Anne Sandager
4 weeks ago

How a 28-Year-Old Tiktok Phenomenon Made French Nationalism ‘Trendy’ Again.

Who is Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old political phenomena poised to become France's next prime minister?
Images from @jordanbardella on Tiktok edited by Anne Sandager
Images from @jordanbardella on Tiktok edited by Anne Sandager

More than 50 years after being founded, the National Rally party has become a sudden hit with young French voters. The face of the re-brand is Jordan Bardella, a 28-year-old political phenomenon, who is poised to become France’s next prime minister. Who is he, and what is the key to his success?

With 31% of the vote, the far-right National Rally party (RN) led by Jordan Bardella secured a crushing victory in the French European Election on June 9th. Now the 28-year-old politician has set his eye on becoming France’s youngest prime minister in history.

Born to an Italian single mother, Bardella grew up in the disadvantaged Drancy suburb north of Paris. He frequently notes how his upbringing shaped his politics “knowing the struggles at the end of each month” and feeling the impact of “islamism” on the security in his neighborhood.

Bardella stands firmly behind RN‘s historic anti-immigration platform. The RN president wants to cut child benefits to parents of “juvenile criminals” and limit both “illegal and legal immigration” to France according to the party’s recent manifesto. How he seeks to do this is not penciled out, however.

The young politician doesn’t concern himself too much with dampening public spending, and he has been outspoken about the need to cut living costs of working families and protect retirements. 

Some experts have estimated that Bardella's economic program could cost upwards of €101 billion a year. The prospect of RN at the helm of the French economy sent markets plummeting last week amid fears that France’s existing debt problems could worsen substantially.  

Bardella has been a central architect of the ‘new’ National Front Party which changed its name to National Rally in 2018 to complete the re-brand. Far from the holocaust-denying provocations of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the modern National Rally maintains tighter control with its outward image and communications. Bardella became the face of this ‘de-devilisation’ - as the French call it - when he took over the leadership of the party in 2022 from Jean-Marie’s daughter, Marine le Pen.  

And with the Le Pen name put at arm’s distance, Bardella has been able to re-introduce France’s far-right party to a new generation of voters who weren’t around to experience the darker parts of Front National’s history.

His popularity among young voters was one of the keys to the crushing victory in the European elections: among French voters between 18-34, RN was the most popular party, securing 32% of the vote, according to BFMTV; the Renaissance Party of President Emmanuel Macron won just 5% of the youth vote.

Bardella’s success in the young demographic has been in large part attributed to his social media savvy. On Tiktok, he has more than 1.5 million followers, and he is often seen jumping on the platform’s latest trends and memes to convey his political messages.  

“He stands out as someone who has really mastered the format of Tiktok,” says Annina Claesson, PhD-researcher at the Sciences Po Medialab in Paris. Claesson has followed the online communication strategies of French MPs since 2022 and has seen a clear increase in the importance of social media to inform French voters.

It is nothing new that politicians – or even presidential candidates – have TikTok accounts in France, but Bardella’s targeted strategy and use of TikTok has been matched by only a few young candidates on the left according to Claesson.

She argues that the importance of Bardella’s social media presence tends to be exaggerated. It is rather his ability to use multiple communication strategies depending on the audience that has garnered him widespread success.

Traditional media is still extremely important in France, as is on-the-ground engagement with local constituencies especially for rural communities and older voters who aren’t as well-represented on social media platforms.

Bardella is young and uses language that young people can identify with, but he is rarely seen out of a suit in a bid to appear mature and responsible to older voters. According to Claesson, “It is very crucial for electoral success that you are able to work on both fronts.”

In general, one should be careful to draw a direct line between TikTok popularity and success in a parliamentary election. 32% of young people voted for Bardella at the EU election, but even more voted for no one. With a 53% abstention rate among 18–24-year-olds, there is still territory to be won by centrist parties whose voters are more likely to mobilize in a national election.

Or at least, that is Macron’s best bet.

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