As the French Front National (FN) turned 40 this week, the Extremis Project released a series of mini-essays from academics around the world reflecting on the origins, developments and future prospects of one of Europe’s most prominent populist radical right parties:
Prof. Marcel Lubbers started the series with his presentation on what the available evidence tells us about who and what drives FN support. He examines past and present academic research on the structural characteristics of the FN electorate and emphasises the continuity among the radical right electorate.
Dr. Gilles Ivaldi considers developments in the ideology of the FN and notes how under the new leadership of Marine Le Pen we are seeing both continuity and change in the ideas underpinning the politics of the FN. He argues that whilst Marine Le Pen has sought to present a modern and updated FN through her policy of ‘de-demonization’, what one actually sees is a party that is still broadly committed to familiar policy positions.
Prof. Jocelyn Evans examines the attractiveness of the FN to French voters and asserts why it is doubtful that the party will suffer a decline in support in the near future. As Professor Evans contends: “So, and 40 years on, the party continues to convene those disgruntled with the status quo. Their targets remain similar, their sense of no longer belonging in contemporary France likewise”.
Prof. James Shields analyses Marine Le Pen’s contribution to the electoral fortunes of the FN and warns that despite her failure to qualify for the final head-to-head battle for the French presidency, it would be complacent to label the party irrelevant. “The first is the critical role played by FN voters in determining the outcome of every presidential election in France since 1988″.
Prof. Cas Mudde reflects on the journey and significance of the FN since its founding in 1972 and presents four reasons why -despite making an impressive electoral entrance- Marine Le Pen is unlikely to be able to build on the accomplishments of her father. “First, despite being a new leader, Marine Le Pen is still operating in the post-2002 political reality. This means that the other politicians know that the vast majority of French are anti-FN and that they will mobilize in opposition to a possible FN victory”.
Prof. Nonna Mayer considers ‘the gender gap‘ in electoral support for the FN and offers explanations for it, before contemplating on what is motivating women to vote for the far right. “Based on a survey carried out on the day of the first round of the French presidential election, Marine Le Pen’s voters appear ideologically and socially still very similar to her father’s, but with one exception: the gender gap”.
Prof. Birgitta Orfali closes the series by offering a brief history of the FN and commenting on how the party has constructed its image to become highly visible to voters. “To achieve social and political change, the FN had to become visible, and adopted a peculiar position with regard to its own identity and opposition to other parties. A concerted attempt to increase membership transformed the FN from an active minority, into a social movement”.