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The closing of the radical right gender gap in France?

Abstract

One of the earliest and best-established finding about electoral support for populist radical right-wing parties is that they attract more men than women. Yet this finding might no longer apply to France. In the 2012, presidential election, contrary to her father, Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the Front National (FN), realized almost the same score among female and male voters. After controlling for other sociodemographic and attitudinal variables that explain electoral support for the FN, there is no difference between male and female voters’ support for the party. This article examines the closing of this gender gap in radical right-wing voting, drawing on post-electoral surveys conducted in 2002, 2012 and 2014. After a brief outline of the literature dealing with the emergence of the ‘Radical Right Gender Gap (RRGG)’, it ascertains the disappearance of a RRGG gender in 2012, tests possible explanations for this phenomenon and debates whether this is a temporary or a lasting one.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I refer in this article to the definition of the Populist Radical Right given by Mudde, based on nativism, authoritarianism and populism (Mudde, 2007, p. 19).

  2. 2.

    ‘Ouvriers’ are skilled and unskilled manual workers, not only in manufacturing and production but also in transportation, construction, services and crafts, as defined by the French Census Office, Group 6 in the INSEE (National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies, the Census Bureau) Classification of Professions and Socio-professional Categories updated in 2003.

  3. 3.

    According to the French Census Office, 2010 survey on employment the percentage of foreigners among the gainfully employed is 9.6 per cent among blue collars versus 5 per cent among routine non-manual employees (the average among wage earners is 5.2 per cent).

  4. 4.

    According to the EVS (European Values Studies), in 2008 the predicted probabilities in Western Europe that men ‘never’ attend any religious service is 8 per cent, while the predicted probabilities that women ‘attend very often’is 6 per cent (François and Magni-Berton, 2014, p. 178).

  5. 5.

    Women were given voting rights long after men in most countries, especially in France where it took almost a century: men gained universal franchise in 1848, women in 1947.

  6. 6.

    For an interesting approach of the contrasted reaction of women to the use of torture in the post 9/11 context, because of the conflicting impact of feminism and motherhood see Wemlinger, 2013.

  7. 7.

    For a recent assessment see the 2015 special issue of Patterns of Prejudice on ‘Gender and Populist radical Rights Politics’ and more specifically the two contributions on the electoral RRGG (Harteveld et al, 2015; Spierings and Zaslove, 2015).

  8. 8.

    In 2012, the difference was 2.5 percentage points (N=266) and 1,9 per cent (N=500) in 2014. In both cases the numbers allow for detailed statistical analyses.

  9. 9.

    Drawing from the data of the 1988 and 1995 Presidential Elections Surveys and the 1997 Parliamentary Elections Survey, a series of logistic regression taking the vote for Le Pen as the dependant variable, showed a robust gender effect throughout the period, during which Le Pen’s party reached an electoral threshold of around 15 per cent of the valid vote whatever the type of election, before the split of 1998–1999. The first model controled the effect of gender, age, education, number of links with the working class (being working class, having a father and /or a spouse-working class) and religion (affiliation+practice), a second one added ideological and political factors (party proximity, attitudes towards immigrants, satisfaction with the way democracy functions (Mayer, 2002, p. 220). In the 2007 election one also found a clear gender gap (Mayer, 2007).

  10. 10.

    The TNS-Sofres Election Day Survey on telephone (Mayer, 2013a), the face to face post-electoral French Election Study 2012 (Mayer 2013b) and also the Cevipof/Opinion Way 2012 telephone post-electoral survey.

  11. 11.

    In 2011 over 40 per cent of gainfully employed women with no degree work part time (5 times the proportion found among men) and one-third of the women with a vocational degree (CAP, brevet professionnel) versus 5 per cent of men.

  12. 12.

    See the in depth study of the everyday lives of sales women and cashiers in supermarkets described by Benquet (2011, 2013).

  13. 13.

    Confirmed by all our annual reports ever since, available on the Website of the CNCDH http://www.cncdh.fr/.

  14. 14.

