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Gérard Mauger, Willy Pelletier (dir.), Les classes populaires et le FN. Explications de vote

Romain Castellesi (English translation)
Traduction de Elena Fineberg et Ulysse Lechine
Cet article est une traduction de :
Gérard Mauger, Willy Pelletier (dir.), Les classes populaires et le FN. Explications de vote
Les classes populaires et le FN
Gérard Mauger, Willy Pelletier (dir.), Les classes populaires et le FN. Explications de vote, Vulaines sur Seine, Editions du Croquant, coll. « Savoir/Agir », 2017, 282 p., ISBN : 978-2-36512-101-9.

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Notes de la rédaction

Review translated by Elena Fineberg (Columbia University, Barnard College) and Ulysse Lechine (ENS de Lyon) as part of the Transatlantic Collaborative Translation Workshop between Barnard College-Columbia University and École normale supérieure de Lyon. Supervised by Professors Laurie Postlewate (Barnard-Columbia) & Layla Roesler (ENS de Lyon).

Texte intégral

1Since Marine Le Pen’s election to the head of the National Front (FN) in 2011, at least fifty books about France’s far-right party have been published; these focus on the personality of its president and warn against the imminent danger the party represents.

  • 1 Pascal Perrineau, « La dynamique du vote le Pen : le poids du “gaucho-lepénisme” », in Pascal Perri (...)

2While often used to support the explanation of the FN as the “party of the workers,” the working-class component in the FN vote has not previously been the exclusive focus of any single publication. The task is now done, thanks to the collective work of Gérard Mauger and Willy Pelletier in their book Les classes populaires et le FN. Explications de vote (The Working Class and the National Front in France: Explaining the Vote) published by Editions du Croquant a few weeks before the 2017 presidential elections. The book brings together the papers presented during a two-day seminar organized by the Copernic Foundation in June 2016, “The FN Feeds off Our Inaction.” Addressing an era ridden by disagreements over the supposed “leftist-lepenist”1 ideological turn of the FN, the thirteen authors argue that analysis of the party’s program must be separated from that of the electorate’s vote, since the latter cannot be systematically attributed to ideological convictions.

3In order to scaffold this hypothesis, the book is organized into five sections. The principle quantitative and qualitative characteristics of the FN electorate are analyzed in the first section. The second section brings up again the thorny question of the geographical distribution of the FN vote, “from rural to suburban.” The third part evokes the principle reasons behind the working class vote for the FN, while the fourth emphasizes the political legacy of this vote. Finally, the book ends somewhat outside the realm of quantifiable concepts and objects to suggest possible strategies against the progression of the FN, with the objective of breaking the “militant deadlock.”

  • 2 Centre de recherches politiques de Sciences Po.

4The first step undertaken is to break down the media discourse around the FN vote. Patrick Lehingue revisits how commentators have created the image of an anthropomorphised electorate that “wants” or “thinks” with a single vision. He believes that the notion of a “conglomerate” better allows us to consider the complex plurality of factors that motivate how people vote. At the same time, drawing on data from the Cevipof2, he rejects the adage of the FN as the “primary party of the workers”. In 2012, 40% of workers voted for the left, compared to 30% for the FN. At the 2015 European Elections, the share grew to 43%, but 61% of workers did not vote at all. If we take into account the abstention rate and those who did not register to vote, only 17% actually chose the FN. Daniel Gaxie develops the theory of selective appropriation of the FN’s ideas. Distinctions must indeed be drawn between the ways these ideas appear in the statements of party officials, in the management of cities with a FN administration, in the media, and even in the perceptions of citizens. Louis Pinto studies how the FN’s platform promotes “a new moral order,” which results in the depoliticization of the collective political debate to bring it down to the level of the individual. This “moralistic approach” (p.73) illustrates a nationalism focused on productivity that stigmatizes those who are unemployed or in professions perceived as unproductive (most notably intellectuals and public sector employees).

5The second part of the book applies an approach of electoral sociology to this phenomenon by looking at field studies conducted on FN strongholds. Violaine Girard analyzes the correlation between “Working classes, residence outside the urban zone, and the FN vote” in the outskirts of a large regional city. Contrary to a generally uncontested explanation, the FN’s success is not based on the rates of poverty of a population. Highly skilled workers share a common “triangular thought” that allows them to distinguish themselves from unskilled workers, who are closer to their working class and ethnic origins. Through a territorial lens, Emmanuel Pierru and Sebastien Vignon note that there has been no unilateral progression of the FN’s ideas from cities to rural areas. The impact of the FN scores cannot be explained by a xenophobic “radicalization” (p.82) of rural populations, but rather by the breakdown of rural communities.

