28th Feb 2024

Sociologist Jérôme Fourquet: 'The silent majority is pivotal'

  • If presidential elections were to be held now, over 30 percent of the French said they would vote for Le Pen, according to a recent Ifop poll. (Photo: Emma Sofia Dedorson)
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Jérôme Fourquet, the French director of opinion at Ifop Institute, an international polling and market research firm, believes that French society is more divided than ever.

He believes that rather than "two Frances" there are three, and that those groups are separating, geographically and ideologically.

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  • Jérôme Fourquet, the French director of opinion at Ifop Institute

The far right in France is on the rise and this, he says, depends in part on social and economic factors but also on the political narrative — or the lack thereof.

The party National Rally, led by youngster Jordan Bardella but still headed by Marine Le Pen has, for the first time, become the top political force in polls.

If the presidential elections were to be held now, over 30 percent of the French said they would vote for Le Pen, according to a recent Ifop poll. There is, however, no clear candidate against her yet with Emmanuel Macron stepping down after his term.

For the upcoming European elections in 2024, the far-right tendency seems even clearer.

According to a recent Ifop-Fiducial poll for the French daily Le Figaro, the National Rally's candidate Jordan Bardella will be the main political alternative with 28 percent of the support while president Emmanuel Macron's centrist and pro-European party Renaissance lags at 20 percent.

In the 2019 European Parliament elections, the two parties were neck and neck.

According to Fourquet, this rise is not due only to social and economic phenomena. The sociologist just published the final book in a trilogy on the changes in France and among French voters, called 'La France d'après', or 'France after this', in which he claims the reasons are wider.

"What I have tried to do is to look at my country from different angles to get the whole picture. If you illuminate a building only from one angle, no matter how strong the light is, the others will remain in the shadow. There are several factors and the social-economical is only one side of the building," Fourquet tells EUobserver.

Fourquet talks a lot about the geography of the vote, having observed interesting examples of "voter enclaves" for example, meaning that a community can vote very differently from its surrounding, similar communities, based on certain parameters.

"The old, traditional conflict between right and left has for more than a decade been seriously challenged by new circumstances. The working class versus the dominating classes does not resonate as clearly with people as it used to. We observed, just as an example, a small town surrounded by other similar towns. That town had a lot of tourism, however, and a population that voted mainly for the presidential party (Renaissance) while the surrounding towns, more isolated, with less or no tourism, voted National Rally," Fourquet says.

This autumn, economists Julia Cagé and Tomas Piketty came out with an essay book named Une histoire du conflicts politiques. In short, they claim that what people vote for depends largely on their social and economic background and their diverging opportunities in life rather than on immigration or identity issues.

Fourquet means that their take is a clear example of "only illuminating the front facade of the building."

'Lack of alternative narrative'

"I agree that those are important parameters. On the other hand, if we look at the French presidential vote; if the voters of the popular neighbourhoods or the rural areas had voted solely based on social and equity issues, the leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon would have been their candidate. Objectively, Mélenchon's program focused more on those issues than Marine Le Pen's did."

Those voters, contrary to popular belief, do read the political programs and listen to the candidates' discourses, polls show, and many of them still opted for Le Pen.

He says that issues such as immigration, security and murders are important parameters to understand modern voters, and he believes this applies to other European countries and ahead of the elections for the European Parliament as well. He thinks it is a matter of narrative; political and mediatic.

"My expertise is in France but we have seen the same types of changes in societies all over Europe. The global economic logic has changed, our societies are more individualistic and consumer-based while the traditional conflicts are not up to date. My books are mainly about the new divide and the lack of a political narrative of the future. The far-right offers an easy-to-understand narrative of what is wrong and how we could return to what we had before while no one really offers an alternative future," Fourquet says.

With your experience and the polls in consideration, will the Israel-Palestine war affect voters in the upcoming European elections?

"This has been clearly measured in our polls. Just after 7 October, there was a clear peak of support for Israel's cause in France. However, with time, and after the many horrible reports from Gaza, the support for both sides is rather equalised again and there is a huge so-called silent majority who prefers to remain neutral in this," Jérôme Fourquet says.

In France, the internal issues are once again crucial for voters. Macron once managed to convince voters he was their candidate. But if immigration and security remain a main topic, the far-right is likely to gain ground, independently of the reasons behind the existing problems, in France and Europe," he adds.

Author bio

Emma Sofia Dedorson is a Paris-based journalist covering politics, culture and society in France, Spain and Italy.


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