A Right-Wing Extremist and His Party
NEW: 2002 Update

Racism and
Range and Limits of Public Support

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Range and Limits of Public Support

While public opinion polls do not reflect explicit agreement by large proportions of respondents with Le Pen’s bigoted language, they do show substantial support for his broader nationalist themes.

Thus, a recent poll shows 30 percent of respondents agreeing with Le Pen’s 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.
". . .a recent poll shows . . . that only 4 percent of the respondents agreed with Le Pen on anti- Semitism."
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 National’s 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 Chirac’s RPR party half of the respondents considered Le Pen’s policies "excessive," only 36 percent found them "unacceptable:’ In the other main coalition partner of the majority, the UDF, the figures are similar.

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 Pen’s campaigning.
". . . 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'. . ."
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."

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 government’s 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.

This report was published in April 1997

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2001 Anti-Defamation League