A furious Jean-Marc Ducourtioux shouted with his fellow union members as they banged on the plexiglass window of a meeting hall in small-town France. Inside was Manuel Valls, the former Socialist prime minister, who was campaigning for president in this bastion of the French left. A member of France’s oldest trade union, Mr. Ducourtioux, 52, was a stalwart Socialist Party voter who once might have been inside, cheering. But no longer. His hands callused by three decades as a metalworker, Mr. Ducourtioux is angry that the Socialist government has failed to stop French automakers from moving factories outside the country, as manufacturing declines in this decaying region. He said he was at risk of losing his job at an automotive subcontractor. “Mr. Valls knew the situation here,” Mr. Ducourtioux said. “He did nothing.” France’s presidential election this year is being closely watched as a barometer of European public disaffection, and no party is more visibly out of favor than the governing Socialists. President François Hollande, a Socialist, is so deeply unpopular that he is not running for re-election.
Mr. Valls came in second out of seven candidates in a primary of left-wing parties on Sunday. With about 31 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Valls trailed the top vote-getter, Benoît Hamon, a former education minister in Mr. Hollande’s government, who took about 36 percent of the votes. More worrisome for the left was that turnout was roughly 50 percent lower than it was in 2011, when the the left-leaning parties last held a primary. Few analysts believe that any of the Socialists have a real shot at retaining the presidency in the April general election.
The collapse of the establishment left in France is hardly a unique phenomenon. Across Europe, far-right populist parties are gaining strength, including in France, while the mainstream left, which played a central role in building modern Europe, is in crisis. From Italy to Poland to Britain and beyond, voters are deserting center-left parties, as leftist politicians struggle to remain relevant in a moment when politics is inflamed by anti-immigrant, anti-European Union anger.