Americans are cynical when it comes to politicians. For example, Congressional approval ratings were mired just above single-digit levels in 2012, hitting 10% twice. An expression of utter disdain. But the French—with their economy spiraling deeper into a crisis that started five years ago—expressed disdain for their political class, as they call it, in another way: with a desire for authoritarian leadership, a “real leader” who would “reestablish order.”
The survey, “France 2013: the New Divisions,” conducted by Ipsos and others for Le Monde (PDF of PowerPoint) caused a bout of soul-searching and political maneuvering. Explanations and rationalizations flew about, as frustrations were boiling over on all sides: unemployment above 10%; heavily contested plant shutdowns and layoffs, particularly in the auto sector; a fiscally inspired exodus with hostile rhetoric, and on and on.
The cultural and economic “decline” of France set the scene: 51% of the respondents thought that in the coming years, the decline of France was “inevitable.” Among those who supported the right-wing National Front (FN), 77% thought so. By comparison, supporters of President François Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS) were outright gung-ho: only 41% considered it “inevitable”—still chilling.
It wasn’t a new trend, something Hollande might have instigated during his eight-plus months in power. According to the survey, it has been going on for ten years, a period during which mostly conservative presidents occupied the Elysée, a period that also coincided largely with the euro in French wallets. A sobering 63% thought that “French cultural influence” had declined over that period; and a stunning 90% believed “French economic power” had declined.
They point the finger at “globalization,” which 61% considered a “threat to France.” Opinions diverged in a hopscotch manner: 82% of those on the far right, 49% of those supporting Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-of-center UMP, and 53% of the Socialists were so inclined. The solution? 58% agreed that France would have to “protect itself more from the world.” The range went from 38% among PS supporters to 92% among FN supporters.
Then a litany of deep and troubling issues emerged: 62% thought that “most politicians are corrupt”—the other 38% were “optimists,” groused FN President Marine Le Pen; 72% complained that “democratic systems function badly in France”; and 82% lamented that “politicians act mainly in their own self-interest.”
Graciously, the survey offered these hapless and frustrated respondents an appetizing and easy solution: “We need a real leader in France to reestablish order.” 87% agreed!
Le Monde tried to make us believe somewhat ineffectually that it shouldn’t be surprising, that this was, in fact, just another logical step forward in a movement that started as a counter-trend to the anti-authoritarian 60s and 70s.
The desire to have a “real leader” that would “reestablish order” was almost unanimous on the right. Among UMP supporters, 98% agreed with it. Sarkozy, their man, had campaigned in 2007 on reestablishing order, and as president had tried to be a strong leader. Instead, he got tangled up in the financial crisis and the subsequent debt crisis. By 2011, the economy started going south again. Dissatisfied, the people booted him out. On the right wing, 97% agreed with it. “It would be indeed high time,” Marine Le Pen quipped as she detailed how the survey results reflected what the FN had been pointing out all along. Even among supporters of the Socialists, 70% wanted a real leader to reestablish order. Sarkozy had failed; now it was Hollande’s turn. But he has been sinking into unpopularity faster than Sarkozy.
Then the survey linked the desire for a “real leader” who would “reestablish order” to the concept of authoritarian rule via an otherwise innocuous question: “Authority is a value that is too often criticized today,” it stated. And 86% agreed; the French want a strongman to solve their problems.
“A significant rejection of the democratic system,” is what Ipsos called that debacle in its comment on the survey.
The survey plowed into a bevy of other topics as well. For example, it laid bare the dire level of confidence the French have in the mainstream media—73% thought that journalists caved to pressures from political powers. It exposed the French exasperation with immigrants. And it got caught up in the thorny thicket of religion, particularly Islam—74% considered it intolerant.
The survey “draws a much darker portrait of the country,” Le Monde warns. French society “is slipping from distrust to rejection, from worry to anxiety, from withdrawal to fear of the other, from pessimism to catastrophism.”
“The effect of the crisis is not surprising, but it’s striking just how profound the anxiety has become,” said Pascal Perrineau, director of the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po (Cevipof), which was involved in conducting the study. And so, he said, “resentment gives way to hostility.”
Already in January, 2012, as presidential candidate, Hollande presented himself as “real leader” who’d reestablish order. So he shook up the banks: “It has no name, no face, no party, it will never be candidate, it will never be elected, yet it governs: that enemy is the world of finance,” he said. Freed “from all rules,” it “took control of the economy, of society, and even our lives.” He’d fight it, and promised tough reforms. But these days, you’d think he is being tutored by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon…. A Year After Declaring War On The Banks.