6The third section features case studies of grassroots groups for whom the FN holds a certain appeal. Julian Mischi reexamines the common belief that electors who formerly voted for the communist party are now shifting their votes to the FN. Rather the opposite is true: the stronger the French Communist Party (PCF) and the trade union networks are in a given area, the more the FN struggles to take hold. Stéphane Beaud and Michel Pialou contribute two articles regarding workers in the automobile industry of Sochaux-Montbéliard. Far from the cliché of the “narrow-minded and racist proletariat” (p.138), their authors show an increase in tensions and competition between French workers and immigrants in the face of rising unemployment. To support this claim, they examine an interview conducted in 2001, shortly after the riots in the urban development zone of Montbéliard. In this exchange, a married couple discusses the end of a world of solidarity, marked by a rise in crime. The language used by the couple illustrates on the one hand, the use of “frontist” rhetoric, but also their need to overcome social isolation. Gérard Mauger elaborates on this by evoking the working class’s “concern about respectability.” The discourse of the FN regarding “welfare handouts” and “educational problems” in working-class areas creates a divide between workers deemed to be “honest” and, on the other hand, social cases accused of taking advantage of the system. Romain Pudal reaffirms this with the example of local firefighters for whom contact with the working class combined with a deterioration in working conditions can make the FN rather appealing. The final characteristic of the FN vote, discussed by Lorenzo Barrault-Stella and Clémentine Berjaud, is the connection between the working-class youth vote and their particular social conditions, as well as the difficulties they encounter at school and in their neighborhoods.

7While the FN vote is undeniably diverse and changing, the authors show in the fourth section its persistence over time and the importance of familial political orientation. Ivan Bruneau rejects the idea of a concomitance between declining social status and voting for the FN. One must also take into account the effects of parental education and cultural traditions, as well as the politicization toward the far-right experienced through the social interactions of young people. Samuel Bouron and Maïa Drouard, in turn, remind us that the FN vote of a class “living in mansions” is a sociological fact. For the ruling classes who support the ideas of the party, the historically-rooted frontist tradition rests on an attachment to Catholic family values that goes hand-in-hand with anti-republicanism.

8The last section of this volume, condemns from an openly political perspective, the inefficacy of opposition strategies in the face of the FN’s rise. Willy Pelletier relates his experiences when he was engaged in the heat of the second round of the 2002 presidential election, as well as his friendships with certain FN voters. He also shows the extent to which party militants from large cities, on top of being dismissive of the working class, use stigmatizing and holier-than-thou rhetoric, often loaded with class racism that does nothing but bolster the protest vote. Pointing to the responsibility of a “party of leftist intelligentsia” (p.269), Stéphane Beaud highlights the creation of the idea of the racist and uneducated “White guy” which reassures the proponents of so-called “anti-White racism.” Such tensions, rampant in society, also arise in the context of soccer, as they did most notably during the 2016 Euro Games when Eric Cantona accused Didier Deschamps of refusing to put Karim Benzema on the team for racist reasons.

9With Marine Le Pen winning over 10 million votes during the second round of the 2017 presidential elections, this collection of articles allows us to better question the origins of a political phenomenon that is now established, but whose progression can be deterred. The volume effectively breaks down media discourse and its influence in order to analyze a complex, intricate, and unstable electoral conglomerate. While it is regrettable that the essays of the volume rely on surveys and data that are often dated and sometimes removed from direct contact with the topic at hand (the FN), the articles nevertheless present an instructive ensemble that accurately represents the diversity of the working class. One major finding that stands out from the publication -- by dint of many repetitions -- is that the major victory of the FN is more ideological than electoral. By introducing an ethno-racial vision of social problems, the FN manages to fragment a working class that was once united around class-based interests. It is because workers were abandoned by governments on both the left and the right that they -- partially and temporarily -- turned to the FN. Formerly a cause to defend, the working class has become a problem to confront for some traditional working-class advocacy organizations, motivating their departure towards new political horizons.

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1 Pascal Perrineau, « La dynamique du vote le Pen : le poids du “gaucho-lepénisme” », in Pascal Perrineau et Colette Ysmal (dir.), Le Vote de crise : l’élection présidentielle de 1995, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 1995, p. 243-261.

2 Centre de recherches politiques de Sciences Po.

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Romain Castellesi (English translation), « Gérard Mauger, Willy Pelletier (dir.), Les classes populaires et le FN. Explications de vote », Lectures [En ligne], Les comptes rendus, mis en ligne le 01 février 2019, consulté le 06 mars 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Romain Castellesi (English translation)

Ph.D student in Contemporary History, Université de Bourgogne, Centre Georges Chevrier.

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