At 70 years old and after a long and rich political career, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of France Insumisa, has become the phenomenon of this French electoral spring. In the presidential elections last April, he was one point behind the far-right Marine Le Pen and was very close to going to the second round. He would have done it if the left had presented itself united to the elections. He did not do it then, but he did in these legislative elections in which the coalition led by Mélenchon, Nupes, has put Emmanuel Macron’s coalition on the ropes, being tied in number of votes. These are the keys that explain his progress.
In recent years, after Macron’s victory in 2017 that ended the mandate of the socialist François Hollande, the left has been cracking. The sample is the blow of the socialist party in the face-to-face ones, where it barely managed to reach 2% of the votes.
With his social and anti-capitalist discourse, Mélenchon has been ingratiating himself with part of that traditionally left-wing vote but who no longer felt represented by any of the existing parties. This electoral spring, with the presidential elections first and the legislative ones later, has confirmed the complete rupture of the traditional party scheme that began in 2017 with the victory of Macron’s party, La República en Marcha.
There is a protest vote that Mélenchon has managed to mobilize, that of a large part of the French who are not happy with the politics of Emmanuel Macron, whom they accuse of being arrogant and out of touch with the problems of reality. In France, politicians are trained at the ENA (National School of Administration), which means that many citizens do not feel represented by a political class that they consider elitist.
Mélenchon is an exception, defending the interests of that “working class France” and reviving the discourse of class struggle. He knows how to connect when he speaks, from close proximity, “he is one of the candidates with the most cultural baggage. He shows up at the rallies,” says Jérôme Fourquet, from Ifop, in the pages of Les Echos.
The protest vote is also a consequence of the crises that France is accumulating, not just the pandemic. He had the yellow vests, shortly after Macron was elected (an insurrection that Mélenchon himself applauded), and now he is also suffering from this inflationary economic context in which the French have lost purchasing power.
A large part of Mélenchon’s voters are young, educated and employed. Teachers, health workers… Citizens with a medium socioeconomic level but who consider that they could live better. Macron, on the other hand, is supported by an older and wealthier profile.
The leftist leads the vote in cities such as Paris, Toulouse, Lille or Marseille and is also the most voted in the deprived areas of the Parisian periphery, the so-called banlieue, with a majority of the population of immigrant origin who feel isolated and who consider that the leader of France Insumisa is the only one who has proposed an improvement for them.
In addition, he has been able to connect in his program with the issues that concern young people: economy, ecology, education… He has promised to increase the hiring of teachers and also increase places in hospitals. Like Le Pen, he believes that European treaties take away part of France’s sovereignty.
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