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Beyond Yes and No: the 2005 Referendum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Circumstantial View: Partisanship and Ideology as Voting Determinants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing the Circumstantial View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Europe: A New Cleavage beyond Left and Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Factors in Vote Choice: Partisanship or sociology?

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

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

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

NO vote vs. variable



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Attitudes and Values of YES and NO voters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2007: Jean-Marie Le Pen’s collapse

On April 21, 2002 the far-right’s standard bearer, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had made history by placing second and qualifying for the runoff with 16.86% of the vote. It was an historic night for the French far-right, which had won its best result in its existence. However, five years later, Jean-Marie Le Pen failed to repeat his feat. With 10.44%, he placed a distant fourth and won a result which marked the end of his reign as the patriarch of the far-right in France. Few had expected such a result: in fact, with polls placing him at 12-14% before the vote, most casual observers had expected him to pull at least 16% given how polls underestimated his vote in the past. While the FN has roared back to prominence making talk of its imminent death silly, one of the main lessons of the 2007 presidential election had been Nicolas Sarkozy’s ability to grasp, by the first round, a sizable share of Le Pen’s April 21 voters.

Comparative evolution of the right and FN (2007) by department

Between 38% (Ifop) and 21% (Ipsos) of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s first round voters from 2002 voted for Nicolas Sarkozy by the first round of the 2007 election. The old patriarch kept only between 53% (Ifop) and 64% (Ipsos) of the voters who had made his spectacular feat of April 21, 2002 a reality. After having been deeply ingrained in French politics and society for over 20 years, after having weathered through the crippling split of 1998 with Bruno Mégret and after having resisted well in the 2004 regional elections, how did the FN suffer such a sudden and violent collapse?

The answer lies in the unique personality of Nicolas Sarkozy. The French right, after having tried unsuccessfully to court Le Pen’s electorate in the late 1980s, the right led by Jacques Chirac had cut short its attempts to seduce his electorate. Sarkozy, on the other hand, while not openly embracing or courting the far-right as a political entity, built himself an image as a law-and-order tough on crime populist which was quite different from that of the traditional right, led by Chirac. An ironic image for a man who was as recently as 2002 considered as one of the most liberal (in the French sense) politicians in France, but Sarkozy harboured deep presidential ambitions. Sarkozy’s strategy was to conquer Le Pen’s electorate by reclaiming control over certain themes which had until then been the exclusive property of the FN (ideas such as too much immigration, insecurity in the suburbs and so forth). To counter the old patriarch, his strategy was to show himself as an energetic Interior Minister in touch with reality who “gets stuff done” as opposed to Le Pen, portrayed as an archaic leader with radical positions out of touch with reality. Sarkozy struck at a moment which was perfect. Following Le Pen’s underwhelming performance in the 2002 runoff, an increasing number of FN voters were growing desperate for action and change while harbouring mounting doubts about Le Pen’s ability to conquer power and affect those changes himself.

While the FN criticized Sarkozy’s action as mirages and Le Pen often repeated how voters preferred the original to the copy, the party’s electorate appreciated Sarkozy’s action and positions taken in his role as Interior Minister in the fight against criminality and delinquency. Looking at Ifop polls over the course of campaign, the turning point seems to have been the riots in the Gare du Nord on March 27. Following those incidents, Sarkozy increased with Le Pen 2002 voters from the lows 30s to the high 30s. Ironically, Sarkozy’s announcement on the creation of the Ministry of Immigration and National Identity in early March actually led to a slow slide in his support with Le Pen’s electorate. It seems as if Le Pen’s electorate responds poorly to moves which seem as overt pandering from the UMP but respond far better to circumstances and events (such as the Gare du Nord riots).

Jean-Marie Le Pen lost about 6.42% of his 2002 result in 2007. On the other hand, Sarkozy increased by 6.2% the combined performance of Jacques Chirac, Alain Madelin and Christine Boutin in 2002. It is almost as if both go hand in hand: Le Pen’s lost vote almost all flowed to Sarkozy. At a departmental level, excluding the DOM-TOM and Corsica (because they voted weirdly), the correlation between the FN and the right’s evolution between 2002 and 2007 is very strong at 0.81. Of course, when you include the DOM-TOMs and Corsica, the correlation drops a whole lot to 0.58, but we’re looking at places where voting is very parochial, where the FN is very weak (the DOM-TOMs) or where it grasps a rather unique electorate (Corsica). In metropolitan France, the only main exceptions to the pattern is Corrèze where Sarkozy lost 8.9% of the combined right’s vote in 2002 (Le Pen lost 1.3%). There is thus a striking symmetry between the evolution of the right’s vote with that of the traditional FN map.

However, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jean-Marie Le Pen’s gains and loses were not spread out homogeneously over the country. Where did the FN lose the most, and where did the FN show the strongest resistance? The map below shows the evolution of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s support between 2002 and 2007, drawn up by 1986-2009 constituency. Brown indicate constituencies where Le Pen’s support increased between 2002 and 2007, while varying shades of blue indicates constituencies where his support decline between 2002 and 2007, with darker shades indicating a larger decline.

