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Marseille, political laboratory of a fractured France

The results of the legislative elections confirmed the recomposition of the French political landscape with “three heads”, the Nupes carried by LFI, the “center right” around the presidential alliance and the RN with its new elected members in the National Assembly. The first round of the legislative elections was particularly interesting to observe in Marseille, even though the results were not yet defined, given the successive political campaigns that took place in the Marseille city. Marseille is indeed seen as a laboratory of political sociology, exacerbating the dynamics in progress.

In an almost caricatural way, the city was cut into three entities whether for the 1st or the second round: the North and the Center for Nupes; the East for the RN; the South for LREM. A political distribution which follows very exactly the sociology of the type of inhabitants.

Contrasting abstentions

Abstention in the Marseille constituencies was strong as in the rest of France (about 53% abstention); but it is an electoral participation marked by very significant contrasts between districts. For example, in the center, near the Belle de Mai not far from Gare Saint-Charles, one of the poorest places in France, the abstention rate reached 72%. In contrast, in the bourgeois district of La Flotte in the 8th arrondissement, abstention only reached 45.82%. Or more than 26 points difference.

The New Popular Ecological and Social Union (Nupes) is also part of this dynamic of contrasts. On the strength of a base of popular vote, the alliance appeals above all to neighborhoods with a strong cultural mix and in the grip of very great poverty, even extreme poverty, and also working-class neighborhoods in the process of gentrification or already largely gentrified, such as the 5th borough.

In working-class neighborhoods that have experienced various waves of immigration since the 1960s, such as the northern neighborhoods and certain portions of the center, we can certainly speak of an identity vote against a background of poverty.

Share of low-income households, the example of Marseille. The poverty rate is 25.1% in Marseille. Poverty is concentrated in the northern and central arrondissements of the city: in the 1ᵉʳ, 2ᵉ, 3ᵉ, 14ᵉ and 15ᵉ, poverty rates are above 39%. CGNET/2016, CC BY-NC-ND

The inhabitants of these neighborhoods also clearly perceived the words of the leader of Nupes, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, around the concept of “creolization”; concept proposed by Edouard Glissant, which became a standard word, a favorite term for the leader of the LFI during this campaign.

Leader of the LFI and former MP for Marseille, he was present in 2019 at the march against Islamophobia at the call of the CCIF and the NPA in Paris; he made his work heard to fight against “the hatred of Muslims” and worked on a precise booklet “For a migratory policy, humanist and realistic” thematic booklet of the Future in common.

As academic and journalistic literature shows, the cultural mix of these “northern” neighborhoods – against a background of poverty – tends to play in favor of an LFI or Nupes vote.

Thus, the polling station of the Maternelle school of Saint Joseph Serières in the 15th arrondissement brought Nupes to more than 49% in the 1st round. A small remark however: in these districts where precariousness is strong, the RN immediately comes in second position; and this unlike the neighborhoods voting LFI but which are in the process of gentrification.

Gentrification: the second asset of Nupes

Neighborhoods in the process of gentrification such as the 5th district, also carry the Nupes alliance in first position. It must be understood that the electoral sociology of LFI and Nupes is less popular than that of the RN which remains the “first workers’ party in France”.

The work of Cevipof taken up by Luc Rouban shows it, the Nupes represents rather the middle classes, rather the graduates: the proportion of voters having at least a baccalaureate plus 5 in the electorate of Jean Luc Mélenchon in the presidential election was 16% and 19% for Yannick Jadot – against 18% in Macron’s electorate and only 6% in Marine Le Pen’s.

In these neighborhoods where the Nupes is in the lead, two trends can be identified: when the neighborhood is gentrified, it is LREM which arrives behind the Nupes (4th and 5th district), when the neighborhood is much more popular, it is the RN which follows the formation built around JL Melenchon.

The RN between fear of the future and immigration

The Rassemblement national perhaps synthesizes here the 2 FN characterized: that of the north, anchored on social questions, that of the south, built around the stakes of immigration.

