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How Globalization Pushed Working-Class Voters Towards Far-Right Parties

The leader of the French National Rally Marine Le Pen in 2012 with workers of PSA, a car manufacturer. Credits: Simon Daval – Maxppp

The rise of far-right parties increasingly came to the forefront in recent years due to the good electoral results of these parties in Europe. Lega Nord in Italy, the National Rally in France, or the Alternative for Germany on the other side of the Rhine are not merely anti-establishment and rebellious parties anymore but seek to exercise increasingly prominent political responsibilities.

Thus, understanding and analysing this phenomenon, without settling for hasty moral judgments, appeared to me to be the appropriate intellectual response. I therefore decided, a few weeks ago, to research the impact of globalization on the rise of far-right parties in Western Europe, but most particularly on the over-representation of working-class voters among the far-right electorate. This blog post will thus include the main findings of my recent literature review.

Globalization: a dual phenomenon

First and foremost, to fully grasp what globalization is about, it is fundamental to see globalization as a dual phenomenon revolving around two main components: economic and cultural globalization. Whereas the former refers to economic modernization, the passage from an industrial society to a post-industrial society, the latter refers to extra-European immigration and the growing perceived presence of immigrants and descendants of immigrants in Western Europe.

The Thursday market in the Belgian town of Molenbeek. A growing number of people feel that their identity is threatened by outside forces, such as Islam. Credits: Belga.

Having in mind these two facets is fundamental since the literature is rather unanimous on the fact that it is the interaction between economic modernization and uncontrolled extra-European immigration that electorally benefitted far-right parties. In 2014, in an acclaimed book, the French geographer Christophe Guilluy demonstrated that working classes (i.e. low- and unskilled workers) were particularly affected by that dual phenomenon. On the one hand, due to high rents, blue-collar workers increasingly live far away from urban areas where 21st-century wealth is created and supplied. And on the other hand, they also feel insecure about their identity, which they consider to be threatened by outside forces, most notably Islam.

The far-right electoral opportunism

Most academics and political commentators consider that the recent rise of far-right parties is in great part due to global modifications and disruptions that occurred in Western Europe in recent years. The two most challenging events being the 2008 financial crisis and the 2015 migrant crisis.

However, more surprisingly, other scholars argue that the rise of far-right parties is the consequence of the relative economic prosperity enjoyed by Europeans since social-cultural issues took precedence over socio-economic issues. Indeed, in modern liberal democracies, the socio-economic cleavage that fuelled much of the political debate in the past decade, opposing advocates of small government and advocates of state intervention in the economy, increasingly lost ground in favour of a new cleavage. This cleavage pits conservatives against liberals, or in other words, proponents of globalization against adversaries of globalization. For instance, in the interview below, Marine Le Pen clearly states that her duel with President Macron is not a duel between the left and the right, but between globalists and patriots.

Far-right parties thus very intelligently took advantage of this major change by addressing many grievances of the ‘losers of globalization’ (i.e. low-skilled workers unable to enjoy the benefits of globalization). For instance, in recent years, the French National Rally significantly modified its economic stances to make its program appealing to working classes. From pro-market and business-friendly viewpoints until the late 2000s, it now defends a lower retirement age and the preservation of the generous French welfare state.

The divorce between the left and working classes

At the same time, left-leaning parties who traditionally took strong stances to defend working classes against economic and cultural disruptions seemed to progressively divert from them, to defend new sociological categories. In France, this electoral revolution was remarkably acted in 2011 when the leading left-leaning think tank Terra Nova published a paper arguing that left-wing political parties should take their distance with working classes since their demographic weight was progressively fading due to deindustrialisation, and that blue-collar workers were increasingly defending cultural values remote from those defended by modern left-leaning parties, for instance on homosexuality, immigration or Islam.

Terra Nova, the French left-leaning think tank that theorized the divorce between the left and working classes. Credits: tnova.fr

The paper thus encouraged left-wing parties to abandon low-skilled workers, since most of them had now joined far-right populist and xenophobic parties, and to form a completely new sociological coalition around ethnic and sexual minorities, young voters holding university degrees and women.

However, this remarkable movement of working classes fleeing the left for the far-right due to globalization and strategic electoral changes should be nuanced. For instance, the German far-right party AfD has encountered a certain success in recent years, especially in regions of former Eastern Germany particularly affected by globalization. However, research has shown that AfD voters do not sociologically differ from other voters. Therefore, far-right voters are not automatically ‘losers of globalization’, instead, they often wish to express anti-establishment attitudes and concerns about their country’s handling of immigration.

Avenues of solution

Based on the analysis I made in this blog post, to prevent far-right parties from continuing their ascension, traditional political parties and especially left-wing parties must very seriously tackle globalization’s side effects. Defending the destitute workers against deindustrialization and accompanying them through economic modernization is fundamental. Also, policies designed to control the migratory flow and to accompany immigrants in their integration process are crucial if we want to prevent inter-community violence, xenophobia and distrust.

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Julien Collin

24 thoughts on “How Globalization Pushed Working-Class Voters Towards Far-Right Parties

  1. Amazing work! We really enjoyed reading this article and it is really visually convincing. The only suggestion that we have is to position yourself in the debate more clearly. It would also be very interesting if you could add another hyperlink in the last section since we would like to read further about it!

    1. Hi! Thank you so much for your comment! I am really happy you enjoyed my work. However, I thought that I somewhat positioned myself in the last paragraph of my post, but I will see what I can do more.
      You are right. A hyperlink in the last paragraph on further readings and research on the topic would definitely be appropriate.

      Julien

      1. Thank you for your reply! Indeed we found that you did position yourself, we just pointed out that it could be clearer but we believe you can easily fix it through rephrasing. We can’t wait to see the final version of this blog post!