% change between Jean-Marie Le Pen’s 2007 performance and Jean-Marie Le Pen’s 2002 performance by legislative constituency (1986-2009 redistricting)

The Three/Four Worlds of FN Voters

In general, Jean-Marie Le Pen lost the most support where the FN traditionally does best: the Mediterranean coast, the Garonne valley, Rhône-Alpes, Alsace-Moselle and the greater Parisian basin. From the map, we pick out three or four major traditional FN voters, which progressively morphs into another type.

The first type we can distinguish is a petite bourgeoisie (lower middle-classes), in many cases retirees or small employees, concentrated mostly along the Mediterranean coast. They are not all that poor, but they are not traditionally considered as being part of the more affluent elites, and by their social status as petit bourgeois they are strongly individualist and deeply conservative. The region was too urban and industrialized to be Poujadist in 1956 (except Vaucluse, less industrial, and Poujade’s best department in 1956), but in their concerns the first type is somewhat Poujadist. In Provence, a fair number of these voters may be of pied noir ancestry, but in 2007 it is perhaps a bit ridiculous to say they’re all pieds noirs. Living in a region with a large North African population and with particularly high crime rates (especially Marseille or the Alpes-Maritimes), the FN has always been – since 1984 – very strong with this first type of voters. To an extent, their vote for the FN might be a protest vote, but it is not entirely that and in large part it could be constructed as a conservative vote concerned with North African immigration, insecurity and diametrically opposed to left-wing conceptions of the state and society.

In the Vaucluse, traditionally the FN stronghold by excellence, the FN tradition is born out of historical factors (less industrial, an old reactionary-conservative base, a vibrant Poujadist movement, the Algerian war and the OAS) and of contemporary social factors (an important agricultural sector employing farm workers, a petite bourgeoisie and lower middle-classes).

The first type is strongest on the Mediterranean coast, especially in the Var and Alpes-Maritimes (where it is the most conservative and affluent). A similar type of electorate (let’s call it type 1-bis), lower middle-class and equally concerned with immigration and insecurity, can be found in suburban or exurban communities, especially in the Rhône-Alpes region. It is especially strong in old working-class hinterland, but which has increasingly been transformed into average income middle-class bedroom communities. Unemployment in areas such as Meyzieu (Rhône) or Nord-Isère is not particularly high – in fact it is below average – so it is not the protest vote of poor suburbs with high unemployment – rather it is a conservative vote about immigration and insecurity (they are located close to working-class suburbs with high immigration such as Vénissieux), like in the Var or Alpes-Maritimes. The left-wing roots of these regions have been dropping like flies in recent years, as the contest in places such as Meyzieu becomes increasingly UMP and FN.

In terms of social categories, the first type is largely composed of employees and professions intermédiaires (a blanket term for broadly middle-class people). But these categories, like that of ouvrier, is far from homogeneous. They are all divided by some fairly key schisms in terms of their comparative political attitudes. Employees, generally the second lowest step on the “social ladder” in France behind the broad ouvriers category, are divided between those who work in small businesses (PME-PMI in France, including construction – BTP or agrifood) and in commerce (vendors, cashiers) versus those who work in the public sector (education, health, social services). The FN performs strongly with the first type of employees (small businesses) but performs very poorly with the second category. A similar public-private divide is found with the middle-class categories. Again, the FN performs well with those middle-level employees in the private sector (construction, small businesses, commerce) where the fear of losing their job is pretty big. On the other hand, the FN usually registers its worst results with middle-level public employees including teachers. The FN, like the traditional right, performs well with non-salaried self-employed workers (including the old, stereotypical FN-voting shopkeepers). The FN may use populist quasi-statist rhetoric, but its base often reflects some of the most economically liberal, anti-statist views out there.

The second type is somewhat similar to the first type, but it is less affluent and less urban. We can call this type a rural conservative vote, a phenomenon which is particularly pronounced in Alsace where the FN has performed well in lily-white small towns (often more Protestant than Catholic) with an older population particularly touched by concerns over immigration (which is particularly important in a border region like Alsace and in cities like Mulhouse). While there is a very strong working-class base throughout Alsace, unemployment is very low in some of these areas, so it is hard to see it as a protest vote of economically declining regions. It is, however, because of its rural element, more Poujadist in its orientation than the first type was.

The third type is an old white working-class vote, higher in in communities which concentrate both high unemployment (industrial decline) and proximity to large immigrant communities. The third type is particularly low-income, and it is the most left-leaning of the FN’s three/four types. The third type is important in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Moselle, parts of the Haut-Rhin (in the potash mining communities), the Montbéliard area and some regions such as the Yssengelais in the Haute-Loire.

Some people want to make you believe that the FN is strong in all working-class communities, no matter what. I would like them to explain to me why the FN is weak in Carmaux, Decazeville, Saint-Nazaire and even Longwy. The other misconception is that the FN’s working-class vote is made up in large part of old left-wingers or former PCF voters. This is truer now than it was in 1984, but PCF voters are actually those least likely to vote FN. A micro analysis looking at FN votes across working-class areas shows that old PCF strongholds are the least receptive to the the FN. In the past, a good part of the FN’s working-class electorate came from the 30% or so of working-class voters who were traditionally right-wing. Right-wing working-class communities such as Cluses, Saint-Amarin, Freyming-Merlebach or Stiring-Wendel are some of the FN’s rock-ribbed strongholds. The Marxist left never gained a foothold in these regions, and the FN emerged as the main alternative to the right in those regions. Of course, since 1995, there has been an increasing element of gaucho-lepénisme, denoting a certain kind of traditional white working-class left-wing voter who votes for the FN yet often returns to his left-wing roots in the runoff.

