The socio-political education cleavage in France. Are the lower educated structurally underrepresented in French democracy?
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By coining the notion “diploma democracy” and developing its accompanying theory, Bovens and Wille launched a debate among political scientists in the Netherlands a few years ago. According to the two authors, the lower educated citizens would have been ousted from practically every Dutch political arena during the last decades. From Parliament to government as well as in civil society – all these domains would nowadays be ruled by those with the highest diplomas. In addition to this increasing democratic underrepresentation, the lower educated would socially be more and more separated from their higher educated fellow citizens, thereby holding increasingly diverging political convictions. These preferences, mainly concerning European integration, immigration and law and order, are electorally exploited by the populist parties on the extreme sides of the political spectrum. In this thesis, the diploma democracy debate is transported to France – not only to understand how far concepts can travel, but also to obtain a better view on the contemporary French socio-political landscape. Hereby the following question is central: to what extent is there a socio-political cleavage between the higher and lower educated in France and how has this changed over time? In order to give an adequate answer to this question, the general cleavage is longitudinally analyzed from three perspectives. The first of these domains concerns socio-demographic representation, the second political participation and thirdly policy representation is analyzed along educational lines. What are the findings? In the first place, the different contextual factors create different points of departure between the Dutch and the French case (constitutionally for instance, socio-demographically and historically). Nonetheless, as in the Netherlands, also in France we observe an increasing dominance of the higher educated: in Parliament, in governments as well as in unions and in (especially leftist) political parties. Concerning political participation this increase is less pregnant, but still significant. Finally the educational cleavage in the domain of policy preferences not only became wider, but the dividing political themes also became more and more important during the last decades. Most importantly, from being a practically unnoticed and marginally relevant factor until the 1980s, education level has become one the most, perhaps the most important socio-political cleavage in contemporary French democracy. At the same time, because data was lacking in certain domains (recent information concerning the education level of political party officials for example, political participation at subnational elections and electoral surveys after 2007), further research is necessary to learn us more about this potentially subversive socio-political fracture.