Favorable times for Rassemblement National
In a recent conversation with a French childhood friend, she confessed me that in the next 2022 election she was going to vote for the leader of Rassemblement National (RN), Marine Le Pen. I was shocked. It was one of the first times that somebody so close to me decided to vote for a far-right political party. Moreover, I could not understand how a woman could vote for such traditionalistic policies. When I got home, I could not stop thinking about what she told me, and I asked myself the reasons that led her to vote for that party. Stop for a minute to think about it. I am sure that, like me that night, several reasons come to your mind to explain the spectacular success of the RN. Those factors have managed to capture the attention of those French “forgotten by the system” and that have seen in RN the change that France needed. But what are those main factors and how have they led French voters to vote for RN?
Factors that have contributed to the success of RN
In one way or another, we have all been affected by the 2008 crisis. The endless lines of people without resources who needed to go to food banks to eat something and the historically high unemployment rates are still present in people’s minds. During this hard period, French citizens felt that their government was incapable of taking decisive and effective measures to improve their situation. Therefore, they saw that RN had that authoritarian point that was needed to lead a country. Furthermore, during the 2008 crisis, its left-wing economic policies were very attractive for most vulnerable social classes, namely the French middle class, constituting constituted a large part of their electorate.
Moreover, the 2008 financial crisis happened in parallel to the migration crisis. France has been one of the European countries that hosted a larger number of immigrants, and this created a feeling of hate towards those people. Many French voters perceived this massive arrival of “foreigners” as a threat to their jobs and did not understand why the money paid with their taxes should be spent on them. These French citizens are the losers from globalization who perceive everything foreign as bad. For this reason, the harsh anti-migratory policies of RN have been the best solution for many French citizens. The hate towards immigration was also fueled by the terrorist attacks of 2015 that led many French citizens to desire the abolishment of Islam and its culture from France.
Furthermore, the role of the mainstream political parties in the success of RN should not be underestimated. They have greatly helped to normalize the ideas of far-right parties that in the past seemed too extremist, especially in matters related to immigration, authoritarianism, and nationalism. The aim of French mainstream political parties leaders was to recover those voters that decided to go towards the extreme. This was perceived when Sarkozy adopted a more authoritarian and nationalistic direction, especially on matters such as Islam, and the law and order. Even though he had great success in the 2007 elections, in 2012 this technique no longer enabled him to win the elections, and in the 2017 elections, his party did not even reach the second presidential round.
Mainstreaming as the main cause
We can see how various factors have contributed to the success of RN in recent years. Focusing only on one reason to explain this phenomenon would be ridiculous. It has been the mix of the economic consequences of the financial crisis, the massive arrival of immigrants, and the normalization of their ideas that have led the French population to vote for this party. Therefore, all these reasons must be analyzed as a whole to explain why the last few years have been favorable times for this far-right boom. However, there is a factor that, in my opinion, has been decisive to make people to take the initiative to vote for this party.
The leaders of mainstream political have trivialized the extremist ideas of those kind of political parties and their response towards their rise has not been adequate. When RN was born, initially called Front National, mainstream political parties had the future of this party in their hands and they lost the opportunity to nip that phenomenon. There is no evidence that a strong “cordon sanitaire” was made to isolate this party. They prioritized the electoral support and the short-term responses. In fact, the adoption of extremist ideas such as the hate of Islam and the recovery of the French essence by mainstream political parties has made that in the short term, this technique helped politicians to have electoral success. Nonetheless, the long-term consequences have caused that far-right parties have gained an incredible support, not only in France, but all-around Europe because their ideas no more seem too radical. The believe that these simplistic ideas can be the best solution for complex problems is becoming more and more prevalent in society. I firmly belive that the rise of RN could have been avoided, or at least softened, if French politicians would have been able to carry out a strong defense against this phenomenon. However, political parties decided to downplay the threat them.