The third type’s vote is far more likely to be a protest vote. Unemployment is not necessarily high, but it is on average probably highest in these type of regions than in the first two types. In the stereotypical community of the third type, Hénin-Beaumont, unemployment in 2006 was 13.2% which is actually pretty low by the standards of the mining basin. It is not necessarily a protest vote against politicians of the “UMPS” but a protest vote against unemployment, industrial decline, immigration and insecurity (for those voters, the four problems are closely linked to one another). It is no longer a more well-off conservative vote, and it is the least Poujadist type of electorate.

hybrid of the second type – the rural conservative vote – and the third type – the WWC vote – is a kind of distant, isolated rural or exurban vote which is increasingly a protest vote in not-too-affluent “forgotten communities” against isolation from urban cores, their intellectual “tolerant” elites and exorbitant property prices in urban areas (such as Paris or Lyon). It is property prices and white flight which has pushed this populaire (old, low-income, traditionally working-class or working poor electorate) electorate of working-class tradition though not, in many cases, of unionized large industrial working-class tradition. The departments of the Meuse, Haute-Marne, Marne, Aube, Aisne and other parts of Picardie concentrates a good part of this vote, but it can be observed in the Vexin and the Perche (which is more rural than exurban). Unemployment or immigration is not particularly high (in fact, it is likely below average) but they are still touched by economic problems, criminality and the effects of immigration.

These are what I construe as the three general types of electorate, which are in some cases similar to one another but in other regards are rather different. Their difference can be seen in the reaction of these three types to the Sarkozyst tentation.

The first type reacted the most to the Sarkozyst tentation, as can be seen by Le Pen’s heavily loses along the Mediterranean and in Rhône-Alpes. In the Alpes-Maritimes, where Sarkozy won his best result in France in the first round (43.6%), Le Pen’s loses were heavy and concentrated in the most affluent and conservative regions: -14.26 in Cannes, -12 in Antibes, -11.95 in Cagnes-sur-Mer, between -12.4 and -13.3 in Nice, -11.9 in Menton. In the Var, the results are similar: -12.67 in Fréjus and Saint-Raphaël, -10.4 in Draguignan, -9.5 in Hyères, -6.7 and -7.9 in Toulon’s two constituencies or -10.1 in La Seyne. Loses were equally as heavy in Aubagne (-9.7), Gardanne (-8.7), Orange (-10.8), Carpentras (-9.9), Nîmes-centre (-11.7), Vauvert and Aigues-Mortes (-11.2), Béziers (-12), Sète (-10.6) or Montpellier-sud and Lattes (-10.3). For these more affluent, conservative petit bourgeois, Sarkozy’s rhetoric about work (his appeal to la France qui se lève tôt), immigration and insecurity had a distinct appeal. These voters, not all that much into voting FN for the sake of protest but more for specific reasons, saw Sarkozy as somebody who took up Le Pen’s concerns while being less dangerous, less radical, younger, more realistic and more able to deal with those issues.

The type 1-bis, similar to the first type in terms of preoccupations, also reacted favourably to Sarkozy’s appeal. Le Pen’s loses were heavy in places such as Meyzieu (-13.6), Bourgoin/La-Tour-du-Pin (-10.1), Givors (-10.8) or Romans-sur-Isère (-9.5). It is a similar type of suburban middle-class, concerned with the law-and-order thematic and perhaps Sarkozy’s “la valeur travail” meritocratic rhetoric.

The second type, the rural conservative vote, was the other category which responded most favourably to Nicolas Sarkozy. Jean-Marie Le Pen had done very well in Alsace in 2002, but did relatively poorly in the region in 2007 (he lost 9.89% in Alsace, the highest of any region). Losses were heaviest in Strasbourg Nord (-10.9), Strasbourg Sud (-10), Wissembourg (-10.41), Haguenau (-10.7), Illkirch-Graffenstaden (-11.4), Molsheim (-10.8), Mulhouse Est (-10.5), Altkirch-Thann (-10.2) and Hunigue (-10.1).

The third type did not react as favourably, but a sort of split decision occurred. Le Pen’s loses were very pronounced in traditionally conservative working-class areas such as Forbach (-10.8), Saint-Avold (-9.6), Altkirch-Thann (-10.2) and Yssingeaux/Le Puy Est (-8). They were equally pretty heavy in more left-leaning working-class areas such as Firminy (-10.4), Audincourt (-8.3), Moyeuvre-Grande (-8) and Rombas (-8.4). However, where the FN vote is in large part an old white working-class protest vote against immigration, unemployment and economic decline, Le Pen’s loses were rather small. This is the case in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais: -1.6 in Béthune, -0.1 in Bruay, -2.1 in Liévin, -3 in Marchiennes, -1.8 in Calais, -4.4 in Lens, -4 in Douai though amusingly -6 in Hénin-Beaumont.

