Especially fatigue. Misunderstanding, too. But hope nonetheless. These are the dominant features of the emotional state of the country photographed by Viavoice. The polling institute questioned the French for the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, in February 2021, a year after the start of the health crisis, then again in December, when the presidential campaign was already underway.
→ EXPLANATION. Presidential 2022: a campaign that finally begins
In The Opinion of Emotions (1), an essay that looks back on these studies, Stewart Chau, head of the political opinion sector at Viavoice, assesses the impact of the state of mind on the relationship to politics. “Our emotions have become determining, even structuring for the way we think about the world”, explains the author, who underlines the very clear emotional characteristics of the electorates of the various candidates. The share of optimists reaches 74% in that of Emmanuel Macron but falls to 46% in that of Éric Zemmour and even 38% for the electorate of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Certainly, the citizen has never been a rational being and his commitment has always obeyed not only his reasoning but also his feelings or his values. His feelings, says sociologist Claude Dargent, refer as much to individual, subjective, as collective experiences. “The yellow vests were small entrepreneurs, employees, retirees. But they had in common to experience economic difficulties, ”he illustrates.
“We are living in a period dominated by emotions, feelings, which have a particularly strong impact in times of crisis”, confirms political scientist Bruno Cautrès, who cites the book Le Citoyen sentimental by the American George E. Marcus (2 ). Financial crash of 2008, attacks of 2015 and 2016, social movement of 2018, against a backdrop of global warming… a succession of disturbances establishes a context of crisis which is no longer only cyclical but structural, depriving opinion of benchmarks.
→ MAINTENANCE. Presidential 2022: “Faced with crises, getting out of amazement by considering the other”
In this context, the pandemic and the confinement decreed in March 2020 have accentuated a form of civic dropout among the French. “During the 2017 presidential election, we saw opposing feelings of anger and hope. After two years of Covid, it is first of all weariness that dominates, ”notes Bruno Cautrès.
The signs of democratic fatigue can be read first in the lack of interest shown in the electoral campaign and the distrust of politicians. In the fall, the Ipsos institute anticipated a high abstention rate of 36%, much higher than the 31% recorded at the same time in October 2016. Admittedly, there is the context of a ballot which seems played on advance, with an outgoing president who has managed to maintain a high electoral base. But above all there is a general state of mind, a form of “wear and tear which has continued to increase throughout the year 2021”, translates Stewart Chau.
Fear, an effective register
A man has however been able to stand out by exploiting the emotional register: Éric Zemmour, given as qualified potential in the second round from October, formalizes his candidacy on November 30 with a video inspired by the call of June 18. “Numerous works have shown that what works very well in the cognitive market is to play with fear or to take on subjects such as violence or sexuality”, analyzes Brice Teinturier, Deputy CEO of Ipsos institute.
→ ANALYSIS. Presidential 2022: Éric Zemmour, a campaign on the edge of provocation
The Reconquest candidate! deployed a political offer adapted to times of great uncertainty. “He offers a very refined Grail: avoiding French suicide. And designates the foreigner as the sole cause of this evil, ”continues Brice Teinturier. With the pandemic and the threats linked to climate change, environmentalists could also have exploited this register of fear. The polls specialist, however, distinguishes a difference with the far-right candidate: “Eric Zemmour offers a solution that would not require effort from the French, which environmentalists cannot promise. »
For weeks, the candidate imposes his theme of the “great replacement”, pampered by certain televisions or magazines to which he ensures peak audiences and distribution. But at the same time, the presidential campaign still does not catch on. In January, the Delta and Omicron variants force candidates to postpone their meetings. The French have their heads elsewhere. When comes, in February, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
→ LARGE FORMAT. Presidential 2022: abstention, the unknown which worries
From then on, opinion polls took another turn. President Macron, on the diplomatic front, recorded a surge in the polls, exceeding 30% of voting intentions. For Eric Zemmour, it’s another story. He picks up, lets himself be left behind by Marine Le Pen, experiencing that the politics of emotion is a difficult art. His reluctance to welcome Ukrainian refugees has a disastrous effect, because the feeling of fear, by changing object, has changed in nature.
Macron, the card of “optimism”
We have gone from diffuse anxiety to a form of terror in the face of a dictator who embodies the threat. In February, three-quarters of French people supported Ukraine, and 90% said they were “worried” (Elabe Institute). If Éric Zemmour is regressing, Marine Le Pen is doing better because she has not bet only on the rejection of immigration, but she has continued to dig the furrow of the defense of the purchasing power of the French.
→ ANALYSIS. Presidential: the war in Ukraine weakens Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour
Three weeks separate us from the first round. Will the return of politics to the news go the distance? Pollsters are already predicting a decline in citizens’ interest in the election. The opposition is attacking the candidate president, accused of having delayed his entry into the arena, of dodging the debate. Questioned on March 17 during his press conference on this campaign which does not start, Emmanuel Macron refused to take responsibility for it.
He announces to push back the retirement age to 65, to increase teachers on merit… Is it his fault if it doesn’t work? He continues to play the card of optimism. Faced with “fears”, the “feeling of dispossession”, he puts forward a “lucid ambition”. He knows the French are tired but not resigned. Hope comes third in the Viavoice Emotion Barometer.
A third of French people “very worried”
According to the latest Ipsos estimate of March 19, abstention would be 32% on 10 April next. In the first round of the 2017 presidential election, the abstention rate was 22%. The record was reached in 2002, with 28%.
The rate of people interested in the campaign, which peaked around 70%, jumped to 80% after the invasion of Ukraine and then fell back to 74% in mid-March, around 5 points below the score at the same election deadline in 2017.
87% of respondents say they are “worried” about the war in Ukraine (88% at the end of February), including 33% who are “very worried” (43% at the end of February).