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The image has become commonplace in France: for the last dozen years or so, a short while before an election, queues begin to form in front of police stations in large cities, as people wait to set up a proxy. This system allows voting in absentia, with principals assigning proxies to vote on their behalf. Proxy voting is an uncommon practice, initially conceived as an alternative to in-person voting to be used in special circumstances. But it raises new questions about certain long-observed trends in electoral sociology.
Proxy voting, which has existed since the 1940s, has seen two major periods of development in France. The first came in the late 1970s, with the end of mail-in voting, and the second in the 2000s, when restrictions on proxy voting were relaxed. For a long time, proxy voting was extremely rare, involving fewer than 1% of votes, but this figure has increased to as high as 6–9% during a presidential election. Proxy voting is still not widespread: it is costly to set up—whether that cost is reckoned in terms of travel and waiting times, the knowledge required to set up a proxy, or the need to find one. Do these costs discourage those with limited social resources? Proxy voting is however designed to combat abstention by those who cannot get to a polling place on election day, either because they are immobile (especially due to ill health or old age) or are traveling. Does proxy voting thus encourage both the most immobile and the most mobile voters?
This article aims to contribute to our understanding of proxy voting…


Proxy voting has become more widespread in recent decades. Based on the “Enquête sur la participation électorale” (Study of Electoral Participation) published by INSEE in 2017, we argue that this alternative to direct voting strengthens electoral participation among the upper classes, and thus also perpetuates inequalities in voter turnout. Young adults are more likely to participate in proxy voting, even though they also form an important non-voting bloc. Proxy voting—at least based on the reference point of the 2017 elections—accounts for the over-representation of executives and highly educated individuals. If proxy voting is discounted, the voting rate for this group is in fact equivalent to that of intermediate sociodemographic categories. Mobility and social resources intersect here: proxy voting is a method used by highly mobile voters with the most social resources, whereas a lack of mobility among the lower classes often leads to abstention. Proxy voting thus makes possible a certain kind of “remote” electoral participation.

  • voting
  • participation
  • mobility
Baptiste Coulmont
Baptiste Coulmont is a sociologist, a professor at ENS Paris-Saclay, and a member of the Institut des sciences sociales du politique (ISP, CNRS) (Institute for Political Social Sciences, French National Centre for Scientific Research). His work focuses on cultural stratification (based on the study of first names) and on trust (based on proxy voting). His publications include a study of first name changes, Changer de prénom: De l’identité à l’authenticité (Presses universitaires de Lyon, 2016); a methodological article on anonymized respondents, “Le petit peuple des sociologues: anonymes et pseudonymes dans la sociologie française,” Genèses 107 (2017): 153–75; and, with Céline Braconnier and Jean-Yves Dormagen, an article on electoral participation in 2017, “The Heavy Variables Are Still Alive and Kicking: The Drop In Voter Turnout and the Increase in Electoral Disparities in Spring 2017,” Revue française de science politique 67, no. 6 (December 2017): 1023–40. His work is presented in detail at (ENS Paris-Saclay, 4 avenue des Sciences, 91190 Gif-sur-Yvette).
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