Right-Wing Extremism in France-Departmental Differences in the Vote for the National Front

Article excerpt

Abstract: Although many studies have addressed the electoral success of right-wing parties and, in particular, the French National Front, no analysis has so far explored departmental differences in the share of votes. This analysis fills this gap by evaluating socio-structural factors and intervening institutional and political variables that have influenced the electoral success of the radical right in the 96 departments of metropolitan France. In this respect, the unemployment rate, crime rate, the degree of urbanization, the electoral system type, the turnout rate as well as the vote share for the moderate right are regressed against the vote share of the National Front. This pooled time series analysis reveals that the degree of urbanization and the turnout rate are the two significant variables accounting for department specific differences in the vote share of the FN.

Keywords: right wing parties, National Front, France, departments, extremism

Introduction

Electoral support for right-wing extremist parties (1) increased in many European countries from the 1980s to the early 2000s allowing these parties to become a significant political force in Western European democracies (Betz 2001: 401). The 2002 contests in France and the Netherlands marked the high point for right-wing extremist support. In the 2002 presidential election in France, electoral support for the National Front candidate, Jean Marie Le Pen contributed to the defeat of Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin. In the Netherlands, following the 2002 parliamentary elections, the anti-immigrant list Pym Fortuyn became the second largest party in the Dutch Parliament and helped form the governing coalition. Similarly, extreme right-wing parties acquired seats in the Austrian, Belgian, Danish, Italian, Norwegian, and Swiss parliaments.

Although there has been no spectacular victory of any extremist party or candidate following Le Pen's coup in 2002, it is still too early to conclude that extremist right wing parties are on their way out. Recently, support for the radical right has dropped in some countries but not in others. In the Netherlands, following the 2006 national election the list Pym Fortuyn is no longer represented in parliament, and in France, the vote share of the FN has considerably declined in the 2006 presidential (from 16,9% in 2002 to 10,75% in 2007) and parliamentary elections (from 11.3% in 2002 to less than 5% in 2007). Yet, in countries such as Austria, the Freedom Party could consolidate its position. Currently, it occupies 11 percent of the seats in the National Assembly of Austria.

The mixed tendencies in radical right wing support reveals that these extremist parties continue to be a thread to democracy. Extremist parties, such as the French National Front, reject universal and egalitarian values and the principles of representative democracy (Mudde 2000: 12). They believe in a natural, harmonious, organic order (e. g., the nation and the family) that is ethically good. Everything (e. g., globalization and ethnic diversity) that breaks this organic order is seen as ethically reprehensible (Rydgren 2004: 10). This political monism, combined with radical, ethnic nationalism, threatens core democratic values of a pluralistic society. The extremist right, embracing elements of populism or, as some scholars claim, neo-fascism (1), also aims at the repression of differences and dissent and the closing down of the market of ideas (Lipset and Raab 1970: 6). Moreover, populist rhetoric incites ethnic violence, and some of the extremist parties engage, at least partly, in historical revisionism. (2) In view of their platforms (3), the far right could also have serious effects on basic human rights and freedoms. (4)

Academics have extensively analyzed the electoral breakthrough and parliamentary progress of the extreme right through case studies (Mayer and Perrineau 1992, Simmons 1996, Holsteyn, 2003, Rydgren 2004) as well as comparative analyses (Beyme 1988, Betz 1994, Carter 2005, Norris 2005). …