The RN, from rootedness to establishment: the Languedoc example

For nearly 40 years now, the far right has been a fixture in the French political landscape. The Rassemblement National (RN) won a resounding 89 seats in the legislative elections of June 12 and 19, after Marine Le Pen qualified for the second consecutive time for the second round of the presidential elections of April 10 and 24, 2022.

Emmanuel Négrier, University of Montpellier and Julien Audemard

AdobeStock_347266084 © Weyo -

While we have already documented the progression of the RN's roots in previous elections, it seems necessary to speak of"establishment". The difference between the two terms is not simply one of degree, but of nature. If entrenchment is a matter of voters, establishment is also a matter of elected officials, apparatuses and other distributors of instructions.

The difference between the two lies in who expresses the recognition and consecrates the legitimacy of the vote. In the first case, it is the voter. In the second case, it is the political-institutional offer. And this is precisely what we are going to show here, by focusing on the western Mediterranean coast, which gave the RN all the deputies in two departments, the Aude and the Pyrénées-Orientales. To these seven deputies were added seven others in the Gard and Hérault, that is to say 14 elected out of 22 possible. It is not by chance that these 14 constituencies crown the RN. In most of them, Marine Le Pen already had a majority in the second round of the presidential election.

What is new is that there was no differential demobilization of the RN electorate between these two elections. Moreover, in six cases, RN candidates exceeded the percentage obtained by the frontist candidate on April 24. This progression proceeds by the extension of its geographical task from well-known bastions: the plain of Roussillon, the Biterrois, the Petite-Camargue, where the three outgoing deputies were located.

This rooting of the RN vote has conquered new related territories: the Aude valley (the Narbonne-Castelnaudary axis) and its foothills (Limoux); the Roussillon hinterlands (Cerdagne, Capcir and Vallespir); the Gard Rhodanien and the Nîmes hinterlands up to the foothills of the Cévennes.

A plurality of causes

The explanation of the RN vote has a number of causes. We know, for example, that the sociological composition of the RN vote in the south of France is largely made up of citizens from the most modest part of the middle class, with low levels of education, many of whom live in suburban housing estates.

It is distinct from the more popular north. So that the first cause of the legislative success of the RN is found in... the relative silence of the working classes, which deprived the Nupes candidates of an indispensable capital to resist it.

For the most part, the NR vote is not, therefore, that of the people in the Midi, in the sense of households identified by their objective social suffering. The latter massively abstain, especially in those poor urban areas where the RN scores lowest. This has become more questionable in rural areas (3rd district of the Aude,5th district of the Hérault), where an employee and worker vote seems to emerge in its favor.

In this election, the second major cause is found in the ripple effect of the first, which could be described as "ecological" in the sense that the criteria of analysis concern a population rather than individuals.

Because of the recurrence of this vote at a high level over 35 years, a political culture takes shape, which contributes to constructing votes differently, to conforming to an ambient opinion, to relativizing one's own political and family heritage.

The third explanation is found in the political register. The ambivalence or equivalence between an "extreme left" and an "extreme right", on the part of many eliminated Renaissance candidates, has replaced the idea of a "Republican front" with that of placing the responsibility for one's choices, all equally valid, on the individual.

A legitimization of the RN vote

This attitude is reminiscent of the dark days of the Languedoc right, which twice allied itself with the National Front (in 1986 and 1998), in order not to leave power to the Socialist Party of a certain Georges Frêche. The vagueness of the instructions has thus led to a legitimization of the RN vote as a vote "like any other", in which we can no longer speak of electoral entrenchment, but of political establishment.

But what is perhaps most spectacular about this establishment is that it is not limited to the right and the political center. In a region where dissident candidates from the left - one thinks, for example, of Carole Delga - have been numerous in the face of the Nupes, one could make the assumption of unfavorable carryovers to the RN between the two rounds, wherever the dissidents from the left were eliminated in the first round. However, a reading of the results of these legislative elections in Languedoc-Roussillon shows that the presence of dissident left-wing candidates has rather played against the Nupes candidates in the face of their opponents. Should we therefore interpret the internal opposition to the left as an additional factor in the entrenchment of the RN vote and the institutional recognition of its candidates?

