French Far-Right: Could Early School Troubles Of Some National Rally Voters Explain The Party's Appeal?

Author: Félicien Faury

(MENAFN- The Conversation) Low educational attainment is one of the factors most predictive of voting for France's far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National, previously known as the Front National). Behind this statistical observation, studies find that often voters' educational trajectories are often troubled, relatively short and difficult. There is thus a distant or even defiant relationship with school that appears to be one of the factors common to a significant proportion of the party's electorate.

This is not to suggest that there is a direct and necessary LINK between a“lack of culture” and the xenophobic leanings that fuel that fuel those who vote for the far-right party. After all, there have always been highly cultured ways of being far right, and racist ideologies have always been based on intellectual and learned constructs.

On the other hand, low levels of education have major socioprofessional consequences. In a society where education has become so important, being without produces feelings of uncertainty and pessimism that structure electoral preferences .

This situation also generates a specific relationship with the school system, even for voters who have achieved a certain degree of social stability. It is this relationship to school and its social and political consequences that I would like to focus on here.

From 2016 to 2022, as part of a field survey conducted in southeastern France, I met working-class and lower-middle-class voters who voted or had already voted for the National Rally . During the interviews, the issue of school came up regularly, often in a negative light. Talking about their school careers, many people told me that they had“not liked” school, or that they were“not made for studies”, betraying the mismatch between their own socialisation and the expectations of the educational establishment.

Many were parents at the time of the survey, and the school issue emerged in several ways. First, as a concern for their children in the face of a deterioration in public education. Second, as a source of antagonism toward other social groups, particularly those with more cultural capital – antagonism that is often accompanied by a distrust of the left.

Declining state schools and a turn to the private sector

The first consequence of having less control over the world of education is that people feel powerless in the face of what is seen as a deterioration in the state education system. In my area as elsewhere , state schools have a bad reputation. The belief that“the state” has“deteriorated” seems to be widely shared, particularly in some of the lower-income neighbourhoods where the people interviewed often live. This situation is made all the more difficult by the fact that the importance of their children's having school qualifications has been perfectly understood. But unlike groups with greater cultural resources, it is more difficult for them to compensate – for example, by helping with their children's homework.

In some cases, low cultural capital can be partly compensated for by (small) economic capital – for example, sending their children to private schools, sometimes at great financial cost. In the areas I visited, enrolment in private schools has to be requested well in advance, as the waiting lists are long. In contrast to state schools, private ones are reputed to be of higher quality. They're therefore the price parents choose to pay if, as I've often been told, they are to have“peace of mind” about their children's education.

This decision is never taken lightly by parents. As one person who sent her children to private schools put it,“It's unfortunate that it has come to this”. The private sector is not a rejection of the state, but a symptom of disappointment with what public institutions should be offering citizens.

Educational worries and the female RN vote

Local educational resources are seen as part of a competitive system , with informal rankings of schools circulating according to their reputation. For those interviewed, these perceptions are often deeply racialised. The proportion of people identified as immigrants attending schools acts as signal of their overall academic level, guiding parents' strategies. In some neighbourhoods, the perceived decline of state schools is all the more difficult to counter because this perception reinforces avoidance practices of white households.

This situation gives rise to a desire for protectionism, not just in terms of employment, but also for access to shared resources and services. The problem here is no longer the immigrant worker, but the immigrant families whose children at local schools. The RN's rhetoric about reducing immigration and putting an end to family reunification finds a favourable audience here.

In my survey, these educational concerns affect women voters more than men. We know that women continue to play a central role in bringing up children, which could be one of the reasons why the – and mothers in particular – vote for the RN. The far-right vote has long been a predominantly male vote, but in France, this gap has gradually narrowed in recent elections.

There are many reasons for this shift, ranging from Marine Le Pen herself to more structural causes, such as the increasing presence of women in certain employment sectors (personal assistance, care sector, etc.). My research also suggests that the issue of education should be given greater consideration in explaining the increased presence of women among far-right voters.

Contempt for the“knowers”

Voters' relationship with schools also has consequences for the way in which other social and political groups are perceived. As suggested, for many RN voters, it is work rather than school that has enabled them to gain (relatively) stable lives and a home. They are thus characterised by economic capital that is greater than their cultural capital ). This structure of party's electorate is reflected in the valorisation of economic success rather than “distinctive cultural resources” .

As a result, when it comes to qualifying groups located at the“top” of the social space, RN voters are more likely to value economic elites. In my field, while it is certainly possible to criticise wealth that is too ostentatious (those who“want to show that they have money”) or excessive (those who“gorge themselves”), the figure of the“good boss” or the person who has“succeeded” economically is often mentioned in a positive way.

In contrast, those with the most cultural capital – the“knowers” and in particular the professions specialising in the use of words and symbols (teachers, journalists, artists...) – are often met with scepticism and hostility. They're often associated with a position of privileged moralizing,“smooth talkers” and“lecturers”. This distrust is reflected in the rejection of the left, a political affiliation often associated – not without a certain sociological realism – with “diploma elites” .

The class contempt of which RN voters sometimes feel they're the victims echoes the forms of symbolic violence of which schools are one of the main sources. It's as if the distance from the world of schooling, professorial positions, so-called legitimate culture and the lifestyles associated with it were a defensive reaction to the domination they had previously suffered at school.

For many, school remains above all a place of ranking, frustration and humiliation. We therefore need to look at what our schools produce politically, and at the worldviews and electoral preferences that they engender in individuals over the long term.

This article was originally published in French

The Conversation


The Conversation

Legal Disclaimer:
MENAFN provides the information “as is” without warranty of any kind. We do not accept any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, content, images, videos, licenses, completeness, legality, or reliability of the information contained in this article. If you have any complaints or copyright issues related to this article, kindly contact the provider above.