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France’s new earthquake election? The FN in the European elections
By Jocelyn Evans, Gilles Ivaldi
26 May 2014 | General | 1542 words
After 42 years, the FN has finally won a national election. After the earthquake of 21 April 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen progressed to the presidential run-off against Jacques Chirac, the party’s fortunes steadily declined to a European nadir of 6.3 per cent in 2009. But from that election onwards, the revival of the FN’s fortunes under Marine Le Pen’s leadership has now reached a pinnacle at 24.9 per cent, arguably higher than her father’s success, which will give the French far right 24 seats in the next European parliament.

After a dress rehearsal in the March municipals, the European outcome has now shown that the party enjoys a visibility and share of support that covers the entirety of the country. Pre-election polls had all been showing the FN at least tying the UMP, if not leading it, in vote intentions for the Europeans. However, the margin of victory even in the highest scoring poll was not as large as the result. Elsewhere our own forecast fell short of the eventual score by some three points. Ironically, this poor forecast was as a result of a choice to use Marine Le Pen’s popularity score as a proxy for current party support. In the past, the party’s own support has lagged behind that of its leader. Had we simply used the FN’s popularity from March as we had done previously, the forecast would have been very accurate – 24.7%.

The vagaries of modelling choice aside, the polls and model demonstrate that this performance was far from unpredictable. Polls having been inaccurate in the past, a sense of ‘wait and see’ no doubt lessened the concern over the possible FN victory until it became reality. The momentum of a party which has steadily improved its performance since 2009 was very unlikely to stall in an election such as the Europeans which has generally rewarded smaller fringe parties, particularly compared to majoritarian races. The party has garnered a total 4.7 million votes, a 34 per cent increase on its vote share in the 2012 legislatives. In 2014, the FN won 10.1 per cent of all registered voters, compared with 7.9 and 14 per cent in the legislatives and presidentials, respectively. According to IPSOS, half of the 6.4 million presidential supporters of Marine Le Pen stayed at home in the Europeans, which means that the FN leader can count on a potentially much larger reservoir of votes in future national elections.

There are of course variations by region (see Table below). The list led by Marine Le Pen in the North-West garnered over one-third (33.6 per cent) of the vote, whereas in the traditionally weak West, it only managed 19.3 per cent. Again, however, almost one in five voters chose the FN in a region where it had previously failed to make any mark at all – 3% of the vote in 2009, for example. Most importantly, the FN topped the European ballot in five of the eight regional constituencies and 71 out of 101 departments, with scores above 30 per cent in its heartlands of the South and North-East. The party has made significant gains across all the regions, although progress was relatively smaller in its Southern bastions where it is facing stronger competition from the conservative Right. These results attest to the consolidation of the FN electorate: according to IPSOS, no less than 93 per cent of Marine Le Pen’s 2012 presidential supporters who participated in the EP elections stayed with the FN on Sunday, by far the highest level of voter loyalty across all French parties.


2014 European vote for the FN by regional constituency

Region

Registered

Valid

FN

% FN

North West

6 601 676

2 719 153

913 925

33,6

West

6 353 676

2 725 079

526 002

19,3

East

5 882 243

2 428 600

703 363

29,0

South-West

6 482 664

2 941 083

726 782

24,7

South-East

7 981 771

3 318 163

934 998

28,2

Massif Central-Centre

3 370 832

1 472 743

356 065

24,2

Ile-de-France/FE

8 100 022

3 065 594

520 985

17,0

Overseas Territories

1 782 369

285 221

29 219

10,2

Total

46 555 253

18 955 636

4 711 339

24,9


Source: Ministry of Interior


The reasons for this success are well rehearsed. They manifest in various economic, European and political aspects. A first dimension concerns the economy and voter discontent with the government’s austerity policies. An historically unpopular president and barely more popular government are overseeing a continued period of unemployment and economic instability having been elected in 2012 to rectify precisely this problem. The impact of this on the Socialist Party in last night’s election was heavy – under 14 per cent of the vote. Their former Green partners in government also lost out, failing to reach 10 per cent in contrast to their 16 per cent in 2009. Even Mélenchon’s Front de Gauche managed only 6.3 per cent. The Left in its entirety therefore lost out, totalling a mere 33.4 per cent of the vote. Once again, the FN has achieved some of its best scores in the left’s heartland, among voters most severely hit by the economic recession in former industrial bastions of the French Left in the North and East, while maintaining its historical strongholds in the Mediterranean South. Polls suggest that the FN lists have won over 40 per cent of the working class vote and about a third (30 per cent) among younger voters who face a 25 per cent unemployment rate. Nearly seven out of ten FN voters (69 per cent) said they wanted to show their opposition to the socialist government and president; another 58 per cent said they voted predominantly on national issues, as opposed to 39 per cent of all voters (IPSOS).

