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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
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).
‘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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Confirmed by all our annual reports ever since, available on the Website of the CNCDH http://www.cncdh.fr/.
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’.
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).
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.
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.
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).
Abendschön, S. and Steinmetz, S. (2014) The gender gap in voting revisited: Women’s party preferences in a European context. Social Politics 21 (2): 315–344.
Akkerman, T. and Hagelund, H. (2007) Women and children first! Anti-immigration parties and gender in Norway and The Netherlands. Patterns of Prejudice 41 (2): 197–214.
Alduy, C. and Wahnich, S. (2015) Marine le Pen prise aux mots. Paris, France: Seuil.
Amesberger, H. and Halbmayr, B. (eds.) (2002) Einleitung. In: Rechtsextreme Parteien-eine mögliche Heimat für Frauen? Opladen, Germany: Leske-Budrich.
Barisione, M. and Mayer, N. (2015) The transformation of the Radical Right Gender Gap: The case of the 2014 EP Election. Paper presented at the 22th International Conference for Europeanists of the Council for European Studies; 8–10 juillet, Paris, France.
Benquet, M. (2011) Les damnées de la caisse. Enquête sur une grève dans un hypermarché. Paris, France: Editions du Croquant.
Benquet, M. (2013) Encaisser! Enquête en immersion dans la grande distribution. Paris, France: La Découverte, (coll. « Cahiers libres »).
Betz, H.-G. (1994) Radical Right Wing Populism in Western Europe. New York: Saint Martin’s Press.
Bornschier, S. and Kriesi, H. (2012) The populist right, the working class, and the changing face of class politics. In: J. Rydgren (ed.) Class Politics and the Radical Right. Abingdon, UK and New York: Routledge, pp. 10–29.
Chiche, J. and Haegel, F. (2002) Les connaissances politiques. In: G. Grunberg, N. Mayer and P.M. Sniderman (eds.) La démocratie à l’épreuve: une nouvelle approche de l’opinion des Français. Paris, France: Presses de Sciences Po, pp. 273–292.
de Bruijn, S. and Veenbrink, M. (2012) The gender gap in radical right voting: Explaining differences in the Netherlands. Social Cosmos 3 (2): 215–231.
De Lange, S.L. and Mügge, L. (2015) Gender and right-wing populism in the low countries: Ideological variations across parties and time. Patterns of Prejudice 49 (1–2): 61–80.
Frader, L.L. (2008) Breadwinners and Citizens: Gender in the Making of the French Social Model. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.
François, A. and Magni-Berton, R. (2014) Les valeurs ont-elles un sexe? Les gender gaps en Europe. In: P. Bréchon and F. Gonthier (eds.) Les valeurs des Européens. Evolutions et clivages. Paris, France: Armand Colin, pp. 169–188.
Gault, G. (2013) Ils se marièrent et eurent beaucoup d’enfants? L’opinion, le mariage et l’adoption pour les couples homosexuels. In: O. Duhamel and E. Lecerf (eds.) L’état de l’opinion. Paris, France: TNS-Sofres/Seuil, pp. 211–226.
Giger, N. (2009) Towards a modern gender gap in Europe? A comparative analysis of voting behaviour in 12 countries. Social Science Journal 46 (3): 474–492.
Givens, T.E. (2004) The radical right gender gap. Comparative Political Studies 37 (1): 30–54.
Guedj, H. (2013) Le taux d’emploi des hommes et des femmes. Des écarts plus marqués en équivalent temps plein. Insee Première 1462: 1–4.
Guggemos, F. and Vidalenc, J. (2014) Une photographie du marché du travail en 2013. INSEE Première 1516: 1–4.
Harteveld, E., van der Brug, W., Dahlberg, S. and Kokkonen, A. (2015) The gender gap in populist right voting: Examinign the demand side in Western and Eastern Europe. Patterns of Prejudice 49 (1–2): 103–134.
Harteveld, E., Dahlberg, S., Kokkonen, A. and Van der brug, W. (2013) The Gender Gap in Voting: Extremity, Ambiguity and Social Cues. Paper presented at the ECPR General Conference; 4–7 September, Bordeaux, France.
Haüsermann, S. and Schwander, H. (2012) Varieties of dualization? Labor market segmentation and insider-outsider divides across regimes. In: P. Emmenegger, S. Haüsermann, B. Palier and M. Seeleib-Kaiser (eds.) The Age of Dualization. The Changing Face of Inequality in Deindustrializing Societies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 27–51.
Huddy, L. and Terkildsen, N. (1993) Gender stereotypes and the perception of male and female candidates. American Journal of Political Science 37 (1): 119–147.
Immerzeel, T., Coffé, H. and van der Lippe, T. (2015) Explaining the gender gap in radical right voting: A cross national investigation in 12 Western-European countries. Comparative European Politics 13 (2): 263–286.
Inglehart, R. and Norris, P. (2003) Rising Tide. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kitschelt, H. and McGann, A. (1995) The Radical Right in Western Europe. A Comparative Analysis. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Kriesi, H., Grande, E., Lachat, R., Dolezal, M., Bornschier, S. and Frey, T. (2008) West European Politics in the Age of Globalization. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Lahire, B. (2001) Héritages sexués: incorporation des habitudes et des croyances. In: T. Blöss (ed.) La dialectique des rapports hommes-femmes. Paris, France: PUF, pp. 9–25.