It is in the east that he comes out on top of the first lap. In some polling stations the RN goes up to almost 39% (La Valbarelle) with more than 7% on the Reconquest side! or more than 36 with an R! more than 8 (Château Saint-Cyr school group). The two far-right parties thus come close to 45 points.

This urban area tends to have the characteristics of the peri-urban: located on the outskirts of the city, close to large shopping centers, and highways leading to the east of the department and to the Var, we find in these sectors, individual houses , or residences with substantial land. In this district, the cultural mix is ​​much less strong than in the northern districts.

But in the end, if this constituency in the east of Marseille ultimately escapes very little from the RN, the latter wins a place on the northeast side against Nupes-LFI – 3rd constituency – in the second round. It is in the end this more popular constituency and already partly belonging to the northern districts that the RN won.

Moreover, in this constituency, it was the polling stations least populated by immigrant populations that enabled the RN to win this seat.

A halo effect

The RN vote is carried out here via a “halo effect” widely documented by political science. This effect was identified using geolocated survey data at sub-municipal level. It reveals the significant and substantial increase in the probability of voting for Le Pen at a distance from the “epicentres” of the immigrant population, regardless of the socio-economic and cultural context, as well as the socio-demographic characteristics of the individuals.

Work that sheds light on the mechanisms that link subjective experiences of immigration to the FN vote; for example, it is individuals who live immediately next to neighborhoods with high immigration who will vote the most FN/RN, as shown by Gille Ivaldi and Jocelyn Evans.

In these constituencies – east and north-east – we certainly also find what some have shown in particular around the transformations of the world of work – as this work on favorable ground shows – which play a dominating role in the RN vote. It is less a downgrading than a disintegration of the elements linked to the valuation of work: what about the esteem gained during the professional career, the job obtained – if there is a job – will it be up to the expectations or even the diplomas obtained? It is all these questions that create the RN vote.

LREM: an easier Marseille vote

In the city of Marseille, LREM confirms the electoral attractiveness it has for the populations most included in society, it is an electoral sociology that we know well now: graduates, often retirees, or, among the assets, executives.

The Fleet polling station gives almost 44% to the LREM candidate and only offers the candidate LR 18.7%. At the Prado Plages polling station it is more than 40% at LREM, almost 18% at Reconquête! candidate LR only reaches 15%. This golden square where the Marseille bourgeoisie is often locked up in residences with private roads has generally gone from a classic right-wing vote to an LREM vote. These polling stations are south of the city and very close to the sea.

Moreover, in these bourgeois places of the 8th arrondissement, one can hypothesize that the reconciliation of rights dear to Zemmour is rather attractive: the results of the Prado Plage polling station: Reconquest! ahead of LR with 17.65%; LR is at 14.59; the RN at 10.8.

Of course, the constituency is more mixed than these micro polling stations alone, in certain more “bobo” sectors the Nupes – towards the Goudes in the far south – can achieve good scores, but this sector still gives the advantage at LREM.

A good observation ground

Second city of France, the city of the south-east is made of enough contrasts and mixes to be a good field of observations of the political games.

Indeed, on the same territory, there are very large companies such as the Compagnie maritime d’affrètement – Compagnie générale maritime (CMA-CGM), a French container ship owner whose boss is one of the largest French fortunes. , but also great situations of precariousness.

Marseille is like a France in all its aspects and all its contrasts: it brings together a little of Seine-Saint-Denis, a little of the gentrified districts of Paris or Nantes, a classic bourgeoisie that we could come across Bordeaux, but also university or economic centers that can be found in Greater Paris or Greater Lyon.

The votes trace these contrasts, they tell us about a city in its various components and ultimately say a lot about France which votes. Marseille ends up being a kind of miniature laboratory of France and what the National Assembly looks like today.


By Virginia MartinDoctor of Political Science, HDR Management Science, Kedge Business School.

The original version of this article was published on The Conversation.