The second dimension is European. The success of the FN resonates with the persistence of a Eurosceptic strand in the electorate: on Sunday, many voters may have punished France’s traditionally pro-European elites for their duplicity. After a majority of the French had rejected the European constitution in the 2005 referendum, Nicolas Sarkozy had cunningly pitched the concept of a new ‘simplified’ treaty to avoid voter anger in 2007. A few years later, the far right vote has become the main political vehicle for all those who continue to reject the EU economically and culturally: for 58 per cent of FN voters, EU membership is a bad thing; this compares with only 14 per cent among those who voted for the Front de Gauche (IPSOS). In the campaign, the PS and the UMP have shown little eagerness to stand up for their European ideals, revealing at best their own internal divisions. In contrast, the FN has articulated more coherent Europhobic nationalist and protectionist policies addressing both the cultural and economic fears that had already been central to the rejection of the ECT in 2005. According to IPSOS, immigration, purchasing power and the Euro topped Sunday’s electoral agenda, at respectively 31, 30 and 27 per cent, a set of issues which has been central to the national-welfarist anti-globalization platform of the FN since 2011. At departmental level, there is a strong positive correlation (r=0.66, n=96) between the FN and the ‘no’ vote of 2005, which suggests that Marine Le Pen’s party has been channelling those two streams of Euroscepticism, along with its traditional strong anti-system criticism of the so-called “UMPS nomenklatura”. In the European arena more than anywhere else, the disconnect between the French and their political elite is blatant.

This brings us to the third and last dimension which is political. On the left, Hollande’s presidential credibility is undermined by continued stagnation of the French economy and unfulfilled promises to curb the employment crisis. The incumbent president has also lost legitimacy and political authority over his camp, as demonstrated by the recent rebellion from within the PS ranks or the Greens refusing to enter Valls’ government. Since 2012, Hollande’s strategy of playing the ‘cultural’ card by manipulating issues of same sex marriage or the penal reform might have weakened the UMP opposition, but in return it has led to the radicalization of conservative voters. The UMP opposition is struggling to find its feet after damaging in-fighting in the post-election leadership race, the 2012 split of Borloo’s UDI and the many political scandals involving Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. The recent Bygmalion affair is set to continue in the wake of their defeat at the hands of their radical neighbour.

The FN’s ‘earthquake win’ in the Europeans shows the depth and breadth of anti-elite sentiments in France. A more amenable and ‘de-demonized’ FN also represents a bigger challenge for the institutions of the Fifth Republic. Immediately after the Europeans, Marine Le Pen has called for the dissolution of the national assembly and a new proportional system, arguing that the assembly should be “representative of the French people”. Incidentally, she is not alone in this – François Bayrou, the MODEM’s leader, has made a similar call. As the FN progresses towards political normalization, voters may increasingly question the fabrication of stable yet highly disproportional parliamentary majorities in France. This should undoubtedly add pressure on the UMP to break the cordon sanitaire.

Thoughts now inevitably turn to the impact this victory will have on France and on Europe. The most likely impact of the FN contingent in Brussels will be through media coverage. At home, the direct impact of over 20 MEPs will be negligible, for obvious reasons, but the electoral success of the FN may be pulling the UMP opposition further to the right on immigration and European issues. Back in 2002, the broad alliance of the center-right and the Gaullists was key to preventing yet another 21 April by keeping the UMP out of reach from the FN electorally. Sunday’s election confirmed the fragmentation of the French right, only this time under Marine Le Pen’s lead – a clear warning sign for all parties of the mainstream.

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Welcome to '500Signatures', for analysis and commentary on French politics and elections

This blog is produced by Jocelyn Evans (University of Leeds) and Gilles Ivaldi (University of Nice)

 
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- France’s new earthquake election? The FN in the European elections


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ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jocelyn Evans [@JocelynAJEvans] is Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds

Gilles Ivaldi is a CNRS researcher in political science based at the University of Nice

 
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CATEGORY
 
DATA

- Forecasting the FN vote in Second-Order elections (updated 12 May 2014)

- Forecasting the FN vote in Second-Order elections (Jan. 2014)

- Polling scores by polling type (CATI v CAWI) (updated 20 April 2012)

- Estimating Marine Le Pen's vote in the 2012 presidentials: an experiment (November 2011)

- Data for the 2011 expert forecast survey (in CSV file)

 

 


 
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