Published on 26 April 2019
Vote lors du second tour de l'élection présidentielle en France. Paris, le 6 mai 2007. Wikimédia/Rama, CC BY-SA

Jérémie Moualek, researcher in political sociology, Université d'Evry Val-d'Essonne, discusses the sociological foundations of the blank vote. An article published on The Conservation.

In 2017, the blank and null vote broke all records at the polls. More than 4 million voters cast this type of vote in the second round of the presidential election. Since the early 1990s, the extent of this electoral phenomenon has never been denied.
During the "Grand débat national" (Great National Debate), the predominant place given to the demand for greater consideration of these votes in the electoral results only confirms the importance of the subject in the political sphere.

Nevertheless, at his press conference on 25 April 2019, President Emmanuel Macron persisted in adopting a utilitarian vision of the vote. In fact, by considering that the "blank vote (...) does not decide", that "it is too easy" because "in a democracy, you have to choose", it reduces the electoral act to an instrument of legitimization of elected officials and a tool for regulating popular expression.

Not included in the votes cast, these "votes without a vote" still have no weight in the electoral balance. How can we explain this when more and more citizens are using it? What is really behind all these "lost voices"? This is how these votes were called in the 19th century in the press and even the official presentation of the results. Only to better highlight how these votes were "lost votes" for candidates.

These questions were the subject of a sociology thesis defended in March 2018. As part of this work, a research documentary film was even produced to accompany the "traditional" manuscript. Here are some of the contributions below.

The plural uses of the blank and null vote

The result of five years of sociological research, this film is based on the counting of more than 15,000 cancelled ballots from the 2007 and 2012 presidential and legislative elections and kept in the Oise departmental archives.

It is also based on the testimonies of three voters who have agreed to highlight the social and political conditions of their gesture: Marie, a 25-year-old short film director who tends towards abstentionism; Roland, a deacon in his seventies who has been a follower of the blank vote since François Mitterrand was elected in 1981; and Sonia, a nurse and former PCF activist who regrets the time when the "left" raised hopes.

Through the words of these three citizens and their potential newsletters, the film addresses themes that echo current mobilizations and highlights the critical distance that is developing towards institutional politics and even representative democracy.

Above all, the film shows how unambiguous the blank and null votes are. While the upcoming European elections will once again result in a separate presentation of the results - as required by law since 2014 - the film highlights the plurality of socially and politically differentiated practices, of which these voices are the translation.

In this way, they reflect the legitimate definition of the electoral act as it has been constructed since the 19th century. Indeed, more than the legitimization of the vote as the main means of political action, it is the progressive legitimization of a certain type of vote - the one that is confined to nominating a candidate in the running - that has always ordered the exclusion of "blank and void" votes.

Moreover, the images of spoiled ballots show how much the "blank and void" vote is mainly a socially constructed Manicheism. Far from being confined to errors or incompetence, the "void" vote is, in most cases, a blank vote "in the spirit", cast in particular by voters who are inclined to no longer vote in a "counter-opinion" manner and who wish to make their voices heard rather than to give them.

On the other hand, the "blank" vote is not systematically this refusal to choose and renounce voting that associations advocating a better "recognition" of this gesture keep describing in order to better promote it. Like a "normal vote" (for candidates), a blank and void vote can sometimes be assimilated to a "disinvested" vote as a "reinvested" vote, depending on the social agents, the cases, the electoral configurations.

In noting this, it is the social (and therefore particularly "scientific") hierarchization of the various forms of political participation ("normal" vote, "white" vote, "null" vote, abstention) that could be called into question if we focus less on the decisive dimension of the vote and more on the investment to which it is subjected.

A filmic and visual study of politics

Finally, this film is therefore part of a filmic and visual sociology which, in addition to being used in the study of archived newsletters (a sociology of the image), is also mentioned in our report to respondents (a sociology by the image): during the filmed interviews, for example, we used the technique of "photo-interview" to elicit reactions and reflections based on photographs of cancelled newsletters.

More generally, the implementation of this film sociology goes beyond the collection of materials insofar as the film is also an opportunity to experiment with another way of reconstructing data and survey results.

Thus, this research documentary film seeks to offer a vision of the blank and null vote that challenges preconceptions and presuppositions about an increasingly used electoral gesture. Above all, it highlights the binding and empowering nature of the voting act.

The documentary film by Jérémie Moualek can be viewed free of charge here
Jérémie Moualek, Researcher in Political Sociology, University of Evry - Université Paris-Saclay

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read the original article in French.