Skip to main content

From Yellow Vests street protest to city council: when social movements run for office


How the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) faced the electoral dilemma? Despite their rejection of political institutions, the French municipal elections of 2020 led some of the participants to embrace conventional politics. Under which circumstances can a social movement lead to political participation and eventually obtain electoral success? Relying on quantitative and qualitative data, this article provides an explanation of the electoral participation of social movement activists and the different outcomes of local elections in Bordeaux, one of the major sites of Yellow Vests’ mobilization in 2018–2019. The article contends that far from allowing marginalized groups to enter the political arena, these elections seem to confirm the “iron law of oligarchy”. Two lists of candidates both claiming to be part of the Yellow Vests movement competed with each other. While “Bordeaux Democracy” rejected partisan support failed to stand, “Bordeaux in Struggle” could rely on organizational support and was able to maintain itself and achieved unexpected electoral success with three local councillors.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. The authors thank the reviewers for their comments and challenging critics, as well as Amy Mazur and the editorial board for their support and their work. The article was translated by Mrs Fauchadour.

  2. Interview of 11 July 2020, 51-year-old man, technician on leave and Member of Parliament.

  3. Interview of 10 September 2020, 57-year-old woman, agent of a public transport company.

  4. Interview of 12 September 2020, 53-year-old man, unemployed factory worker.

  5. Interview of 9 September 2021, 49-year-old woman, artist and assistant of BeL municipal councillors.

  6. Interview of 23 September 2021, 56-year-old man, civil servant on leave, DB campaign director.

  7. Original manuscript, p.140.

  8. Interview of 13 November 2021, 74-year old man, retired.

  9. Informal interview, Anti-Pass Demonstration, Saturday 4 September 2021.

  10. Interview of 12 September2020, 53-year-old man, unemployed factory worker.

  11. The narrative diverges on the way in which the leader is associated with it: a LFI member is said to have played the role of broker with a NPA member, based on a shared affinity and non-institutional logics, but another explanation is evoked: that of a joke which turned into a concrete proposal to associate NPA with the list.

  12. Interview of September 2021, 49-year-old woman, artist and assistant to the Municipal councillors.

  13. Observation of BeL campaign meeting, 3 March 2020, "Housing and Education", Municipal Athenaeum.


  • Alexandre, Chloé, Stéphanie Abrial, Camille Bedock, Frédéric Gonthier, and Tristan Guerra. 2021. Punish or Partake? The Yellow Vests’ Democratic Aspirations.” Communication presented at the Understanding the French Yellow Vest Movement through the Lens of Mixed Methods. Paris, September 29.

  • Ayoub, Philipp M., Sophia J. Wallace, and Chris Zepeda-Millan. 2014. Triangulation in social movement research. In: Methodological Practices in Social Movement Research, ed. Donatella Della Porta, 67–96. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Bedock, Camille, Loïc Bonin, Pauline Liochon, and Tinette Schnatterer. 2020. Controlling representation: Visions of the political system and institutional reforms in the Gilets jaunes movement. Participations 28 (3): 221–246.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bedock, Camille, Stéphanie Abrial, Chloé Alexandre, Frédéric Gonthier, and Tristan Guerra. 2022. Control or participate? The yellow vests’ democratic aspirations through mixed methods analysis. French Politics. 64: 1–25.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bertuzzi, Niccolò, Daniela Chironi, Donatella Della Porta, Chiara Milan, Martín Portos, and Lorenzo Zamponi. 2022. Bringing Grievances Back in? Socio-Economic Inequalities and the Political Participation of Protesters. In: Resisting the Backlash: Street Protest in Italy. ed. Bertuzzi, Niccolò, Daniela Chironi, Donatella Della Porta, Chiara Milan, Martín Portos, and Lorenzo Zamponi. 27-55. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blee, Kathleen M., and Ashley Currier. 2006. How local social movement groups handle a presidential election. Qualitative Sociology 29 (3): 261–280.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Collectif d’enquête sur les Gilets Jaunes, Camille Bedock, Zakaria Bendali, Antoine Bernard de Raymond, Anne-Gaëlle Beurier, Pierre Blavier, Loïc Bonin, et al. 2019. Investigating a protest movement in the heat of the moment. Revue Francaise de Science Politique. 69 (5): 869–92

  • Collective. 2017. Sectorial declassing and public gatherings. Revue française de science politique 67 (4): 675–693.

    Google Scholar 

  • Della Porta, Donatella. 2014. Methodological Practices in Social Movement Research. In  ed. Della Porta D. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Della Porta, Donatella, Joseba Fernandez, Hara Kouki, and Lorenzo Mosca. 2017. Movement Parties Against Austerity. Polity. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

  • Della Sudda, Magali. 2020. Les Avatars de La Manif Pour Tous : Recompositions Autour Des Questions de Genre. Mémoire d’habilitation à diriger les recherches, Pessac: Institut d’études politiques de Bordeaux. tel-03093897.

