ECPR General Conference
Universitetet i Oslo, Oslo
6 - 9 September 2017




The Front National and Welfare Politics: A Radical Transformation

Electoral Behaviour
 
Party Manifestos
 
Political Parties
 
Populism
 
Welfare State
 
Presenter
Elie Michel
European University Institute
Authors
Elie Michel
European University Institute

Abstract
The Front National (FN) is considered as an emblematic case of Western European radical right party: it is both one of the oldest and most electorally successful. The FN’s success has been extensively studied, and most contributions have focused on the socio-cultural preferences of FN voters, i.e. their anti-immigration attitudes. In terms of party preferences, the FN is often considered as a single-issue party, focused on immigration. However, independent streams of research have analysed the sociological transformation of the FN’s constituency, in parallel to its programmatic evolution. This paper investigates this double shift, with a focus on welfare state issues. Indeed, there is a trend of precarization of the FN constituencies over time, and a simultaneous transformation of the socio-economic of the party’s programme. I address the question of the extent to which the programmatic shift of the FN is determined strategically to match the voters’ expected preferences for welfare policies. The analyses rely on mixed methods and different data sources: surveys on the sociological profile and welfare preferences of voters (1988-2012); party manifestos and campaign material (1988-2012); and the transcription of speeches from Marine Le Pen’s campaign for the party leadership (2009-2011). On the demand side, findings confirm the precarization of the FN constituencies over time, and how the attitudes of voters towards immigration are intertwined with welfare state concerns. Working-class and lower-skilled voters constitute the core of the FN’s electoral support, and economic precariousness is a critical factor of support the FN. On the supply side, the FN’s positions on socio-economic have radically changed, from a traditionally right-wing preferences for limited state intervention (1980-1990’s) to a preferences for expanding of welfare benefits and programmes (2010’s). However, the exclusiveness of the welfare preferences (national preference, welfare chauvinism) are the FN’s trademark over the period. Finally, by analysing Marine Le Pen’s speeches, I show that the radical programmatic shift on welfare issues is the result of a strategic adaptation of the party’s positions to the voters’ preferences.
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"In all forms of Government the people is the true Legislator" - Edmund Burke


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