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In recent months, the world has evolved rapidly, and populist movements are gaining ground. Brexit in the United Kingdom, the rise of nationalism in Central and Eastern Europe with the migrants crisis, the election of Donald Trump: all have highlighted successful themes of exclusion and the denigration of minorities, especially sexual ones. The French presidential election will take place in less than two months, and French citizens will be called to vote on who shall lead the country for the next five years.
Will the country that claims to be the cradle of human rights be tempted by extremism?
From Feb. 12-20, we took to Hornet—the world’s premier gay social network, and also our parent company—to consult its gay male users. What are their opinions surrounding the upcoming French election?
We inquired of these gay men—who use Hornet to both meet guys and stay informed—about the different candidates, the campaign themes favored by gays and their intentions to vote. How is far-right candidate Marine Le Pen perceived among gays? What are their most important areas of concern?
Here we present that survey’s exclusive results.
The first thing we learned is that the subject of the upcoming French election raises passion in Hornet’s gay users. In a few days, after receiving a message in the app’s inbox, 3,200 users responded to our survey, providing great insight into a population of gay men whose average declared age is 26 years.
The gays are mobilized
“Do you think you will vote in the presidential election?” read the first question.
Of the 3,212 respondents to this question, an overwhelming majority (92%) say they intend to vote in April and May (France’s election is staged in two rounds, two weeks apart), a percentage higher than that of France’s general population, 74%, according to polling institute BVA.
Those who are currently undecided came in at 4.7%, and those who do not think they will vote came in at 3.3% of respondents.
Newcomer Emmanuel Macron is far ahead
Our survey’s second question pertained to choice of candidate. Since the official list of candidates has not yet been published, we chose the candidates representing France’s many political parties. This provided the survey’s first big surprise.
One candidate stands out very clearly: Emmanuel Macron, chosen by 38.1% of respondents.
Macron, 39, is a former business banker, adviser to President Hollande and Minister of the Economy in the 2014 government of Manuel Valls, a position he held until August 2016. He has nevertheless managed the tour de force of appearing now to be anti-system and an independent candidate. Macron is the youngest of the five main candidates, and he claims to be neither right-wing nor left-wing.
Interestingly, our survey took place at the same time Macron, a member of the En Marche party (meaning “let’s march,” which also makes reference to Macron’s name), made a statement seemingly in support of gay marriage opponents “Manif pour tous,” saying they’ve been “humiliated” during the Hollande presidency.
Those words have provoked the anger of many LGBT associations and personalities, but they do not seem to have affected the opinion of our respondents.
The fall of conservative François Fillon
Another big surprise: the election’s right-center candidate, François Fillon, 62—former Prime Minister from 2007 to 2012—ranks fifth in our questionnaire, the choice of only 7.3% of those with voting intentions.
At the beginning of February, investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné revealed that Fillon’s wife had been employed as a parliamentary assistant for many years, receiving a much higher-than-average remuneration and for a supposedly fictitious job. The son and daughter of Fillon are also subjects of an investigation for supposedly fictitious jobs, all at the expense of taxpayers.
Fillon seems to be paying the price for this affair, which is still under investigation. During the primaries, Fillon was also the only one of the main candidates wanting to rewrite the law on “marriage for all,” reserving full adoption for heterosexual couples. Fillon has repeatedly received the sustained support of the “Manif pour tous,” which brings together gay marriage opponents and conservative circles, particularly Catholics.
Candidates of the Left are not in great shape
The seeming collapse of the election’s ‘classical right’ candidates does not, however, translate to a preference for the two left candidates.
Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon, 49, who has been critical of his party’s current governance under Hollande, is supported by 18.5% of respondents with voting intentions.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 65, of the Left Front, comes in at 13.2%.
According to our survey, candidates on both the far left and traditionalist right are not faring well among gay male voters: Far Left candidates Nathalie Arthaud, 47, and Philippe Poutou, 49, only received 1.3% of our survey’s votes, and Traditionalist Rright candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, 55, received 1%.
Extreme Right candidate Marine Le Pen is in good shape, but …
That leaves Marine Le Pen, 48, the candidate of the Extreme Right. She comes in second, which is an enviable place on our survey though still not very high, as she is supported by 19.2% of those with voting intentions, a number far lower than the national polls that put her between 25-27%.
This number is still alarming, though, as she’s the candidate of the National Front, a party that is a fierce opponent of equal rights, as indicated in its platform, which stands for the abolition of gay marriage, no assisted medical procreation (AMP) for lesbians or surrogate mothers for gays (surrogacy is forbidden for all in France).
Le Pen, however, has taken great care not to parade around with gay marriage opponents. She has also, as this BuzzFeed story says, used language to attract gay voters. Our survey, however, shows that Le Pen doesn’t get an exceptional score from our gay male respondents, though quite frankly, in the current environment, we expected her numbers to be higher.
The answers to our next question on ‘important issues’ may be helpful to understand why nearly one in five gay respondents are tempted by a vote for the National Front party.
Work, education and security are high on gay men’s agenda
Those taking our survey were asked to choose the issues most important to them by selecting three of eight issues, and were able to write one in as well. The leading trio is Work (77% of respondents), Education (49.6%) and Security (45.1%). The issue of LGBT rights is in fifth place, with 36%, just behind Taxes (40.2%) and before Immigration (29.9%).