The hybrid of the second and third types, the “forgotten communities” vote, was the most resistant to Nicolas Sarkozy’s appeal. In these lower middle-class or populaire exurban or rurban isolated communities of working-class or light industrial tradition, Le Pen resisted well. Loses were below the national average in departments such as the Aisne (-3.9), Meuse (-4), Cher (-4.1), Indre (-3.5), Haute-Marne (-5.4), Marne (-5.5), Vosges (-5.3), Seine-Maritime (-4.8) and of course the Pas-de-Calais (-2.4). Therefore, Nicolas Sarkozy’s rhetoric on law and order, work and authority was better received by traditional FN voters who are more affluent (and urban/suburban) than those who are less affluent or rural, whose vote for the FN is driven heavily by a deeply ingrained anti-establishment streak.

An Ifop analysis of those Le Pen 2002 voters who switched to Sarkozy versus those who did not reveals a similar contrast: those who switched to Sarkozy included 35% of cadres or professions intermédiaires (and 44% of ouvriers and 13% of farmers or shopkeepers), while those who remained loyal to the fold were heavily working-class: 59% ouvrier against 23% of cadres or professions intermédiaires (and 14% of farmers or shopkeepers).

The effects of exurbanization and urban sprawl (or périurbanisation) on the FN’s vote since the 1980s is particularly striking. In 1984, the FN’s vote was heavily concentrated in urban areas reaching peaks in urban or inner suburban areas, but weaker in rural areas. In 2007, the FN vote had been almost entirely drained out of the core of major urban areas such as Paris or Lyon, but was stronger in rural or exurban areas. A spatial analysis of the FN’s vote in 1995, 2002 and 2007 (by Loïc Ravenel at the Université de Besançon) is particularly revealing of the effects of urban sprawl. In 1995, Le Pen received his national average in urban cores and won his best results 25km from the urban core before progressively declining (with a final bump in areas 100km or more from the core). In 2002, Le Pen won about 1% less than average in urban cores and won his best results 35km from the urban core before declining (with another, less pronounced, bump 100km away). Finally, in 2007, Le Pen performed about 2% below average in urban cores, and wins his best results 35-45km away from the urban core while the subsequent decline is less pronounced than in past years (and the 100km away bump is far more pronounced). In 1995, Le Pen was at or above national average in an circle 0 to 55km from the urban core. In 2002, Le Pen was at or above national average in a circle encompassing areas 15 to 65km from the core. In 2007, Le Pen was at or above national average in a circle encompassing areas 15 to 90km from the core.

Le Pen’s decrepitude in 2007 was particularly pronounced in urban and suburban areas, except perhaps in Paris where Le Pen lost only 4.8% – perhaps because the FN’s collapse in Paris was already completed in 2002. There is a general pattern of major decline in support for Le Pen between 2002 and 2007 in most urban areas: Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Montpellier, Perpignan, Toulouse, Rennes, Lorient, Brest, Le Havre, Rouen, Amiens, Lille, Metz or Dijon. The FN electorate in these cities, which is already rather small as it is, is probably composed in large part of more affluent middle-classes who responded favourably, like the first type, to Sarkozy’s appeal on the basis of insecurity, authority, immigration or work.

Le Pen’s Zones of Resistance

In metropolitan France, Jean-Marie Le Pen managed to increase his support in two constituencies: Ault (Vimeu, +1.12%) and Abbeville (Ponthieu, +0.8%) in the Somme, both in the Baie de Somme. The Baie de Somme, a particularly important hunting region (waterfowl or gibier d’eau), had been the CPNT’s candidate (Jean Saint-Josse)’s best constituencies in 2002. The CPNT electorate, especially in Picardie and Normandie, is particularly right-wing, and Saint-Josse voters in those regions transferred in large part to Le Pen in the runoff, some of the only non-Le Pen voters to do so (see here). In 2007, with the CPNT’s collapse, Le Pen was due to capture some of this far-right friendly electorate. CPNT’s vote may also explain, in part, Le Pen’s strong resistance in the rural areas of the Centre, Poitou, Charentes and Aquitaine.

In the Limousin, the heart of Chiraquie, Sarkozy badly underperformed the right’s performance in 2002 with Chirac at its helm, as the favourite-son vote of Chiraquie flowed to Royal or Bayrou, but also Le Pen in a far more modest part. In Chirac’s constituency (Ussel), Sarkozy won 12% less than the combined right in 2002, and Le Pen lost only 0.02% between the two elections. In Bernadette Chirac’s canton (Corrèze), it appears as if Le Pen increased his result by atleast 1% between 2002 and 2007.

Jean-Marie Le Pen held his 2002 result in Corsica (15.7% in 2002, 15.3% in 2007). The FN’s presidential performance in Corsica far surpasses its paltry results in legislative or regional elections, largely because some of the more radical Corsican nationalist voters tend to vote for Le Pen in presidential election, largely because of the xenophobic and ethnonationalist undertones of some of the radical nationalists’ rhetoric on the island.

The Bases of Marine Le Pen’s Surge?

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s collapse in 2007 did not lead to the eradication of the FN as a potent political force. Following the FN’s weak showings in 2008 and 2009, many had started presuming that Nicolas Sarkozy might be able to do to the FN what Mitterrand had done to the PCF: kill the party as a major political actor by eating up its electorate. Following the 2010 regionals, and especially the 2011 cantonals, there is no chance of that happening. Marine Le Pen, the daughter and successor of the patriarch, regularly polls at 15-18% in the run-up to next year’s presidential election and she poses an underlying threat to Nicolas Sarkozy’s candidacy. Marine has been able, pretty spectacularly, to lift a dying (and bankrupt) party from the brink of political extinction and return to its former splendour. What can her father’s collapse in 2007 teach us about the rejuvenation of the FN?

