A coalition of French think-tanks and pollsters recently published the eighth edition of the Fractures françaises (“French Fractures”) poll, notably showing the evaporation of the “Macron bump” in favor of globalism and the return of the French to their traditional hostility to immigration and to loss sovereignty to the European Union.
Macron’s election coincided with a sharp increase in the number of French who believed “France is not in decline,” rising from 14% to 31%, a figure which is now subsiding. Today, about four fifths of French believe France is in decline and a quarter believe this is irreversible, the usual figures.
Among party supporters, Macronists are the only one for whom a majority (52%) believe “France is not in decline.” This makes sense as Macron supporters tend to be the highly educated high-earners of the managerial class, people who benefit from the globalization of the French economy and are mobile enough to seize the opportunities offered by multinational corporations.
When asked to name their top 3 issues, the French most cited often crime (46% up from 28% last year), the welfare system’s sustainability (42%), the environment (41%), and purchasing power including salaries and taxes (39%). Noteworthy: conservatives (supporters of the center-right Les Républicains [LR]) are significantly more likely than nationalists (Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement national [RN]) to cite crime as a problem (72% to 58%). Both groups agree immigration is a major problem (58% and 64%, respectively).
Two thirds of French consider that “There are too many foreigners in France,” a very consistent finding since 2013. This sentiment is concentrated among conservatives (84%) and nationalists (95%). This is the defining and unifying issue for the French Right. Similarly, since 2013 over 60% of Frenchmen have consistently said that “Today, we don’t feel at home as we did before.”
While Macron has throughout his presidency consistently supported the creation of a larger EU budget and a strengthening of Brussels’ powers, 65% of Frenchmen believe “We need to strengthen our country’s ability to take decisions even if this would limit the EU’s.”
The Franco-German push to create common EU debt has indeed led to the establishment of a 750-billion-euro EU stimulus fund to restart the economy after the coronavirus recession. The fund will particularly target southern Europe, which has been economically devastated, but will inevitably come with innumerable strings attached: “EU governance” and “peer-pressure” will constrain national policymaking and seek to enmesh national elected politicians in a web of bureaucratic procedures, previous commitments, and transnational committees. These will of course also ensnare France.
Nonetheless, a majority of French think EU membership is a good thing.
While the French are skeptical of globalization, their social values are highly variable, sometimes conservative-authoritarian, sometimes liberal-progressive. Around two thirds of Frenchmen say that “In France, things were better before.” Over 80% of Frenchmen continue to believe that “We need a real leader in France to restore order” and that “Authority is a value which is too often criticized today.” Support for the death penalty is apparently increasing, rising to 55% today.
At the same time, 69% consider French society to be “patriarchal” and the French are more or less evenly divided on whether feminist movements have “gone too far” or not. Some 82% of French consider that “racism” has a significant presence in France, 57% believe it is increasing, and 55% say there is racism in the police.
The most consistent trend is probably the rise and fall of support for globalism that coincided with Macron’s election.
Yellow: “Globalization is a threat to France.” Blue: “Globalization is an opportunity for France.”
The Macronist parenthesis – the promise of a jeune et dynamique president breaking through the old party system – has not lastingly affected French opinion, which is one of basic suspicion towards globalization. Indeed, if anything Macron has presided over an emerging protectionist consensus, with 65% of Frenchmen saying “France must protect herself more from the world of today.” Only 35% say “France should open itself up more to the world of today.”
The party-supporters most in favor of “protection” are the nationalists (87%) followed by the conservatives (77%) and the leftists of La France insoumise (“Unbowed France”) and the French Communist Party (62%).
The polarization by class is consistent: managers are the most globalist (58% see it as an opportunity), while two thirds of employees, blue-collar workers, and retirees consider globalization a threat.
There has been a significant shift in favor of protectionism to promote French companies from 50% in June 2017 to 61% today. Indeed, with coronavirus Macron has openly for relocalizing industry in France and EU policymakers claim to want to restore Europe’s economic “strategic autonomy” relative to the United States of America and China.
However, curiously, conservative supporters are among those most in favor free trade (about half supporting, on a par with Macronists, and sharply differing with nationalists, who are overwhelmingly protectionist).
The French are united in their contempt for the political class. Confidence in political parties hovers around 10%. Some 57% of French said they supported moves towards direct democracy, on the model of a recent “citizen’s convention” of citizens drawn by lot who drafted various environmental proposals (in fact, this convention was presided over and shepherded by apparatchiks close to the Greens and the Socialists). The pollsters decided to illustrate this finding with this pie chart:
This is not unusual, French and EU political and media class loves these kinds of illustrations. In their mind, the majority of the French population is already made up of wholesome people of color. And, our elites subliminally add: it’s already worked out really well so far, so what are you complaining about? (Pay no attention to the concrete blocks we’ve put up around our Christmas markets, the bulletproof glass around our monuments, or the recurring Islamists terrorist attacks and more humdrum day-to-day violence and homicide, discussing which all merely play the cynical game of the Far-Right.) We cannot overestimate how untethered our “elites” have become from reality.
Can a force arise to oppose globalism in France? Probably not in the immediate. Despite Marine Le Pen’s years-long efforts at rebranding to be as innocuous as possible, around 55-60% of French consistently consider her party to be “dangerous for democracy” and “xenophobic.” This figure also applies conservatives by the way, who should normally consider nationalists their natural allies.
Le Monde, which co-commissioned the poll, tried to spin it as conservatives falling for “its most reactionary fringe socially and societally and ultraliberal on economic and environmental questions.” I again invite you to imagine the office-dwelling humanoid that produces such clickbait. In fact, there is nothing new about French conservatives being sensitive to themes the mainstream media considers “far-right” and center-right politicians, whether Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, or even Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, have often played to these themes during their careers, though only rarely acting upon them when in power.
As is tradition for French presidents, support for Macron collapsed shortly upon taking office, now having an approval rating hovering around 33%. In my estimation, he still has time to recover before the 2022 presidential elections. Still, the way things are going, we may see the French politico-media System jettison him in favor of a new marketing exercise: he will fall to a Green candidate leading a reconfigured left-wing/centrist coalition. The Green campaign will be inspiring, it will involve idealistic youth, and will grow organically with the support of the para-governmental NGO class and various center-left party hangs. The script practically writes itself