Manza, J. and Brooks, C. (1998) The gender gap in U.S. presidential elections: When? Why? Implications? American Journal of Sociology 103 (5): 1235–1266.
Mayer, N. (2002) Ces Français qui votent Le Pen. Paris, France: Flammarion.
Mayer, N. (2007) Comment Nicolas Sarkozy a retréci l’électorat Le Pen. Revue française de science politique 57 (3–4): 429–445.
Mayer, N. (2013a) From Jean-Marie to Marine Le Pen: Electoral change on the far right. Parliamentary Affairs 66 (1): 160–178.
Mayer, N. (2013b) L’électorat Le Pen de père en fille. In: V. Tiberj (ed.) Des votes et des voix. De Mitterrand à Hollande. Nîmes, France: Champ Social, pp. 101–111.
Mayer, N. and Michelat, G. (2007) Les transformations du rapport à l’Autre: le rôle des identités politiques et religieuses. Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme, La lutte contre le racisme et la xénophobie. Paris, France: La Documentation française, pp. 122–138.
Mayer, N. and Tiberj, V. (2015) Ou est passée la gauche? De la victoire de 2012 à la déroute de 2014. In: O. Duhamel and E. Lecerf (eds.) L’état de l’opinion. Paris, France: Seuil, pp. 17–36.
Meret, S. and Slim, B. (2012) Gender, Populism and politics of Belonging: Discourses of Right- wing Populist Parties in Denmark, Norway and Austria. In: B. Siim and M. Mokre (eds.) Negotiating Gender and Diversity in an emerging European Public Sphere. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 78–96.
Meret, S. and Siim, B. (2015) Female leaders for ‘Männerparteien’? A comparative and explorative study of populist right-wing leaders Pia Kjærsgaard, Marine Le Pen and Siv Jensen. Paper for the IVth European Conference on Politics and Gender; June 11–13, Uppsala, Sweden, http://www.ecpr.eu/Filestore/PaperProposal/c24af27a-a3ad-4d85-ba3b-dc4f924adab2.pdf.
Michelat, G. and Dargent, C. (2015) Système symbolique catholique et comportements électoraux. Revue française de science politique 65 (1): 27–60.
Milewski, F., Périvier, H. and Cochard, M. (2011) Hommes et femmes face à la crise. Alternatives Économiques, (Special issue « L'état de l'économie 2011 ») 88: 64–66.
Molinier, P. (2004) Déconstruire la crise de la masculinité. Mouvements 31 (1): 24–29.
Mossuz-Lavau, J. (2014) Genre et politique. La marche vers l'indifférenciation. In: A. Muxel (ed.) La vie privée des convictions. Paris, France: Presses de Sciences Po, pp. 169–185.
Mossuz-Lavau, J. (2009) Gender and politics. In: L. Rouban and P. Perrineau (eds.) Politics in France and Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 51–67.
Mossuz-Lavau, J. and Sineau, M. (1983) Enquête sur les femmes et la politique en France. Paris, France: PUF.
Mudde, C. (2007) Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Mudde, C. and Kaltwasser, C.R. (2015) Vox populi or vox masculini? Populism and gender in Northern Europe and South America. Patterns of Prejudice 49 (1–2): 16–36.
Norris, P. (1996) Mobilizing the women’s vote: The gender-generation gap in voting behaviour. Parliamentary Affairs 49 (2): 333–342.
Norris, P. (2005) Radical Right: Voters and Parties in the Electoral Market. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Oesch, D. (2008) Explaining voters’ support for right-wing populist parties in Western Europe: Evidence from Austria, Belgium, France, Norway and Switzerland. International Political Science Review 29 (3): 349–373.
Perrineau, P. (1997) Le symptôme Le Pen. Paris, France: Fayard.
Rippeyoung, P. (2007) When women are right: The influence of gender, work and values on European far right party support. International Feminist journal of Politics 9 (3): 379–397.
Sauger, N., Dehousse, R. and Gougou, F. (2015) Comparative Electoral Dynamics in the European Union in 2014 (CED-EU14): A Data User’s Guide. Les Cahiers européens de Sciences Po, 1. Paris: Centre d’études européennes de Sciences Po, http://cee.sciences-po.fr/en/publications/les-cahiers-europeens/2015.html.
Sineau, M. (2004) Les paradoxes du gender gap à la française. In: B. Cautrès and N. Mayer (eds.) Le nouveau désordre électoral. Les leçons du 21 avril 2002. Paris, France: Presses de Sciences Po, pp. 207–252.
Spierings, N. and Zaslove, A. (2015) Gendering the vote for populist radical-right parties. Patterns of Prejudice 49 (1–2): 135–162.
Spierings, N., Zaslove, A., Mügge, L. and de Lange, S.L. (2015) Gender and populist radical right politics: An introduction. Patterns of prejudice 49 (1–2): 3–15.
Studlar, D.T., McAllister, I. and Hayes, B.C. (1998) Explaining the gender gap in voting: A cross national analysis. Social Science Quarterly 79 (4): 779–798.
Wemlinger, E. (2013) The gender gap and torture: Opposition to torture among men and women in the USA. Social Science Journal 51 (1): 113–119.
Whitaker, L.D. (2008) Voting. The Gender Gap. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.
I would like to thank the two reviewers whose comments helped me substantially improve this article.
The 2012 and 2014 electoral surveys
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
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/.
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).
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.
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.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Front National
- Marine Le Pen
- radical right gender gap