Skip to main content

The Divorce between Public-Sector Employees and West European Socialist Parties

Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements book series (PSHSM)


Determining the extent to which public-sector employees have moved away from socialist or social democratic parties is a major question in recent political history. This question is especially important in France, where civil servants, under the Fifth Republic at least, constitute the core of the socialist electorate. Electoral studies show that a divorce has occurred between France’s civil servants and the French Socialist Party since 2012. This does not mean, though, that civil servants have converted to market values. This divorce primarily reflects a weakening of cultural liberalism, affecting both public-sector and private-sector employees, and a strong demand for authority. The split between civil servants and the Socialist Party means that social democracy, in France and elsewhere, is losing its social base.

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

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-41540-2_13
  • Chapter length: 22 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
USD   109.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-3-030-41540-2
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   149.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book
USD   149.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Fig. 13.1
Fig. 13.2
Fig. 13.3


  1. 1.

    Although the presence of public-sector employees in the political ranks of the socialist party at national level was especially pronounced from the Fourth Republic onwards. As Alain Bergounioux and Gérard Grunberg show, civil servants represented just 14% of SFIO (French Section of the Workers’ International) elected officials in 1914 (Bergounioux and Grunberg 2005: 42). On the other hand, it is a documented fact that civil servants, and teachers in particular, were over-represented among SFIO activists from 1905. On the basis of survey results, Jacques and Mona Ozouf estimate, for example, that schoolteachers alone accounted for around one-quarter of members in the SFIO’s youth wing (Ozouf and Ozouf 1992: 110).

  2. 2.

    European Social Survey (2004 and 2014).

  3. 3.

    The “bible” of new public management advocates strengthening political power by privatising public administrations (Osborne and Gaebler 1993). Entire libraries have been devoted to the practices of new public management—and yet its purely political consequences remain underexplored, even though it changes the relationship between politicians and public-sector employees (Ongaro 2009; Rouban 2012).

  4. 4.

    Research undertaken in this field shows the importance of national idiosyncrasies and religious factors in guiding public-sector employees’ voting behaviour and value systems: Rouban (2005).

  5. 5.

    The three branches of the French civil service are the FPE (Fonction Publique de l’État—state civil service), the FPT (Fonction Publique Territoriale—territorial civil service) and the FPH (Fonction Publique Hospitalière—hospital civil service), each with its own specific legal status.

  6. 6.

    Even so, the PS remains a party of public-sector employees, judging by the composition of its membership. In 2011, employees in the wider public sector represented 56% of PS members, while employees in the three branches of the civil service accounted for 38%. The FPE, the state civil service, predominates here: 24% of members belong to the FPE, 10% to the territorial civil service (FPT) and 2% to the hospital civil service (FPH). Secondary teachers alone then accounted for more than 8% of PS members, primary schoolteachers for 5% and FPE managers excluding education 6.5% (Dargent and Rey 2014). My thanks to Henri Rey for allowing me to make use of the survey results in the present study.

  7. 7.

    We have combined “strongly agree” and “somewhat agree” answers. Each individual index constitutes an attitude scale. The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient is 0.557 for the economic liberalism index, 0.549 for the cultural liberalism index, 0.383 for the state authority index (relatively low due to the differentials in responses to the “strong man” question) and 0.855 for the identity index.

  8. 8.

    All voters in the active population who voted for these lists, regardless profession.

  9. 9.

    For a study examining the 1980–2000 period, see Rouban (1999).

  10. 10.

    The French civil service is divided into three professional categories: category A for managers, category B for intermediate and technical professionals and category C for office workers.

  11. 11.

    As suggested by initial research into the profile of deputies elected in 2017 (Rouban 2017b).

  12. 12.

    Scale from 0 (far to the left) to 10 (far to the right), following the convention that left comprises the area from 0 to 3, the centre—or “neither right nor left”—4 to 6 and the right from 7 to 10.

  13. 13.

    Again, only the active population is considered here.

  14. 14.

    “How satisfied are you with the life you lead now?”/ “Comparing yourself with people in general living in France, where would you place yourself on a scale of 0 to 10?” / “When you think about your life in the years ahead, how satisfied are you with your prospects?” Answers were rated on a scale of 0 to 10. Scores from 7 to 10 are considered to indicate satisfaction.

  15. 15.

