“I Think Therefore I Don’t Vote”: discourses on abstention, distrust and twitter politics in the 2017 French presidential election

Joseph Downing*, Estelle E. Brun

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Advanced democracies increasingly face three interrelated challenges: new media technologies, increased political distrust and decreasing voter participation. During the 2017 French presidential election, all three were enmeshment while France witnessed its highest voter abstention rate since 1969. The Twitter hashtag #SansMoile7Mai (#WithoutMeMay7) emerged in the social media debate about abstention between the two rounds of the election, offering new insights into self-expression of abstention. Posing the research question “What discourses about voter abstention coalesce around the hashtag #SansMoile7Mai on social media during the 2017 French presidential election?”, this paper seeks to use the aforementioned case study to understand public discourse about voter abstention in the new digital era. By applying a multi-methods approach (social network analysis, thematic analysis and critical discourse analysis) to texts from #SansMoile7May, the results demonstrate that discourses around abstention conveyed significant distrust in contemporary French democracy and raised allegations of voter manipulation, expressing opposition to incoming president Emmanuel Macron as a product of an oligarchical system while—surprisingly—showing little opposition to the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. These findings suggest that public discourse about the trust in French democracy in certain populations is problematic, where self-expression on social media about abstention was an “active” form of protest against a system seen as corrupt and manipulated. This raises important questions about the new intersections between social media protest, discourses about voting and the durability of contemporary democratic systems.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFrench Politics
Early online date2 Dec 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Abstention
  • Emerging technologies
  • French politics
  • Hashtag
  • Online narratives
  • Political behaviour
  • Political discourses
  • Political distrust
  • Social media movements
  • Twitter

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