Her father’s stronger resistance in populaire regions such as the NPDC seems to have laid the fertile base for Marine’s restructuring of the FN along the bases of a solidly working-class electorate as exemplified by her Hénin-Beaumont stronghold. Now more than ever, the FN seems to be deeply rooted as the “premier parti ouvrier” (largest party with working-class voters). In 2010, with Marine Le Pen as the FN’s regional candidate, the FN outperformed its 2007 performance in all but one constituency of the NPDC (Valérie Létard’s constituency in Valenciennes).

The third type seems to have remained ever so solidly frontiste and the 2010 regional elections showed the elimination of Sarkozy’s gains from the FN in conservative working-class areas such as the Moselle coal basin. The first type seems to have returned to its traditional far-right roots as well: in 2010, Jean-Marie Le Pen very much outran his 2007 performance in PACA especially in the Var (+6.5), Alpes-Maritimes (+8.5) and Bouches-du-Rhône (+6.7). The corruption cases surrounding Sarkozy’s government and discontent surrounding the government’s criminality record seems to be the main causes for the first type’s sudden reversal between 2007 and 2010-2011.

Type 1-bis has not returned in droves, but it has returned in good part: the FN gained ground in suburban Lyon and Saint-Etienne in 2010. The FN, in the 2010 regional elections, showed surprising vitality in urban and suburban areas (Oise, Aube, Loiret, Seine-et-Marne, Val-d’Oise, Yvelines but also Toulouse, Bordeaux or Lille) where Le Pen had suffered the most in 2007. One element at play here might be unhappy traditional right-wing voters whose vote for the FN is a conservative protest against Sarkozy (we had seen strong FN performances in some upscale areas of Paris in 2010), another element might be the result of the reversal of the type 1-bis electorate back to the FN.

The second type still seems the most reluctant to return to its FN tradition, with the FN still registering disappointing results in the Bas-Rhin in 2010. Interestingly, the FN’s 2010 results, compared to its 2007 performance, was not particularly strong in the areas where it had resisted well in 2007: the Somme, Ardennes, Meuse, Haute-Marne, northern Aisne and the Bray in Seine-Maritime. Other weak FN performances in 2010 vis-a-vis 2007 in departments such as the Ardennes, Haute-Saône, Côte-d’Or seem to be based on a strong local appeal of a favourite-son right-wing candidate (Warsmann, Joyandet, Sauvadet etc), while others might be based on local factors – Sébastien Jumel, the PCF-FG’s top candidate in Haute-Normandie, carried a strong personal appeal in the Bray and Dieppois, which might explain the FN’s relative weakness there in 2010.

The FN’s collapse in the 2007 presidential and legislative election did not mark the beginning of the end for the FN, in fact it only marked a spectacular but ultimately short-lived trough which the party has come out from looking rather strong. However, the differences in Nicolas Sarkozy’s appeal to the FN electorate reveals fascinating details about the different types of FN voters and their reasons for voting FN. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s strong resistance with the third type and the hybrid type revealed, by 2007, that the FN had become solidly encysted in lower-income regions with a populaire tradition, something which explains why Marine Le Pen has structured the FN’s revival around the third type and the hybrid type.

1984: Emergence of the FN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Poujadist movement in 1956

1951, previously covered saw the forceful emergence of Charles de Gaulle’s RPF with 21.7% of the popular vote. However, less than five years later, the Gaullist movement which had marked French politics since 1947 was, by all accounts, practically dead. Yet, only a bit more than two years later, Gaullism was resurgent with the birth of the Fifth Republic. After the RPF in 1951, the novelty of 1956 was the emergence of the Poujadiste movement (mouvement Poujadiste), named after its founder, Pierre Poujade. Its emergence marks the first post-war far-right movement to grow in France, and the first far-right movement in the ‘modern’ sense – that is, rid of its pre-war monarchist or elitist-nationalist overtones. Its emergence, however, is all the more puzzling given that the years 1953 to 1955 were, in the most part, synonymous with economic growth, rapid development and also the stabilization of prices following the inflationist years which had directly succeeded the end of the war. Usually, it is economic instability and recession which has allowed for the emergence of the far-right in France.

France in the post-war era, like most of western Europe, was undergoing rapid economic transformations, the most notable of which were urbanization and a shift away from family businesses or farms. The primary victims of the rapid economic changes were individual farmers (agriculteurs) and small shop-owners (artisans et commerçants). As a kind of petit bourgeois, the shopkeeper or merchant is at the confines of the middle and lower classes, not entirely bourgeois like those above him but not entirely working-class (or populaire) like those below him. In a certain way, he is constantly fearful of proletarization or déclassement. In this vein, the shopkeeper, merchant or small-town employee – republican, egalitarian and fiercely individualistic – have always been wary of socio-economic changes which always threaten to crush him. He is not a capitalist like the upper or middle bourgeoisie, because he feels his way of life threatened by the “aggressive capitalism”. He is not either a natural revolutionary, because he resents ‘proletarization’. Unsurprising, therefore, that these instinctively conservative (in the pure sense of the term) and individualistic voters should offer a natural breeding ground and captive clientele for all sorts of populist conservatives, the Georges Boulanger of times past and the Le Pens of today.

