After the initial shock of the fascist Front National’s victory in the European elections in France with a record 25% of the vote, it’s time to look at where that vote came from.
There has been a fair bit of number crunching in the French press, but outside France there has been scant detail. The FN is not alone in its success: across Europe, fascist and racist parties did well in the elections and are on the rise.
But the FN is leading the charge as the most electorally successful fascist party in Europe. It is worth looking at the basis of its vote – and at the similarities and differences with parties such as Britain’s racist populist UKIP, the best performer of the non-fascist far right at the polls.
It’s also important to take a cold hard look at the racism on which the FN builds its vote – a matter that some commentators ignore or marginalise.
The Observer newspaper ran a comment piece by UCL professor Philippe Marlière after the election. He rightly identifies voters’ anger at the right wing neoliberalism of president François Hollande’s Parti Socialiste and the inability of the radical left to provide a credible enough alternative, coupled with the corruption of the mainstream conservative UMP as factors in the FN’s success.
But Marlière chooses to see the FN only as a Eurosceptic party. He does not use the words “racist” or “fascist” to describe the FN, although there is one mention of it as an “extreme rightwing party”. And bizarrely, he states:
The 2014 European campaign in France was nothing like the British one. The FN, the most Eurosceptic party, hardly campaigned on immigration. It instead focused on the question of the euro.
Opposition to the euro offered Le Pen an important element of demarcation since no other major party was officially against it. This stand allowed the FN to come across as more radical than the UMP, the Parti Socialiste and the establishment.
Really? A campaign focused on opposition to the Euro? Marlière offers no evidence for this assertion. And that’s not really how it looks from FN election propaganda like this image, posted by FN leader Marine Le Pen (“MLP”) and shared on the FN Facebook page.
It shows Léonarda Dibrani, the 15 year old Roma girl snatched by police while on a school trip and deported to Kosovo last year. In Paris, thousands of school students walked out in protest and in solidarity with Léonarda.
But Le Pen’s racist message is clear: the graphic quotes Léonarda, who hopes that gaining a Croatian passport will allow her to come back to France as an EU citizen. It is not the euro currency that Le Pen is attacking here, it is the presence of the Roma teenager.
A party political broadcast released two days before the election shows Le Pen hammering home the same anti-immigrant message, with special attention to Roma people and the possibility of Turkish accession to the EU.
A look at the stats shows that the FN is feeding off economic misery and anger against austerity. It is gaining votes primarily from poor working class voters, especially in areas of high unemployment where people feel most battered by austerity – and most betrayed by Hollande’s Parti Socialiste.
But it is attracting these voters through anti-immigrant and racist scapegoating. If you want to address the rise of the FN, you can’t ignore the racism.
An Ifop poll on election day found that economic issues topped the list of concerns expressed by those of the electorate who voted, taken as a whole.
Employment and economic activity was a determining factor in choosing a party for 73% of voters. The actions of the EU in the face of the economic crisis was a determining factor for 68%, spending power and cost of living for 60%, taxes for 57%, France’s place in the EU for 56% and immigration was the key factor for 53% of voters. Other factors were considered less important than these top six issues.
But the importance of immigration as an issue is far higher for FN voters – 88% cited it as the determining factor for their choice of party, their top concern. No other party’s voters put immigration in first, second or third place as a determining factor.
In second place for the FN’s voters came “insecurity” – often a coded reference to “fear” of immigrants and ethnic minorities or of crime, for which racists seek to blame people from ethnic minorities. This “insecurity” was cited by 82% of FN voters as a determining factor in their choice, ahead of all economic concerns.
For voters of every other party immigration is much less of a concern – the size of the FN vote means it pulls the overall average figure up. Even voters for the conservative UMP are noticeably less likely to cite immigration as the determining factor in their vote – 67%, more than 20 percentage points below the FN voters’ figure.
The good news is that for all other parties, that figure is much lower again. Immigration is the main factor for 41% of centrist MoDem voters, 25% of greens, 21% of Parti Socialiste voters and – worryingly – a slightly higher 31% of voters for the radical left Front de Gauche.
UMP voters put “insecurity” sixth of their list of concerns, with 60% citing it as a determining factor in their choice of party. A much lower number – between 26% and 38% – of voters for all other parties cited “insecurity” as a key worry.
