debate, but in 1945, Maurice Thorez understood that the PCF was not in a situation to do so. Instead, the PCF had decided to work within the regime and participate in the governing coalitions of the provisional government – even with right-wingers and centre-right parties such as the MRP. What took form was the tripartisme, a coalition of the PCF, SFIO and MRP with ephemeral participation from the Radicals or moderates depending on the government. Tripartisme actually took form in January 1946 following de Gaulle’s resignation, but it had more or less operated – though with de Gaulle as the symbolic leader – since 1945.

Though the PCF and MRP were both coalition partners, in terms of constitutional debate, the first constituent assembly’s debates were dominated by the left – PCF and SFIO – who held an absolute majority and whose constitutional vision was rather similar. The left worked over the MRP’s head (though the SFIO had wished to be more conciliatory with the MRP) and the result was the passage of a first constitutional project in the spring of 1946 which appeared to be the project of the PCF. The marking elements of the April 1946 project was unicameralism and the dominance of the legislative over the executive (and even judiciary). There was to be a single legislature, which would have control over the executive. The head of government would be elected by the National Assembly, who would then vote confidence in the winner’s cabinet. The President, elected by the National Assembly, would see his role limited to being a “mailman” who would inform the National Assembly of the candidates for head of government. Unicameralism and the legislative’s dominance over the executive was quite conform to the PCF (and SFIO) conceptions of what the new state should be. The old Senate of the Third Republic, which had overthrown the Popular Front in 1937 and had been a conservative bulwark, was despised by the left which saw it as a conservative, undemocratic aberration. They were also hostile to any strong presidential office which could have provided Charles de Gaulle or a person of his stature which tremendous power. For those who believe that the PCF had never abandoned its goal of taking power in France, the April 1946 draft was the democratic constitution which would perhaps have provided the easiest route to Marxist takeover. A potential “Marxist” (PCF-SFIO) majority in the National Assembly could have overpowered the presidency and judiciary and form a government according to its own wishes, with no conservative unelected upper house to counterbalance the hegemonic legislature.

The April 1946 draft was approved by a 309 to 249 vote, with votes in favour likely coming heavily from the PCF-SFIO majority (305 seats) with the centre and right – especially the Radicals and MRP – opposed. The draft was submitted to a referendum on May 5. While the project had been the joint creation of the PCF and SFIO, during the referendum’s campaign, the SFIO kind of erased itself which made the PCF the dominant force of the ‘yes’ campaign. Those who know only one thing about the April 1946 draft will probably know that it was “the communist project” which is not technically true, but became more or less accurate given that the ‘yes’ campaign was basically a PCF campaign. The right opposed the new constitution and de Gaulle had shown that he was hardly pleased with the result (by this time, de Gaulle was no longer head of the government), but the ‘no’ campaign was largely spearheaded by the MRP. de Gaulle had not even bothered to vote in the end.

The result of the May 5 referendum came as a major surprise: 53% no, 47% yes with 19% abstention. The mood seemed to have been that the draft would be approved by the voters fairly easily, but a fairly strong anti-communist reaction rejected it and forced all parties to return to the drawing board. The results of the May 1946 referendum will be worth exploring in further detail someday, as it really laid down the map of French left and right until the mid-1980s at the least.

A second constituent assembly, with seven months to draw up a new constitution, was elected on June 2. By and large, voters voted as they had in October. The PCF won 25.98% of the vote, against 26.23% in October. The MRP, with 28.2%, outpaced the PCF and gained considerably from the 23.9% it had won in October. The SFIO, with 21%, fell back from the 23.5% it had won in October. The right, with 12.8%, fell from 15.7% in October. The RGR (Radicals and UDSR) won 11.6%, close to the 10.5% they had won in 1945. The PCF won 153 seats (159 in 1945), the SFIO only 128 (146 in 1945) while the MRP won 166 seats, up from 150. The right-wing ‘moderate’ constellation added up to 67 seats, actually up from 64 in 1945 (note that 11 parti paysan deputies in 1945 caucused with the UDSR in 1945, but the 9 remaining caucused with the RI group in 1946). The Radicals and UDSR, weighing 60 seats in 1945, weighed 52 in the new legislature.

The bulk of voters actually voted as they had a few months before, but the shift of only a few voters meant that the new constituent assembly no longer had a left-wing majority of Communists and Socialists. The MRP had become the largest party, and it could no longer be ignored in drafting a new constitution. Fairly quickly, a compromise acceptable (more or less) to the PCF, SFIO and MRP was worked out which was approved by 53.5% of voters in a referendum on October 13, 1946. The referendum was a Pyrrhic victory for the new Fourth Republic, given that, as de Gaulle styled it, a third of voters didn’t vote (a very high figure for the time), a third approved it and a third rejected it. But it had been approved, despite Gaullist opposition and initial Communist reticence. The MRP’s objections to the April draft had actually been fairly minor in the wider realm of things and mostly concerned the number of chambers and executive powers. The new draft created an indirectly elected upper house, similar to the old Senate (the upper house would also participate in the president’s election), and slightly increased the President’s powers, notably giving him the right to nominate a head of government instead of being relegated to the role of mailman.

It is worthwhile to stop for a bit on the June 1946 elections, despite their limited significance in the wider realm of things. They were the only elections in which the MRP outpolled the PCF for first place, and they provide us with a nice view of the two parties at some sort of equilibrium. For me, the main interest lies in having a snapshot of French politics in that ephemeral period of the post-war era where the Gaullists or other anti-system forces of the right (Poujadists) were absent. As just about any other election, June 1946 is also a good excuse to make comments about the MRP’s weaknesses, the PCF’s ever-fascinating electoral coalition or talk about random things which are quite interesting. Once again it is worth pointing out that while these were proportional elections (highest averages method), in some departments, particularly ones with few seats, the results might not be reflective of the ‘real’ political culture but might instead be heavily conditioned by circumstances or factors such as local candidates, party lists and alliances or party organization.