1956 was a period of rapid economic growth in France, especially with the emergence of large commercial surfaces, supermarket and price-point retailers – known in France in 1956 as the prisunic (equivalent of dollar stores in North America). Supermarkets and price-point retailers were a direct threat to small-town shops, with the individual butcher stop, the bakery or the delicatessen. Besides these broader factors and the social psyche, there was a key contextual factor at work here in 1956.

In 1953, Antoine Pinay’s government had succeeded in dramatically reducing inflation – from 12% in 1952 to -1.8% in 1953, then 0.5%-1% in 1954 and 1955. Inflation had been high in the post-war era, peaking at 59% in 1948 and never dropping any lower than 10-11%. The main benefactor of inflation was the small shopkeeper, who amassed more and more wealth and cared much less about taxes given that it was paid with depreciating money. These businesses had benefited spectacularly from inflation, but they had failed to adapt to modern economic conditions of retail. The Poujadist movement was the child born of deflation and the stabilization of prices.

The traditional literature treats the birth of Poujadism as an anti-tax revolt (révolte du fisc), but the tax revolt which started brewing in 1953 was more the reason of Poujadism’s birth than its deep cause. Inflation had made taxes bearable, deflation made them unbearable. A state of affairs intensified by the government’s “fiscal Gestapo” which strictly enforced the collection of taxes. The Union de défense des commerçants et artisans (UDCA) was created in 1953, as a corporatist union founded by Pierre Poujade, a stationer from Saint-Céré (Lot), with his great oratory talents and room-filling charisma.

Derided as fascist, true in part, it is fairer and better to view the UDCA was a defensive reaction by small-town shopkeepers, merchants and small farmers who were attached to the founding republican values of private property, individualism and small community but who were almost condemned to disappear in the wake of France’s economic evolution in the post-war era. Depending on your perspective, the instinctive conservatism of yesteryear had perhaps been transformed into a reactionary movement, violent reaction to a ‘natural evolution’ of things.

For Poujade and the UDCA, the culprits were the same: the big businesses and corporate leaders, le fisc, the revolutionary trade unions, the left and its anti-individualism, the corrupt parliament and the regime of parties, foreigners and all those who were “selling off” France and its empire (especially Algeria); all with a dose of conspiratorial antisemitism, attacking the Jews who allegedly owned the big business and big retailers but also thinly veiled jabs at Pierre Mendès France’s Jewish faith.

The surprise of the January 1956 was the Poujadist movement, whose lists (Union et fraternité française, UFF or UDCA etc) won 51 seats and some 11.5% of the popular vote. The map below shows the results of Poujadists by 1936 constituency.

Gray departments had no Poujadist lists.

For those of used to the tidy and orderly map of the French far-right in its FN incarnation, the first thought which comes to mind upon seeing this map is a very puzzled “what the hell is this mess?” Indeed, when we’re used to the tidy map of the FN and its bases east of the Le Havre-Valence-Perpignan line, this map is an disorderly mish-mash of colours all over the place with little pattern. What is even more puzzling is that the Poujadists, oft called the ancestor of the FN – with reason – should have a map which is diametrically different from that of the far-right as we would learn to know it some 30 years later. The Poujadists are almost totally absent from a line going from Le Havre to Belfort, where the FN today flexes its muscles the best. Certainly some of the Poujadist strongholds such as the Vaucluse, Gard and Hérault have always given the FN strong showings, but other strong points – Maine-et-Loire, Charente-Maritime, Indre-et-Loire, Deux-Sèvres, Aveyron, Gers and even Isère to an extent – are not places where the FN does particularly well.

The most basic explanation for the Poujadist’s success would be to conclude that they simply took the succession of the Gaullists. It is not a ridiculous proposition. The RPF in 1951 and the Poujadists in 1956 both appealed to a certain conservative anti-system and anti-regime vote – both were in direct opposition to the Fourth Republic and the rhetoric of the Poujadists in 1956 vis-a-vis the ‘regime of the parties’ and the anti-parliamentarianism were quite similar to the Gaullist rhetoric of 1951 which targeted the regime of the parties. A cursory look at the raw statistics leads us to the same conclusion: besides the MRP, all other major forces (PCF, SFIO, Radicals, moderates) maintained or built on their 1951 electorates in 1956. The MRP only fell from 12.5% to a bit less than 11%, and the MRP had little in common with the Poujadists. However, the Gaullists won 21.7% in 1951 but their successors in 1956 won 4.5%. The far-right and Poujadists won 12%. We could conclude, pretty easily, that while not all Gaullists voted Poujadist, most Poujadists had voted Gaullist some four years prior.