To answer this question, we estimated the vote transfers between the two rounds of the elections in the fifth district of Hérault. This estimation is based on an ecological inference model, which calculates individual statistical relationships from aggregated data.

The various deferrals were estimated at the polling station level in the district. The figures we present in the maps and text below are the averages of these values, shown for clarity at the level of the communes or the district as a whole.

When a left-wing municipality tips over

Our choice to focus on the fifth constituency of the Hérault is justified by several criteria. Historically the most left-wing constituency of the department, it is the one where the president of the departmental council, Kléber Mesquida, was deputy from 2002 to 2017, whose hegemonic position could be threatened by the election of the FI candidate under the Nupes banner, Pierre Polard.

Not surprisingly, the dissident left-wing candidate (RDG), Aurélien Manenc, achieved the highest score among the other dissident candidates in the department in the first round (15.7%), just behind the outgoing deputy from the presidential majority, Philippe Huppé (17.1%). Pierre Polard managed to reach the second round with 24.3% of the vote, behind the RN candidate, Stéphanie Galzy (28.1%). In the second round, in the absence of increased mobilization (50.6% turnout in the first round, 50.5% in the second), a rather unusual situation for a mainly rural constituency, the RN candidate won with 54.2% of the vote.

Map of the geographical distribution of the votes carried over: Manec to Polard
Map of the geographical distribution of the vote transfers: Manenc (dissident of the left) towards Polard (Nupes).
E.Négrier, J.Audemard, Provided by the author
Map of the geographical distribution of vote transfers
Map of the geographical distribution of the vote transfers: Manenc (dissident of the left) to Galzy (RN).
E.Négrier, J.Audemard, Provided by the author
Map of the geographical distribution of vote transfers
Map of the geographical distribution of the vote transfers: P. Huppé (Ensemble) to S. Galzy (RN).
E.Négrier, J.Audemard, Provided by the author

Our three maps show the geographical distribution, at the level of the communes of the district, of the estimated vote transfers of the voters of A. Manenc towards P. Polard and S. Galzy, as well as those of the voters of P. Huppé towards S. Galzy.

Two factors to understand the postponements

The victory of the RN candidate can thus be interpreted as the addition of two factors.

First, the imperfect vote transfer from the dissident candidate to the Nupes representative, estimated on average at 42.5% in the district. Secondly, the important vote transfer from the Renaissance electorate (48.1%), particularly marked on the right in a district where the LR candidate only obtained 2.8% of the vote in the first round, and where the Reconquest! candidate did not exceed 5% (4.3%).

But it is also interesting to note that the estimated transfers from the RDG candidate to the RN candidate are not negligible either (20.3% on average). It is difficult not to analyze these results as the consequence, in addition to the socio-territorial specificities of the constituency, of the hesitations of the president of the departmental council to call for a vote in favor of the Nupes candidate. In this context, the candidate and now elected RN has in fact benefited from institutional recognition, at least by default.

Another result suggested by our model estimates, which we will only cite here, concerns the differential volatility of the Nupes and RN electorates in this constituency.

While the RN candidate seems to retain an average of nearly 80% of her electorate from one round of the elections to the next, the Nupes candidate retains only 62.7% of his electorate from the first round, of which nearly a third (27.8%) abstains in the second. While this difference is undoubtedly due, once again, to the effects of the local context - 75% of Pierre Polard's electorate maintained their vote in the second round in Capestang, the commune of which he is the mayor, as well as in the surrounding communes - it can be analyzed as additional evidence of the entrenchment of the RN vote in the constituency.

While they must be understood in the light of the socio-political specificities of the former Languedoc-Roussillon region, the results presented here are undoubtedly the marker of a broader phenomenon of accelerated legitimization of the RN within the French political landscape, through both the entrenchment of its vote and its de facto recognition as an ordinary offer by the other players in the electoral game.The Conversation

Emmanuel Négrier, CNRS Research Director in Political Science at CEPEL, University of Montpellier, University of Montpellier and Julien Audemard, Associate research scientist

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.