Macron edges out far-right leader Le Pen in first round of French presidential election
What could explain Le Pen’s relative success? More support for female voters. In the past, more men than women supported Le Pen’s radical right-wing party, the National Rally (then the National Front). Today, the gender gap has reversed and more women than men are expressing their support for Le Pen. This is quite surprising, because Previous search showed that women are significantly less likely to vote for far-right populist parties than men. How to explain the French case?
Our to research examines the gender gap in support for far-right populist parties and identifies the conditions under which it can be reduced or even reversed. Here’s what you need to know.
Radical right populist parties are risky and women are more risk averse than men
Voting for a far-right populist party comes with a certain degree of risk. These parties are relatively unknown entities with limited parliamentary experience. They also challenge the certainties of the existing political order, challenging the status quo and campaigning against the political establishment. Although some voters will find such actions attractive, risk-averse voters will avoid these parties during the election.
Research consistently reveals women are more risk averse than men. (Of course, that’s on average; individual women and men may differ from this generalization.) And women generally tend to avoid voting for risky parties that have no chance of winning seats in parliament. , including many far-right populist parties. Risk-averse voters often comply by social norms and direct their vote towards mainstream and moderate causes and refrain from supporting extreme and radical parties.
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The risk of voting for far-right populist parties depends on the electoral context
In our study, we tested whether, when a far-right populist party has a strong chance of winning seats in the legislature, deciding to vote for that party can be seen as less risky, both electorally and socially. . Electorally, it is not a lost vote if the party has a chance of winning. Socially, it is not considered abnormal to support such a party which has won the support of a large part of the electorate.
To test this idea, we used the eight waves of the European Social Survey between 2002 and 2016. The ESS is conducted every two years with at least 1,500 respondents per country, covering 36 countries. We analyzed the results of 14 Western European countries, including France. The surveys ask questions about the social, economic and political attitudes of individuals through face-to-face interviews, with randomly selected cross-sectional samples of new respondents in each round.
We measured what social scientists call “individual risk aversion” with a question that asked participants how much they like to take risks in life, on a scale of one to six. . Consistent with previous research, we found that women are, on average, more risk averse than men. We also found that people higher on the risk aversion scale were less likely to support far-right populist parties.
We measured the level of electoral risk that voting for such a party might entail by looking at the share of the national vote or the number of seats that a hard-right populist party won in the elections preceding the survey. Knowing how well that party did (or did not do) in previous elections gives voters an idea of a party’s viability and whether voting for that party is tantamount to losing your vote. As radical right-wing parties garner sufficient electoral support, voting for them becomes less risky.
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Consistent with this theory, we found fewer gender differences in support for radical right-wing parties the more successful they were in the elections preceding the survey. But when these parties were not elected to parliament in previous elections, the gender gap in the vote supporting them was wider, with men backing risky parties far more than women.
What does this mean for Le Pen and for European politics more broadly?
Le Pen’s performance in the first-round vote shows strong support from women. According to Harris polls, published roughly every week, women report that they are likely to vote for Le Pen in greater numbers than men. As would be consistent with our argument, the gender gap for the new populist candidate, Eric Zemmour, was in the opposite direction; more men than women said they were likely to vote for him. However, voting for Le Pen, an established candidate, is considered less risky, so more women said they were likely to vote for her. Indeed, Zemmour’s candidacy helped Le Pen present himself as less extreme than before. Additionally, if a new female extremist enters the game, our research suggests that women would avoid voting for her as much as they said they would avoid Zemmour.
The creation and support of the radical right populist parties that have sprung up across Europe over the past 20 years have been largely male-dominated. These parties were generally led and supported by men. But this pattern is changing, as the 2022 French elections show. We expect the gender gap in voting for far-right populist parties to narrow as the far-right populist generalizes, a process In progress in western countries.
Reut Itzkovitch-Malka is a lecturer in sociology, political science and communication at the Open University of Israel.