Problem solved? No, we’ve only dug ourselves into a hole. If you remember the 1951 map of the RPF’s strength, we had seen that its bases had been concentrated almost quasi-entirely in northern France or what was occupied France in 1941. It had been absent from the bulk of southern France. In contrast, the Poujadists were more geographically spread out but they had their big strongholds (Vaucluse, Hérault, Gard, Aveyron) in southern France and only the Maine-et-Loire was a stronghold of the RPF and Poujadists. It is possible and even logical that the Poujadists received the support of many voters who had voted RPF in 1951. But like Boulanger in 1889, Poujadism cut vertically across all established political parties. He even took left-wing votes. In most cases, the main victims of Poujadism were the right. The return of Gaullist voters to their traditional right-wing (moderate, MRP) roots likely hide compensated loses to the Poujadists.

There were, after all, key differences between Gaullism and Poujadism. Gaullism, through its leading figure, appealed widely to a certain conservative electorate, through its emphases on order, hierarchy and stability. Through its historical roots, it likely appealed very much to those who had been the fiercest of résistants during the War. On the other hand, Poujadism did not have a similar appeal to a conservative electorate fond of order and stability but rather appealed to another electorate, this one either apolitical or weakly politicized, anti-parliamentarian in its sympathies and quite keen to Poujadism populism and nationalism. In addition, often derided as fascist (and its leader as ‘Poujadolf’), the Poujadists were more likely to appeal to those more supportive of the Vichy regime and its traditionalist, “old France” rhetoric. Finally, Gaullism was in some ways a right-wing reformist movement in 1951 despite its Bonapartist overtones, it appealed to modern and industrial France. Poujadism was in many ways reactionary, the last-straw defense of a drowning type of old and traditional France. It had little in its rhetoric to appeal to modern and industrial France.

Poujadism through its roots in the UDCA and Pierre Poujade carried a distinctive appeal to shopkeepers and merchants. I think it quite fair to assume that most shopkeepers and merchants voted Poujadist. For curiosity’s sake, I attempted to compare the Poujadist vote by department in 1956 to the percentage of artisans, commerçants et chefs d’entreprises in each department in 1968 (the earliest I have departmental census data for). It isn’t perfect, the two data sets being 12 years apart, but the general pattern in terms of distribution of artisans/commerçants can be reasonably expected to have been similar in 1956. In general, there seems to be a general increase in Poujadist votes as the weight of artisans/commerçants increases. But there are some big outliers: the best Poujadist department (Vaucluse, 22.5%) had only 12.3% of shopkeepers and merchants in 1968. Similarly, the highest percentage of shopkeepers and merchants in 1968 (Alpes-Maritimes, 16.2%) gave the Poujadists only 7.3. I calculated the correlation coefficient to be 0.31, indicating a very weak medium positive correlation. It is even stranger when you take only departments with over 12% of artisans/commerçants in 1968, the correlation is actually negative: -0.35! In those with over 13% of artisans/commerçants, there is a strong negative correlation again: -0.68.

While it likely that a good number of Poujadist voters were small or medium business owners in small towns in rural ‘declining’ France, its success cannot be explained solely by that factor. In departments where the Poujadists did least well, it is likely that their success was largely limited to the UDCA’s base social category. But the Poujadist success was built on a heterogeneous base of support, especially in the Midi and the centre-west. By its form as a conservative populist reaction to rapid industrialization and “aggressive capitalism”, the Poujadist rhetoric was not only a sectional message designed for one social group, namely shopkeepers.

Besides the growth of mass retail and large commercial surfaces, the other victim of deflation post-1953 were small landholders – agriculteurs exploitants. Small landholders, owning and cultivating their own parcel of land, were the product of the Revolution and the rural bedrock of the Republic in the 1870s. Like shopkeepers, small landholders were not particularly affluent but by their ownership of land they were (in most cases) instinctively conservative and deeply attached to the republican values of private property. But like shopkeepers, they were the ‘forgotten’ victims left behind by economic modernization.

Inflation had been advantageous for farmers who had gotten artificially rich. Deflation brought along a massive drop in prices, and thus a loss in revenue for farmers. Inflation had been advantageous for farmers not only because they got rich but also because it had provided them with the revenue to pay for expensive new, modern machinery. The drop in prices post-1953 meant that this revenue dried up, and small landholders found themselves struggling to continue the ‘silent revolution’ in French agriculture. In many cases, this sped up the (inevitable?) decline of small property and the amalgamation of several unviable small properties into larger, modernized exploitations.

Owners of small family farms and small business owners, had, in many cases, many shared common interests even beyond politics. In a small town feeling, they knew each other and were allied and linked to each other. In a certain sense, one’s destiny impacted the other’s destiny and they were perhaps even liked to a certain extent. Poujadism should not be understood solely in terms of a single class’ defensive reaction, which it was in part, but as being a broader movement of resistance to economic modernization. André Siegfried had talked about Poujadism as being a rear-guard’s defensive reaction pitting rural peasant against cities, the province against Paris, the artisans against factories, of regions in decline against booming neo-industrial regions and of the individual against “an invading socialist state”.

No surprise then that Poujadism viewed in those terms would carry an equally as powerful appeal to those who in 1956 suffered a plight similar to that of the shopkeeper. In the Orléanais, the Beauce and the Brie, Poujadism appealed to rural workers in the wheat basket of the country. In the Berry and parts of Champagne, Poujadism appealed to poor peasants in declining regions with an outdated agricultural economy. In a region stretching from continental Brittany to the Anjou, Poitou and Charentes, Poujadism broke cleavages such as the all-important religious cleavage to appeal to regions where rural poverty was everywhere a reality, mixed in (in certain cases) with a local base of shopkeepers.