% vote for the five parliamentary parties by department, expressed as a percentage of registered voters

I think you can develop an analysis from this map, and there are clear – and familiar – patterns which are already perceptible. But I shy away from limiting an analysis to the departmental level, as departments – as the bulk of sub-national divisions around the world – are not homogeneous entities and often contain a variety of different regional realities. The following map, built on the same bases as the map which you can see in my 1951 analysis, displays results at a cantonal level. The base map is mine, but the work of colouring in this beautiful map was done by a friend of mine who was kind enough to allow me to use it for this blog’s purpose.

Winning party list by canton with percentile range, expressed as a percentage of valid votes

The Irony of the MRP’s electorate

The Christian democratic Popular Republican Movement (MRP) was founded in 1944 by a group of Christian left résistants whose political goal was to create a broad movement which provided a middle-ground between the economic liberalism of the right and the Marxist collectivism/socialism of the left. As such, the MRP’s platform was actually pretty left-wing, notably so on economic issues where the MRP was quite wary of laissez-faire economic liberalism. It was in a sense very much linked to the teachings of social Catholicism, which had emerged in the early twentieth century.

In the political history of French Catholicism to date, the MRP represented a novelty. In the past, Catholicism in France – which meant actual Catholics who went to church and not secular ‘Catholics by tradition’ – was closely linked to the right. The Catholic Church had been associated with the forces of reaction of the Ancien Régime and republican propaganda up till the turn of the century clearly identified the Catholic Church as the enemy of progress and Catholicism as running counter to the republican/revolutionary ideals of democracy, freedom, liberty, equality and progress. The Catholic Church in practice also acted as the enemy of the nascent republican state, and on the ground the clergy formed a powerful political actor often working in tandem with the old landed aristocracy or bourgeoisie. In places such as Anjou or Vendée, the clergy allied with the landed rural aristocracy ran the show. Was it a coincidence, therefore, that those regions marked by the revolution’s egalitarian traditions bred by small private property were the most anti-clerical and de-Christianized regions of France?

The MRP was unique in that it was the first political party identified with political Catholicism which tried to find a common ground between Catholic faith and democracy, liberty and social progress. However, the MRP was unable to conciliate the two and its weight as a political actor weakened seriously following 1946, in large part because of the emergence of Gaullism. Following the 1950s, the non-Gaullist centrist tradition embodied by the MRP and later parties would be worth only 15% of the French electorate at most. Why was the MRP unable to maintain its electoral coalition of 1946?

This map, when the MRP polled 28%, actually contains the key to answering that question. The Christian left electorate in France is infinitely small in actuality, so the bulk of the MRP’s votes came from voters who were more right-wing than the party they voted for. There are two main reasons why these voters, who had not voted for the proto-MRP (PDP) during the Third Republic, voted for the MRP in 1945-1946:

Firstly, and most importantly, the traditional right of the Third Republic – basically the old conservative FR and the centre-right AD – were in shambles, were archaic parties and were totally discredited following the end of the war. The FR and AD had been partis de notables by excellence, to which the Third Republic’s electoral system – the single-member scrutin d’arrondissement – had been quite conducive to. Given that the parliamentarian’s survival depended on voters in his local constituency, when he voted he did so based far more on his constituency’s interests than in the interests of his weak party. After all, the party could not elect him, so they could not defeat him. However, the party-list proportional representation of the post-war era constructed a whole new system were the autonomy of the individual member was very restricted by the growing power of the party apparatus. They were now the ones who decided whether he would be elected, meaning that the parliamentarian’s interest was now to look out for his party who had the power to decide of his future. The parties of the Third Republic had been weak, unstructured, lacking authority over its members and often – especially on the right – consisting only of a myriad of “committees” for which the era was quite famous for. On the other hand, the parties of the Fourth Republic were generally strong, structured, cohesive and hegemonic. The left, especially the PCF, had already been structured in the later years of the Third Republic, but the MRP understood the importance of structure following its foundation. The right never did understand that. Until the creation of the CNI in 1949 which structured matters a bit more, the French right was very much divided between weak and irrelevant parties and groups. The largest was the Republican Party of Liberty (PRL), whose name, in the tradition of the French right, highlighted what it was not. In the second constituent assembly, however, the PRL had only 35 members against 23 members for the ‘Independent Republicans’ group – a coalition of those people such as former FR deputy Édouard Frédéric-Dupont who did not join the PRL. Alongside the RI group, there were 9 members of the small conservative agrarian Parti paysan led by Haute-Loire deputy Paul Antier.

It also did not help matters that the right of the Third Republic had been closely associated with the ‘defeat’ (in 1940) and then had its reputation severely tarnished by the collaboration of several of its prominent members with the Vichy regime. Following the war, the electorate as a whole embraced parties which maintained a clean reputation (more or less) or had been closely identified with the resistance (such as the PCF post-1941). Politicians who had collaborated were either legally barred from participating in politics (for a short while) or were shunned by voters. The bulk of the “moderate” tradition found itself discredited by the defeat of 1940 and the subsequent collaboration or at least a pro-Pétain vote on July 10, 1940 of the bulk of its members. For voters, the old right was a discredited and archaic structure. For up-and-coming right-wing politicians or those old right-wing politicians in search of a new beginning, there was little incentive to join the right. The MRP, established in 1945 as the credible party of the right or at least the largest non-Marxist party, had much more appeal. Some bad tongues have called the MRP the Machine à Recycler les Pétainistes, perhaps not without reason but still a rather unfair abbreviation. If you’re in the business of making fun of party abbreviations, Mon Révérend Père would fit the MRP better, especially if you’re secular or left-wing.

The second reason, more contextual, lays in the MRP’s successful campaign against the April constitution in the May 5 referendum. The no campaign had been waged almost entirely by the MRP (and the yes campaign almost entirely by the PCF), so for anti-communist and right-wing voters in June, the MRP appeared, pragmatically, as the most viable anti-communist option.

