Economy

The economic weight of the war in Ukraine could benefit Marine Le Pen

The economic weight of the war in Ukraine could benefit Marine Le Pen
Written by on100dayloans

The economic impact of the war in Ukraine weighs on French voters. Soaring energy prices add to the inflation that has accompanied the recovery of the French economy after the confinements linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Two weeks before the first round, Marine Le Pen’s “social-populist” strategy – namely a positioning on the economic left associated with populist and nationalist rhetoric -, implemented for ten years by the president of the RN, could be prove to be a winning political bet.

Economic concerns stand out as the dominant theme of the campaign. According to the latest wave of the CEVIPOF -Sciences Po Paris electoral survey carried out on March 21-24, 58% of French people say that prices and purchasing power will have a significant influence on their vote in April, an increase 6% since early March.

Purchasing power issues come to the fore in the campaign

If the war in Ukraine is still worrying the French, the fears are fading somewhat: a third (34%) of those questioned say they are “very worried” about the war, they were 43% at the beginning of March. The military conflict in Ukraine also seems to be losing its importance in the choice of vote: only 23% of our respondents say that it will have an impact on their decision, a drop of 10% just after the outbreak of the Russian invasion.

Emphasis is now placed on the economic consequences of the Ukrainian crisis, with 43% of respondents saying they are “very worried”, a decrease compared to the previous wave carried out on March 10-14, but which still shows a high level of concern among the French. Fears of wider conflict or nuclear war are comparatively lower at 33% and 28%, down 6% and 7% respectively since early March.

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In light of these data, the result of the first round of the presidential election will largely depend on the response of the various candidates to questions of purchasing power, price increases and protection of the French against the impact economics of war.

Anticipating “a crisis that will set in”, the government of Jean Castex has already stressed the importance of supporting the French economy by developing an emergency “resilience” plan. After the “whatever it takes” during the Covid-19 pandemic, this new €7 billion plan is intended to help businesses and households cope with rising energy costs following the economic sanctions imposed by the West on Russia.

On the right, divergent economic strategies

If Emmanuel Macron still seems to dominate the battle for the first round for the time being – with 28% of voting intentions, down slightly in the last wave of our survey – economic concerns have become one of the keys to the battle for the second square.

On the right, the economic strategies of the three main contenders diverge. Essentially, the main campaign guidelines of Valérie Pécresse, Éric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen were defined several months ago, well before the outbreak of war in Ukraine. But as the first round approaches, the Ukrainian crisis creates different opportunities for each of these candidates.

On the economic level, Éric Zemmour and Valérie Pécresse defend a program with a liberal tone, marked by the fight against “assistantship” in the first or the reduction in the number of civil servants in the candidate LR. Both are also in favor of raising the legal retirement age – 64 for E. Zemmour and 65 for V. Pécresse -, a reform that continues to be rejected by nearly 7 French people on 10.

In the midst of a storm on prices and purchasing power, this liberal orientation comes up against the expectations that exist, particularly within the popular electorate, for more social protection, health and redistribution: in our survey, the power purchase is an important issue for the voting decision for 63% of employees and 67% of workers.

These social issues are precisely at the heart of Marine Le Pen’s campaign. Faced with her two main competitors on the right, the candidate of the National Rally very early on chose a different economic path, emphasizing purchasing power, health, the defense of public services and redistribution.

Even before the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the candidate of the National Rally had promised a “shock of purchasing power” by pledging to “protect our people” and to “return their money to the French”.

This speech with a strong social tone quickly allowed Marine Le Pen to divert attention from her pro-Russian positions and her support for Vladimir Putin in the past, to refocus her campaign on the economic consequences of the Ukrainian conflict on life. daily life of the French

Marine Le Pen or the “social-populist” strategy

Even more, it allows the candidate of the RN to establish her credibility as a candidate of “purchasing power” with the popular categories and the middle classes most worried about the economic impact of the crisis.

A statistical analysis of Marine Le Pen’s presidential project shows that the “redistribution” component represents no less than two-thirds (66%) of his economic programme: this is the highest percentage since the FN’s electoral breakthrough in mid-1980s. This first pillar brings together all the social or economic measures of Keynesian orientation, based on demand, social protection and redistribution.

