The political consequences of mass repatriation

April 12, 2021 | Blog
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This blog is based on the author’s presentation to the Economic History Society’s annual conference, 2021 (session NRIIF)


by Edoardo Cefalà (University of Nottingham)


What happens when the electorate of a country is suddenly increased by hundreds of thousands of new potential voters?  How do political parties adjust their strategies after such an event?  To address these questions, I exploit the quasi-experiment represented by the arrival in France of approximately one million French repatriates from Algeria between 1962 and 1968.

When Algeria became an independent country, after a civil war (1954-1962), the French colonizers abandoned Algeria and settled in France. Between March and December 1962, around 600,000 repatriates left Algeria. The remaining repatriates arrived in France between 1963 and 1968 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Growth rate of the French population 1951-2012. Source: the author

When the repatriates left Algeria, they were allowed to bring only two suitcases of contents per person; surplus possessions remained in Algeria. Compensation for the losses suffered by the repatriates, and their assimilation into the French society, quickly became a major political issue because the repatriates could immediately vote in French elections thereby influencing the political strategies of the different French parties. Furthermore, historians and social scientists have argued that during the Algerian civil war the French colonizers developed connections with the far-right movements that were fighting to retain Algeria as a French colony. These political movements also started to oppose De Gaulle after his decision to start the peace talks with the Algerian provisional government.

To study the political behaviour of the repatriates after their arrival in France, I look at the first round of both legislative and presidential elections between 1962 and 1974. My results indicate that in areas where the repatriates settled there was an increase in far-right voting, an increase in turnout, but a negative effect on the vote share of centre-right parties.

Additionally, I study the effect of the arrival of the repatriates on the political strategies of the different French political parties. I use text analysis on more than 10,000 political manifestos issued by candidates in the first round of the French legislative elections between 1958 and 1973. I focus on French words that capture the saliency of the repatriates in the political debate such as ‘Algerie’ (Algeria), and ‘Rapatrie’ (Repatriates). I also examine words that capture the material interests of the repatriates, for example, ‘Indemnisation’ (compensation), and ‘Amnistie’ (Amnesty). Since the repatriates had to leave many of their possessions in Algeria, they immediately started to ask for compensation from the French government as soon as they arrived in France. They also asked for amnesty for any crimes they might have committed during the Algerian civil war.



Figure 2. Use of words linked to the repatriates in areas below/above the median exposure to their arrival. Source: the author

My results indicate that in areas where the repatriates settled, and independently of the political ideology of the different parties, words such as ‘Algerie’ and ‘Amnistie’ comprised a larger share of the political manifestos. This suggests that parties had to adjust their political strategy to include in their manifestos issues that were directly relevant to the repatriates.

The repatriation of French citizens from Algeria is indicative of a more general model: an exogenous increase in the voting population has real effects on the political life of a country in terms of voting results and political strategies. In particular, issues pertinent to the new electorate are quickly adopted and exploited by the different political parties for electoral advantage.

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