The National Front's Win: Lessons from France

By Nayla Rush, December 10, 2015

France's National Front party won the first round of the regional elections last Sunday. Analysts have been trying to explain this historic breakthrough, since the far right had never won the leadership of any French region before.

One interesting insight came from Jean-Yves Camus, Associate Research Fellow and political analyst at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS). In an appearance on French television Monday, he said:

There are today six million French [National Front voters] who want to turn the table over ... We have to stop looking at this as a mere vote of protest ... True, this vote is a global, massive protest against the political elite, their longevity. A vote against this masquerade we witnessed again yesterday that consisted of every party blaming the other, holding the other party responsible of past failures with no introspection whatsoever ... But this vote is also a vote of adherence to a number of basic fundamentals. Those fundamentals are: identity, immigration, order, national security, but also cultural preservation and strong positions of authority.

On the same program, Roland Cayrol, another French researcher, agreed:

There are three main themes that influenced Sunday's votes: immigration, national security, and Islam. It is clear that Front National voters are not satisfied with the way the Right and the Left were handling problems related to these issues.

If these words were to travel to the United States, they would clearly resonate on the national political scene. We are not trying here to build parallels between the National Front and the Republican Party or between the National Front's leader, Marine le Pen, and Donald Trump. People do not need us to go down that path anyway; overzealous men and women are crossing that bridge every day.

The point we are trying to make is simple: General themes revolving around immigration, security, and Islam can no longer be ignored and immigration-related problems are influencing voting outcomes like never before. As politicians are busy blaming each other for either paranoia or laxity (to remain polite), more and more voters are siding with the "politically incorrect". Undermining voters will not make them go away; just as treating them with disdain pushes them farther right.

Here's the deal. Politicians need to courageously acknowledge and address immigration-related problems. Shying away will not make them disappear, it just delays the social fracture. "Respectable" politicians need to step up, warns Mark Krikorian, or else "a larger and larger share of the public will turn to carnival barkers unafraid of elite disapproval."