Posted at 6:00 am.
“People feel left out”
Bright sunshine over Roubaix. It’s 4pm, moms waiting for their little ones to go to school. Children play on a slide. Workers repair a hole.
In the middle of this scene that can no longer be mundane, a group of women are excited. Pamphlets in hand approach their passers-by with a pleasant smile. The conversation begins. We’re talking politics. “Are you going to vote? You must, your voice matters! »
Today is the last day to register for the presidential election. Fatiha Touimi and her team of volunteers are working hard to convince residents of the Camus district not to avoid the ballot, the first round of which is scheduled for April 10.
These community workers do not belong to any party. Their mission is simply to educate residents about the importance of exercise, regardless of political sensitivities. If necessary, they will help them fill out the documents, and even accompany them to the town hall or the post office to drop off their forms.
It’s not always easy. Many do not believe it. There is also ignorance. People who do not know how to work. It’s a plague.
Fatiha Touimi, community worker
Nothing new about Roubaix. This agglomeration of 96,000 inhabitants, neighboring Lille (northern France), is considered one of the poorest cities in France as a campaigner for abstinence. In the 2017 presidential election, the city reached new heights, with a turnout of just over 60% for the two rounds of the election.
The insecurity of a population consisting mainly of immigrants, in this region devastated by deindustrialization, largely explains this disintegration, explains Fatiha Touimi. Unemployment can exceed 50% in some areas of the city, the feeling of social exclusion is a reality here.
“People feel left out. They do not rely on politics to get jobs. “They have other, more down-to-earth concerns,” she said.I Touimi.
Distrust and disinterest
But the problem is no longer limited to Roubaix. In recent years, abstinence has gained ground all over France. And the next election does not seem to be an exception.
An Odoxa poll, published in mid-January, reveals that about three out of ten French people are “not interested” in the presidential election and that only 70% intend to vote.
“It will be huge,” said Olivier Ihl, professor of politics at the University of Grenoble, referring to the record.
According to Mr. Ihl there is no doubt that abstinence will be an “essential issue” of the next presidential election. If there is little doubt about the re-election of Emmanuel Macron – and even less since the beginning of the war in Ukraine – the whole question will be to know which of his opponents will suffer the most from this desolation from the polls and or the young president will be elected “well,” that is, with a turnout that will leave no doubt about his legitimacy.
A historically low turnout will also confirm a trend that has been observed for more than 30 years in France, where abstinence has only increased and increased from 14 to 25% from 1981 to 2017.
The phenomenon is even more spectacular in the local elections: in 2021, the regional elections reached almost 67% abstention, while the 2020 municipal elections bordered on 60% non-participation, results that caused severe shock wave among observers and the political class.
COVID-19 is undoubtedly no stranger to these statistics, admits Jean-Yves Dormagen, professor of politics at the University of Montpellier and founder of the Cluster 17 website, which analyzes the election trends of the French.
But for this expert on abstinence, the malaise stems from deeper “structural transformations” that have been observed over the past three decades.
“There are sociological, demographic and cultural factors that can contribute to the phenomenon. Mobility, more important. The more anonymous urban lifestyle favors a kind of individualism. Voice is increasingly seen as a duty. »
Context does not help, he adds. The poorer, younger or less qualified populations, who historically remember, are more suspicious than ever towards the political elites, left than right.
As in Roubaix, this mistrust translates into disinterest and rejection of democratic exercise.
“People do not feel represented. They tend to think that changes in the majority do not cause major political changes, ”adds Jean-Yves Dormagen.
They say to themselves that the results do not have enormous consequences on society, on the economy, on their lives. There is a kind of fatigue, while expectations were much higher in the 1970s and 1980s.
Jean-Yves Dormagen, Professor of Politics at the University of Montpellier
Will the phenomenon be long-lasting? One thing is for sure, more and more French people are saying they are attracted to new forms of democracy. In the absence of convincing reforms, it is possible that abstinence will continue to impose itself on the political landscape as the expression of a general lack of interest.
One person at a time
In turn, Fatiha Touimi will continue to march with the Servir Committee team in the streets of Roubaix, with the aim of reversing the trend.
“We go one person at a time,” she says, philosophically.
Hope may be allowed. On the day of our visit, the community worker repented before our eyes.
Linda Shelbi, originally from Algeria, has not voted once since arriving in France 19 years ago. She had already thought about registering on the lists, but had not yet taken the step. The arguments of M.I Touimi finally convinced her.
“There are more and more candidates against us [les musulmans]. The rise of right-wingers. Racism is becoming more and more visible. This time I said to myself: maybe my voice can count. This is the case for many people around me, ”she explains.
Small step for democracy, big step for MI Touimi. Who, however, is not going to stop there.
“I will go to the street until the day before the vote. The work is never done. It is not easy. But if we do not, who will? »
Electronic voting, the solution?
Emmanuel Macron made it a promise of his first five-year term. But the measure, like many others, has been postponed.
However, many people in France believe that electronic voting will be a solution to the problem of abstinence. Simple comparison: a simplified election process will increase voter turnout.
In addition to the practical benefit to voters that they no longer have to travel and can vote at any time, this measure will be good for the environment (less travel, less paper) and provide an excellent alternative to counting voting.
There are also those who swing the argument of the health crisis: voting away from home means the possibility of not being exposed to possible viruses.
Despite all this, electronic voting is far from unanimous.
Its opponents are wielding the dangers of digital technology, with its security flaws. Burglary, viruses, errors, data leaks and voter support are all threats to such a system.
In short, it is a false good idea, says Jean-Yves Dormagen, professor at the University of Montpellier.
“It will not solve all the problems, far from it,” explains this abstinence specialist. Because the French electoral system further aggravates the situation. There are about 6 million French people who have moved and are not registered at the correct address. They have to either pull or make a power of attorney, which makes things difficult. This enrollment problem mechanically increases abstinence, especially that of young people. »
Mr. Dormagen acknowledges that electronic voice will have its benefits, especially for new generations, who are more comfortable with technology. But it would not solve the fundamental problem, which is that of mistrust and lack of interest in politics.
First you have to want to vote.
Jean-Yves Dormagen, Professor at the University of Montpellier
At present, only French people living abroad – including those from Quebec – can vote by internet, but not for the presidential election.
Some countries, such as Belgium, Brazil, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland or Norway, also tried the experiment on a more or less large scale. But the tests were undecided. Either fraud was observed or the effect on the participation rate was minimal.
Estonia is currently the only real leader in this area, 44% of the votes were recorded by the internet during the 2019 general election in this small Baltic country. But it has only 1.3 million inhabitants and shines with the almost total digitization of its government functions.
In Canada and Quebec, studies are being done in this direction. But the system is still not implemented.