The new Ipsos survey for Le Monde, France 2013: les nouvelles fractures,” undertaken by Science Po’s Political Studies Center and the Jean Jaurès Foundation, enunciates the various contradictions and concerns that characterize French public opinion. The survey makes use of the quotas method, and has been answered online by a sample of 1016 individuals, aged 18 and older.

Among the primary points of concern of the French population are unemployment (51%) and purchasing power (41%), followed by the future of retirement (27%), incomes and income taxes (27%), health and the quality of care (24%), national security (20%), social inequalities (19%), public deficits (19%), religious fundamentalism (17%), immigration (16%), accommodation (13%), public education (9%), and the environment (9%).

Participants were also questioned about their perceptions of the decline of France. The results show that 51% of them think that it is inevitable. If extend to the economic power and the cultural influence of France, 55% and 63% of those polled think regard a decline in these spheres.

French public opinion vs. administration, authority, politics, and the media:

The results indicate that many French citizens (42%) estimate there are too many civil servants and 56% estimate there are too many regulations.

Furthermore, an enormous 86% of those interviewed consider authority as a value that is too often criticized, and 87% think the country needs a real head of state who is able to bring order. With that said, 62% do not trust their political representative, alluding to the pervasive distrust of the political establishment and the feeling that many political figures are corrupted.

In fact, 82% consider that politicians – both men and women – are more concerned with personal interests than those of the people they represent. As a result, 72% of those surveyed assume that the functioning of the French democracy is not effective, since they do not believe that their ideas are truly represented and taken into account.

Finally, the survey indicates that French public opinion does not view the media as independent from the political sphere (73%). According to 72% of them, this disconnects journalists from the true problems facing society, and such a disconnect, according to 58% of the sample, may lead to the propagation of inaccurate information.

French public opinion vs. money and the social state:

The study reports that 82% of French citizens think that money has corrupted the traditional values of society. A bit more than the half of the respondents (58%) would like to have a kind of “Robin Hood” society in which the government taxes the rich and gives money to the poor in order to establish social justice. However, 71% of them assert that the desire to earn large sums of money is a positive characteristic, and 56% of those surveyed subscribe to the idea that the unemployed could find a job if they really wanted it.

French public opinion vs. Europe and the rest of the world:

The survey also reveals that 65% of participants think there is a need to strengthen France’s decision-making power, even if it leads to a limitation of that of Europe, while a vast majority (72%) want to stay in the Eurozone in the future. Furthermore, the great majority of the people who were interviewed considered globalization to be a threat to the country (61%), and 58% think that France needs to protect itself from that threat.

French public opinion vs. xenophobia, tolerance, and religion:

78% of those surveyed are becoming more and more distrustful of the “Other” in French society, and 66% point out the negative effects of minority communities. Regarding the immigrants who settled in France during the last 30 years, the study reveals more balanced opinion: 29% of people consider that the great majority of them is well integrated and only a minority is not, 38% of those interviewed believed half of the migrants to be well integrated and the other half not, and 33% think that only a minority of immigrants is well integrated and the majority is not.

However, the study also reveals that 73% think immigration is not needed in order to maintain the workforce in France, while 54% do not estimate that a reduction of the number of migrants will have an effect on the number of unemployed people in France. 70% of them agree with the opinion that immigrants settle in France to do the work French people do not want to do.

Nevertheless, 70% think that there are too many foreigners in France. 62% of the French people who were interviewed stated that they do not “feel at home” like before, and 57% consider that anti-white racism is a growing phenomenon in France. 55% think that immigrants do not try to integrate themselves, though the same proportion of people thinks that it is easy for a migrant to integrate himself in France.

The respondents were also asked questions regarding their perception of tolerance in different religions. Concerning Catholicism and Judaism, 72% and 66% respectively consider them as truly or rather tolerant, while 74% of them see Islam as rather not or not tolerant at all.

This also affects their perception of the compatibility of the religion with the values of the French society: 89% and 75% respectively think that the Catholic and Jewish faiths are compatible with French society’s values, while 74% think the Muslim religion is incompatible with them.

Further, 79% and 74% of those surveyed do not believe that the Jewish and Catholic religions try to impose their way of functioning on French society, while 80% of them believe that the Muslim faith attempts to do so.

The survey also demonstrates the rising concern of the population regarding religious fundamentalism, with 77% of those surveyed defining it as a problem that is becoming increasingly worrying and one that must be addressed seriously. The last question the respondents were asked touched on the proportion of extremist Muslims in France; 54% of those polled see Muslims as fundamentalists.

What kind of conclusions can be drawn?

The same pattern appears throughout. In times of crisis, people become more and more concerned about existing issues. Consequently, despite the fact that they see their politicians as corrupted and the democratic system as not efficient enough, they ask for a stronger head of state. For fear of losing national sovereignty, people tend to reject globalization and want a national withdrawal to protect their own interests.

This rejection of what comes from the outside is also noticeable within the country itself. If we take for examples the 1930s after Black Tuesday, or the two oil crises during the 1970s, it is undeniable that in times of crisis, people tend to seek someone to blame, generally in the form of ethnic or religious minorities.

A similar situation exists today, and the new targets are Muslims. Unfortunately, the present information age does not work to their advantage. Ways of obtaining information, as well as the practice of journalism, have evolved. Information is more accessible than ever, but neither the quality nor the objectivity of it is by any means guaranteed. Consequently, Muslims are often presented as extremist fundamentalists and dangerous to society, an image that feeds the existing fear, distrustfulness, and even hatred of the group. But not all or even a great many Muslims are extremists or fundamentalists, nor are all people of Muslim origin even practicing or believers.

The problem has shifted from the economical sphere to the religious one. The extensive media coverage and political exploitation of this topic, instigated by both left and right parties, has lead to a development of “Islamophobia” among the French population and to resentment on the part of Muslims. Now both sides feed off of each other, leading to misunderstandings and dialogues in which no one truly listens.

Finally, the over-hyped delivery provided by a large and pervasive media, and the tensions such a situation evoke, provide the fodder for populism and extremist parties, particularly the Front National, who use it to their own advantage.

For our French speaking readers who would like to have more information about the “France 2013: les nouvelles fractures” study, here is the link to the full survey that you can download:

A special thanks to some students in the Political Science class at the INALCO for their work: “La mise en scène de l’Islam dans les médias et son utilisation en politique” (The presentation of Islam in the media and its use in politics) has been of great help for gaining a better understanding of the situation.