Thereby emerged the contradiction between a right-wing electorate and a left-leaning platform and party leadership, a contradiction worsened by the fact that until 1951 the MRP almost always governed with the Socialists. The old line is that the MRP was a centrist party with a right-wing electorate which governed on the left. The MRP was never able to overcome this fundamental existential contradiction.

The map shows this problem quite clearly. The MRP was clearly dominant in the bulk of la France catholique, that is to say most of Brittany, the inner west, the Bocage Normand, the inner west, the Basque Country, the southern Massif Central (the plateaus such as the Aubrac, the Grands Causses, the Cantal and so forth), the Moyen and Haut Vivarais (Ardèche), the Loire and Rhône departments, Savoie, the Massif du Jura (the region around Pontarlier and Saint-Claude), most of Alsace-Moselle, parts of Lorraine and Flanders. While those regions remain the main bases of the French centre to this day despite the major demographic evolutions they have gone through since the 1940s, in the 1940s these regions were largely rural and very conservative. Regions such as the inner west and continental Brittany had been the monarchist strongholds up until the point where the monarchy became a lost cause (1890s) and remained solidly conservative and clerical. I bet that all things being equal, if faced by a party with the MRP’s platform and a (similarly strong and not discredited) party with a traditional conservative platform in 1946, the bulk of these regions would have gone for the latter.

In the west, the MRP dominated places such as the Léon, Vannetais, Brocéliande, Vitréen, the Bocage Angevin, the Choletais and the Bocage Vendéen around Montaigu which were all some of the most clerical but also most reactionary places at the turn of the century (the Léon was slightly less reactionary than its voting would indicate, though). Of course some of it can likely be laid on local circumstances, for example in Vendée, the MRP’s top candidate Lionel de Tinguy was from the Haut-Bocage (canton of Pouzauges), while the standard-bearer of the right, Armand de Baudry d’Asson was from Challans, a city near the Marais Breton and the coastal and less clerical region of the Sables-d’Olonne. But the first impression is quite striking: the MRP dominated in the bulk of the inner west’s most conservative areas.

Outside the west, the MRP also did well in the other parts of the Catholic mosaic of France. Alsace, joined by Moselle, was an MRP stronghold complemented by a strong MRP machine at a local level. The MRP won all Alsatian cantons by wide margins save for the Protestant cantons of Bouxwiller and Drulingen which voted RGR. Flanders and some of the more religious rural areas of the Calaisis, Artois and Boulonnais also voted pretty solidly MRP. The MRP’s success was not as pronounced – far from it in some cases – in the Basque Country, Aveyron, Cantal, Haute-Loire or Ardèche but this largely lies in local dynamics of partisan politics whereby the traditional right was better maintained and ate up the bulk of the clerical conservative vote, especially in the Ardèche where the clergy never solidly backed the MRP and where Paul Ribeyre managed to reorganize the local right. At the same time, the MRP vote expanded successfully into conservative but secular regions such as the Marne, Ardennes, Vienne and parts of Lower Normandy. A similar phenomenon might have been at work in the Parisian basin. A clear sign of a ‘strategic’ right-wing vote for the MRP, as the dominant anti-communist force, but a weak vote which would quickly abandon the MRP in favour of Gaullism, more in touch with the political culture of those regions.

Class voting? The PCF and SFIO

In my post about the 1951 election, I had focused the first part of my analysis on the PCF vote. Of course, as in 1951, the 1946 map of the PCF vote – obviously very close to that of the May referendum – replicates the C/G shape which became the basis of the French electoral map (in the south) until the mid-1980s. The C connects the Italian border to the Catalan border following the Mediterranean coast, but is disconnected a bit in the southwest before forming a solid bloc composed of the Agenois, Limousin, Berry, Bourbonnais and Nivernais. In the north, the Communist vote was concentrated in the Parisian basin and a bloc composed of Picardie and the mining basin of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The northern strongholds are the ones which we have the least difficulty explaining: unionized, working-class and largely industrial.

I had examined the PCF’s C in southern France through pretty Marxist class-based analysis last time, and true enough there are a handful of small industrial centers (most often they formed the PCF bases) and rural areas with a poorer peasantry, often working the land through sharecropping (such as in the Bourbonnais and Berry). But I recognize that this analysis cannot explain everything, and there are exceptions to every pattern and other patterns which this Marxist analysis cannot really explain. There is a cultural factor at work here, where the PCF vote is much less a revolutionary and ideological ‘class vote’ (vote de classe ouvrière) as it may be in the Nord or Seine, but is much more a protest vote. This protest vote is not for the PCF as a communist party, as the party of Moscow or the Marxist party; but rather a protest vote bred by dissatisfaction, poverty, isolation and a good dose of anti-parliamentarianism. A good number of observers have noted that the PCF’s electorate was not all ideologically Marxist – far from it! This type of protest vote developed in rural areas with a strong left-wing republican and anti-clerical tradition, which has cycled through the Radicals in the late nineteenth century, the SFIO at the turn of the century and then the PCF in the post-war era.

To break out of its urban strongholds built up following the Tours Congress, the PCF needed to resolve a contradiction between Moscow’s doctrine and the political reality of France. Soviet doctrine was agrarian collectivism and breaking up (large) private property, a doctrine which might make sense in Russia, southern Spain or Cuba but which doesn’t make sense in France. Private property in France is a tradition inherited from the Revolution of 1789 which gave land to the peasants, providing him with property and a way of living. By consequence, private property was a revolutionary ideal whose defense as the basis of the Revolution has always been defended by the left.

The PCF’s agrarian doctrine (until 1964) included defense of private property mixed in with references to collectivization of land, all styled under the ambiguous slogans of la terre aux paysans or la terre à ceux qui la travaillent. Gradually, the PCF would evolve towards defense of private property (mixed in with rural electrification and development) and limit calls for agrarian reform to expropriation “large capitalist property” which made use of wage labour.

