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Yellow Vests: An Unprecedented but Overestimated Movement?

Yellow Vests: An Unprecedented but Overestimated Movement?
 Olivier Duhamel
Former President of FNSP (Sciences Po)

An unprecedented movement

It is a double, or more precisely, it is a first movement that has quickly evolved. First, a spontaneous and coordinated set of local micro-revolts 2.0 against the increase in taxes on diesel and gasoline that then became a media-sounding macro-revolt for an increased purchasing power and against political power. 

The revolts are not simply against the President... Indeed, the discredit shown by the "Yellow Vests" against politicians - or politics - does affect Macron, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. It also affects Le Pen or Mélenchon, who have not been able to rise to the rank of a credible alternative and are no longer the only outlets for the anger of the French people. Three points taken from the RN and three from LFI... this is the hidden part of the iceberg.

According to a survey conducted by IPSOS on 5 and 6 December, a possible "Yellow Vests" list could be credited with 12% if the European elections were held now. It would not threaten the LREM list (21%), but would compete for 2nd/3rd place with the right-wing National Rally (14%) and Europe Ecologie (13%), with the left-wing party La France Insoumise (LFI) far behind (9%).

The relative support of the French

It is repeated, over and over, that the movement is supported by "three-quarters of the French", "80% of the public", etc. By having a closer look at the different surveys, a significative gradation in the adherence to the movement of the "Yellow Vests" can be underlined:

  • 66% of the French say they have sympathy for the movement or they support it (sometimes more than 70%).
  • 40% of respondents say they support the movement (when the question distinguishes, as it should do but is generally not done, support and sympathy).
  • 20% of the French say "we are Yellow Vests"
  • 12% would vote for a "Yellow Vests" list in the European elections 

A decreasing mobilization

This is a major difference from the social movement of 1995 or the May 1968 uprisings - which were for a long time rather ascending.  

The mobilization brought together 285,000 people from all over France on the first day of the movement (17 November), 160,000 on 24 November, 137,000 on 1 December and 126,000 on 8 December. Initially, less than 0.5% of the adult population. The movement then decreased in number, followed by a stabilization despite the media noise and the multitude of supporters, more or less interested. 

It should be noted that we are very far from the massive demonstrations during the social movements of recent years, for example against the pension reforms in 2003 and in 2010, respectively conducted by François Fillon and Eric Woerth. 

These clarifications are not intended to underestimate this movement but to correct the overestimation of it.

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