In the Languedoc and especially the Vaucluse, the strength of Poujadism was furthered by the local crisis in the wine industry which swelled the ranks of the discontent. The Poujadists, judging simply from an unscientific inductive observation of the map, seem to have enjoyed some success with wine growers in the Loire valley, the Bordelais and Beaujolais but far more limited success with those in Bourgogne and Champagne.

So far we have added one variable to our explanation besides shopkeepers, which had a 0.31 correlation. We have added the variable of revenue. Measured against the individual average revenue in each department in 1951 (measured with France being 100, and departments being either above or below 100 based on individual revenue), we find a negative correlation of -0.27, indicating that Poujadists did better in departments with lower individual revenue. But the correlation is rather weak.

In some isolated areas like the Aveyron, the Alps or Isère, Poujadism was a reaction of ‘regions in decline’ as Siegfried had noted. The Aveyron’s population declined by 4.9% between 1946 and 1954, and the Poujadists (18.8% of registered voters in the department) did best in those more mountainous areas who suffered the highest decline. In taking only those departments whose population declined between 1946 and 1954, the correlation between population decline and Poujadist vote is 0.53, a pretty strong correlation. But it is not universal: Lozère had the steepest decline at -9% yet the Poujadists won only 8% of the vote. The Cantal and Haute-Loire both declined by more than the Aveyron, but had weaker Poujadist results (11%). Local factors, some of them political such as other incumbents, lists and the strength of the Poujadist slate must be considered.

Isère is a particularly interesting department. Its population grew by 9% between 1946 and 1954, and it was quite industrialized, yet the Poujadists did particularly well with 15% of the vote (registered voters). Isère’s population growth and industrialization in that era was widely seen as being particularly rapid and regionally uneqal. It came mostly to the benefit of Sud Isère and the Grenoble region, and to a lesser extent the industrial centres of the Nord Isère in proximity to Lyon. It left behind declining rural regions lying between the two urban centres of attraction of Lyon-Vienne-Bourgoin and Grenoble.

The overall correlation between population change and Poujadist vote is weak but negative (as expected) at -0.26. The link between industrialization, as measured by employment in industry or transportation in 1951, and the Poujadist vote is more significant and negative (as expected) at -0.35.

Poujadism, born as anti-parliamentary movement, was perhaps ultimately unable to survive the contradiction between its aim and founding value (anti-parliamentarianism) and being a parliamentary actor. Its emergence as a last-straw reaction to industrialization and modernization which would only intensify in the 1960s precluded it from being anything more than a temporary feu de paille (flash in the pan) in the realm of French politics. The emergence of the Fifth Republic and the shift away from the parliamentary partitocratie killed off a lot of the movement’s anti-institutional and anti-system rhetoric. Gaullism would re-emerge as an attractive and viable political option a bit more than two years later. The only thing left of Poujadism, it seems, is the use of “Poujadist” as a blanket term for most populisms of that kind.

But despite it going down in history as a feu de paille, as a curiosity of history but ultimately a futile and quixotic single-issue movement, Poujadism has had a deeper impact on French politics and the far-right in France. Not only because Jean-Marie Le Pen was elected as a young UFF deputy for the Seine in 1956. The rhetoric behind Poujadism with the attacks on the corrupt political establishment, the big corporations, the foreign profiteers, aggressive nationalism and part of wider movement which appealed to those who felt ‘forgotten’ by the political elites and those who fell behind economically. What is pejoratively called the petite bourgeoisie, or more specifically the shopkeepers and merchants who formed the backbone of the UDCA, have remained one of the FN’s backbones though the FN has never been as closely identified to that social category as the Poujadists were and their influence on the modern FN is fading, though certainly present. To a good extent, the FN has won votes from voters who are neither part of the unionized working-class or the wealthier upper middle-classes, and who are at odds both with the traditional right in its old elitist Orleanist incarnations and with the left in its old traditional sense described, by Poujadists, as ‘anti-individualists’. I think the FN vote in places like rural and exurban Champagne, Bourgogne and Picardie are quite reflective of a rural, “forgotten” electorate which is not particularly well-off and gets put off by both the right and the left. Not working-class in the industrial sense, but of some small town working-class tradition. These particular types of people might not have voted Poujadist in 1956 (although some certainly did), but I feel that the rhetoric which appeals to them on the FN’s behalf is similar to the Poujadist rhetoric of 1956.

Pierre Poujade quickly broke with his young MP, and disavowed any links between his movement and the FN. Poujade was not a politician, he was far more of a corporatist unionist with a talent for oratory. But his movement had deep repercussions on the FN in terms of ideology and orientation. The Poujadist vote in 1956 was remarkable for its strength and its homogeneity across the country, but in the details the Poujadist vote is also remarkable for its composition’s heterogeneity. In almost each region, it seems as if the makeup of the vote was different and as if the impetus to vote for Pierre Poujade’s movement varied significantly from region to region: wine crisis here, population decline there, shopkeepers and merchants angers there, falling behind on industrialization here, structural rural poverty there. Despite its short life as a political movement and regardless of whether you have a positive or negative view of Poujade and his movement, Poujadism had a deep impact on the French far-right after 1945.

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.