The PCF’s evolution towards a defense of private property, which amounted to the appropriation by the PCF of the old Radical platform, was due in large part to the work of Renaud Jean, the tribun des paysans and interwar PCF deputy for the Lot-et-Garonne. Criticized by Trotsky and the PCF’s left, Renaud Jean was the representative of private property within the PCF and responsible in large part for the development of the PCF’s agrarian platform which allowed it to appeal to impoverished peasants in central and southern France. As a powerful eloquent representative of his department’s small wheat producers, winemakers or tobacco growers, Renaud Jean strongly implanted the PCF in his department. But he was also one of those little-known PCF ‘rural barons’ alongside the likes of Marius Vazeilles (Corrèze) who played a large role in strengthening the PCF at a rural level.

In 1946, the SFIO began its slow and painful decline which would end in the creation of the PS on the ruins of the SFIO. The SFIO had been dealt a severe blow in 1945 when it was outpaced (26-24%) by the PCF, despite Socialist leaders in this pre-polling era being pretty confident of their ability to remain as the dominant driving force of the left. While the SFIO no longer had the prestige of being the driving force of the left, after 1947 the SFIO would have the ‘prestige’ of being a key part of most governments and as such playing the role of the “responsible” party of the left against an increasingly Stalinist and revolutionary PCF. But the SFIO would be weakened electorally, starting as early as June 1946, by the contradictions between the SFIO’s revolutionary or radical Marxist rhetoric (especially after Guy Mollet’s left-wing faction defeated the right-wing Blum/Mayer faction) and the realities of governing which includes compromise, concessions and dealing with the right.

At 21%, the SFIO was still a pretty important actor, but it had largely lost the working-class vote outside the Nord and maybe Limoges. The SFIO vote during this period was socially composite – an inter-class electorate – and made up of a bunch of different demographics. There was a rump of perhaps more affluent and less revolutionary working-class support, mostly in the Nord (Roubaix, Pont-à-Marcq, Avesnes-sur-Helpe, Cambrai), parts of the Pas-de-Calais mining basin, Saint-Nazaire and Limoges. There was a strong element of old republican, left-wing and anti-clerical rural support in the southwest (Haute-Garonne, Aude, Ariège, Landes), Provence and other similar areas such as the Tregorrois/Monts-d’Arée or eastern Sarthe (Plateau Calaisien). These are mostly regions of small private property, save the Landes which was hugely dominated by sharecropping and agriculture influenced by resin extraction from the Landes’ vast pine forests. It has been described as an electorate made up in good number of middle-class salaried employees and public sector workers.

The June 1946 election was not very significant, but in purely electoral terms it saw a balanced field between the MRP and PCF and was the penultimate election before the emergence of anti-system forces in 1951.

 

The face of France in 1951

In my past post, I looked at the changing face of the French left in terms of its social and geographical bases between the 1995 and 2007 elections. In this post, I shift to something completely different and something far removed from modern French politics, upon request of one reader.

The Fourth Republic, between 1946 and 1958, is usually associated with political instability and a political regime based on the institutional preeminence of the legislative branch at the expense of the executive. Unlike the Fifth Republic, whose structure of government as expressed by the Constitution of 1958 was plebiscited by over 80% of voters, the Fourth Republic was contested from its birth – its constitution had only been approved by 53% of voters. Charles de Gaulle, most significantly, opposed the Fourth Republic from the outset. Favouring a strong executive and a weaker legislature, he also criticized the ‘partitocracy’ of the system which placed party interests above national interests.

The political system of the Fourth Republic, at least until 1955, quickly stabilized by 1947 around three main parties which formed the Troisième Force (or Third Force). In May 1947, in the context of Cold War tensions and following a revolutionary strike wave notably in the Nord’s mining basin, Paul Ramadier excluded the Communist ministers from his cabinet, and the PCF would from then on remain shut out of cabinets until 1981. Following the collapse of the tripartisme (1945-1947) allying Communists, Socialists and Christian democrats, the new government coalition crystallized around the moderate parties of the centre: the Socialist (SFIO), Christian democrats (MRP), Radicals and ‘moderates’ (right-wingers). The MRP and SFIO in particular disagreed over issues such as private education, but to varying extents all these parties were attached to the parliamentary regime. Furthermore, less so in the SFIO and MRP’s case, but especially so in the case of the moderates and Radicals, they were predominantly partis de notables as opposed to partis de masse with a strong base of activists, reliant instead on its personalities and the effects of personality.

Charles de Gaulle had failed to spark a popular movement which would force the parties to call him back following his resignation in January 1946, and his discours de Bayeux had failed in its attempts to influence the debates which led to the drafting of the second constitutional draft and ultimately the Fourth Republic’s constitution in October 1946. In April 1947, seeking to get back into the political game, de Gaulle formed the Rally of the French People (RPF). Presented as a popular movement which was neither left-wing nor right-wing, the RPF was an anti-system, anti-communist and nationalist party. The RPF’s leadership was recruited from a wide horizon: old nationalists, Catholics, Radicals and left-wingers. While saying that the RPF is right-wing is certainly not wrong, especially in light of its electoral base, it can be set apart from the other two main centre-right parties of the era, the MRP and the moderates/CNIP. In contrast to the pro-European MRP, the RPF was more nationalistic and Eurosceptic. It placed great emphasis on defending the independence and greatness of France and opposed the European federalism of the MRP. And in contrast to the liberal moderates, the RPF was more weary of economic liberalism and promoted a more statist economic agenda and supported a third way between capitalism and socialism. The MRP and especially the moderates were the avatars of the Orleanist tradition: internationalist, more economically liberal (less so in the MRP’s case) and ‘elitist’ to an extent that they placed less emphasis on “the nation” or “the movement”. The RPF, on the other hand, were the heirs of the Bonapartist tradition: nationalist in that they defended the independence and greatness of France, wary of economic liberalism and more statist, and finally populist in an emphasis on concepts such as the “people”, the “nation” and “movements” (over “parties”).

