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Why French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is attracting youth

Marine Le Pen polls third across the entire electorate, but second among 18- to 22-year-olds, largely because they see her tough stance on immigration as the answer to their employment struggles. 

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Perceval Noet, a 23-year-old law student supporting Le Pen, says he agrees with her proposal to reduce immigration because of France’s high unemployment rate. 

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“We have over 5 percent of unemployment and eight million poor people, so I don’t know if we need another 200,000 people [coming] a year,” says Mr. Noet, one of the leaders of The Young With Marine, a youth support committee of Le Pen’s campaign.

The latest figures released last month by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies show France had a 9.8 percent unemployment rate during the last three months of 2011. Provisional figures showed the unemployment rate among 15- to 24-year-olds was 22.4 percent.

He says immigration is the consequence of “globalism,” a broad idea that Le Pen has cited frequently when blaming France’s economic difficulties on a wide range of international organizations, such as the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

Jean-Yves Camus, a far-right expert, says frustrations about unemployment can lead young voters with lower levels of education to resent immigration and vote for Le Pen. 

“They are more likely to feel that they are in a competition on the job market with not only immigrants but also those born of immigrants,” says Mr. Camus, a research associate at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations.

Blue-collar appeal

Dabi and other experts say young supporters of the National Front tend to have lower educational levels and to struggle more to find and keep jobs. In November 2011, an IFOP poll of 18- to 22-year-olds found Le Pen ranked third, behind Hollande and Sarkozy, but she was popular with young voters from blue-collar families. She scored 30 percent in that category, known to pollsters as “blue-collars’ children.”

“Let’s not forget that this generation, say the 18- to 30-year-olds, is a generation with difficulties to enter the job market in a context of [economic] crisis, which can maybe explain the success of the Marine Le Pen vote,” Dabi says.

Julien Rochedy, president of The Young With Marine, says young voters who support her are most worried about unemployment and immigration, both legal and illegal.

“It’s the same problem: it’s the fact of having people coming here when we have no jobs, no housing, no nothing to give them,” he says. 

Yet not all young voters agree that Le Pen’s focus on immigration is correct or fair. At Paris’ prestigious Louis-le-Grand high school and college, two literature students say Le Pen merely stigmatizes immigrants and is no different from her father, even though she appears less radical than him on the surface.

Guillaume Bohic, 18, says Le Pen is blaming immigrants to gain support from voters and calls her position xenophobic and racist. “To Vote for Marine Le Pen means to vote for the National Front, which is a party that tries to build its success on voters’ fears,” Mr. Bohic says. 

Samuel Lhuillery, 19, says Le Pen’s ideas run contrary to what France stands for. “France’s ideals are liberty, equality, fraternity,” Mr. Lhuillery says. “By promoting extreme politics, you pervert the political regime of France.”

Both Bohic and Lhuillery say they will vote for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon and say that most of their classmates plan to vote for Hollande of the Socialist Party.

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