Correlations do not necessarily imply causation, as we know, but we can indeed see a strong correlation between areas that voted for Marine le Pen’s Front National in the recent European Parliament elections, and areas of high unemployment in France. This in itself is no surprise, but the geographical correlation – though not perfect – is striking. and it is hard not to conclude (as I do!) that the combination of Eurozone and French economic policies over recent years that have allowed GDP to stagnate high and persistent unemployment to perdure – for too long in too many regions – is a major factor in the growth of electoral support for the Front National.
In the 1999 European Parliament elections, the FN gained 5.7% of the vote, then 9.8% in 2004. In 2009, it fell back to 6.4%. In 2014, it leapt ahead to top the poll at 24.6%.
In this post, we look at a series of maps of unemployment, GDP and voting for the Front National, by geographical region or area.
Here is a map showing the voting percentage by département for the FN – the darker the shade, the higher the vote:
And now, a map showing unemployment (chômage) by département, this time for Q4 2013. This shows clearly the correlation with the FN vote, except perhaps in the eastern départements adjoining Switzerland where unemployment is (in French terms) relatively low:
And here is a map from INSEE showing unemployment in more detail by employment district in the 2nd Quarter of 2013:
INSEE have recently published a report on regional GDP disparities, which includes two interesting maps. The first shows the increase in GDP (PIB in French) by region for the period 1993-2007, and the second for 2008-2011. The report points out that regional disparities have increased since the crisis began.
These GDP maps still show some correlation with the map of electoral support for the FN, but not as strong as for unemployment (which is more geographically disaggregated).
Note that over this period, all regions saw average percentage rises in GDP of at least 1.3%. In the later (financial crisis) period, many regions have seen annual % falls in GDP, shown in the next map in green
These maps show that – over a sustained period – regional GDP has increased much faster in most of the west of the country, and in the greater Paris (Ile-de-France) region, than in the east. But since 2009, the whole of the east and centre of the country have seen GDP either fall or increase by less than 0.5% per year on average.
However, the south-east (Provence Cote d’Azur) area had also seen reasonable GDP increases (more recently very modest) but nonetheless the area is one of the FN’s strongest electoral areas. Part of the reason is no doubt connected to the end of the Algerian civil war, with the inflow of ‘pieds noirs’, and later on the trans-Med migratory flow into the area. Also notable is the change in fortune of Languedoc Roussillon, which follows the Mediterranean down to the Spanish border.
Next, here is a chart (source: INSEE) showing the aggregate unemployment rate for France over the last 40 years – it was under 3% in 1975, but nationally, has only rarely slipped below 8% since 1985. One of these periods (it fell to 7.5%) in fact coincided with the 2002 Presidential election, so one cannot be over-deterministic in linking voting FN to unemployment – there are of course other factors.
By region, here is a chart (source: Eurostat) showing the percentage unemployment from 2002 to 2013 (apologies for small print, you can look it up on Eurostat!):
And for those of us (me too!) who need reminding of the detail, here is the map of France by named region:
The lesson I take from all this is not that a big reduction in unemployment would automatically wipe out the social and electoral base for the Front National – there are indeed deeper reasons why a quasi-fascist party might win a degree of electoral support, as support for Le Pen senior in 2002 Presidential election amply showed, at a time when unemployment had actually fallen back somewhat to just under 8%. But the persistence of such high levels of unemployment is a great feeding ground for Mme Le Pen’s brew of racism, anti-Europeanism and opposition to austerity which enables it to tap into wider, and justified, dissatisfaction with the economic performance of government at national and European levels.
The Eurozone, acting on the monetarist and Hayekian philosophy on which it is legally but foolishly founded, has ignored unemployment for far too long, as if high unemployment were a minor matter compared to preventing even modest inflation.
By their relentless focus on austerity, rather than creating economic activity and tackling unemployment, the European Commission’s economic Directorate General and the European Central Bank have helped to nurture the growth of the Front National. And by their failure to articulate an alternative to the prevailing economic ideology or to create a counter-force to the serried ranks of ordoliberalism, successive French governments have allowed damaging European economic policies to prevail, leading to dangerous political consequences.
The following map shows the vote for Le Pen senior in voting in the first round of the 2002 Presidential elections, which led to the humiliation of the socialist Lionel Jospin, and a run-off between Jacques Chirac and Le Pen. In both rounds, Le Pen senior got around 17-18% of the national vote. Note that the FN had its main support then too in the east of the country. Since unemployment was lower than than now, though still almost 8%, it shows that there are longer-term social and demographic roots to support for the FN. But high structural unemployment, averaging over 8% for 30 years, is undoubtedly a powerful factor in this year’s leap in the FN vote.
It is also of interest to note that there is a partial but only partial overlap between the areas that vote FN, and those that have voted “non” in two European referenda. In the extremely tight vote on the Maastricht Treaty (51-49% in favour), the “no” voting areas did not include many parts of eastern France that have now seen strong pro-FN votes:
In the 2005 referendum on the proposed European Constitution, 55% voted “no”. The next map shows the levels of vote:
Thee is again some overlap between the higher no-voting areas, and the 2014 vote for the FN, but it is far from perfect, and Alsace, for example, voted yes in 2005 while showing string FN support in 2014. So the linkage over time between voting FN and voting no in French European referenda appears weaker than the recent correlation between voting FN and unemployment plus stagnant GDP.