The RPF had an immediate success in the October 1947 municipal elections in which they won 35% of the votes and conquered cities such as Paris (the presidency of the municipal council, the city not having an elected mayor until 1977), Marseille, Lille, Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Rennes. As late as the 1949 cantonal elections (delayed by the government), the RPF obtained a second resounding success with 32% of the votes. But progressively between 1947 and the 1951 elections, the RPF’s star started to fade. Part of its failure can be laid on the hostility of the print media and the official boycott on the behalf of the state-controlled media. But in the fall of 1947, the Third Force government and its Socialist interior minister Jules Moch was particularly successful in its handling (repression) of the strike wave which had begun earlier that year. As the threat of communism began to fade as order was restored in France, the conservative milieus no longer saw the need for le recours à de Gaulle (resorting to de Gaulle). The situation of chaos, foreign disasters and of serious threats to the established order which had sparked the Gaullist return in May 1958 were just not present between 1947 and 1951 when the economy started stabilizing and recovering from the war and when the main threat to the state (the PCF) started to fade out slightly in its political power.

Yet, the RPF, just like the equally anti-system PCF (unlike the RPF, the PCF was not opposed to the institutions per se but to the political makeup of the government), represented a serious threat to the regime’s already shaky political stability. With over half of the votes between them, if the 1951 elections were held under the same proportional (highest average) method as in 1946, the PCF and RPF with perhaps over half of the seats would kill the regime’s political stability. The Third Force parties, hostile both to the PCF and the RPF, saw the need to toy with the electoral law as to prevent this doomsday scenario from occuring in 1951. The result was the loi des apparentements. Outside the Seine and Seine-et-Oise where highest average PR remained in use, the new system was based on highest remainders PR but with a big caveat. Party lists could “parent” themselves to another list, and if the sum total of all these ‘parented’ lists was over 50% of the votes cast, said lists would split the entirety of the seats amongst themselves. For example, even if in a constituency the RPF came first with 30% and the PCF won 15%, but the sum total of the allied Third Force parties was above 50%, all seats would go to the Third Force parties and deprive the RPF, despite polling 30%, of any seats.

The result was a success for the Third Force parties. With 25.9% and 21.7% respectively, the PCF and RPF became the two largest parties. Amongst themselves, they won 104 and 120 seats. The SFIO won 14.5% (it had won 17.9% in 1946) and 103 seats. The MRP, which had won 26% in 1946, was a victim of the RPF’s success and won only 12.5% and 96 seats. The moderates, however, with 14% did slightly better than in 1946 (13%) and won 98 seats. The Radicals and their allies in the RGR won 10%, down 2%, and 92 seats (76 Radicals). Overall, the anti-system forces weighed 47.6% of the votes but only 35.7% of the seats. The Third Force held its majority with some 62% for all parties which traditionally made up the Third Force. However, the balance of power shifted to the right. For that reason and another question, the SFIO was excluded from all cabinets formed in this legislature. It was the MRP, moderates and Radicals who would form the bases of governments in this legislature.

Eventually, the RPF would collapse during the course of the legislature. The counter-performance of the party in the 1951 elections, in which it had hoped to win 200 seats, was a serious hit. Then the authoritarian leadership of the party by de Gaulle who refused any contacts with the other parties led to a series of splits, the first in 1952 when 27 RPF deputies voted in favour of Antoine Pinay. As the General said, a lot of the RPF deputies abandoned ship “to go to the soup”. By 1956, the trumpets of the anti-system crusade were taken up by the far-right Poujadist movement.

Perhaps 1951 does not offer us a “classic” view of the MRP, PCF, SFIO and Radicals at their strongest points (1946), but it is still interesting with the factor of the RPF and the first emergence of “electoral Gaullism”. Before going any further, it is important to point out that while these were proportional elections (albeit vandalized), in some departments, particularly ones with few seats, the results might not be reflective of the ‘real’ political sentiment of the region. The role of other factors such as local candidates, party lists and alliances, strong local party grassroots and so forth all fudge the picture a bit. But in departments with lots of seats, the political competition was along the classical lines of political parties rather than local candidates and party alliances. Sometimes, as a result of such party alliances, it is difficult to classify party lists in one department under either one of the major categories: there were a few RPF-CNIP coalitions, lots of MRP-CNIP coalitions and at least one common left-wing slate with the PCF (apparently) in Lozère. I do not have primary source results, but in some cases I wouldn’t be surprised if a party was split between two lists… Therefore, on party vote maps, there is due to be some difference on how one list is shown.

The first basic map is that of the overall results, by lists, by department. These are maps replicated from a scanned copy of an old book which was sent to me by email.

The second map, from which we can develop an analysis, shows results by list by canton. This map was established using my metropolitan cantonal base map by a friend mine who was kind enough to allow me to use his monumental creations on this website. The colour schemes might be a little difficult to read, especially to differentiate between the PCF and SFIO, but it is a beautiful patchwork of colours and tells more than the random mish-mash of colours would otherwise indicate.

La France communiste

The most basic striking pattern on this map – and in fact of all French election maps starting after the end of the war until at least the realignments of the 1980s – is the pattern of left wing support, in this case PCF support, forming a sort of C or G shape. The C starts around Fréjus or Nice, circles around the Riviera to the Spanish border and circles upwards through the Tarn, Gers, Lot-et-Garonne, Dordogne, Limousin (especially Haute-Vienne), Berry and finishes in the Bourbonnais and Nivernais. In some cases, it extended into a G shape with a tail reaching upwards from Aix and Toulon to include the lower Prealps, the Diois, Baronnies (in the Drôme) and often Isère. The C or G left enclosed the devoutly Catholic plateaus of the southern Massif Central in the Aveyron, Cantal and Lozère.

The main common point between the diverse regions included in this C are their anti-clericalism. This is 1951, when religious practice was still the most important determinant of voting behaviour and the variable which trumped all other variables. The PCF had a clear correlation with religious practice: a clear negative correlation as opposed to the MRP’s strong positive correlation. Basically no Communist voter in 1951 went to church weekly and only a handful could be seen as even remotely church-going. With a few major exceptions (the so-called écharpe bleue), Provence, the old southwest, Limousin, Berry and the Bourbonnais were all some of the most anti-clerical or non-religious areas in France. These are, by consequence in a way, where the tradition of left-republicanism was best implanted and where the social structure was the most “democratic” because of the quasi-null influence of the clergy.