    For details of the calculations, based on a weighted scoring system for professional situations that takes both unemployment and methodological issues into consideration, see Rouban (2016).

  16. 16.

    A detailed presentation of all the data demonstrating this lies outside the scope of the present study, beyond observing that 34% of state civil-service employees who voted for François Hollande in the first round of the 2012 presidential election considered Islam to pose a danger for the West (as did 43% of category A civil servants across the three service branches, voting for all candidates, along with 52% in category B and 57% in category C). Similarly, 30% of state civil servants who voted for François Hollande in 2012 thought that there are too many immigrants in France (40% across all category A civil servants, 56% in category B and 62% in category C).


  • Bergounioux, Alain, and Gérard Grunberg. 2005. L’ambition et le remords, Les socialistes français et le pouvoir (1905–2005). Paris: Fayard.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boy, Daniel, and Nonna Mayer. 1997. Que reste-t-il des variables lourdes? In L’électeur a ses raisons, ed. Daniel Boy and Nonna Mayer, 101–138. Paris: Presses de Sciences Po.

    Google Scholar 

  • CEVIPOF. 2019. Centre de recherches politiques de Sciences Po, Electoral Panel, 2015–2019, wave 22.

  • Dargent, Claude, and Henri Rey. 2014. Sociologie des adhérents socialistes, Cahier du Cevipof, 59, Paris, CEVIPOF.

  • ESS Round 2: European Social Survey Round 2 Data (2004), datafile edition 3.5, and ESS Round 7: European Social Survey Round 7 Data (2014), datafile edition 2.1, NSD – Norwegian Centre for Research Data, Norway.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gill-McLure, Whyeda. 2014. The Politics of Managerial Reform in UK Local Government: A Study of Control, Conflict and Resistance 1880s to Present. Labor History 55: 365–388.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Keller, Berndt, and Hartmut Seifert. 2015. Atypical Forms of Employment in the Public Sector – Are There Any?, SOEP Papers, DIW, Berlin, 774.

    Google Scholar 

  • OECD. 2004. Germany: Consolidating Economic and Social Renewal, OECD Reviews of Regulatory Reforms, OECD, Paris.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———. 2015. Government at a Glance 2015, OECD, Paris.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ongaro, Edoardo. 2009. Public Management Reform and Modernization: Trajectories of Administrative Change in Italy, France, Greece, Portugal and Spain. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Osborne, David, and Ted Gaebler. 1993. Reinventing Government. New York: Penguin.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Ozouf, Jacques, and Mona Ozouf. 1992. La République des instituteurs. Paris: Gallimard – Le Seuil, Coll. Hautes Etudes.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pollitt, Christopher, and Geert Bouckaert. 2011. Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis. New Public Management, Governance, and the Neo-Weberian State. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rouban, Luc. 1999. Les attitudes politiques des fonctionnaires, vingt ans d’évolution, Cahier du CEVIPOF, 24, Paris, CEVIPOF.

  • ———. 2003. Le vote des fonctionnaires aux élections de 2002. La Revue administrative 332: 196–203.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———. 2005. Public/privé: la culture sociopolitique des salariés en Europe, Cahier du CEVIPOF, 40.

  • ———. 2007. Le vote des fonctionnaires aux élections de 2007. La Revue administrative 360: 581–589.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———. 2012. Politicization of the Civil Service. In Handbook of Public Administration, ed. B. Guy Peters and Jon Pierre, 310–320. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———. 2013. Back to the Nineteenth Century: The Managerial Reform of the French Civil Service. Labor History 54: 161–175.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • ———. 2016. L’effet électoral du déclassement social, French electoral survey, wave 5, 24, CEVIPOF.

  • ———. 2017a. Quel avenir pour la fonction publique? Paris: La Documentation française.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———. 2017b. L’Assemblée élue en 2017 et la crise de la représentation, Note du CEVIPOF, ENEF, 43.

  • Siwek-Pouydesseau, Jeanne. 1989. Le syndicalisme des fonctionnaires jusqu’à la guerre froide 1848–1948. Lille: Presses Universitaires de Lille.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Luc Rouban .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2020 The Author(s)

About this chapter

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Rouban, L. (2020). The Divorce between Public-Sector Employees and West European Socialist Parties. In: Fulla, M., Lazar, M. (eds) European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-41539-6

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-030-41540-2

  • eBook Packages: HistoryHistory (R0)