Range and Limits of Public Support
While public opinion polls do not reflect explicit agreement by large proportions of
respondents with Le Pens bigoted language, they do show substantial support for his
broader nationalist themes.
Thus, a recent poll shows 30 percent of respondents agreeing with Le Pens
positions on "defending traditional values"; 26 percent with his attitude on
controlling crime by a tougher judicial system; and 25 percent supporting his opposition
to further immigration and his demand that immigrants conform to French customs and speak
French, leaving the culture of their origin in their home countries.
He said once that he
is bothered by seeing the outlines of mosques on the horizon when he travels through the
country, where only church spires should grace the sky. The one positive component of this
poll is that only 4 percent of the respondents agreed with Le Pen on anti-Semitism. On the
other side of the public opinion ledger, when people were asked whether they agree with
the Front Nationals ideas in general as distinct from specific policies
76 percent of respondents said they opposed the Le Pen ideology. And 75 percent felt
that Le Pen represented a danger to democracy. But these overall figures fall into a
different perspective when supporters of the conservative majority that now governs France
are asked about Le Pen. While in President Chiracs RPR party half of the respondents
considered Le Pens policies "excessive," only 36 percent found them
"unacceptable: In the other main coalition partner of the majority, the UDF,
the figures are similar.
|". . .a recent poll shows . . . that only 4 percent of the respondents agreed with Le Pen on anti- Semitism."|
This tendency among conservative voters to reject only the most extreme positions and
language of Le Pen and his spokesmen, while sympathizing with the underlying attitudes
toward immigrants and "traditional values," explains the indecision among
conservatives about how to counter Le Pens campaigning.
To wit: Prime Minister Juppe
(RPR) thinks the conservatives can win the upcoming parliamentary elections by opposing
both the Front National and the Socialists. Former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua thinks
that the conservatives must seize back from Le Pen the watchwords "Fatherland (patrie),"
"virtue" and "morality."
|". . . conservative voters [tend] to reject only the most extreme positions and language of Le Pen and his spokesmen, while sympathizing with the underlying attitudes
toward immigrants and 'traditional values'. . ."|
On the left side of the political spectrum, there is clear and unambiguous opposition
to Le Pen, but the main opposition party the Socialists are also engaged in
internal strategy debates and find it difficult to come up with policy alternatives that
reflect liberal positions on immigration and unemployment the two big issues in
France today while at the same time doing something to curb illegal immigration.
Unemployment, ranging in France between 12 and 14 percent, is connected with immigration
in the mind of large sectors of the public, and no one has been able to develop economic
and social policies that would substantially reduce unemployment.
The single most contentious issue in recent public discussion has been a provision in
the governments bill to control illegal immigrants by having hosts report their
foreign guests periodically to the police, or having the visitors themselves show up at
the local prefecture to make sure they have valid visas. The proposal triggered massive
demonstrations by civil rights and human rights organizations because it reminded people
of the denunciation of hidden Jews and dissidents under the Nazi occupation.
Modification of the proposal satisfied neither the rights groups, among them Jewish
organizations and other minority representatives, nor the large numbers of voters who want
to curb immigration and many of whom sympathize with or support Le Pen.
It is these dilemmas that the Front National exploits in the hope of boosting its share
of upcoming elections. And it is in the resolution of these problems that those committed
to civil rights, an open society, and opposed to all manifestations of discrimination,
with Jews prominently among them, have a vital interest.