There are a handful of small, isolated industrial centres all along this left-wing C/G, and in fact those small industrial centres were the PCF’s strongholds. You found old mining (tin if I remember correctly) in the Var’s backcountry, the mining basin of the Cévennes around Alès, Sète’s harbour, textiles in Lavelanet, the mining basin of Carmaux, the mining basin of Decazeville, the industrial valleys of Aurillac, the mining basin of the Brivadois, glove-makers in Saint-Junien, the mines of Commentry, the light industry of Montluçon, ceramics and machinery in Vierzon and the mining basin of La Machine/Decize. There were industrial centres of varying size in the Ardèche (Le Cheylard etc), Isère (both mining basins such as La Mure, Grenoble’s urban working-class hinterland, metallurgy in the Vallée du Grésivaudan, textile in Nord-Isère), Loire and Rhône.

But in fact the most striking aspect of the PCF’s evolution between the interwar era (1936) and the post-war years (1946) is its conquest of rural France. In 1936, with the exception of the Lot-et-Garonne (caused by local circumstances and leadership), the PCF was an exclusively urban party with its strongholds in the urbanized working-class regions of France such as the Nord or the Seine department. After the war, the PCF expanded to become a truly national parties with the implantation of the party in formerly Socialist rural areas in the Berry, Bourbonnais, Limousin, Languedoc and Provence. In some cases, some of these rural strongholds would become even more solid than some of the urban strongholds. The PCF’s role in the resistance during the War played an important role, and there is a pretty strong correlation between Communist-voting rural areas and zones of heavy FTP (the PCF’s resistance grouping) activity during the War. This is especially true in the Trégor and Haute-Cornouaille in Brittany, the ‘Red Belt’ of an otherwise right-wing stronghold.

The specific nature of these Communist-voting rural areas, which make up the bulk of the left-wing C/G on the map, are pretty different from one another. They all tend to have anti-clericalism in common, but the local socio-economic realities differed. In the Var, the old tradition of the Var rouge, an anti-clerical and strongly left-republican tradition based in the patchwork of ouvriers, small employees and small shopkeepers in the Provencal backcountry was still vibrant. Similar traditions extended into Provence, but also the old republican strongholds of the Diois and Baronnies (Drôme) and the Protestant locales of the Ardèche. In the Hérault (and parts of the rest of Languedoc, notably the Gard), a similarly militant left-republican tradition was strongly implanted, but this time in the context of a community of poor, small (often very small) wine producers faced with a string of economic disadvantages and with a militant tradition exemplified by the 1907 wine producers’ revolt in the Languedoc. Limousin has a long tradition of left-republicanism and socialism, the result of small landholders, anti-clericalism and the region’s masons who worked in Paris and brought back an early tradition of socialism. During the War, FTP activity was quite heavy in the region.

However, from the Dordogne to the Bourbonnais, the map of rural communism shows a strong correlation with the map of sharecropping (métayage). This is especially true in the Allier, which had 30% of land under sharecropping in 1942. The Cher (20%), Indre (26%), Vienne (29%), Haute-Vienne (38%), Charente (25%), Dordogne (20%), Lot-et-Garonne (38%), Gers (23%), Haute-Garonne (32%) and Tarn (28%) all had high incidences of sharecropping and all had substantial communist votes. However, the Landes (58% under sharecropping) has never denoted itself by a substantial Communist vote, which means that perhaps the sharecropping explanation isn’t all-encompassing…

The other major bloc of Communist strength in this period was northern France, a region taking in the Parisian basin and besides that parts of the Seine-Maritime, Picardy and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The Seine and Seine-et-Oise with the mythical ceinture rouge was the original base of PCF support in France. Though 1936 was perhaps the peak of the PCF’s strength in the Parisian basin, the 1950s were still part of the PCF’s heyday. The PCF vote was not limited, like it is today, to a handful of well-maintained strongholds in decrepit suburbs, but was rather universally spread throughout most of the region excepting the then-rural outer reaches and the old bourgeois heartlands of western Paris. Outside the Parisian basin, similar heavy concentrations of low-income working-class voters could be seen in Le Havre, the Seine industrial valley south of Rouen, Dieppe, Amiens, Calais, Dunkerque, Lille (alongside Roubaix, Tourcoing, Armentières, Seclin, Haubourdin), Douai, Cambrai, Maubeuge, the mining basin of the Nord and Charleville-Mézières. Industry was also concentrated into smaller centres such as Creil, Clermont, Ault, Boves, Amiens, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Saint-Quentin and Soissons.

The post-war era was the heyday of the left with the working-class. Revolutionary aspirations were not some distant pipe dreams. Being an ouvrier was a vision of society organized around the ideas of the class struggle, and being an ouvrier was regarded as being the industrial brass and steel of the country, not an archaic anachronism as it is today. The left represented, for these people (but they must not be taken as one – 3 in 10 did not vote for the left!) This was the génération héroique of workers, witnesses to the social struggles of 1936, the Matignon Accords, the Resistance and the victory of 1945. In some cases, especially in the Parisian hinterland, these voters had a solid class culture. The PCF was more than a party you voted for out of spite, it was the political expression of something. The trade union (often the then-communist CGT) was just as important.

The rural element is not the dominant element in northern France, which is far more marked for its industrial activity. But in terms of the two most important factors in voting patterns in rural France in 1951, this region was anti-clerical (with exceptions such as Flanders) and in terms of land exploitation the dominant form was neither sharecropping nor direct exploitation by the owner (which often indicates smallholders), but rather fermage where a wealthy landowner owning lots of land (often a bourgeois living in an urban setting) leased parts of his land to a farmer who paid the landowner a set lease. As André Siegfried pointed out in his analysis of the Caux and Vexin, where fermage was dominant, the farmer in practice took the role of the powerful rural-based landowner with a capitalist interest in wealth rather than land ownership. In turn, he often employed a large number of agricultural labourers. But in political terms, unlike the noble landowner (the French caciques!) of the Anjou, the political ascendancy of the farmer was quasi-null. Gone was the patriarchal linkage between noble and his working hands, replaced instead by a tenuous link between two individuals who did not know each other closely. Siegfried had again proved prophetic in his predictions when he said that a day would come where socialism could develop in these environments!

