Friday, March 28, 2014

Did the Front de Gauche Outperform the FN?

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has been arguing, graphiques à l'appui, that the Front de Gauche outperformed the FN in the first round of the municipals:

Le Monde has looked into this and enters a few caveats. It all depends on how you separate the Parti Gauche vote from the PCF vote:
Le graphique ci-dessous représente le « potentiel électoral » de chaque composante, c'est-à-dire le nombre d'électeurs qui avaient la possibilité de voter pour une liste PG, PCF ou FG, et le nombre qui l'ont fait. On le voit, il y a moins de listes PCF, mais elles obtiennent plus de voix que les listes FG, plus nombreuses. Quant au PG, il présente peu de listes autonomes et obtient peu de voix.
Mélenchon and many others are probably right that the media are disproportionately focused on FN gains and unduly ignore the persistence of a substantial number of voters to the left of the PS. He's also correct that the FN did not increase its share of the vote nationwide compared to recent presidential elections. But the left-wing vote persists essentially in places with a long left-wing tradition, whereas the FN has lately established itself in places where it never had a presence before. It is the perception and reality of an expanding FN that accounts for the disproportionate attention (and appropriate alarm). The left of the Left continues to exist, as Mélenchon notes, but it is static, not expanding, and has receded from its previous high-water marks, whereas the FN seems to be attracting new constituencies.


brent said...

It's a complex analytic, and your conclusions--and Le Monde's--seem fair enough. A few addenda:
1) The FN may not be static, but its percentages, as JLM shows, declined from 2012. This is definitely not what the press, with its 'How afraid are you of the towering menace of the FN?' polling, suggested.
2) The strategic gap between PC and PdG is substantial, unresolved, and represents a huge problem for the FdG going forward, as you and others note, especially as the most votes seem to be with the PCF. Worth noting, though, is the growing split between the PS and EELV, which resulted in some tentative coalitions of a red/green sort. JLM calls this the 'third left' and it may be a source of growth for the FdG.
3) What is hard to dispute--and this is JLM's main point--is that the media have adopted Marine LePen as their poster child and grossly exaggerated her party's importance, while giving almost no coverage to the Left of the Left (other than the occasional photo of JLM scowling at the lack of substantive reportage--a negative feedback loop if there ever was one).
Given the total impoverishment of the PS's policies,
and a general distaste for those of the increasingly far Right, it might be time for the chattering classes to look beyond JLM's truculent personality and see what ideas the Real Left might have to offer.

Anonymous said...

@brent. "...the media have adopted Marine LePen as their poster child and grossly exaggerated her party's importance..."
Surely the point is that with or without JLM the voter mood is such that the far left has not a hope in hell of coming to power in France in today's circumstances.
The real concerns are indeed where the French media has focused: on and autour de Marine le Pen.
The power of the Communist Party under Georges Marchais is dead and buried.

Mitch Guthman said...

@ Brent,

Apart from what Art has said about the left being in retreat, I think you and JLM are missing the point. When I began my interest in French politics during the DSK affair two points that were constantly impressed upon me were the FN's weakness at the local level and the fact that they were not considered a normal political party. Its supporters were either “vin rouge et saucisson” trolls who lived on the margins and were shunned by decent society or else normal seeming people hiding in the closet for fear of being shunned by decent Frenchmen.

Well, no longer. The FN’s supporters are out, proud and competitive at the local level. The freak show has come to France. You may not like it but the fear that it’s a harbinger of the 2017 election is what makes the rise of the FN such a compelling story.


While I do agree that the left is very much in retreat, I wouldn’t discount the potential of the far left once this really start to fall apart. For example, as I’ve said before, I believe that it was the rise of the social welfare state that neutralized the revolutionary pressures in post-war Europe. Essentially, Europe liquidated its proletariat by converting them all into petite bourgeoisie.

As « Davos Man » has become every stronger and the grip of neoliberalism every more dominant, the consensus around the social welfare state has begun to dissolve under pressure from the super-riches. For the moment, it is only the far right that has adapted its message to give hope to the newly disposed and frightened middle classes. I believe that this accounts for the rise of the right across Europe.

But it’s important to remember that as the social consensus that in favour of the social welfare state breaks down, the parties of the left such as the Communists will soon break with the once dominant center-left and they, too, will seek to appeal to the terrified middle classes with a message of bloody violent revolution that will make JLM seem conservative by comparison. Don’t kid yourself, the breakdown of the established order means that the far left is going to break free, probably soon after Hollande leads the left to a series of crushing defeats.

Never forget that the threat of communist revolutions was an important driving force in rise of the social welfare state. People could have a decent life for themselves and could see a better future their children. When the social welfare state goes, all of that hope for a decent life and a better future will die with it and both extremes will rise, just as the center will collapse.

PF said...

@ Mitch

Don't get ahead of yourself. Right now, I think we're more so seeing demoralization among PS voters, rather than their (relative) ideological radicalization. Is there clear evidence that there's significant movement of center-left PS voter types toward leftist mini-parties? Abstention and exasperation seems to be their reaction, not a reassessment of what type of voter they want to be.

Mitch Guthman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mitch Guthman said...


To be clear, this radicalization on the left isn't something that I've observed. But it is something that I am predicting. For the moment, all of the movement has been on the right with its anti-EU and anti-euro positions that are proving (unsurprisingly and rightly) to be very broadly popular, even with the left.

We've all seen the stories of people who have left the PS or even the PCF for what they see as the better economic policies of the FN, policies that seem to offer them a decent future. To be sure, many are revolted and recoil away from the FN when they get past the smiling shills and meet the monsters that are the true heart of the party. But my suspicion is that even those who turn away in disgust become turned off about the political process rather than returning to the fold.

In part, that's because Hollande and the PS offer the people nothing except for vague murmurings that maybe something will turn up. Maybe things will get better once the economy has hit bottom. Right now, the left is going along with Hollande and his gang of clowns but my prediction is that's going to change soon. I think the Greens and the FdG will probably jump ship after Sunday's bloodletting. The PS will no longer be able to count on them for the second rounds and if their economic and political proposals are to attract disaffected voters, they will also turn against the EU and the euro.

Things could get very ugly, very quickly. The social welfare state has meant a much better life for most Europeans and they won't surrender it and the better future it promises as easily as the elites think. Davos Man man be in for the fight of his life.