Friday, December 4, 2009

Is the Vampire Dead?

Even those disappointed by the outcome of the 2007 presidential election could console themselves with one thing: Sarkozy had killed off the Front National. Or so went the conventional wisdom: by co-opting its favorite themes, xenophobia and insecurity, he had brought errant voters back into the fold of the respectable right. Even I allowed myself to believe this, although even at the time the logic seemed a bit peculiar: does one really discredit an ideology by adopting it? I suppose the idea was that the sulfurous issues would be buried by the avalanche of less questionable reforms with which they became associated.

But now it seems that the FN may be making a comeback. It isn't just the government's loss of control of the identity debate. It isn't just the Swiss vote on the minarets. It isn't just one UMP mayor's allusion to the ten million idlers who are supposedly living at the expense of la France qui se lève tôt. And it isn't just Marine Le Pen's clever exploitation of Frédéric Mitterrand's nomination. I think the source of the uneasiness lies much deeper. It's a reaction to the crisis and to the sense that at the midpoint of the Sarkozy presidency, not much has changed at the grass roots and it seems unlikely that much will change. So the old worries about decline, stagnation, and helplessness are resurfacing. In the midst of economic distress, workers' anxiety has not translated itself into working-class militancy, and the left has not managed to articulate a persuasive alternative to current policy. So what remains but the old demons? And against them the left seems to feel that it must raise the ghosts of once-vital ideals: in this editorial Laurent Joffrin manages to conjure up Valmy, the Commune, Jean Jaurès, and Jean Moulin in the space of a single sentence.

It's pitiful, really. And it's not Eric Besson's fault. He was just the Zeitgeist's useful idiot.


kirkmc said...

I have never believed this myth of the left that Sarkozy has attracted Front National voters en masse. I think it was created just as another scare tactic. I have known some people who vote for the FN, and they don't change their opinions on whims, no more than Communist voters change. What did change was swing voters who leaned in one direction, but those voters are always going to swing back when the tide turns.

It's so different from the US, where there are effectively only two parties. Here, voters are unfaithful, because there is the system of first- and second-round voting that allows them to vote for the party they really want, before voting for the one they'll accept. Saying that the UMP attracted FN voters is so patently false, because those voters would never have voted for the PS in the second round. At best, they got votes from some people who were on the fence, or who wouldn't vote in the second round.

Nevertheless, i think the FN has its ups and downs as the economic situation changes. They get more or less attention depending on when there are issuues they can co-opt, and Marien Le Pen - in spite of her pit-bullism - is proving to be quite good at it.

James Conran said...

Just because FN voters might not vote for the left in the second round doesn't make their first round performance unimportant - the first round performance is an important signal to the centrist parties as to where their base is. This seems to have worked pretty well post 2002 - a very strong performance by the far-right was followed by the UMP nominating a candidate whose image at least was far more right-wing.

In 2007 Le Pen lost about 1.7 million votes in absolute terms (despite a much bigger turn-out), or more than 40% of his share of the vote of 2002. I don't think this can be dismissed as the result of more or less random variation due to "swing" voters.

For whichever reasons Sarkozy has turned out much less right-wing than many on left and right expected, so it's not surprising if there is a "decus du Sarkozysme" phenomenon emerging.

Passerby said...

I agree with James that some swing voters left the FN in 2007; some of whom might come back later.
But I believe their are factors beyong Sarkozy that will prove challenging for the FN:

- Jean-Marie Le Pen is retiring. Even if Marine is very good at imitating his style, she doesn't have her father's aura. And she can't claim serving for her country (as JM did in Algérie).
Very often I heard people talk along the lines of "au premier tour je vote Jean-Marie". I think the "Jean-Marie Le Pen" brand is extremely strong. Probably stronger than "Le Pen" or "FN" brands alone.

- The FN was crushed during the last "municipales". That's the price to pay for scandals and for other parties coming together in a "Tout sauf le FN" front. But it also means local voters were disppointed by FN elected officials.

- FN was always perceived as a protest front. I think that while 2002 was the culmination for the party, a lot of first round FN voters were forced on the second round to ask themselves if if the FN was a party they would entrust the governance of the country to. Many realized that they wouldn't after that it didn't make much more sense to keep voting FN.

A last comment, about the Swiss minaret vote. It's not an indicator that racism is growing among all French speaking people. Quite the contrary, as this result was driven by Swiss German "cantons". The French speaking side of the country voted against (the proposition = for minarets).

MYOS said...

Hi Kirk, in fact we DO know that Nicolas Sarkozy attracted a sizable portion of people who usually voted FN. There are lots of reliable studies on this (I might have time to look them up if you want them.)
Far from "the usual swing voters", there was such a large number who switched from FN to NS (NOT to UMP) that if they had voted FN in 2002 and said they wanted to vote Sarkozy in 2007, poll institute automatically switched them to the FN column (because that's what many Fn voters used to do: say they'd vote for a RPR or UMP candidate, when in fact they'd vote for JMLP). That's why Nicolas Sarkozy got about 5 points more than expected (and the FN about 5 points fewer than predicted), and why the FN was said to be on the rise in April 2007 when in fact it collapsed: false interpretation from the pollsters.
In addition, communists ALSO switch: in fact, there is a significant group of communist voters that switched to the FN in the 80s: one leader, one cut-and-dry ideology, one scapegoat...
I think you mustn't confuse FN and PC voters with FN and PC party members -- who are few and far between and, indeed, do not travel in the same circles. :)

MYOS said...

Even more prejudice, in high places this time - feel free to gag:
68% Human Resource directors think that minority college and business school graduates can't bear authority and are less French than others (free translation - the PCword they use is "youth from working-class neighborhoods". Because it's all social class-related and has nothing to do with the fact their first name is Faiza or Kofi.)
BTW, the article includes quotes from someone who graduated from ESSEC, kind of like Wharton - imagine an African American Wharton graduate looked at in the manner described in the article.
Sounds like a poll from the 60s South, doesn't it?
Selon une étude d’Opinionway réalisée en septembre dernier, les recruteurs sont 68% à penser que les jeunes diplômés issus des quartiers populaires "supportent moins bien l’autorité", et 58% qu’ils ont "des problèmes d’intégration". "On n’a pas besoin de colloques pour lutter contre les discriminations, mais d’actions pragmatiques", assure Saïd Hammouche, le directeur de Mozaïk.