"The more it votes, the stronger we are:" how Mélenchon tries to convince the abstainers

From the “caravans” of the Popular Union to the “correspondents” in the buildings, France Insoumise has chosen to plow the abstentionist ground. With the hope of grabbing a few points in the polls and becoming “the useful vote” on the left.

Insubordinate France has decided to seek out the electorate which does not exist. The abstainers. Disappointed, defiant or “mis-registered”. And above all: the popular electorate, endangered on the left. Since this summer, “caravanes of the People’s Union“- the banner under which Jean-Luc Mélenchon is running this time in the presidential election – crisscross the most abstinent neighborhoods in dense and urban areas.

In November, these caravans made a stop in Mantes-la-Jolie (Yvelines), Villiers-le-Bel (Val-d’Oise) or even in Evreux (Eure). “We plant a stand in the heart of the district for the day, with something to occupy the children,” said Adrien Quatennens, deputy from the North and party coordinator, to BFMTV.com.

“It’s a painstaking job,” he continues. They are told: ‘You have a thousand reasons to be angry. But given the rules today, if you don’t go, there will be a result anyway, and it will be done by those who do not live in the same neighborhoods as you, but who will go and vote. ‘ “

“Abstention, a stupid trap”

If LFI relies a lot on these operations, it is because its candidate, admittedly at the top of the candidates on the left, is for the time being far from being able to qualify in the second round. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is today credited, on average, with just under 9% of voting intentions, according to BFMTV’s L’Élyséemètre, our barometer of polls on the presidential election. Far behind Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen or Eric Zemmour. Distanced also by Xavier Bertrand, Valérie Pécresse and Michel Barnier.

“Abstention, decidedly, is a stupid trap!”, Jean-Luc Mélenchon had launched in his back-to-school meeting at the end of August. “It’s the worst thing that can happen to us. The more it votes, the stronger we are. The less it votes, the stronger Macron and Le Pen are.”

The strategy of the deputy of Bouches-du-Rhône is supported by a note from the Jean Jaurès Foundation on abstainers, published this Wednesday. “It is on the left that the potential electorate is the most developed,” notes the analysis. “Only (…) 55% of the voters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon are absolutely certain to move”, and “33% of people declaring (him) to prefer (…) to the other candidates are probable or potential abstainers” .

Everything therefore depends on the ability to make a “good campaign” to “bring back to the polls an electorate acquired, but disillusioned”, analyzes the director of the observatory of opinion Antoine Bristielle in his note.

“Micro-militancy” with 400 “correspondents”

To achieve this, in addition to the caravans, which will “grow” with the approach of the presidential election, 400 “correspondents” have been deployed in large groups, a novelty for 2022, specifies Manuel Bompard, MEP and director of campaign by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, with BFMTV.com.

“These are people who don’t have a lot of time for politics, we send them letters, they go to their neighbors and say ‘come and see Mélenchon on BFMTV at home on Thursday’, it’s micro- activism, ”he explains.

Unearthed during door-to-door operations, these relays are registered on an application to be called upon at any time. Difficult to quantify the results of such operations. But with 7.6 million “mis-registered”, according to the work of the political scientist Céline Braconnier, the LFI teams feel aggrieved. Registered on the electoral rolls of a city other than the one where they live, these voters give up taking the steps for their proxy or traveling for miles to slip their ballot into the ballot box.

“It’s a democratic scandal”, enrages Manuel Bompard, who sees in this abstentionist popular electorate “part of the key to success”, deploring the lack of a major communication campaign to encourage voting or methods to simplify the process .

“Emmanuel Macron has no interest in the participation progressing because that would have the effect of diluting his electorate”, agrees the deputy Adrien Quatennens. “It is a rich man’s dream (…) that the poorest do not go and vote,” lashed Jean-Luc Mélenchon on BFMTV at the end of October.

Vincent Thibault, group leader at the Elabe polling institute, is less categorical. “Marine le Pen is really in the lead in the vote of the popular electorate (workers and employees) (30%), while Mélenchon (11%) comes behind Emmanuel Macron (21%), and is placed in a handkerchief close with Éric Zemmour (12%) “, he explains for BFMTV.com, based on a recent survey Opinion 2022 produced for BFMTV, L’Express and SFR.

Gender and ecology issues for young people

But the abstention remains the first party of the popular electorate. The first party of young people too. “Age remains the most discriminating criterion in the vote”, notes Vincent Thibault, of Elabe. Almost 30% of those under 35 did not come during the first round of 2017. With a view to 2022, LFI is particularly targeting first-time voters, i.e. 4 million potential voters.

“We made fun of Mélenchon when he said that we lacked 600,000 votes the last time, but with such a base, it is not uninteresting”, points out the coordinator Adrien Quatennens.

After the publication of the program last Thursday, LFI activists therefore tried to make it known the next day to the youngest voters. The day before, the LFI candidate was at Essec, a major business school. This Monday, he was invited to Sciences Po Rennes. He connects lives on the Twitch platform or short videos on TikTok. At 70, the MP has since become one of the most followed political figures on these networks popular with younger generations.

To mobilize them, LFI also relies on targeted proposals. On ecology by example. Or “on gender issues, gender equality,” adds Manuel Bompard. During a conference held on November 15 in front of students at the University of Lille, the leader of the Insoumis, for example, announced that he wanted to introduce the freedom to change gender in the Constitution.

But on this niche of young people, again, the candidate Mélenchon – who is running for the third time in the presidential election – seems to be struggling. 12% of 18-24 year olds would vote for him in 2022, against 29% for Emmanuel Macron, 20% for Marine Le Pen or 14% for Yannick Jadot, according to the Elabe poll. Nothing to do with 2017, where he came first in the vote of 18-24 year olds, attracting 30% of their votes, according to the institute Ipsos.

“Mélenchon can see that it is not the same dynamic as in 2017”, slips the spokesperson for Yannick Jadot and deputy for Maine-et-Loire, Matthieu Orphelin, to BFMTV.com. “It is the ecological theme that has been well identified among young people, not Yannick Jadot”, retorts Manuel Bompard.

Become “useful vote” on the left

Because the polls are wrong – at least, that is the conviction of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his teams. “The second round will be with me,” he claimed at the end of October on BFMTV. The candidate questions the method of opinion polls, based on people certain to vote for the presidential election, more politicized.

Elabe, for example, asks respondents to rate from 0 to 10 the likelihood of them participating in the poll in April 2022. The institute then takes into account the voting intentions of the most certain, from 8 to 10 out of 10. Other institutes keep only 10 out of 10, mechanically increasing abstention in their results. And Jean-Luc Mélenchon to criticize: by excluding as many potential voters, “we pretend to guess the vote of 40 million French people?”

“It makes no sense to give results taking into account people who do not intend to vote,” argues Vincent Thibault d’Elabe. “It’s like asking their opinion on a movie they haven’t seen.”

The specialist recalls that polls do not predict an election, but assess the dynamics of candidates. At LFI, we console ourselves by watching the 2017 campaign: at the same time, in November, Mélenchon was far from the 19.58% of the votes collected in the first round. The rebellious wave did not come until much later, from February.

But this time, “the votes are scattered among the candidates of the left”, underlines Vincent Thibault: “Among those who voted for him in 2017, only four in ten (42%) intend to start again for the moment.”

“I am not saying that the abstainers will all vote Mélenchon”, recognizes Manuel Bompard. “If participation increases, it will also benefit other candidates.” The main objective is to mark the distance to the left. “If we are going to look for three or four points in the abstention, we become the useful vote on the left,” he explains. Enough to nibble the voices of its neighbors. And dream of the second round even stronger.

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