Ouvriers agricoles (agricultural labourers) are important throughout Picardy and parts of the Pas-de-Calais, but it is doubtful whether this was extremely relevant even in 1951. The furthest back I have census data for, 1968, indicates that the dominant social grouping throughout Picardy and especially places like the Aisne or Oise were ouvriers (manual workers). A category which, it is true, includes agricultural labourers, but which mostly includes manual skilled and unskilled workers in industry. The correlation between a high proportion of ouvriers and a high PCF vote is pretty positive in this era, while those cantons which were marked by a higher percentage of either employees or agriculteurs exploitants (those, basically, who directly exploit the land) were far less likely to vote PCF. There were quite a lot of small industrial islands sparkled throughout the Oise, Somme and the Pays de Caux. It is perhaps there where we must find the sources of PCF support outside the core urban centres.

Looking closer at the above map, we can clearly see outlined the mining basin of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais, forming some sort of crescent moon from Auchel (Pas-de-Calais) to the Belgian border (Nord). The mining basin, a revolutionary hotbed in places, had been the birthplace of French socialism in the 1880s (with Jules Guesde’s Marxist POF) and in the 1920s it had been one of the earliest bases of the PCF. To this day, parts of the mining basin retain their Communist orientations. While much less visible on this map, it is important to differentiate the mining basin in the Nord (Douai, Valenciennes, Saint-Amand) from the mining basin in the Pas-de-Calais (Hénin, Lens, Liévin, Béthune). The former is the revolutionary hotbed and where Guesde’s POF found some of its strongest support in all of France. It has been a PCF stronghold since the 1920s. However, the Pas-de-Calais’ mining basin has been far more moderate (although we should not overstate it). Reformist independent socialism was strong in the Pas-de-Calais at the turn of the century, and in some cases for some miners, reformist socialist sufficed. By consequence, and it is very clear today, the Socialists have been stronger. Though the PCF’s influence must not be understated, far from it.

The Right-Wing France or La France catholique

The MRP, the post-war Christian democratic party, represented the first real experiment (ignoring the minor interwar PDP) at a Catholic mass party which accepted democracy and the “ideals of the Revolution”. France has never had a Catholic Party similar to Germany’s Zentrum, Belgium’s CVP or the Netherland’s KVP. The post-war MRP was the closest France came to having a Catholic mass party, but even then it was not perfect. Catholicism in France – Catholicism in this French context referring not to the bulk of officially Catholic France (90% of the country) but rather those for whom religion was important and who practiced their faith – had been associated since the Revolution with reactionary politics and was presented as the enemy of the Revolution, the republic, democracy, progress and the Republican values. Perhaps some of these associations were false, and by the 1950s it could certainly not be said that Catholicism was the enemy of democracy or of the republic. But in other cases it is true, Catholicism bred conservatism. Catholic milieus were by definition conservative in their outlook.

The MRP always needed to deal with the ambiguity between a right-wing electorate, who had abandoned discredited interwar right-wingers, and a more left-wing leadership and style of governance. It has been said that the MRP was a centrist party, with right-wing voters and who governed with the left. It is not far from the truth, especially in 1951. The MRP was never really able to surmount this ambiguity between a conservative base and more social Christian leadership. After its heyday in 1945 and 1946, benefiting from a perfect storm: no Gaullist movement, a strong legitimacy as a party of the resistance, a discredited right and a stature as the largest opponent of the PCF following the May 1946 referendum; the MRP declined, victim of Gaullism and the effects on its right-wing base of governing in a centre-left manner.

In 1946, the MRP had been very successful in its ability to conquer the quasi-entirety of la France catholique. Certainly its overall map in 1951 remains obviously tied to the map of Catholic France with Brittany, the inner west, Lower Normandy, the Basque Country, the southern Massif Central, Savoy, Jura, Alsace-Moselle and Flanders. But a look at the above map by canton shows a weakened MRP. Indeed, we find some solid MRP bases at the cantonal level only in Morbihan, Mayenne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Tarn, Loire (Georges Bidault), Haute-Savoie, Jura and Bas-Rhin. Bases which owe more, in this case, to local candidates (for example, in the Tarn, the top candidate was a former PDP deputy in office since 1919) and a strong local implantation (the MRP was very powerful, institutionally, in Alsace).

The moderates (CNIP) have oft been referred to in literature as la droite laïque as opposed to the MRP as la droite catholique. Superficially this may be true, and some of the CNIP’s bases in the Champagne (Aube, Côte-d’Or, Yonne) or Centre (Eure-et-Loir) are reflective of this orientation. In reality, however, the differences between the “two rights” were quite abated. If the moderates had indeed been the party of the secular right, then surely they wouldn’t have won a landslide in Vendée, Loire-Atlantique, Lozère, Aveyron, Cantal, Haute-Loire or the Ardèche. Why, then, did they win a landslide there?

The moderates being the party of notables by excellence, personality unsurprisingly trumped party ideology (if they had any) hugely. In 1951, the “schools question” (to use a Canadian term!) was a major political issue in France. The debate was about extending state funding to private education (also called l’école libre), which were in practice religious (Catholic) schools. The PCF, SFIO and Radicals opposed any such funding, while the right defended the liberté d’éducation. In September 1951, the MRP-SFIO coalition finally collapsed to the RPF’s delight on the educational question when the right associated to pass the Barangé law which extended special state funding for both public and private schools at the primary level.

