The FN and the French Regionals
The FN’s success of sorts, polling 11.42% and qualifying for the runoff in 12 regions, has been one of the major points of the first round of the regional elections. While the FN’s result is around 3.3% below its result six years ago, and that it will lose seats in a handful of regional councils as a result, the FN’s result is superior to the 10.4% polled by Le Pen in the 2007 election, but also to the FN’s results in the 2007 legislative and 2009 European elections, both of which were below 10%. The media has tried to answer the question of what caused the FN’s “revival”, but very few have attempted to answer the other question of who voted for the FN on March 14 but who hadn’t voted FN in 2007 and 2009.
A look at the FN’s electorate on Sunday provides a basic start, but provides little surprises. The FN’s best performances are with younger voters, but young voters with lower education, but most notably with blue-collar workers (19%, according to OpinionWay, with the traditionally blue-collar ouvriers) and also with smaller lower middle-class employees (15% with employés according to OpinionWay). The FN’s results are obviously much weaker with more educated and more liberal categories, such as cadres (only 5% in this category including managers, researchers and professionals). On the other hand, the exit poll shows that 12% of artisans, traditionally small business owners, who tend to be white and share concerns about insecurity and immigration. These numbers only provide a cursory overlook of a complex situation, given that the FN’s electorate, being one which is based a lot around protest voting, dances around a whole lot.
Below is a map of the FN vote by canton produced by geoclip.
The FN’s electorate has always been concentrated in the east, which is traditionally the most industrial region of France. No surprises on that front. Firstly, the traditional patterns of FN areas of strength are there, along the Mediterranean coastline with either Pieds-Noirs voters or middle-class voters voting against immigration and insecurity. Secondly, in the Garonne Valley from Bordeaux to Castres (Tarn), an area of traditional Pieds-Noirs settlement, forming a line of support for the far-right ever since 1962. However, in PACA, the FN’s traditional electoral base, had been seriously hurt by Sarkozy in 2007. His tough stance on immigration and security issues appealed well to both white blue-collar workers around Marseille (where immigration is high) but also to the wealthier middle-class electorate in areas such as the Var and Alpes-Maritimes. Yet, in 2010, the FN’s strongest gains came from the Alpes-Maritimes, where Le Pen had polled only 13.47% in 2007 but jumped to 22.01%. Here, an electorate attached to what the media calls the “value of (hard) work” and “meritocracy” have turned rather en masse against Sarkozy’s party, angered perhaps by Sarkozy’s ‘green’ policies such as the carbon tax proposal but also by the scandal concerning Sarkozy’s nomination of his son to head a major public agency. A closer look at the FN’s vote in 2010 along the Mediterranean shows important gains in traditionally more bourgeois quarters, in places such as Cagnes-sur-Mer, Antibes or Cannes. However, perhaps Le Pen’s personality as a candidate further sped up the party’s gains here.
A same pattern could be seen in other areas of France with similar concentrations of small employees, middle-class voters or middle-class retirees. For example, the FN’s vote in rural areas such as the Marne and the Aube have come back to the party’s fold, and sometimes even improving on Le Pen’s 2007 showing in these areas. The high FN vote in these often poor (for rural areas), isolated and “forgotten” areas is not local only to Marne or Aube. The same pattern can be seen in parts of the Centre, the Yssingelais in Haute-Loire, parts of the Drôme, eastern Orne, parts of Eure, and so on.
Another area where the FN gained vis-a-vis 2007 was the Greater Paris area, with the party’s vote returning in exurban or suburban white middle-class areas similar to those described above. Such areas, located in Seine-et-Marne, the Oise, Eure-et-Loir or Val-d’Oise were prime areas for Sarkozy in 2007, and he gained considerably there. Closer to Paris, gains in areas with high immigration and local security problems have also turned back to the FN, with the party considerably increasing in areas of eastern Val-d’Oise. In Villiers-le-Bel, which saw riots in 2007, the FN polled 15.2%, against 10.3% in 2007. The same pattern is seen over and over again in the eastern reaches of the Val-d’Oise, northern Seine-Saint-Denis and further extending into the Oise and Seine-et-Marne. Perhaps the perceived failure of Sarkozy’s security policies by these voters can explain these gains?
