Getting out the vote - in Paris' poorest suburbs

They're all at it - Nicolas Sarkozy in his big speech yesterday in the traditionally working class city of Marseille, Marine le Pen in front of a blue collar audience in Lille, François Hollande visiting a series of rundown estates this week. They're all trying to appeal to ordinary people, trying to convince those who can't quite make it to the end of the month that they are top of politicians' minds. This is a consequence of the economic crisis, of course; the discourse of aspiration and being relaxed about a few individuals acquiring vast wealth looks much less tempting now than it did at the last election in 2007. "Work more to earn more" doesn't play well when there are no jobs - what people want to hear instead is that candidates will help keep their electricity bills down.

In some parts of France, though, poverty and unemployment are not a consequence of the current crisis - they're ingrained social problems that decades of changing administrations on right and left have done little to tackle. These are France's banlieues - the mostly 1960s built sink estates forming a doughnut of deprivation around big cities, especially Paris. Here, unlike in Britain and America, the inner cities are desirable middle class areas; the poor have been pushed out, out of sight and out of mind.

A succession of surveys has shown that voters here feel disconnected from the political process; turnout is low and residents commonly feel ignored by both the right and left, as the years go by, governments change and problems like poor housing are not dealt with. At this election, this rejection of the main political parties might also translate into a high vote for left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, and among white voters for Marine le Pen; both have worked hard to paint themselves as outside the political establishment. This 'anti-system' rhetoric is perceived as playing so well with working class voters, in fact, that virtually all the candidates are jumping on the bandwagon - centrist François Bayrou, François Hollande, and even somewhat implausibly Sarkozy himself, with his attack on 'elites' made up of elected officials and unionists at the weekend. 

Is this populism working, though? I went out canvassing with the local socialists in the Paris suburb of Evry this weekend to find out.



A longer TV version of this report will be on France24 at 9:50 am Paris time tomorrow, Tues Feb 21st.

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