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Towards the median economic crisis voter? The new leftist economic agenda of the Front National in France

Abstract

The Front National (FN) has made an impressive come back into France’s electoral politics since 2012. Adopting a supply-side approach, this article places the electoral rejuvenation of the FN in the context of the global crisis and looks at how the party has adapted programmatically to socio-economic demands emerging from this context. On the basis of manifesto data analysis, we find that despite having recently broadened its economic programme, the FN maintains a niche status in the party system. Our findings show, however, that the party has significantly shifted its economic platform, moving from a predominantly right-wing to a left-wing location since the mid-1980s. This move is characterized by an increase in egalitarian and nationalist economic policies, espousing also a populist framework. The reconfiguration of the FN suggests that the party may have moved to a pivotal position in recent years by converging around the economic preferences of the median voter. We discuss the role of internal and external factors in explaining the economic policy shift by the FN, and consider possible implications of our findings for understanding current populist radical right electoral dynamics in Europe.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Owing to the length of the 1993 FN manifesto, we use the paragraph rather than the quasi-sentence as a unit for counting policy statements, a procedure consistent with previous CMP coding of party documents in France (Brouard et al, 2012, p. 260).

  2. 2.

    A total of 25 economic policy statements were removed from the analysis. These were cases where no clear left–right direction could be attributed – fiscal conventions.

  3. 3.

    The FN position is calculated as the difference between right-wing and left-wing economic policies divided by their sum in each manifesto (RL)/(R+L), which in this case is equivalent to computing the arithmetic mean. A negative score indicates therefore a leftist position, while a positive score indicates a rightist position on the economic dimension.

  4. 4.

    Let us note here that Otjes et al (2012) distinguish an additional fourth cluster of economic policies directed at the ‘deserving poor’, that is, poor members of society who ‘truly’ deserve welfare support because they are unable to provide for themselves. This cluster concerns only a minority of the FN’s policies and is therefore not included in this analysis.

  5. 5.

    Benoit and Laver (2007, p. 100) define their economic policy ratio scale for the CMP data: Left econ.=PER (403+404+406+412+413+504+506+701); Right econ.=PER (401+402+407+414+505).

  6. 6.

    FN policy estimates from the pledge-based directional analysis are validated externally through the use of CMP data. Correlation between the two measures of economic positions is 0.8 at p<0.01 (N=8 elections since 1981).

  7. 7.

    As stated by Marine Le Pen: ‘I am standing on my own two legs. On the one hand, unemployment, public debt and purchasing power. On the other hand, immigration and insecurity’ (TF1, 6 March 2012).

  8. 8.

    Mean position in the 1984 EP elections was 0.57 within a bootstrapped 95 per cent CI [0.41–0.72] (N=79 socio-economic policy pledges, source: Front National (1984)).

  9. 9.

    In 2014, only 51 per cent of the French said EU membership was a ‘good thing’ compared with 67 per cent in 2004.

  10. 10.

    The FN pledged for an increase in low wages, a control over commodity and food prices, as well as an increase in small pensions and in the minimum allowance for the elderly, and a return to 60 as retirement age. It advocated ‘progressiveness and social justice’ through higher taxes on the wealthiest, more progressive income tax bands, an increase in VAT for luxury goods, an increase in corporate taxes including a special tax on company relocations and the automatic adjustment of wages for inflation. The manifesto called also for the public control of banking and claimed that public services should be ‘available to all’, opposing the centre-right RGPP policy not to replace one in two civil servants going into retirement.

  11. 11.

    Marine Le Pen antagonized all the ‘powerful, representatives of the dominant “globalist” (mondialiste) ideology: i.e. politicians, the European Commission, financial markets, CAC 40 companies, the “super wealthy”, the “loutish businessmen” or large retail companies’.

  12. 12.

    In 2012, harsh criticism of benefit fraud was put to the forefront of the FN agenda of budgetary rigour and reduction in government spending. The FN claimed that a more efficient fight against social security ‘cheaters’ and those undeserving assistance would provide an additional €25 billion in revenue to the French state. The party called also for the suppression of all social benefits to social fraud recidivists and all offenders sentenced to one year imprisonment or more.

  13. 13.

    Recently, Philippot’s influence was evidenced by the disciplinary suspension of Jean-Marie Le Pen from the FN in May 2015, following the personal rift between him and his daughter.

  14. 14.

    During the presidential campaign, Marine Le Pen developed a nearly catch-all narrative of France des oubliés, which targeted a large pool of voters across a variety socio-economic sectors affected by the crisis – that is, ‘workers, farmers, students, pensioners, shopkeepers, civil servants or employees’.

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Acknowledgements

The author is very grateful to Daniel Stockemer at the University of Ottawa and to Sarah de Lange at the University of Amsterdam for their constructive comments on earlier versions of this article. He also wishes to thank the two anonymous referees for their comments and suggestions. All errors or misinterpretations are of course the author’s sole responsibility.

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Appendices

Appendix A

Table A1

Table A1 List of FN manifestos and number of coded economic policy pledges

Appendix B

Table B1

Table B1 Specification of the economic dimension (economic policy pledges)

Appendix C

Table C1

Table C1 Assignment of CMP issue categories into aggregate economic and socio-cultural issue areas

Appendix D

Table D1

Table D1 Social and economic sub-policy domains (economic policy pledges)

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Ivaldi, G. Towards the median economic crisis voter? The new leftist economic agenda of the Front National in France. Fr Polit 13, 346–369 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/fp.2015.17

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Keywords

  • Front National
  • economic policy
  • party position
  • global crisis
  • median voter
  • radical right