The first round of the French presidential elections caused real anxiety: the Far Right, with over 5 million votes (a clear increase compared with the 1995 election), came second, knocking out the Socialist candidate from the second round. How can this result be explained?
Pascal Perrineau starts by recalling that support for the Far Right, in spite of the view of some commentators, has not fallen away in recent years. On the contrary, he stresses that we have seen a considerable increase in abstentions and in votes for both Far Left and Far Right, while the major government coalitions have lost many votes.
For Perrineau, an expert in European extreme Right-wing movements, "the first round of the presidential election was indeed an election composed of 'anti' votes", just as the second round saw a massive rejection of Jean-Marie Le Pen: "the whiff of sulphur that provided his strength in the first (proportional) round, in which all the negative feelings were expressed, became a handicap in the second round".
Pascal Perrineau then analyses the geographical distribution of the support for the Far Right (in eastern and southern France) and the sociological patterns, showing that those who vote for Le Pen are mainly young men with little education, small shopkeepers, unskilled manual workers and the unemployed.
Lastly, Perrineau attempts an investigation of the causes underlying this vote for the Far Right. He notes that, in addition to the specific motives such as the rising levels of petty crime, the return of pessimism about economic and social prospects, and the worries caused by the growth of an "open society", there are also much deeper motives. He argues that a new division is developing in France, beyond the traditional Left-Right split, between people who cling to "closed" attitudes and those whose attitudes are more "open": the former being opposed to, the latter in favour of, European unification, globalisation, the post-industrial society, multiculturalism, etc.
Having thus outlined and explained why the two rounds of this presidential election have been massive rejections, Perrineau stresses that it is urgent "for France to rediscover - beyond these 'negative' political movements that have regularly caused such upheavals for almost ten years now - a kind of political awareness that is more a matter of commitment and reform than a rejection of the status quo".