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Marine Le Pen’s program offers, among other things, VAT cuts, higher wages, tax exemptions and free transport for young workers. This all-out redistribution offensive on purchasing power and health has as its priority targets the working classes and young workers, who constitute the bulk of the battalions of the RN electorate.

Wave 8 of the CEVIPOF electoral survey confirms the importance of these electoral segments for Marine Le Pen. The latter comes first in voting intentions among 25-34 year olds with 22% of the vote, ahead of Emmanuel Macron. The president of the RN would also win quite widely in the first round among workers (34%) and employees (22%).

Another target: retirees, who remain less inclined to support the RN – only 13% of them would vote for its president. To seniors, Marine Le Pen promises the revaluation of pensions and the minimum old age, and the abolition of taxes on direct inheritance for low-income families and the middle classes.

At the same time, the RN has moved away from more liberal economic positions on civil servants, deregulation or the withdrawal of the welfare state. These policies represent only 21% of the 2022 program, compared to 35% five years ago. They represented nearly 80% under Jean-Marie Le Pen in the mid-1980s.

Finally, it retained its roots in economic nationalism (13% of the program). Marine Le Pen continues to defend national economic sovereignty, protectionism, the refusal of free trade or the preference given to national companies against free competition from the European Union.

This positioning on the economic left, associated with the traditional populist and nationalist rhetoric of the RN opposing the “globalist” economic and political elites to the people, draws the outlines of a “social-populism” which today very clearly distinguishes Marine Le Pen of his other competitors on the right, including Éric Zemmour: the economic program of the Reconquest candidate brings together a total of 43% of liberal-oriented measures, more than double that of the president of the RN.

Marine Le Pen’s social-populist project is not new. He started 10 years ago, immediately after his arrival at the head of the FN. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the 2011 sovereign debt crisis, the National Front had adopted a “Keynesian” program of public spending, expansion of public services and, already, purchasing power against the austerity imposed by the government of François Fillon. In 2012, 59% of the FN’s economic proposals already leaned towards the economic left, breaking with the more liberal orientations of the party under the Jean-Marie Le Pen era (see Figure 2).

Marine Le Pen’s bet

Throughout Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term, Marine Le Pen worked to cultivate her social-populist image, joining the ranks of the left and the unions on several occasions. At the end of 2019, she had strongly opposed the pension reform. In March 2021, the president of the RN had also denounced the reform of unemployment insurance by the government, asking Emmanuel Macron to put an end to this “social bleeding”.

The latest wave of our electoral survey confirms that this is a potentially winning bet: Marine Le Pen collects 17.5% of voting intentions there (+3 points since the beginning of March), far ahead of Éric Zemmour (12 %) and Valérie Pécresse (10%).

In a meeting in Saint-Martin-Lacaussade on March 25, Marine Le Pen repeated her populist vision of the duel she hopes to deliver against Emmanuel Macron, opposing the “big” to the “small”, the “people” to the “elected” . “Between Emmanuel Macron and us, she said, it is the choice between the power of money which benefits a few, and the purchasing power which benefits everyone”.

The surge in fuel prices linked to the invasion of Russia resonates strongly with Lepenist social-populist rhetoric and today gives the advantage to Marine Le Pen. Playing once again the opposition of the small against the big, the leader of the RN proposed on March 10 to “remove the increases” in fuel taxes between 2015 and 2018 and to compensate for these cancellations with an “exceptional tax on ( oil groups”.

The CEVIPOF electoral survey shows that economic concerns related to the war are strongest among electoral supporters of Marine Le Pen: 53% say they are “very worried” about the economy, compared to 43% in the whole of France. ‘electorate. No less than 69% of Marine Le Pen voters say that purchasing power is one of the issues that will matter most in their choice of vote in the first round of the presidential election, compared to 56% of Valérie Pécresse’s electorate. and only 47% of Éric Zemmour voters.

By defending a social-populist program long before the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Marine Le Pen made a political bet that the growing socio-economic concerns of the electorate could give her a decisive advantage over her main competitors. The polls seem, for the moment, to prove him right.

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By Gilles IvaldiResearcher in political science, Sciences Po.

The original version of this article was published in English.