A Generational Divide
The rise of la NUPES has sharpened the generational divide in French politics. Le Monde reports that an IPSOS-Sopra Steria poll conducted before the first round shows Macron’s Ensemble! taking only 13% of the 18-24 vote intentions and 19% of the 25-34 cohort, compared with 42% and 38% respectively for la NUPES. Ensemble! takes 28% of the 60-69 vote intentions, however, and 38% of the 70+ group. I stress intentions, because abstention was also higher among younger voters, so these demographic breakdowns need to be read with caution.
More surprisingly, perhaps, la NUPES also led among the better-educated (bac+3 and greater), 32-27%, among cadres, 28-22%, and among “intermediate professionals”, 35-22%.
In the past, a handy way to describe Macron’s base was to say it consisted of people who were doing relatively well. Apparently, this is no longer the case. Voters with diplomas and jobs are nevertheless abandoning Macron for la NUPES. Why? Any number of explanations are possible, and the data are not detailed enough to distinguish among them. Le Monde suggests that these NUPES supporters are people who have careers but find their hopes of advancement frustrated. Perhaps they expected Macron to restructure things so as to give them a boost but found that he simply perpetuated the existing hierarchies. Commitment to environmental protection is also stronger in this group, which may find Macron’s inaction on this front unacceptable. No doubt there are also many in these groups who think of themselves as on the left yet voted for Macron in 2017 only to feel betrayed when his government took a rightward turn.
Whatever the explanation, these findings, if confirmed, clearly spell trouble for Macron in his second quinquennat. He needs to find a way to allay the concerns of this part of the electorate. Paradoxically, however, the strengthening of NUPES by these disappointed left-wing voters could force Macron to tack even further to the right if he fails to obtain a majority in the Assembly. He will then need to rely on the support of Les Républicains. And even if he does obtain a majority, it will only be with the help of Édouard Philippe’s Horizons and other transfuges with a right-wing sensibility.
Note, however, that while la NUPES is doing well in cities, the countryside has been abandoned to Le Pen. The French are divided by generation, occupation, geography, and attitude toward Europe and the world. While all sides profess to share a commitment to the ever more mystical and fetishized “Republic,” there is less and less agreement about what “republican values” define it: witness the mutual recriminations between la NUPES and Ensemble! on this question.
That the French are divided is nothing new at all. There is hardly anything we enjoy more than a good verbal political brawl. One simply has to hope it doesn’t get physical which is the main danger that will exist during President Macron’s second term (I exclude the risk of nuclear war which is unthinkable to me though very real as well) .