        1. Thank you for clarifying your initial comment, it is much appreciated! I will somewhat rephrase my final paragraph in order to make my positioning clearer. When I will have rewritten it, feel free to comment if you consider it to be better/worse.

          Julien

          1. We’re now checking the final version of your blog post and we find it very good! We’re glad that our advices were helpful 🙂

          2. Thanks again for your precious help. Your advices were indeed very helpful and relevant. Good luck with the finalization of your blog!

            Julien

  2. This is a well-written work that leads the reader through the flow of argumentation. We find the topic really interesting. The engagement of the writer is clearly visible. A few things we would suggest are: maybe include a picture also in the final part, as at first sight, it seems very dense. Second, you make many claims and include a huge amount of information, therefore it would be nice to see a few more hyperlinks: even if you already exceeded the minimum, the more the better. But overall, very nice work!

    1. Hi! Thanks a lot for your good advice. Good to hear you enjoyed the topic, and that you noticed that I engaged with the latter. By the way, just to be sure, by engagement, do you mean that I effectively positioned myself? Adding an image in the final part is definitely something I will do. I thought I already had enough hyperlinks, but if you consider it is appropriate to add some more, I’ll do it where necessary.

      Julien

      1. Thank you for the quick response! By engagement, I was referring to the fact that the writer shows a great amount of knowledge in the topic, and indeed, also a fair position in the field. I am looking forward to reading your final post!

        Márton

        1. Ok, I understand better what you meant. My final post will be finalized in a few days, I hope you will enjoy it!

          Julien

          1. Thank you for letting us know! We will definitely read it again and give it some more thought.

          2. Hey, I am coming back to you since my post is in its final stages. Thus feel free to make any suggestions or recommendations you deem appropriate before I send my work. Again, thank you for your help!

            Julien

  3. Hi, I must say what you have written so far is very intriguing, you have done an amazing job of articulating yourself and this is clear through the flow of argumentation. You provide plenty of hyperlinks which is also appreciated. Well done so far, keep it up.

    1. Thank you so much for your positive comment, it is much appreciated! I indeed tried to integrate as many hyperlinks as I could to redirect readers towards sources I consider worth reading. Hopefully, you also learnt valuable information on my topic of interest, thanks to those sources. Also, did you find my selection of images appropriate? Should I add more of them? Moreover, would you say that I positioned myself effectively within the field? Thanks in advance for your answers.

      Julien

      1. Hi, I think you do a good job with the selection of sources as you have journal articles whilst also having websites too. I also think the images you reflect the text quite positively. However, yes it might be a good ideas to add another image in ‘the divorce between the left and the working class’ section. What do you think?. And, yes I do think you position yourself well in the field, i think the last section reflects this.

        Cian

        1. Thank you so much for your recommendations Cian! I am glad you consider that I integrated enough hyperlinks and that I clearly positioned myself within the field of research. Indeed, in my last paragraph, I not only positioned myself on my topic of research, but I also attempted to formulate some solutions that, in my opinion, should be followed if traditional political parties want to end the rise of far-right parties. As you noticed, those solutions are directly linked to the two facets of globalization discussed at the beginning of my post. Furthermore, under your advice, I added an image in the penultimate section. I chose the logo of the think tank ‘Terra Nova’ since it is the latter that first theorized in 2011 the divorce between left-wing parties and working classes.

          A warm thank you for your help during this writing process, I really appreciate it.

          Julien

  4. Hello there, your blog entry looks very professional and we overall really enjoyed reading it. You provide the reader with plenty of information and it is really well written. The argumentation is also clear and easy to follow. Good job 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot for your positive feedback! I am glad you took pleasure reading my blog post since I also really enjoyed writing it! I was about to ask you if my writing style was not too academic, but since you found that my post was easy to follow, I assume that you consider that I managed to balance academic and informal writing styles. Feel free to comment when my post will be finalized.

      Julien

  5. I want to start by saying that you picked a great title. Readers know exactly what to expect from your post, which is really nice and helpful. Your writing is clear and structured and your argumentation is easy to follow. Nice job.

    1. Thank you for your positive feedback! I am glad you found my title relevant and appropriate. I also think it is both catchy and self-explanatory. It is also great that you consider the structure logical and the flow of argumentation easy to follow, thus making my arguments accessible to a wide audience. Do not hesitate to have another look at my blog post when it will be finalized!

      Julien

      1. Hi Julien,

        As I am taking another look at your blog, I want to compliment you on it.
        To my original comment I would like to add that your blog is not only clear, informative and well-written, but the placement of your pictures and the pictures you chose itself really add to the aesthetic of your blog. The hyperlinks you used were placed very well.

        1. Thank you so much for your positive comment! I am so glad to hear that you liked both the substance and the form of my post! I worked quite hard to make my blog entry enjoyable and insightful for the reader, I am thus pleased to see that my efforts have borne fruit. Good luck with your final group tasks.

          Julien

  6. Dear Julien,

    We read your blog again, it is indeed in a perfect stage. Once again, I want to express how glad I am that you choose this topic since it is something that is of interest to me too. I think it is a great contribution to the web of scholarly works. For me, the part “The divorce between the left and working classes” is the most interesting and in a way surprising. Excellent job!

    1. Dear Márton, I would like to address you my gratitude for your help and for your positive appreciation! I am very glad to see that you found my contribution valuable and relevant. The positioning of left-wing parties on globalization is undoubtedly of significant importance to understand the current political developments and the predominance of working-class voters within the far-right electorate. The Terra Nova paper is well-known in France, but not that much on the international scene. It would no doubt deserve to be better known since the thesis it developed has now infused in all of the major European (and even Western) left-leaning parties. Good luck with the finalization of your blog!

      Julien

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