The concerns of everyday life seem to take precedence over more specific demands. The fight against HIV collected only 8.1% of votes from this question’s 3,197 respondents. This shows that gays are foremost citizens like all others. (Even if some still seem to doubt it!) With unemployment at nearly 10% in France and an education system that does not fulfill its promise of equal opportunities, this is not so surprising. Also not surprising is the importance given to security, given that citizens have been scarred by a series of terrorist attacks in France in 2015 and 2016 that left hundreds dead and thousands injured. And there is no doubt that gays have a strong preoccupation with homophobic violence.
The answers to our question also allow us to make assumptions about respondents’ choice of candidate.
Macron talks a lot about work, taxes and education—themes popular with respondents. As for Le Pen, she fills her rhetoric with security issues, not hesitating to designate a part of the population—Muslims—as responsible for homophobia. We can’t forget her statement in 2010: “I hear more and more testimonies about the fact that in some neighborhoods it is not good to be a woman, nor a homosexual, a Jew or even French or white.”
“Muslims against homosexuals” seem to speak to the ears of some gays.
Referencing a specific incident this month in Paris suburb Aulnay-sous-Bois, in which a police officer was charged with rape of a young black man during a violent arrest, the survey mentioned the issue of police harassment, which received 8.7% of respondents’ votes.
In his 2010 essay on why gays have “turned right,” Didier Lestrade identified the ‘right-handedness’ of gays that were thought, at least in contemporary history, to favor the left.
What emerges from our survey is that Fillon does not benefit at all from that trend, most likely because his repeated, negative positions make him appear to be truly hostile to LGBTs. Throughout his parliamentary career since the early 1980s, Fillon has always emerged against equality, voting against the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1982, against the Pacte Civil de Solidarité (civil union law) in 1999 and against marriage for all in 2013.
Also, note that the environment/ecology, which was not listed in our survey, is among other concerns important for our gay male respondents.
The public perception of our candidates
Our fourth question deals with the top five candidates’ public perceptions. François Fillon takes home the award for worst public image: 83% perceive him as “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable.” It is “the Berezina” (a disaster), to use an expression heard in his camp. Marine Le Pen is not far behind, with 68% calling her “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable.”
The other three candidates listed received more “favorable” or “very favorable” scores than negative ones. Not surprisingly, Macron received the most positive scores (46%) followed by Hamon (36%) and Mélenchon (29%).
Looking at these scores, they’re not great for those candidates who support LGBT rights and, one step further, those who support authorizing AMP for lesbian couples. Hamon undoubtedly pays the price for his participation in government, even if he left it in 2014. It was when Hamon was Minister of Education that “ABCD of Equality”—a program whose aim was to fight sexism and gender stereotypes—was abandoned.
Of the positive scores, Le Pen received 24% “favorable” or “very favorable” opinions, Fillon with only 13%, scoring the worst.
Under this question, respondents were also able to choose “neither favorable nor unfavorable,” and some did: Fillon (7%); Le Pen (8%); Macron (19%); Hamon(22%); Mélenchon (22%).
Respondents seem to have very firm views on the main candidates of the Right and Extreme Right, who, as we’ve already noted, are the two most prominent political figures against equal rights. On the Left, more than one in five respondents have neither favorable nor unfavorable opinions of Mélenchon and Hamon, and only around one-third have a “favorable” or “very favorable” opinion about them.
A flashback to the previous presidential election
Our survey’s last two questions concern the last presidential election of 2012, which saw the victory of Left candidate François Hollande against Nicolas Sarkozy, the candidate of the former UMP (now renamed Les Républicains).
In our questionnaire, respondents say they voted 33.2% for Hollande in the first round of the 2012 election, when Sarkozy received 16.2% of he vote, which was almost half of the votes declared for the two candidates. In our survey, the two representatives of the Socialist Party and Les Républicains, Hamon and Fillon, receive only 25.8% of the votes.
What we’re witnessing is therefore indicative of a collapse of the two main parties that have dominated France’s political scene for decades. In 2012, the public strongly rejected Sarkozy, and the issue of gay marriage was a clear marker of cleavage between the Right and the Left. This year, the candidacy of Macron—rather on the right when it comes to labor regulation and security issues, and rather liberal on social issues—redistributes the cards.
Le Pen was a candidate in 2012 for the first time, after successfully replacing her father at the head of the National Front in 2010. According to our survey results, 13.3% of respondents say they voted for her five years ago, meaning she now fares six points better.
As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, his 2012 score was 8.2%. He now does much better, scoring five additional points.
Out of more than 3,200 respondents, our survey has raised quite a few surprises.
The dynamics triggered by Macron and his positioning seem to please our panel of gay men. As for Le Pen, she reinforces her place but she is not, as she is according to national polls, number one among gay male French voters. One can see in Le Pen’s score both sides of the coin: on one side, her attraction has seemed to reach its ceiling; on the other, she still seduces one gay respondent out of five. For someone who has strong policies in opposition to LGBT issues, it is a paradox, but it’s clear respondents do not vote strictly by a ‘gay card.’
France’s current presidential campaign, like a well-crafted TV series, are proving to be full of twists and turns with each episode.
(Featured image: Michel Euler/AP)