The RN, from roots to establishment: the Languedoc example

For almost 40 years now, the far right has been a fixture on the French political landscape. The Rassemblement National (RN) won a resounding 89 seats in the legislative elections of June 12 and 19, following Marine Le Pen's qualification for the second round of the presidential elections on 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, we feel it is now necessary to speak of"establishment". The difference between the two terms is not simply one of degree, but of nature. While "entrenchment" is a matter of voters, "establishment" is also a matter of elected representatives, apparatchiks and other distributors of instructions.

The difference between the two lies in who expresses the recognition and legitimacy of the vote. In the first case, it's the voter. In the second, it's the political-institutional offer. And that's precisely what we're going to show here, by focusing on the western Mediterranean coast, which gave the RN all the deputies in two départements, Aude and Pyrénées-Orientales. These seven deputies were joined by seven others in the Gard and Hérault, making a total of 14 out of a possible 22. It's no coincidence that these 14 constituencies were won by the RN. In most of them, Marine Le Pen already had a majority in the second round of the presidential election.

What's new is that there was no differential demobilization of the RN electorate between these two elections. Moreover, in six cases, RN candidates surpassed the percentage obtained by the Front candidate on April 24. This increase is due to the extension of the RN's geographical reach from well-known strongholds: the Roussillon plain, the Biterrois region and Petite-Camargue, where the three outgoing deputies were based.

The RN vote has taken root in new, related areas: the Aude valley (Narbonne-Castelnaudary axis) and its foothills (Limoux); the Roussillon hinterland (Cerdagne, Capcir and Vallespir); the Gard Rhodanien and the Nîmes hinterland as far as the foothills of the Cévennes.

Many causes

There are many reasons for the RN vote. We know, for example, that the sociological composition of the RN vote in the South of France favors citizens from the most modest part of the middle class, with low levels of education and many living in suburban housing estates.

It is distinct from the more popular north. So the primary cause of the RN's legislative success is to be found in... the relative silence of the working classes, which deprived the Nupes candidates of the capital they needed to resist it.

For the most part, therefore, the RN vote in the Midi is not that of the people, in the sense of households identified by their objective social suffering. These are the people who massively abstain, particularly in the poor urban districts where the RN scores lowest. This has become more debatable in rural areas (3rd constituency in Aude,5th constituency in Hérault), where an employed and working-class vote seems to be emerging in its favor.

In this election, the second major cause lies in the knock-on effect of the first, and could be described as "ecological" in the sense that the criteria for analysis concern a population rather than individuals.

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

The third explanation is political. 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.

Legitimizing the RN vote

This attitude is reminiscent of the dark days of the Languedoc right-wing, which twice allied itself with the Front National (in 1986 and 1998) to prevent the Socialist Party of a certain Georges Frêche from taking power. The vagueness of the instructions thus led to the legitimization of the RN vote as a vote "like any other", so that we can no longer speak of electoral entrenchment, but of political establishment.

But perhaps the most spectacular aspect of this establishment is that it is not limited to the right and the political center. In a region where dissident left-wing candidates - Carole Delga springs to mind, for example - were numerous in the face of the Nupes, it was possible to assume that the RN would lose ground between the two rounds, wherever left-wing dissidents were eliminated in the first round. However, the results of the legislative elections in Languedoc-Roussillon show that the presence of dissident left-wing candidates tended to work against the Nupes candidates. Should we therefore interpret internal opposition on the left as a further factor in the RN vote's deepening roots and the institutional recognition of its candidates?

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

The various postponements were estimated on the basis of the polling stations in the constituency. The figures we present in the maps and text below correspond to the averages of these values, indicated, for the sake of clarity, on the scale of communes or of the district as a whole.

When a left-wing commune goes over the edge

Our decision to focus on Hérault's fifth constituency is justified by a number of criteria. Historically the most left-wing constituency in the department, it was the seat of the president of the departmental council, Kléber Mesquida, from 2002 to 2017, whose hegemonic position could be threatened by the election of the FI candidate under the Nupes banner, Pierre Polard.

Unsurprisingly, left-wing dissident candidate Aurélien Manenc (RDG) achieved the highest first-round score of any other dissident candidate in the department (15.7%), just behind outgoing deputy Philippe Huppé (17.1%). Pierre Polard reached the second round with 24.3% of the vote, behind RN candidate Stéphanie Galzy (28.1%). In the second round, in the absence of an increase in voter turnout (50.6% in the first round, 50.5% in the second) - an unusual situation for a predominantly rural constituency - the RN candidate won with 54.2% of the vote.

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

Our three maps show the geographical distribution of estimated vote transfers from A. Manenc voters to P. Polard and S. Galzy, and from P. Huppé voters to S. Galzy. Galzy.

Two factors to understand deferrals

The RN candidate's victory is thus the sum of two factors.

Firstly, the imperfect transfer of votes from the dissident candidate to the Nupes representative, estimated on average at 42.5% within the constituency. Secondly, the substantial carry-over of votes from the Renaissance electorate (48.1%), particularly marked on the right in a constituency where the LR candidate obtained only 2.8% of the vote in the first round, and where the Reconquête! candidate did not exceed 5% (4.3%).

But it's also interesting to note that the estimated transfers from the RDG candidate to the RN candidate were not negligible either (20.3% on average). It's 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. Against this backdrop, the candidate and now elected RN candidate benefited from institutional recognition, at the very least by default.

Another result suggested by our model estimates, whose figures we'll just quote here, concerns the differential volatility of the Nupes and RN electorates in this constituency.

While the RN candidate seems to retain an average of almost 80% of her electorate from one round of voting to the next, the Nupes candidate retains only 62.7% of his first-round electorate, with almost a third (27.8%) abstaining from the second round. While this discrepancy is no doubt due to local contextual effects - 75% of Pierre Polard's electorate maintained their vote in the second round in Capestang, the commune of which he is mayor, as well as in the surrounding communes - it can be analyzed as further proof that the RN vote has taken root in the constituency.

While the results presented here must be understood in the light of the socio-political specificities of the former Languedoc-Roussillon region, they are undoubtedly indicative of a broader phenomenon of accelerating legitimization of the RN within the French political landscape, through both the entrenchment of its vote and its de facto recognition as a mainstream offering by 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.