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At the Roots of the Social Divide: Different Faces of France

BLOG - 7 March 2019

On Tuesday, February 19, Elabe and Institut Montaigne published the Barometer of Territories 2019: Faces of France, an unprecedented survey of 10,010 French people. The survey highlights new social and territorial dynamics, in a context marked by social movements and the upcoming European and municipal elections. What can we learn from this Barometer? How was it conceived and implemented? Interview with Bruno Cautrès, researcher at the CNRS and Cevipof and creator of this Barometer.

How were the four portraits of French painted by the barometer Faces of France defined?

The survey we conducted includes a very large number of indicators of opinion; in particular all aspects of the French people's relationship to the territory and mobility, both geographical and social. Such a large amount of data, covering a large number of individuals (10,010 respondents), cannot be analyzed without using powerful data analysis methods. The techniques of so-called "geometric data analysis" were used to condense all this information: we searched our database thoroughly to identify groups or packages of individuals with similar or close response profiles. This is how we discovered that the relationship of the French to the territory and mobility could be divided into four versions or groups. This typology is based on the discovery of two major dimensions that structure all these data: is mobility a choice or a constraint? Has it been possible to achieve it or not?

From all this opinion data, we have uncovered four categories to which we have given a name that summarizes the profile of each group.

  • The "Emancipated French" (21%) for whom mobility is positive and is part of a separation from the territory. They are people who are free from territorial and social constraints, with significant social and cultural capital that allows them to seize mobility opportunities.
  • The "Rooted French" (22%) who have chosen to take root in their territory. They are happy to live at home, in a local cocoon with a lot of social bonds, a kind of protective bubble even if they are concerned by inequalities.
  • The "French on the edge" (25%) who are the exact opposite of the "Emancipated French": often without economic, social or cultural capital, they are "under house arrest", endure social suffering, and are stuck in a difficult place to live or a social situation from which they cannot escape.
  • The "Assigned French" (32%) who experience a strong tension between their aspiration for social and territorial mobility and a difficulty in freeing themselves from their socio-economic situation and territorial inequalities.

One of the important results of our study is that the four groups are spread across all regions.

These four types are like four "Faces of France", each with its own sociology revealing real "social divides": the feeling of an unjust and unequal France is very present in our data, particularly in a group like the "Assigned French". One of the important results of our study is that the four groups are spread across all regions, although some groups are of course more present in some regions than others. For example, there are many "Emancipated" people in Ile-de-France or many "Assigned" people in the Far East, and "Rooted" people in Brittany.

While there are "territorial divides" in France, with some territories affected by inequalities, unemployment or the withdrawal of local public services, the way in which the French view their relationship to mobility and the territory is very socially divided. Social and territorial fractures are intertwined, the former being even more important to understand the opinions the French hold about their territories or their possibilities in terms of geographical or social mobility.

What conclusions can be drawn from this Barometer about the Yellow Vests movement? Who are they?

The issue of mobility and the ability to take charge of one's life was at the heart of the yellow vest crisis. The strong feeling of social and fiscal injustice was expressed from the beginning of the crisis and has been maintained despite the evolution of this mobilization. We find this data very widely in our Barometer: according to the French the promise of equality and social justice in our country has not been fulfilled. 

In our Barometer we asked several questions about the yellow vests. The category with the most people expressing their proximity or support for the yellow vests is the "Assigned", who experience their rootedness as being imposed on their life. This category is the most objectively in a situation of social suffering. There are many of them in Seine-et-Marne, for example, one of the starting points of the yellow vests’ movement. Our Barometer and its results show that the yellow vest crisis and its explosion have their origins in the depth and entrenchment of the French social fracture.

This claim of the Yellow Vests in our four categories shows the widespread nature of the feeling of social and/or fiscal injustice in many layers of French society.

There are French people who call themselves yellow vests in the four categories we have identified, certainly in smaller proportions than among the "Assigned", but this diffusion in our four categories shows the widespread nature of the feeling of social and/or fiscal injustice in many layers of French society.

Without erasing the reality of territorial divisions, social divisions are even stronger and more acute in France today. Moreover, our Barometer shows another paradox: the injunction to be mobile ("cross the street to find a job") is not necessarily experienced as a positive goal by many French people who live well their local roots. Being locally rooted does not always mean being "under house arrest", the two concepts do not necessarily overlap.

How can we read the results of this barometer in the light of important electoral deadlines (European in May 2019, then municipal in March 2020)?

The results of our Barometer clearly show that there are high expectations and frustrations in France regarding the social ladder.

There are of course important political differences between our four groups if we compare their votes in 2017: the "Emancipated" are much more "macronist" than the other groups. Similarly, among the "Assigned", there is a very high over-representation of voters from Marine Le Pen and, to a lesser extent, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Among the "Rooted" ones, there is a distribution of votes very similar to that of all French people, but with an over-representation of François Fillon's voters.

Finally, the "French on the edge" are fairly widely distributed like the entire electorate. The social divisions that our typology reveals find an important echo in political choices.

There is no doubt that the 2019 European and 2020 municipal elections will show significant evidence of the social and territorial divisions we have highlighted. The yellow vest crisis has strongly activated the latent feeling of social injustice and overshadowed the macronist promise of emancipation. The French assessment of government action on everything related to equality and the preservation of a social model to which the French are very attached will play an essential role in the period ahead. The results of our Barometer clearly show that there are high expectations and frustrations in France regarding the social ladder. Emmanuel Macron has made this question the cardinal point of his political project, he cannot afford to make any mistakes on this issue. The upcoming elections will tell us more about this, very soon.


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