“The territory does not alone determine the RN vote” – L’Express

The territory does not alone determine the RN vote –

The French voting map has never been so clear: on this Monday, June 10, the day after the European elections, a navy blue wave is spreading across France, representing 31.5% of votes cast for the National Rally ( RN) by Jordan Bardella. On this vast monochrome, a few islands of yellow, red, pink, blue or green remain, illustrating the ballots for the majority, La France insoumise, the Socialist Party, the Republicans or the Greens. All or almost all are located in large cities; the political boundaries between rural areas and metropolises seem to have never been so clear. In fact, the National Rally came first in the vote in more than 32,600 French municipalities out of 35,000 – or more than 93% of them.

In his work Those who remain (Ed. La Découverte), published in 2019, the sociologist Benoît Coquard, specialist in rural environments and the working classes, already underlined the appetite of inhabitants of rural areas for the far-right party, nourished in particular by the notion of this that the sociologist calls the “Already, we”, in the sense of “the French first”, “which justifies the feeling of living in a fractured world and preaches for a restricted alliance against others designated ‘not like us’, responsible for the thousand and one problems plaguing French society today,” writes the researcher.

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In the aftermath of the historic scores of the National Rally in the European elections, and the announcement by Emmanuel Macron of the dissolution of the National Assembly, Benoît Coquard analyzes for L’Express the levers on which the representatives of the RN relied to seduce the inhabitants of rural areas, surfing at the same time on a long-established discourse, a feeling of downgrading, and a fear of “competition in society”, that the representatives of the far-right party “would be the only ones, according to these voters, to understand”. Interview.

L’Express: This political polarization between large cities and rural areas, clearer than ever in the aftermath of the European elections, has been observed for a long time by sociologists and political commentators. How did it develop over time?

Benoît Coquard: It should indeed be noted that this polarization is not a surprise: there has been a breakthrough of the FN since the mid-1990s in many areas far from large cities, victims of deindustrialization, the departure of public services or the scarcity of medical structures, but also in which the right was strongly established historically. It is in these regions that we have found peaks in RN voting for several years, from the first rounds of the presidential elections: for example, we must remember that Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front of the 1990s is already the main competitor of the RPR in certain areas that I studied in my book, in the Grand-Est. At the beginning of the 2000s, when the party began to massively reach voters and deployed in rural areas, it encountered a popular electorate of workers and small owners, who historically voted like the big bosses, that is to say RIGHT.

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To understand how this attraction for the National Rally crystallized in the countryside, we must then cross-reference geographical factors – rurality, distance from cities – with socio-economic factors: age, level of education. , the profession of voters in these territories, and how they have evolved over recent decades. Finally, we must take into account the “effects of place” described by Bourdieu: when you are surrounded by people who, themselves, took the plunge of the RN a long time ago, who express in usual everyday conversations their attraction to the RN, affinity with the extreme right becomes legitimate and banal. These sociabilities play a big role – this political positioning becomes easy to support in public, cements the vote. It is therefore not the characteristics of the territory which alone determine the RN vote, but rather the profile of those who populate the territory, the associations which are formed there, and the way in which habits are structured there. voting.

In your opinion, has the end of the “taboo” around the RN vote in rural areas contributed to this navy blue “wave” that we are seeing today?

There are rural areas that already voted for the FN in the 2000s. The “taboo” of the extreme right therefore jumped very quickly in these areas, and for a very long time. There was a very long-standing penetration of far-right ideas in certain rural areas, which meant that voters did not have to justify their political ideas too much. On the contrary: for several years, the RN has succeeded in imposing its subjects, such as immigration for example, in the media space, and in taking advantage of certain world views widespread among the most precarious inhabitants of rural areas. I’m thinking here of the feeling of competition with the rest of society. It is a very clear idea on the ground, which we hear in various forms, according to which “there is not enough room for everyone”, particularly regarding access to property, employment, social assistance… I hear these people tell me that “Jordan and Marine” would be the only ones to understand this conflicting world that they live locally, to be lucid about this competition and this necessity of “us against them”. It is this “Already, we” and “We first” that I evoke in my book as a collective consciousness testifying to the current context, with this feeling of generalized competition which leads to vote for a party which guarantees you that you will not will not be the most targeted by this or that public policy, that there will be categories of population who will come after you.

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The RN relied on this strong electoral force, benefiting from the various economic, political and health crises of recent years. While the integrative collectives have exploded, with more precarious employment conditions, often with staggered hours, with also inflation, the disappearance of bistros which allow you to meet new faces, small businesses, associations, the inhabitants are fall back on smaller groups. There is always the need to belong to a group, to say “we”, especially when we are at the bottom of the social scale, but in a very selective and defensive way. This is also what fuels the political expression of xenophobia: we withdraw towards people with whom we think we have common interests, rejecting not only those considered “superior”, but also those “below” , who want to acquire the same things as us even though “they don’t come from here”.

In such a context, what is the role of social networks and the media coverage of certain news items in this appetite for the RN in rural areas?

What struck the residents was rather the way in which the news items were treated and highlighted than the events themselves. It is a groundswell, rather than particular events, which transformed frustration and anger into the RN vote. Since the advance of the FN in the countryside and the yellow vest movement, the spotlight has been placed on the rural environment, which was never spoken of in these political terms before. News items that could be covered in an innocuous manner in the local newspaper now quickly reach the national level, and the debate is readily racialized. Rural France then becomes, for some, this symbol of “the real France” that must be defended, in opposition to the France of “those who receive social assistance” or “do not come from here”.

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But over time, these omnipresent discourses become performative: this permeates, in discussions, everyday conflicts, and leads to a form of polarization within the territories themselves… Particularly when we are young, when we seek to define ourselves, that we want to “fit into the mold”: when you hear everywhere around you that to be perceived as honorable, you have to vote RN, you do it. A person interviewed in a rural area told me, very often, that “you have to be right-wing” (RN in his opinion) to be “well seen”, not to be described as “on welfare”… He agreed thus to the majority opinion in his entourage by voting RN.