  • Della Sudda, Magali and Christine Guionnet. 2021. "Nuit debout, gilets jaunes: quoi de neuf à l’horizon des mouvements sociaux?" In Sociologie politique de la france. Paris: Armand Colin.

    Google Scholar 

  • Della Sudda, Magali. 2022. La féralisation de l’action collective dans le mouvement social des Gilets jaunes. Communication, Staat, Recht un politischer Konflit Seminar, Centre Zentrum March Bloch, May 19.

  • Diani, Mario. 2003. Leaders or Brokers? Positions and Influence in Social Movement Networks.” In: Social Movements and Networks Relational Approaches to Collective Action. Comparative Politics. Oxford University Press.

  • DITP, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Olivier Bouba-Olga, and Pôle DATAR. 2021. “L’Accessibilité aux services et aux équipements de la Nouvelle-Aquitaine et de ses territoires.” Bordeaux: Conseil régional Nouvelle Aquitaine.

  • Dormagen, Jean-Yves., Laura Michel, and Emmanuelle Reungoat. 2021. Quand le vert divise le jaune. Ecologie Politique 1 (62): 25–47.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eliasoph, Nina. 1998. Avoiding politics: how Americans produce apathy in everyday life. Cambridge Cambridge University Press.

  • Faburel, Guillaume, and Maele Giard. 2020. Listes citoyennes municipalistes: une réelle alternative politique?The Conversation, June.

  • Ferret, Jean-Pierre. 2019. 787 000 Néo-Aquitains vivent sous le seuil de pauvreté, les deux tiers sous l’influence des Grandes Aires Urbaines - Insee Analyses Nouvelle-Aquitaine - 70. Paris: INSEE.

  • Fillieule, Olivier. 2017. The Study of Social Movements in France. In: The Oxford Handbook on French Politics, ed. Robert Elgie, Emiliano Grossman, and Amy G. Mazur, 440–61. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Guionnet, Christine and Michel Wieviorka. 2021. Nuit debout: des citoyens en quête de réinvention démocratique. ed Christine Guionnet and Michel Wieviorka. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

    Google Scholar 

  • Giraud, Baptiste. 2007. Les Motivé-e-s, ou l’innovation prisonnière des règles du jeu politique. Sociologies Pratiques 15 (2): 55–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Giugni, Marco, and Maria T. Grasso. 2016. Do issues matter? Anti-Austerity protests; composition, values, and action repertoires compared. Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change 39: 31–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Godefroy, Elisabeth. 2020. “Les Leaders d’un Mouvement « sans Chef » : Définir, Organiser et Représenter La Mobilisation Des Gilets Jaunes.” Master 2 thesis, Paris: Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.

  • Godefroy. 2021. Quand le "rejet des partis" des leaders Gilets Jaunes rencontre l’offre rarticipationniste. Retour sur la structuration d’un mécontentement en revendication politique. Communication presented at the Colloque Discrétions partisanes. Tactiques et stratégies d’ancrage et de ré-ancrage politique - CESSP, Sept 23.

  • Goldstone, Jack A. 2003. States, Parties, and Social Movements, ed. Jack A. Goldstone, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Goldstone, Jack A. 2010. States, Parties, and Social Movements. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Gourgues, Guillaume. 2020. Peut-on ensauvager la participation ? Radicalité démocratique et Gilets Jaunes. Réfractions, 45 (October): 105–118.

    Google Scholar 

  • Guionnet, Christine. 2002. Les Motivé-e-s rennais aux frontières de la politique. Territoires. 425: 12–15.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heaney, Michel T. 2013. Elections and Social Movements. In The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements, ed. David A. Snow, Donatella Della Porta, Bert Klandermans, and Doug McAdam. 239–234. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd

    Google Scholar 

  • Hibbing, John R., and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. 2007. Stealth Democracy: Americans’ Beliefs about How Government Should Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hutter, Sven, Hanspeter Kriesi, and Jasmine Lorenzini. 2019. Social Movements in Interaction with Political Parties. In The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, ed. Hanspeter Kriesi, Holly J. McCammon, and David A. Snow, 322–337. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jeanpierre, Laurent. 2019. In Girum: les leçons politiques des ronds-points. la Découverte: Paris

  • Kitschelt, Herbert. 1993. Social movements, political parties, and democratic theory. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 528 (July): 13–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kitschelt, Herbert. 2006. Movement Parties. In Handbook of Party Politics, edited by Richard S. Katz, 278–90. London: Sage Publications.

