French Presidential Election: Clear Urban-Rural Divide in Support for Marine Le Pen

I’m not French myself, but I have been living and working in France for just over a decade now and am an avid observer of the country’s political scene. Upon seeing the results of the first round of the presidential election a few days ago, it hit me that the National Front has emerged victorious in every rural area in different regions of the country I’ve worked in over the years, while they have basically crashed and burned in the urban centres I’ve lived in or near to.

The first round of the presidential election in France was held this past Sunday. 9 of the 11 candidates in the running fell by the wayside, leaving only first placed centrist Emmanuel Macron and close second far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen to face each other in a runoff on Sunday 7th May. Though she came in second, Marine Le Pen led the party that was her father’s brainchild to its highest ever vote tally, garnering just under 10 million of the almost 46 million votes cast, thereby utterly shattering the party’s previous record of 6.8 million votes set in the December 2015 regional election.

The final results of the first round are as follows:

The general geographic distribution of the votes can be seen below, with Macron more dominant up and down the west coast and in the greater Paris region, while Le Pen had the north, north-east and extreme south-east on lockdown. Le Pen’s dominance in the France’s version of the rust belt, in the economically depressed industrial north, appears to confirm the findings of a survey run the day after the first round by French pollster Elab showing that 45% of working class voters said they had voted for the National Front leader.

zRESULTS MAP
Source: BFMTV

The image above shows how the candidates feared in each of continental France’s 95 departments, and made it possible for me to describe where the two frontrunners performed well in different regions of the country as a whole.

A closer look at how the candidates fared on a smaller town by town scale reveals an interesting, albeit expected, contrast: Le Pen tended to do well in rural or semi-rural towns, with Macron or other candidates beating her handily in large urban centres.

During the campaign, it was little known and much derided outsider Jean Lassalle who did the most to bring the issue of “la ruralité” to the forefront of the debate, declaring that were he to be elected president, rurality (alongside agriculture) would be declared a “great national cause” and, as such, would have €3 billion of the budget of the world’s 5th largest economy earmarked towards improving farmers’ earnings, developing high speed internet in remote areas and reopening police stations closed under previous governments (particularly the 2007-12 Sarkozy administration) as part of spending cuts across the public sector.

Other than the self-appointed “rurality candidate”, ultra-conservative Les Républicains candidate François Fillon also chimed in during the campaign and made coming to the aid of a neglected rural France a focal point.

Tweet translation: “Sovereign France is born out of this rural France that must not be abandoned”.

Among his core supporters, at least, his message was heard loud and clear, as he performed particularly well among rural Les Républicains sympathisers en route to thrashing moderate rival Alain Juppé in the party’s primary late last year, and snuffing out any last ember of respectability the party may still have had with the wider electorate.

These 2 candidates respective prioritizing of rural France notwithstanding, Marine Le Pen and the National Front romped to victory in many rural areas.

Consider these results in rural / semi-rural towns in both the south and north of France that will remain unnamed (after all this isn’t a naming and shaming exercise):

Compare them to the scores observed in urban centres, again both in the north and south, namely the northern Parisian suburb of Saint Denis and Bordeaux in the south-west:

Of course, these aren’t ideal types or irrefutable examples and there are sure to be rural areas where the National Front didn’t place first in round one – including Fillon’s rural Sarthe stronghold – but it’s remarkable that I always seem to be where the far-right political momentum is.

In a week and a half I – and the 45 million Frenchmen and women who actually have a say in this whole thing – will know whether the National Front succeeds in creating a watershed moment in French political history by pulling off the never before seen feat of spreading its appeal to enough voters to actually take the Elysée Palace.

Influential political figures as disparate as the right-wing Les Républicains identity hawk Christian Estrosi, the outmatched candidate of the beleaguered Socialist Party Benoit Hamon and the Sarkozy-esque former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls calling on people to vote for Macron to block Le Pen from ascending to the heights of French, European and indeed world political power.

Even not so influential ones, like New Anti-Capitalist Party candidate Phillippe Poutou highlighting the need to fight the National Front, even while refusing to publicly support Macron, and Nathalie Arthaud of the Workers’ Struggle party saying that Le Pen and Macron are equally bad for the small man in society and that people should submit blank / protest votes, indirectly add to the chorus of opposition that could put paid to Le Pen’s quest to enact her protectionist, Eurosceptic – or “patriotic” of you prefer her term – vision of French society.

A recent survey put Emmanuel Macron’s support among farmers heading into the runoff at comfortably over 50%, which could be telling.

Conclusion: like so many inopportune bits of toilet paper stuck under some unfortunate person’s shoe after they leave the bathroom, wherever I go in France xenophobia is trailing right behind.

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