The other aspect which one must look at is the effect of unemployment. According to the exit poll, the FN polled around 16% with those voters and the correlation is strong between unemployment and a high FN vote, though this isn’t a new thing. Lorraine provides a perfect example, as it gave the UMP a surprisingly low vote (24% in a traditionally right-wing region) and the FN polled nearly 15%. There is a correlation between working-class and a high FN vote in a lot of places, but we need to be careful of assuming a working-class locale leads to a high FN vote. A lot of old mining areas in the southwest don’t distinguish themselves for their high FN vote. Neither do or did left-leaning mining or industrial areas in Lorraine, such as the traditionally Communist areas around Longwy or Moyeuvre-Grande in Moselle. The FN’s best results come from working-class areas which have recently suffered from high unemployment, factory closures and the like. Gandrange, the nationally famous town where Sarkozy promised in 2007 that a steel mill wouldn’t close but did close is located in Moselle. Now, Gandrange isn’t a right-wing stronghold or any of that kind but Sarkozy won narrowly in the runoff, and it is a good example. The FN polled 15.8%. The FN’s results are even stronger as you reach the area around Forbach, a Catholic but very industrial steel and coal driven area (it isn’t a stronghold of the left as one could assume because of its clerical Catholic traditions), and also an area with a high unemployment rate (7.6% in 2008 in the Forbach area, third highest in Lorraine). In Freyming-Merlebach, the FN polled 25% (19% in 2007). In Stiring-Wendel, another base of French coal mining in the past, the FN polled 23.4%. In rural areas of Lorraine (Meuse), areas which tend to be isolated and “forgotten” by Paris and also have high unemployment, the FN neared 20%. The same pattern extends to Marne, Aube; other rural areas described above.
In the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Marine Le Pen’s strong groundwork in the old mining basin of the Pas-de-Calais and local strength undoubtedly helped, but the patterns are similar. The same link between unemployment and a high vote for the FN is seen again. The FN is easily over 20% in most of the old mining basin of the Pas-de-Calais, and it even nears 40% in Henin-Beaumont, Marine’s new electoral base (where a divided local left and corrupt PS has helped the FN even more). The same pattern cannot be seen entirely as clearly in the Nord, especially in the electoral base of Alain Bocquet, the Left Front candidate, who is a popular deputy for an old part of the Nord stretch of the mining basin, but whose vote reflects the same pattern as the FN vote does. A similar thing happened along the Channel coast of Seine-Maritime from Le Havre till Dieppe, where the strong locally-based candidacy of Jumel for the Left Front likely took votes that could have gone FN otherwise. In this region as well, the FN did well in rural areas, though some of that strength likely comes from hunters formerly in the CPNT fold more than the “isolated forgotten rural vote” pattern described earlier.
This link between unemployed voters and FN voters is nothing new, it is just a second coming of the patterns already seen in 2002 or even 2004, but patterns erased a bit in 2007 or 2009. Neither is it a factor local to the Pas-de-Calais and Moselle. The FN vote saw a similar jump around the “Peugeot” area of Belfort-eastern Doubs, polling up to 22% in Sochaux, an industrial city.
A pattern which is new, however, is bourgeois support for the FN. Bourgeois not of the kind found in Provence, who tend to be a bit less affluent and historically concerned by immigration and the like, but bourgeois of the old type, wealthy, right-wing and moderate on issues such as Europe or even immigration. These are found in the stereotypically wealthy areas of Paris, in the 16th arrondissement, in the Yvelines, or in Lyon’s 2nd and 6th. Back in 1979, when the FN polled 1%, it got a “good” share of its vote from these very wealthy people, but the 1980s shift in emphasis to unemployment, immigration resulted in the “popularization” of the FN vote (both in terms of popularity, yes, but also a shift to the quartiers populaires, or poorer areas). The FN’s best arrondissement in Paris was the 16th, with 7.1% of the vote. Now, you’ll tell me that isn’t a lot, but it remains above city average and is considerable. The other high points are also to be found in the wealthy Parisian west, 6.8% in the 17th or 6.7% in the 8th (both very wealthy as well) and not as much in the poorer east (though the vote is still high there). The FN’s results in other areas synonymous with wealth are also high: 8.7% in Versailles (7.6% in 2007), 6.3% in Neuilly-sur-Seine (3.8% in 2007) and so on. The vote here reflects a protest vote from a right-wing electorate with traditional values who disapprove of Sarkozy, perhaps disillusioned with Sarkozy’s policies of left-leaning cabinet ministers? A similar pattern is seen in Lyon, but not as much in Marseille (though even there it has shifted around).
Because Marseille is much more pied-noir, but also much more ethnically diverse and economically polarized (Paris has poor areas, but no real inner-city poor areas like the old PCF areas of Marseille’s 8th sector; Lyon is even wealthier and middle-class on a general outlook) the FN vote is a bit more based on old insecurity/immigration issues than it seems to be in Paris and Lyon, as well as a bit more stagnant, though not entirely, this election shows it well. This time you had much stronger showings in UMP areas than in old left-wing areas. It highlights well the nature of the protest vote this time around.
A final note on Corse, where Le Pen polled nearly 15% in 2007 but where the FN, regionally, is quasi-inexistent. A surprisingly large number of Corsican nationalists vote FN in national elections, perhaps the result of a quasi-xenophobe and ‘closed down’ attitude of a fraction of the Corsican nationalist vote.
The UMP should look at this trend, if it confirms itself in later elections, worryingly. The electorate which shifted back to the FN had carried Sarkozy to a comfortable victory in 2007, and this time, disappointed with Sarkozy, they might not be as tempted to carry Sarkozy or the UMP in 2012. At all.