Journal of Democracy, Vol. 30
Since November 2018, a grassroots revolt of the forgotten lower middle classes from France’s far-flung suburbs and rural areas has risen against high taxes; social injustice; and the elites, President Emmanuel Macron foremost among them. Although this “Yellow Vest” movement is not dead, it is now weakened by internal feuds, excessive violence, a takeover by the far left, and Macron’s deft handling. Yet this revolt of “la France profonde” has underscored the fragility of Macron’s narrow sociological and political base. Macron’s decisive 2017 election victory owed more to his outsider status, the collapse of the traditional political establishment, and the rejection of the far right (led by Marine Le Pen) than to his free-market and pro-European agenda. In part, the Yellow Vest version of populism was a response to the “populism of the elites” embodied by Macron in 2017. The Yellow Vest movement further illustrates the central class and polarized ideological cleavages that shape the politics of a growing number of advanced democracies.