Ipsos Steria conducted an opinion poll in the last three days before the election that asked voters what their top two concerns were. This ranked immigration as the top concern among voters overall, with 31% putting it in their two most important issues at 31%, narrowly ahead of spending power on 30%.
But these figures also reflect a huge disparity in the importance of immigration to FN voters, with 64% of these putting it in their top two concerns. Again, UMP voters were well behind with 42% citing immigration, with 22% of centrist MoDem voters citing it too. Front de Gauche, Green and PS voters were barely concerned, with just 6%, 5% and 5% respectively citing immigration as one of their two main concerns.
The Ipsos poll also gives us some idea of the demographics of the FN vote. These figures break down the vote of each “class” of voters – in terms of type of employment – as well as by age and education. They are given in this format by Ipsos, and not as a breakdown of each party’s vote by class. We can compare the figures for the FN vote in each case with the 25% that the FN took among voters as a whole.
They show that the FN’s vote – in stark contrast to that of UKIP – is strongest among younger voters. It took the votes of 30% of those aged under 35, 27% of those aged 35 to 59 and 21% (noticeably less than its average vote) among the over 60s.
Among the other parties, only the voters of the radical left Front de Gauche, Lutte Ouvrier and NPA, and the Greens were also weighted towards the younger age range. The parties of the centre and mainstream right have a greater proportion of older voters.
It is a bitter irony – and a success for Marine Le Pen’s quest to “dedemonise” the FN and hide its fascist politics – that the party was by far the most popular among working class voters.
It took 43% of the votes of blue collar workers and 38% of routine white collar workers’ votes. The conservative UMP came next for blue collar workers on 17% and the PS second among routine white collar workers on 16%.
Among those in professional occupations, the FN still came in first on 20%, while senior managers put the UMP first with 21% of their vote.
The FN took a much greater vote among unemployed people, with 37% of them choosing the fascist party, than among all those on a wage, of whom 27% chose the FN and self-employed people, where 20% voted FN.
The FN’s vote was also strongest among the lowest paid workers and those with fewest educational qualifications – and weakest among the better off and better qualified.
It’s worth noting that those who did not vote in the European elections are also most heavily concentrated among workers, the unemployed, those on low wages and with less education – and especially among young people.
An overall turnout of 43% meant the majority of the electorate did not vote, and an even greater proportion of younger, poorer working class people snubbed all the parties. It is abstention, rather than the FN that has triumphed among the working class.
There is also a geographical pattern to the FN’s vote. A map of the FN vote by départment shows that it is concentrated in a crescent shape, running from the northern industrial belt, around eastern France and across the Mediterranean south.
The local elections earlier this year also showed the FN’s relative strength in these areas, with key FN gains in the town halls in towns such as the ravaged steel town of Hayange.
This map shows the strong correlation between the fascists’ strongest areas and the areas with highest unemployment.
A final map should act as a warning. It shows how the FN has built outwards from areas where it has had a base for decades.
The coloured départements are where the FN won MPs’ seats in the national assembly back in 1986 when it first scored major electoral success under Jean Marie Le Pen back in 1986. The dots mark where the fascists of the FN and the splinter group Ligue de Sud took the town hall in the March 2014 local elections.
The pattern of FN support has remained broadly similar, with the important exception of Paris, which in 1986 sent two FN members to the national assembly but is now an area with very little support for the fascists.
Jacques Bompard, a founder member of the FN with Le Pen senior in 1972, was elected as an MP for the party in Vaucluse in 1986. He became the FN’s mayor of Orange, in Vaucluse, in 1995 and has held the post ever since. Although the longtime fascist left the FN to form his own Ligue de Sud in 2005, he was again elected as a fascist MP in 2012. He retained the mairie this year.
Bompard is the clearest example of how the fascists have been able to maintain a base in its “traditional areas” for nearly three decades.
Despite the huge level of anger against the FN when it made its first breakthrough in the 1980s, it has never faced a large-scale systematic and sustained challenge from anti-fascists. Instead, in its stronger areas voting for the fascist party has become normalised. Now it has been able to grow further and move beyond its heartlands.
The FN’s 25% is a record vote – the highest for a far right party in France since World War II and the highest of any far right party in Europe. But these voters are certainly not all hardcore fascists – the party conceals its aims too well. And they are only a small minority of the population of France as a whole.
The FN is not an unstoppable force surrounded by support. But there is a desperate need to mobilise the majority against the fascist party.