On the ground, the defense of the “freedom of education” was not just the preserve of the MRP, it was also defended by most of the RPF and also a lot of moderates. In the aforementioned ‘Catholic-CNIP’ departments, the top moderate figure often clearly and unambiguously defended the ‘freedom of education’. This was the case in the Ardèche, where the clergy had never solidly backed the MRP, but also the Haute-Loire, Lozère, Aveyron or Loire-Atlantique. To use the example of the Vendée, where the moderates did very well in 1951, the top candidate of the CNIP list (in fact a common CNIP-RPF list) was Armand de Baudry d’Asson. Baudry d’Asson had been one of the three co-sponsors of the Barangé law. He was also the grandson of a monarchist deputy for Les Sables until 1914. Baudry d’Asson is something of a stereotype for the Vendéen noble: Chouan ancestors, monarchist until the end and deeply conservative. In the conservative departments of the inner west or the southern Massif Central, the moderates and their visceral anti-communism combined with their positions on education made them a better fit, in fact, for the rural right-wing voter than the MRP could be.

In the Hautes-Alpes, which returned only two members, the moderate’s landslide is the result of a weird broad list allying some socialists, Christian democrats and moderates and led by Finance Minister Maurice Petsche, who died later that year.

Gaullist France

The electoral geography of Gaullism – or rather of Charles de Gaulle as an individual – has always been a unique phenomenon. It may be a right-wing movement, but its map has never perfectly coincided with the traditional geographic distribution of the French right. The map below shows the distribution of the RPF’s vote in 1951 by the legislative constituencies used in 1936. The map also treats CNIP-RPF (or RPF-CNIP) lists and other heterogeneous lists as RPF lists, which might fudge matters a bit and explain the differences between this map and the map by department above (which apparently treats those weird lists differently).

The most important aspect of the electoral geography of Gaullism in its traditional phase (which is basically 1951 and 1958 until 1968) is the similarities between the electoral map of Gaullism and the map of occupied France in 1941. Indeed, the bulk of Gaullist support is concentrated in what was the northern zone – France occupied by Nazi Germany (annexed in the case of Alsace-Moselle). 1951 does not yet allow for this trend to be seen perfectly, but by the 1958 and 1962 referendums or the 1965 runoff we clearly see Gaullism in full strength in occupied France but much weaker in the zone libre (administered directly by Vichy until November 1942). But already by this first map of electoral Gaullism, there is a marked difference between the old zones of occupation. The RPF’s strength follows pretty closely the demarcation line, from the Basque border at Hendaye, along the Atlantic seaboard, into Brittany, and then englobing the bulk of northern and northeastern France. The demarcation line is particularly visible in the Charente, with a weak RPF showing in the Confolentais which was on the Vichy side of the line; in the Indre, which was entirely in Vichy France; Cher, with the RPF’s strongest showings concentrated in the occupied zone; Saône-et-Loire, with the RPF performing poorly in the Bresse and Mâconais which were in Vichy France.

The explanation is not that “the south were collabos”, which is obviously false. Some of the heaviest resistance in the maquis happened in the south. However, northern France suffered the traumas of German occupation as early as 1941, while southern France only came under direct German control after November 1942. It is thus likely that the occupied zone responded with more emotion and remembered with more emotions the appel du 18 juin. Furthermore, Charles de Gaulle was particularly involved in the liberation of the old occupied zone, while his personal role in the liberation of Provence and southern France was far less important. Charles de Gaulle’s northern origins (Lille) likely play a small role, but it could only account for a very small part of the explanation.

The RPF and Gaullism would always have a strong base in the Catholic regions of western France and Alsace-Lorraine. The RPF was perhaps not a traditional right-wing party, but especially in these regions where the bulk of the RPF’s candidates engaged themselves in the support of private schools, the RPF was in perfect symmetry with the Catholic conservatism of the region. Part of the Gaullist movement’s strength in Alsace and Lorraine can be laid down on a long history of nationalism and patriotism in the region, which would logically be strong supporters of Gaullism. But in the Catholic regions of western France, the symmetry between the MRP and the Gaullist electorate is pretty visible. It was said that all of the major parliamentary parties, the MRP was the one which was closest to de Gaulle and the one which was the most likely to share a conception of power and state similar to Gaullism. In another sense, the MRP also had a strong ‘resistance’ element which was more Gaullist than traditionally Christian democratic. That this electorate voted RPF in 1951 and likely voted for the Gaullists after 1958 is not a surprise, far from it.

In the Finistère, the RPF performed particularly strongly in the Pays Léonard (north of Brest), the most devoutly Catholic region of the department, but also a particularly unique Catholic region in the Catholic west because its clerical bases were not laid on an alliance of “church and castle” as in Anjou or Vendée, but rather on what can be styled a “theocratic democracy”. But such interesting differences can’t explain everything.  Finistère contributed particularly heavily to the Resistance. Interestingly, however, Ouessant didn’t vote RPF…

The strong showings in Vendée on this map is pretty artificial, because this map counts Armand de Baudry d’Asson’s CNIP-RPF list as a RPF list and his list was far more a traditional conservative list than a purely Gaullist list. A similar comment could be made about Eure-et-Loir, where the RPF supported two incumbent moderates and whose list did particularly well. In the Loire-Atlantique, the RPF list had a strong Gaullist component (Olivier de Sesmaisons, incumbent moderate-turned-RPF deputy) but was also allied with the traditional right – two of the list’s four elected members sat with the traditional right-wing groups. In the Maine-et-Loire, the RPF list was led by Victor Chatenay, the mayor of Angers between 1947 and 1959, and perhaps explains the RPF’s particularly strong showing. In Moselle, the RPF list was led by Raymond Mondon, the mayor of Metz between 1947 and 1970. In the Oise, finally, the RPF list was led by Jean Legendre, incumbent moderate deputy and mayor of Compiègne. His success, like that of quite a few other RPF lists, is due in good part to his personal appeal than any true Gaullist vote reservoir.

1951 is an important election in the course of French electoral history. It marked the emergence of the first anti-system movement under the Fourth Republic, and saw the first outing of electoral Gaullism – laying the bases for the future map of the Gaullist movement in its first phase.

 

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.