    The 2012 election was before the massive right wing and Catholic mobilization against the legalization of gay marriage, and adoption for same-sex couples, finally voted in 23 April 2013. But the general trend of increasing acceptance of sexual minorities and women’s right has not stopped (Gault, 2013). In the 2012 French Election Study, only 14 per cent of voters believe women are ‘above all made to have and raise children’ and there is almost no difference between men and women (respectively 16 and 13 per cent believe so). While 41 per cent of the men but 53 per cent of the women consider ‘homosexuals should have the right to adopt children’.

  15. 15.

    In her autobiography Marine Le Pen presents herself as a ‘quasi-feminist’ strenghtened by her divorce and her struggle to work and raise her children alone (quoted in Meret and Siim, 2015, p. 19, from Marine Le Pen’s book A contre-flots, 2006, Paris, Grancher, p. 188).

  16. 16.

    Several Radical Right parties such as the Dutch LPF (Pim Fortuyn List) yesterday, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom today, or the Norwegian Progress Party, or the Danish People’s party (DF), are ‘gendering’ immigration (Meret and Siim, 2012 and Meret and Siim, 2015). They present Islam as a religion of fanaticism and intolerance threatening the rights of women, beaten up, mutilated and ill-treated by Muslim men (Akkerman and Hagelund, 2007; de Lange and Mügge, 2015). In France, Marine Le Pen is taking a similar turn.

  17. 17.

    We left in that category respondents still at school. It has no effect on the results of the regression owing to their small number (N=36). The series of regressions separating them from the other inactive are available on demand.

  18. 18.

    One finds the same result, a disappearance of the RRGG in the presidential election of 2012 on the base of other surveys (see Mayer 2013a, 2013b).

  19. 19.

    An ongoing comparative research with Mauro Barisione in six countries including France, based on the 2014 European Election Studies, using PTVs instead of actual votes, also shows the resilience of the RRGG (Barisione and Mayer, 2015).

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the two reviewers whose comments helped me substantially improve this article.

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Appendices

Appendix A

The 2012 and 2014 electoral surveys

  1. 1

    The 2002 French Electoral Panel 2002 is a three wave panel, based on quota sampling, conducted by TNS-Sofres for Cevipof (funded by the French Home Office). Here we use the post-election wave 2, conducted on a sample of 4017 people people representative of the French metropolitan population registered on the electoral lists (quotas sampling), between 15 and 31 May 2002, by CATI. The declared proportion of Le Pen voters in the first round was 11.4 per cent (N=362)5.5 percentage point below his real score. Available at cdsp.sciences-po.fr/enquetes.php?lang=ANG&idRubrique=enquetesFR&idTheme

  2. 2

    The French Electoral Study 2012 is a face to face survey coordinated by Nicolas Sauger at the Centre for Political Studies of Sciences Po (CEE) focused on ‘ Political Economy of Voting’. Conducted between 9 May and 9 June 2012 on a random sample of 2014 people representative of the French metropolitan population registered on the electoral lists. Available at www.cee.sciences-po.fr/fr/.

  3. 3

    The 2014 European Elections Study was designed by Nicolas Sauger at the Centre for European Studies of Sciences Po (CEE) and conducted in seven Northern and Southern European countries (France, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece), with contrasted economic situations and party systems. The French fieldwork was done by TNS-Sofres between 28 May and 12 June , online, on random samples of 4000 people representative of country’s citizens of age to vote (See Sauger et al, 2015 for details).

Appendix B

The attitudinal scales in the French election study 2012

Cultural liberalism (2–8)

Homosexual couples have the right to adopt children/women are primarily meant to have and raise children (reversed): somewhat agree, strongly agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree.

Euroscepticism (2–6)

  • All things considered, do you think that France has benefited or has not benefited from its membership in the European Union: has benefited/has not.

  • Some people may have some fears about the European construction. For each of the following, please tell me if you personally are afraid or not: that there is less social protection in France/that we lose our national identity and culture: it does not scare you/it scares you.

Ethnocentrism (4–16):

There are too many immigrants in France/many immigrants come to France to only enjoy social security/immigration threatens our jobs/all foreigners who have lived in France for several years should have the right to vote in municipal elections (reversed): somewhat agree, strongly agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree.

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Mayer, N. The closing of the radical right gender gap in France?. Fr Polit 13, 391–414 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/fp.2015.18

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Keywords

  • France
  • Front National
  • Marine Le Pen
  • gender
  • radical right gender gap