The far-right, until the end of the 20th century, was a small minority on the French political spectrum.
But with the creation of the National Front political party in 1972, then the National Rally in 2018, the far right saw its electorate increase.
For the first time in 2002, France saw the far right reach the second round. But right-wing president Jacques Chirac was re-elected with 82.21% of the vote, well ahead of far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. By comparison, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen obtained 33.9% of the votes in the second round of the presidential election in 2017.
French presidential elections, which are coming up in the next month, are particular in the sense that they have two “rounds” of voting.
In the first round, the two candidates with the most votes succeed to the second round. This encourages a multitude of parties to run each with their own candidate, although historically it is the candidates from the same established political parties who succeed to the second round of voting.
The far-right is expected in the second round of the 2022 elections, and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is credited with 41% of voting intentions in the second round against the current president Emmanuel Macron. This rise of the far right in France can be explained by the economic consequences of globalization, the fear associated with social changes, and changes in political dynamics in recent years.
The two far-right candidates who have obtained the 500 signatures to present themselves at the first round of elections, Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, together total 40% of the projected votes.
Eric Zemmour’s program in particular exhibits this desire to return to traditionalism and a fear of modernity, with extreme measures in his program such as mandating the blouse in elementary schools and removing the French nationality from criminals and delinquents.
France, as a developed country, did not escape the loss of employment due to the relocation of industries towards cheaper sources of labor.
This loss of industrial jobs, much like in the United States, has provoked a pessimism, which translated into support from the working class and the popular classes for the far-right.
Anti-elitist discourses led by Marine Le Pen appeal to the widening wealth and working class divide in developed countries. Interestingly, French working classes overwhelmingly voted for communist candidates until the twenty-first century, when their votes shifted to the far-right.
For example, 17% of workers voted for the “Front National”, the far-right party, in 1988, compared to 43% of workers who intend to vote for Marine Le Pen in the first round of elections in 2022.
Discourse of deteriorating public infrastructure, such as security and the policies, also resonates with the working class.
In addition, fears associated with social change such as immigration and the idea of French cultural decline are discourses employed by far-right candidates. 10.2% of the French population are immigrants, a majority being from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Far-right anti-immigration discourse paints them as the culprits for rising crime and unemployment rates in France.
IMPACT OF DISCONTENT
This “great replacement” discourse claims that immigrants are taking jobs from “French,” implying white French people. This racial discourse refers to the colonial history of France, and to the economic and political issues of immigration.
An example of anti-Islamic policies of far-right candidates would be Zemmour’s plan to ban burqas in public and to prevent the construction of what he deems “imposing” mosques to the landscape.
Also, the growing feeling of “ill-being” and pessimism translates to votes for the far-right. A poll found that for French people who claim to be “pessimistic” on economic and social issues, the probability of voting in favor of the far-right is a high 45%.
The issue of abstention from voting may also partly explain the rise in extreme votes. 30% of the population under 35 do not vote, and older populations, who vote more to the right, have the highest voting rate.
French political dynamics and political parties have also changed profoundly in recent decades, which have contributed to the rise of the far-right.
President Emmanuel Macron’s new center-left political party founded in 2017, “La République En Marche,” is partly responsible for the collapse of the political left, including the socialist party and centrist parties.
traditional left & right
Moreover, the decline of the traditional right has favored the emergence of the far-right.
The former right-wing “UMP” party lost popularity with the corruption scandals of former president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 and presidential candidate François Fillon in 2017.
Although the party changed its name to “Les Républicains” in an effort to change their image, the party has failed to return to its former status as the established and popular party of the 20th century.
A NEW IDENTITY
Finally, there is a change in the discourse of far-right parties such as the “Rassemblement national” in an effort to “de-demonize” the far-right.
This phenomenon describes the effort of far-right parties to establish themselves as serious and credible parties through nationalist discourse and alliances with international right-wing leaders, such as an alliance with the far-right government of Hungary.
Historically, the center, the left, and the French far-left have allied themselves in the second round to “block” the far right, as there has never been a far-right French President since World War II.
The far-right in France is also plagued with scandals and brushes with the law, as Zemmour has been condemned by court for hateful racial provocation and multiple sexual misconduct allocations.
Marine Le Pen’s father, a former far-right presidential candidate, also has a history of charges of racial provocation.
But with the collapse of traditional French political parties in the 21st century, the far-right is gaining votes from the right and the working classes.
Current polls show the gap closing. President Emmanuel Macron’s votes are 26%, Marine Le Pen’s 22%, Jean-Luc Mélenchon 16% and Eric Zemmour’s 9% in the polls.
The question remains to see how the two far-right candidates’ electorates merge or abstain in the second round of elections and the same for left candidate Mélenchon’s electorate.
About the Article
A look at the shifting field toward the far right in the upcoming French presidential election.