  • Klandermans, Bert P.G., and Jackie Smith. 2002. Survey research: a case for comparative designs. In Methods of social movement research, ed. Bert P.G.Klandermans and Suzanne Staggenborg, 3–31. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Klandermans, Bert P. G., Susan Staggenborg, and Sidney G. Tarrow. 2002. Conclusion: blending methods and building theories in social movement research. In Methods of social movement research, ed. Bert Klandermans and Susan Staggenborg, 314–350. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kriesi, Hanspeter. 2004. Political Context and Opportunity. In The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements Edis by David A Snow, Sarah A Soule, and Hanspeter Kriesi, 67–90. Oxford: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kriesi, Hanspeter, Ruud Koopmans, Jan Willem Duyvendak, and Marco G. Giugni. 1995. New Social Movements in Western Europe: A Comparative Analysis. Social Movements, Protest, and Contention. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Lagroye, Jacques. 1973. Société et politique. J. Chaban-Delmas à Bordeaux. 6: 11–25.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lefebvre, Rémi. 2019. Les Gilets jaunes et les exigences de la représentation politique. La Vie des idées, September.

  • Lefebvre, Rémi. 2020. Quelles leçons historiques et politiques tirer du municipalisme ouvrier ? Mouvements 1 (101): 106–115.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lewis-Beck, Michael S., and Éric. Bélanger. 2015. Quantitative methods in political science: research in France and the United States. French Politics 13 (2): 175–184.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Le Bart, Christian. 2020. Petite sociologie des Gilets jaunes: La contestation en mode post-institutionnel. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ludosky, Priscillia, and Guillaume Gourgues. 2020. Le fait qu’il y ait des listes citoyennes qui se mettent en place, ça ne doit pas non plus l’arranger. Mouvements. 101 (1): 25–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mansbridge, Jane J. 1981. Living with Conflict: Representation in the theory of adversary democracy. Ethics 91 (3): 466–476.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mayer, Nonna. 2008. Reflection on the Methods of Political Science on Both Sides of the Atlantic. The Political Methodologist 15 (2): 5–7.

    Google Scholar 

  • Michels, Roberto. 1912. Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracies. New York: Dover.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pateman, Carole. 1970. Participation and Democratic Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Planche, Victor. 2020. S’unir dans la diversité : Étude des valeurs partagées par les membres du mouvement des Gilets Jaunes à Nîmes. Master 2 thesis, Marseille: Université d’Aix-Marseille.

  • Portos, Martín. 2021. Moving from the Squares to the Ballot Box: Podemos and the Institutionalisation of the Cycle of Anti-Austerity Protest. In: Grievances and Public Protests, 227–55. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Raison du Cleuziou,  Yann. 2018. Sens commun: Un combat conservateur entre deux fronts. Le Débat 199 (2): 105–114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Raimbault, Nicolas. 2021. Génération Fenwick. Communication. Révolutions et sciences sociales (XVIIIe-XXIes) seminar, Paris.

  • Sauger, Nicolas. 2016. Political Representation bringing elections back in. In: The Oxford Handbook of French Politics, ed. Robert Elgie, Amy G. Mazur, and Emiliano Grossman, 307–328. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sawicki Frédéric. 2010. Partis Politiques et Mouvements Sociaux: des Interdépendances aux Interactions et Retour. In: Voix de la rue ou voie des urnes ? : Mouvements sociaux et partis politiques, ed. Stéphanie Dechezelles and Simon Luck. 1–16. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

  • Shultziner, Doron, and Irit S. Kornblit. 2020. French yellow vests (Gilets Jaunes): Similarities and Differences with Occupy Movements. Sociological Forum. 35 (2): 535–542.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Skocpol, Theda, and Vanessa Williamson. 2012. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Snow, David A. 2013. “Introduction.” In: The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements, ed. David A. Snow, Donatella Della Porta, Bert Klandermans, and Doug McAdam, Chichester, West Sussex-Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd

  • Tarrow, Sidney G. 2019. Comparison, Triangulation, and Embedding Research in History: A Methodological Self-Analysis. Bulletin of Sociological Methodology/bulletin De Méthodologie Sociologique 141 (1): 7–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tarrow, Sidney G., and Doug McAdam. 2013. Social Movements and Elections. In: The future of social movement research: dynamics, mechanisms, and processes, ed. Jacquelien Van Stekelenburg, Conny Roggeband, and Bert P.G. Klandermans, 325–346. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, Verta. 2010. Social Movement Continuity: The Womens Movement in Abeyance. In: Readings on social movements: origins dynamics and outcomes., 587–598. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Trom, Danny and David A. Snow. 2002. “The Case Study and the Study of Social Movements.” In: Methods of Social Movement Research, ed. Suzanne Staggenborg, and Bert Klandermans. 146–72. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota press.

  • Van Outryve, Sixtine. 2019. “Gilets Jaunes ADA 4. La Question Des Municipales - Altermidi.” Altermidi.Org (blog). November 16, 2019.

  • Victoire, Emile. 2014. Sociologie de Bordeaux. Paris: la Découverte

  • Walgrave, Stefaan, and Joris Verhulst. 2011. Selection and response bias in protest surveys. Mobilization An International Quarterly 16 (2): 203–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Magali Della Sudda.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Della Sudda, M., Gaborit, N. From Yellow Vests street protest to city council: when social movements run for office. Fr Polit 20, 420–443 (2022).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Social movement
  • Yellow vests
  • Municipal election
  • Politics
  • Mixed methods