the mistrust of the population catalyzes a voice of secession

The results of the first round of the presidential elections can be read in two ways. Following a political reading grid, we can count three ideologically coherent blocks of comparable strength. The neoliberal right gets 32.63% of the vote for the candidatures of Emmanuel Macron and Valérie Pécresse; the identity of the extreme right (Le Pen, Zemmour and Dupont-Aignan) forms a second bloc, weighing 32.28% of the vote; finally, the aggregate of the votes for the left and the far left represents an end bloc that unites 31.94% of the electorate. The 3.13% of Jean Lassalle’s voters remain politically unclassifiable.

Such an analysis of the vote leads to minimizing the risks of Marine Le Pen becoming president. Not only would Emmanuel Macron easily bring his bloc together (slightly larger numerically than that of the far right), but he would also benefit from the support of much of the left, whose leaders are unanimous in their calls for “dam” on the far right. So, without taking too many risks, we could predict an easy re-election of the president.

But if this is how the mood is to be interpreted, why do we feel such excitement in the Macronist camp? Why are the polls revealing a tight score between the two finalists? There is another way to interpret Sunday’s mood.

Another reading schedule

If we use a sociological reading schedule, there are not three blocks but two camps. The first, the conservative camp, represents the winners of globalization. It unites those who more or less defend the establishment and who accommodate current policies, without always endorsing them. The voters are older people who have not experienced job insecurity. They have confidence in the institutions, in the press and are well integrated in society. They are from right and left, of a high socio-educational level and live mainly in the prosperous suburbs, in the city center and in the metropolises.

This camp brings together the neoliberals with the pro-European left-wing parties (Hidalgo and Jadot), as well as a good half of the electorate of Éric Zemmour and part of the electorate of Mélenchon or Fabien Roussel.

Opposite this camp is the France of the roundabouts, the “yellow vests”, the one who demonstrated against the health pass and vaccination. This France, impervious to institutional politics, brings together the precarious and the working class. Politically, it is usually an abstainer, even if it speaks out more in the wake of the presidential election.

Marine Le Pen owes practically all her votes to this France, but this electorate also voted for Mélenchon, especially in the suburbs and in the West Indies, and for Dupont-Aignan, Lassalle and Zemmour. This relegated France holds the keys to the second round. Depending on the dynamics of the campaign, she could either return to her usual abstinence or vote for Marine Le Pen. What is certain is that the potential is in the majority.

The Power of Anti-System Movements

In a more trivial way, what stands out in this election is the strength of the anti-system parties. For the first time since the beginning of the Fifth Republic, voters voted by a very large majority for candidates who carried a discourse of rift.

In a 2019 book, researchers Yann Algan, Elizabeth Beasley, Daniel Cohen and Martial Foucault provide an explanation for the genesis of anti-system movements. According to them, populism arises when mistrust in society grows.

They distinguish two types of resistance and thus two types of populism: firstly, a purely institutional resistance that paves the way for a left-wing populism, embodied, for example, by Jean-Luc Mélenchon or the ‘yellow vest’ movement. This populism believes in collective action but no longer believes in the current institutions it seeks to profoundly transform.

Conversely, for the authors, right-wing populists are the product of a general mistrust that is directed as much towards individuals as towards social institutions. We find this form of populism in the Marine Le Pen electorate, in the abstentions and in the ‘antivax’ movements.

It is the result of a society characterized by individualism and a form of anomie. It sometimes feeds on a paranoia that makes those involved sensitive to the positions of the great substitute and to conspiracy. It is a population that tends to withdraw into private or family life.

The works of American journalist Thomas Frank quite aptly describe the ‘anomic’ (‘lawless’) societies in which right-wing populism thrives. In these American neighborhoods, often marked by deindustrialization and the deterioration of public services, hatred of “progressivism” serves as a social cement.

While the causes of populism are quite obvious, the reasons why mistrust grows within a society are less so. In Populism and neoliberalismI offered an explanation.

People lose faith in their institutions when they no longer play their part in building relationships and building social lives. So the first of the institutions is the state, and the first role of the state is to protect its own citizens. But by choosing to involve France in globalization, governments have for forty years reduced the field of political action to a logic of attractiveness and competitiveness.

The rule of “good management” has become to mediate systematically in favor of capital and the upper classes, who are mobile and settle where the tax is softest, against work and against the working and middle classes who are immobile and have to bear most of the money. Tax expense.

A neoliberal clarification

Seen from this angle, the quinquennium that is coming to an end was that of a neoliberal clarification, that is, it took a clear position: that of putting the state at the service of an adaptation of the market society.

This bias is reflected in fiscal policy: abolition of wealth tax, reduction of wealth and corporation tax, increase of consumption taxes. It is also reflected in a public service concept characterized by the reduction of costs (closure of hospital beds, freeze of government salaries, reduction of subsidies to local authorities).

Tax burden on households and businesses 1980-2019.

Finally, the management of the Covid created the impression that the “magic money” that did not exist to meet the needs of care providers at the hospital in Rouen could suddenly pour in to offset the losses of companies linked to the health crisis. .

This public policy of providing priority support to the private sector at the expense of social needs has fueled and perpetuated voter mistrust. Does government policy serve the public interest and the greatest number, or does it respond to pressure from lobbies and big business? This mistrust revealed during the “yellow vest” movement then crystallized during the health crisis in which the craziest theories circulated about vaccine safety or the relevance of incarceration.

More generally, in the eyes of some of the public, it appeared that the state was not there to protect the population, but to punish or manipulate it. It is this paranoia-tinged proposition that the philosopher Barbara Stiegler defends. The consequences of this distrust have been measured by vaccination rates, which are much lower in working-class areas and overseas departments than in privileged neighbourhoods.

The April 10 result seems to express the same rebelliousness. If the institutions are not turned upside down, if the policies pursued continue to give the impression of serving interests that are not those of the majority, it is clear that a growing segment of the population will be seduced by the secessionist vote.

Through David CaylaLecturer-researcher economics, University of Angers.

The original version of this article was published on The Conversation.