Elections and the Left Right Cleavage in France
French Politics and Society
Center for European Studies (Harvard University)
36 - 44 p.
Left-right cleavage, European elections , Sociological model
For years the dominant paradigm in French electoral survey research was the sociological model: social and religious cleavages determined ideological proximities for the Left or the Right, which in turn determined the voters choice, performing the same function as party identification for the Democrats or Republicans in the United States. In the 1980s, soon after the elec tion of François Mitterrand as President of the Republic, there began an era of electoral volatility, intense ideological shifts, and party dealignments which the sociological model could not account for. Another was put forward, the rational voter model, stressing the influence of issue opinions and candidate preferences on voting choices, and outlining the rise of a "new" voter, more detached from social déterminants or ideological proximities, because more informed and politically more sophisticated (Grunberg 1985, Lavau 1986, Habert and Lancelot 1988, Perrineau and Ysmal, 1992). Yet, as we will show with the help of survey data, on the eve of the decisive 1995 presidential election, marking the end of the Mitterrand era, left-right cleavage still structures French political life and the sociological model is not obsolete, even if its explanatory and predictive powers are waning. [First paragraph]