Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



This thesis is concerned with French politics in the thirteen years after 1968. After the wave of street demonstrations, seizure of schools, and worker sit-ins that beset the country in May of that year, many people in France became convinced of the need to alter the political status quo. In the years that followed, the country’s largest and most dominant political grouping, the Gaullist party, experienced a dramatic loss of electoral support. Between 1968 and 1981, the Gaullists lost control of the National Assembly, the premiership, and the presidency. By May 1981, France’s Fifth Republic was governed by a leftist president for the first time since its founding by Charles de Gaulle twenty-three years earlier. The purpose of this thesis is to find the reasons for the dramatic decline experienced by the Gaullist party during the 1970s. Scholars have usually argued that the turmoil of 1968, the resignation of de Gaulle one year later, and the economic downturn of the early- to mid-1970s hastened the collapse of the party. These viewpoints are inadequate. The second and third chapters of this work reveal that the failure of Gaullists to support far-reaching political, economic, and social reform alienated an important portion of their electorate and thus led to the weakening of the party as a whole. As the third chapter shows, this argument also helps to explain the victory of François Mitterrand over Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in the May 1981 presidential election. To prove this point, this thesis examines polling data, party programs, and presidential and legislative elections held between 1968 and 1981. This work also explores the events of May 1968, Gaullist political ideology, and the realities de Gaulle’s successors faced after his resignation in order to demonstrate how the refusal of the Gaullist party to rollback the state compromised their ability to dominate French politics.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Benjamin Martin



Included in

History Commons