French Voters Are Kind of Angry. They’re Also Optimistic.

By Mark Deen, Anne Swardson and Hayley Warren
March 8, 2017

French voters head into the most important presidential election in decades in a bad mood. They think their country is on the wrong track, they distrust European Union institutions and they suffer from an economy in malaise, as they like to put it.

Will that translate into votes for populist candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front? Yves Bardon, a researcher at Ipsos France, isn’t so sure. He calls it the “French paradox:” People are skeptical about their country’s future, but optimistic about their personal situation and their families.

These charts explain that paradox.

Since the recession that began in 2009, France has more than recovered its lost output. It’s made more progress than Italy and Spain—but less than Germany and the U.K.

GDP

111.2 U.K.

108.5 Germany

105.3 France

99.6 Spain

94.6 Italy

2009

2013

2017

GDP

111.2 U.K.

108.5 Germany

105.3 France

99.6 Spain

94.6 Italy

2009

2011

2013

2015

2017

Unemployment is way too high too, especially for youth. But some other European countries are worse.

Unemployment

42.9

40.1

Youth

26.2%

18.4

12.0

Average

9.6%

France

Spain

Italy

Unemployment

42.9

40.1

Youth

26.2%

18.4

Average

9.6%

12.0

6.5

3.9

Germany

France

Italy

Spain

France leads in one area: Its people bear the highest tax burden in Europe—even higher than the Swedes and the Danes.

Tax Burden

France 47.9%

Italy 43.5

Germany 40.0

Spain 34.6

2006

2009

2012

2015

Tax Burden

47.9%

France

Italy

43.5

Germany

40.0

Spain

34.6

2006

2009

2012

2015

Some of these unpleasant facts turn up in French people’s views of the future. They are more pessimistic than any other Europeans about whether their country is on the right track.

Views on the Future

32

Right track

22

12%

68

78

88%

Wrong track

France

Sweden

Germany

Views on the Future

37

32

Right track

22

22

18

12%

63

68

78

78

82

88%

Wrong track

France

Italy

Sweden

U.K.

Spain

Germany

And they have a lower opinion of the EU’s leadership than the British—who just voted to leave the bloc.

Views on EU Leadership

Distrust in the

European Commission

65%

60

France

U.K.

Views on EU Leadership

Distrust in the

European Commission

65%

60

55

45

Germany

France

U.K.

Sweden

But there’s where it starts to get complicated: The French by and large don’t hate the EU, or want to leave it. Only 22 percent favor that option.

Views on the EU

Leave the EU

22%

Stay in the

EU, reduce

its powers

 

33%

6%

Leave

things as

they are

25%

Increase the

EU’s power

Views on the EU

45

Leave the EU

25

22%

16

Stay in the

EU, reduce

its powers

 

23

23

32

33%

9

12

6%

Leave

things as

they are

10

7

18

25%

39

Increase the

EU’s power

France

Germany

Sweden

U.K.

And while Le Pen’s National Front has used language fueling suspicion about France’s Muslim population, the nation as a whole views Muslims less negatively than many of its neighbors.

Views on Muslims

69

Unfavorable

views

35

29%

France

Sweden

Italy

Views on Muslims

69

50

Unfavorable

views

35

29

29%

28

U.K.

France

Germany

Sweden

Spain

Italy

Its population is also supported by one of the most generous social security systems in the world, with 31 percent of gross domestic product spent on public medical care, unemployment insurance and other benefits.

Social Security

France 31.2%

Sweden 25.3

Italy 25.2

Germany 24.6

Spain 23.7

2007

2009

2011

2013

Social Security

31.2% France

25.3

25.2

24.6

23.7

 

Sweden

Italy

Germany

Spain

2007

2009

2011

2013

As Ipsos’s Bardon says, the French are content with their own personal situation, even more so than many of their also-cheerful European neighbors.

Views on Personal Situation

Happy

81%

76

75

19%

24

25

Unhappy

France

U.K.

Germany

Views on Personal Situation

Happy

88

81%

76

75

73

12

19%

24

25

27

Unhappy

Sweden

France

U.K.

Germany

Italy

It’s quite a laundry list for the five candidates vying for France’s presidency: Boost the economy, create jobs, make the EU work better, cut taxes and retain social benefits. Good luck.