Is the Marine Le Pen (and Nigel Farage, and more importantly Patrick Buisson) vision of re-organising the French Right around the FN viable? I prepared what follows for use elsewhere, but I think it helps here.
It isn’t as obvious as you may think that FN voters are the lost sheep of the Right.
In so far as they’re protesting, they’re protesting against French conservative neoliberal euro-atlanticism. This ought to be obvious, because who’s been in charge all these years? Conservative neoliberal euro-atlanticists. The 5th Republic has mostly been governed by conservatives.
Typical FN voters aren’t, in fact, ex-communist voters, but rather, PCF voters’ kids. Studies of the FN electoral breakthrough found that it was actually quite rare for people to switch from the PCF or the PS to the FN. Instead, FN voters in the 1988 and 2002 breakthroughs were typically first-time voters in places that traditionally voted Communist.
As Bernard Girard explains, this time out the FN did well with exurban voters, especially first-time house buyers who did the French equivalent of “driving until you qualify” in the US housing bubble. This meant that places suffering from rural depopulation were partly converted into suburbs, not necessarily getting any more in the way of public services or economic development in the process, and leaving the new exurbanites vulnerable to property and petrol prices. Interestingly, this suggests that the Tea Party and the modern FN are parallel phenomena.
It strikes me that a lot of French politics in the last decade can be summed up as “France discovers that it has suburbs” and in fact I did a post on Fistful about this back in 2007. So, after this somewhat protracted radar vectoring around the Ile-de-France basin, we finally come back onto final approach. If you vote FN, you probably don’t have any socio-cultural ties to French conservatism or any intellectual conviction of its ideas, which in any case are radically opposed to those of the FN, and you’re protesting against French conservatives because they’re the ones in charge, and it makes no sense to assume that you’ll necessarily come back to vote for the conservatives, because you are an extreme-rightist and not a conservative.
FN thinking is far more sceptical of capitalism, more protectionist, more anti-European, and more anti-American than UMP thinking. FN style and tone are far more working-class than the UMP’s. The FN is mostly after a different demographic to the conservatives. The exurbanites sound more like the material of a conservative party…if it wasn’t for the fact they are furious with the conservative party, furious enough to vote for the sort-of fascists.
This has two key consequences. The first is that trying to merge the UMP and the FN might not work, because UMP people don’t want the same things as FN people. The second is that trying to make the FN the replacement for the UMP might not work, because FN people don’t want to be a boring conservative neoliberal Euroatlantic party. They want to vote something that hurts the boring conservative neoliberals.
Now, before the election, pollsters were working on the principle that about 20-30 per cent of FN voters would vote Sarkozy, between 15-25% would switch across to Hollande, and the rest would follow the party line and spoil their ballot or stay at home. We’ll need more data to know whether this happened, and no doubt it is coming. My gut impression is that the pandering had some effect and is partly responsible for the late tightening in the polls, but I don’t actually have any data that supports it. Turnout fell noticeably between the rounds – the difference could be Mélénchonistes who decided that the Left would win anyway and they didn’t need to compromise in round 2, for example.
Anyway, it didn’t have enough effect to win, and winning counts.