DS0802 -

Voter turnout, abstention, mistrust and political toughening in France: comparative case studies – ALCoV

ALCoV project (Localized and Comparative Analysis of Voting)

The objective of the ALCoV survey is to study the logic of relationships to politics and electoral choices using a longitudinal and localized qualitative approach to electoral behavior.

A a comprehensive and contextual sociology of vote

The ALCoV project (Localized and Comparative Analysis of Voting) is a research project coordinated by IRISSO- UMR CNRS 7170 (Coordination E. AGRIKOLIANSKY), associating 4 other laboratories: the CESSP - UMR 8209 - EHESS and University of Paris 1 (Sandrine LEVEQUE); MESOPOLHIS, UMR 7064, Sciences Po Aix and Aix-Marseille University (Philippe ALDRIN); the CRESPPA - UMR 7217 - Universities of Paris 8 and Paris-Ouest Nanterre (Lorenzo BARRAULT-STELLA); and the CURAPP-ESS - UMR 6054 - University of Picardie (Patrick LEHINGUE). The project started in October 2016 and ended in September 2021.<br />This research aims to conduct a comprehensive sociology of relationships to politics and electoral choices based on in-depth biographical interviews. It aims to root the elections in the overall social life and representations of the voters. It also seeks to explore the social and territorial contexts in which voters are living (place of residence, family, friendship and sociability networks, professional groups, etc.) and to understand the effects of these contexts on individual choices.

The ALCOV project is based on a quantitative and qualitative survey carried out during the 2017 French elections (presidential and legislative): in particular, - in-depth and panelized interviews (conducted before, during and after the elections, with 229 voters residing in 9 different territories);
- an survey administered during the second round of the 2017 presidential elections in 14 polling stations (n = 3,000).
- the survey was supplemented by an analysis of the lists of voters at some polling stations, in order to measure the logic of voter turnout and abstentionism or to understand «le vote par procuration«.
- Lastly, a documentation study was carried out to identify the social and economic characteristics of the areas considered and to study the local political offer.

Three main contributions of the ALCOV study can be distinguished.

First, the 2017 election sequence was a textbook case for studying how French voters orient themselves in a context of crisis and renewal of the parti system. The data collected nevertheless show that the 2017 elections may not be the break that many commentators thought they were. While the political offer has been renewed, the benchmarks that guide voting remain surprisingly stable: voters still feel they belong to the right or the left, they claim to belong to a political family and refer to old preferences to guide their choices. In this sense, if the renewal of the political offer is not without effect, because it forces reclassifications and realignments, they are not distributed randomly, but according to previous social and electoral trajectories that delimit possible votes.

Secondly, we observe that relationships to politics and electoral preferences remain deeply linked to social roots. On the one hand, interest in politics, campaign monitoring and the propensity to vote remain indexed to one's social position and the resulting feeling of legitimacy. On the other hand, the analysis of the in-depth interviews shows that, in order to understand voting, it is essential to uncover what we can call “electoral habitus”, systems of beliefs and representations, incorporated by the voters and generating practices (production of opinions and judgments on the issues and candidates, voting, etc.). The interviews, which are repeated, make it possible to reconstruct and understand how these matrices function, which frame the perception of the political offer and issues, and define possible or impossible votes.

Finally, this study shows the importance of contexts and interactions in the production of opinions and votes. However, they are less a vehicle for change than a reminder of electoral loyalties. Exchanges with relatives, and the micro-pressures that result from them, produce electoral conformity above all by encouraging a regression towards the electoral habitus. In a situation of uncertainty, they contribute either to maintaining old choices, or to adjusting the new political offer to the transformations of the social situation, but only if these take on a collective meaning.

In this sense, our work calls for a methodological aggiornamento in electoral sociology: if quantitative surveys (crossing a few social variables and voting) are still useful to reveal the regularities of voting, they are insufficient to really grasp the social anchoring of electoral preferences, which must be inseparably apprehended from a qualitative microsociology of belonging and identification.

The publication of articles, journal dossiers, books, a documentary film and the organization of a final symposium accompanied the dissemination of these results.

The ALCoV project (Local Comparative Analyses of Voting: political distrust, abstention and radicalisation in contemporary France) seeks to understand the evolution of citizens’ behaviour in the face of contemporary transformations of democracy in France: crisis of consent, abstention, and radical choices such as support for the National Front. More precisely, the project suggests an ambitious framework for the analysis of voting and abstention during the 2017 presidential and legislative elections. It aims to combine different methods for the observation of electoral participation and choices. In particular, its ambition is to use both quantitative and qualitative approaches. The quantitative study will be conducted at two levels. First, it will rely on a secondary analysis of INSEE’s inquiry on participation, which provides key data to identify the factors behind political and electoral indifference. Second, in order to understand the contextual and cultural dimensions of electoral participation and/or radicalisation, the study will focus on specific local cases: seven constituencies in the PACA; Nord Pas-de-Calais Picardie; Bourgogne and Franche Comté; and Ile-de-France regions. In these constituencies, we will analyse the turnout records of several polling stations and conduct exit polls. In these local cases, we will also undertake a qualitative study, notably based on an ambitious plan of repeated individual interviews with a panel of voters, and on the direct observation of contrasted territories. We suggest to combine the analysis of voters with that of the political offer: we will follow the campaign of parties and candidates, using qualitative interviews and observations.

The project will be conducted by a team of twenty scholars in five research centres. It will build on the skills of experienced researchers, who during the last decade have contributed to experimenting new ways of investigating electoral behaviour. The project seeks to bring together a network of innovative social scientists capable of renewing electoral studies in France.

The originality of the project lies in the combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches for the parallel study of voting and the political offer, both at the national and local level, notably in order to understand the contextual and cultural dimensions of electoral participation. In particular, this project would be the first to combine on a large scale the use of national data on participation and abstention, and a local study based on exit polls and in-depth interviews, in connection with a localised analysis of the political offer and the work for electoral mobilisation during all the electoral period (from autumn 2016 to june 2017) including legislative elections.

Project coordination

ERIC AGRIKOLIANSKY (Institut de recherches interdisciplinaire en sciences sociales)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IRISSO Institut de recherches interdisciplinaire en sciences sociales
CRESPPA Centre de Recherches Sociologiques et Politiques de Paris
CURAPP-ESS Centre Universitaire de Recherches sur l’Action Publique et le Politique-Epistémologie et Sciences Sociales
CESSP Centre Européen de Sociologie et de Science Politique
CHERPA Croyance, Histoire, Espace, Régulation politique et Administrative

Help of the ANR 460,108 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2016 - 36 Months

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