Paris, the city that refuses to vote for Le Pen

The economic dynamism and the population of the capital, which is home to liberal professionals, young people and immigrants, are some of the reasons why the National Rally was unable to make ground at last Sunday’s election

Paris, France
A man walks past election posters of the leaders of the National Rally, Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, and the ultra Éric Zemmour, in Paris, on June 27.Pierre Crom (Getty Images)
Carla Mascia, special correspondent

Navy blue dominates the map of France after Marine Le Pen’s National Rally’s (RN) triumphant victory in the first round of the legislative elections last Sunday. But when you bring the magnifying glass closer, you see that a small portion of France, concentrated around some large cities, has decided to resist the rise of the extreme right. In particular, Paris, where the xenophobic party obtained around 10% of the vote — compared to 33.2% in the entire country — and only one of its candidates has qualified for the second round. Left-wing candidates, on the other hand, received the most votes in most of the electoral constituencies in Paris (and to a lesser extent the candidates belonging to President Emmanuel Macron’s party).

Julie, a 40-year-old Parisian, an executive in a medium-sized company, and a resident of the capital’s wealthy V district, is one of those citizens who are part of the resistance to the RN. She is not surprised by the results RN achieved nationally, explaining she is aware of “the feeling of exclusion” that drives votes for the party. In some ways, she even understands it, given the hypercentralism of the French economic and political system. Although for Julie and those around her, voting for the RN would be “inconceivable.” “It is a question of values. Nobody around me has that anger, that fear of others,” she says. It’s a sentiment shared by Yves, a 68-year-old retiree, who feels above all sadness, despite being aware, like Julie, of the benefits of living in a place where there are efficient public services and less insecurity on the streets. “We have let the extreme right rise without doing anything,” says the former ministry administrator.

“There is a real urban resistance to voting for the RN. The smaller the municipality, the greater the vote for the RN and vice versa,” explains Hervé Le Bras, historian, demographer and director of studies at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS). He links the result obtained by Le Pen’s party in Paris to the economic dynamism and sociology of the city, eminently bourgeois, made up of 50% of senior executives and liberal professionals, and home to a large proportion of young people and immigrants. “As soon as you move 30 or 40 kilometers from Paris, the RN prevails. Basically there is a regional France with more unemployment, more young people without qualifications, more single-parent families, more poverty, and a France of the big cities that is doing much better,” explains the historian, who says that the main reason behind support for the extreme right is the feeling in rural and peri-urban France that they have been neglected and relegated.

Although he has no doubt that the reluctance of Parisians to support the RN is explained by sociological factors typical of a metropolis, geographer Christophe Guilluy argues it is also important to take into account the dominant values imposed by the capital’s bourgeoisie. He explains: “Voting for the extreme right means taking the risk of being socially perceived as a loser.” “Today, the values that allow an individual to rise socially in a big city like Paris are ecology, feminism, anti-racism,” says Guilluy, the author of No Society: The End of the Western Middle Class. He also detects a certain form of hypocrisy in this stance, rather than sincere convictions. “If you listen to the dominant Parisian bourgeoisie, the black shirts will be marching on Paris in a week’s time, but in reality that won’t stop them from going on vacation,” he jokes.

Guilluy — who is accused by some French academics of feeding the theories of the extreme right by writing about the clash between a peripheral France and the France of the elites — firmly believes that class contempt, particularly of the left-wing bourgeoisie, is one of the main forces driving support for RN in more disadvantaged areas.

This view is not shared by Le Bras, who does not believe that there is contempt of Parisians or of cultural or academic elites. “If there is any class contempt, it is that of the current government elite [referring to Macron’s party] who considers others to be uneducated, to not understand anything, as during the pension reform,” he argues.

Calling Macron a “populist,” Le Bras believes the president is deeply disconnected with the French people. Macron has gone from breaking the divide between left-wing Paris (Paris East) and right-wing Paris (Paris West) — prevailing in 14 of the 18 constituencies in 2017, and managing to keep nine of them in 2022 — to seeing the New Popular Front (NFP) prevail in 13 constituencies last Sunday, with nine of its candidates elected in the first round. “The last refuge of Macronist voters is in the very rich neighborhoods of western Paris, because these are people who have a certain amount of wealth and for whom the end of the wealth tax (ISF) [approved by Macron in 2017] has been a blessing,” he says.

The socialist Emmanuel Grégoire, first deputy mayor of Paris, was elected in the first round with almost 51% of the votes in his constituency against the Macronist candidate. He symbolizes like no one else the change of course. “Paris has a strong tradition of cosmopolitanism. Historically, it is a land that has always welcomed immigrants and where the alchemy of integration works well,” says Grégoire, who describes Macron’s decision to dissolve the National Assembly and call elections a “kind of cynical whim” that Paris local government would have preferred to avoid given it is set to host the Olympic Games in a few weeks.

The far right only made significant gains in one district of Paris, going from 3.9% of the votes in the first round of the 2022 legislative elections to 10.7% last Sunday. This was thanks to support for Eric Zemmour’s party Reconquête. In the constituency of the very chic 16th arrondissement of Paris, Louis Picquet — the candidate of the far-right coalition that brings together one faction of the Republican Party led by Eric Ciotti, Reconquête, and the RN — will contest the second round against the Macronist candidate, Benjamin Haddad. “This is a sociologically very different electorate from that of RN, made up largely of liberal professionals, who already supported Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 1980s,” explains Le Bras.

In the 16th arrondissement on Wednesday, The Republicans activist and Ciotti sympathizer Pascal Boiteux was campaigning in front of the market in Jean Lorrain square. “There is less and less reluctance to vote for the RN in this neighborhood because what really scares people is Mélenchon’s La Francia Insoumise,” says the 55-year-old businessman. Approaching him is France, a woman in her 70s who has lived in the district for more than 20. She says that she is tired of “the dirty deals of politicians” and the Republican Party, because, according to her, “all the right-wing parties will eventually form an alliance.” She will vote for the far-right coalition because she is convinced that “Macron will appoint a left-wing prime minister” and because the RN “is the only one that cares about immigration and security.”

A few meters away from them, in an area where mainly French people of Maghreb origin work, a market vendor confesses that it saddens him to see how the RN is gaining ground in the neighborhood. Racism is still alive in the area, says the vendor, who preferred to remain anonymous, although “it is hidden.” “People usually tell me things like: your color brings us the sun, or I’m sure you must know a lot about exotic fruits,” he says. “I still don’t feel real extremism, but I know it can come at any time.”

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