Last Sunday, Marine Le Pen was elected the new chair of France’s National Front (FN) party. She thus succeeds her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, the 82-year-old dean of Europe’s so-called “far right” parties. In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen caused a sensation by finishing second in the first round of France’s presidential elections with nearly 17% of the vote. He thus eliminated the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin and moved on to the second round of voting, in which he was defeated by the incumbent Jacques Chirac.

According to current polling data, Marine Le Pen could do even better in the upcoming French presidential elections in 2012. A newly released poll by France’s CSA polling institute shows her drawing either 17% or 18% of the vote in the first round of voting, depending on the candidate fielded by the Socialist Party (PS).

Moreover, at least part of the surge of support for Marine Le Pen appears to be coming not from the “moderate right,” as represented by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), but precisely from the left.

As reported in the weekend edition of the French daily Le Figaro, this is the conclusion of a memorandum written by the French Socialist Party’s own public opinion specialist François Kalfon. According to Kalfon’s prima facie paradoxical findings (as summarized by Le Figaro), the far right “appeals to a part of the working class electorate that was previously to be found on the left.”

The Le Figaro report continues:

With Marine Le Pen, the FN has changed its discourse, attacking free trade or claiming the mantle of secularism [la laïcité] in order to promote its anti-Islam theses. “If the FN is taking from the right electorally, it is taking from the left socially,” Socialist Party official Razzy Hammadi sums up. He argues that the PS has to reappropriate these themes.

Hammadi’s distinction between the “electoral” and “social” appeal of the FN is clearly a distinction without a difference. He presumably resorts to it in order to avoid having to address the embarrassing fact that the National Front and the Socialist Party are competing for the same segment of the electorate.