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Yellow vest movement under scrutiny by l’X researchers

Researchers at the École Polytechnique Center for Research in Economics and Statistics have been looking into the yellow vests, their history and their protest locations, in order to identify the movement’s origins and map out the online and offline activity of its followers.

On Saturday, April 20, 2019, "Act 23" of the yellow vest movement rallied together 27,900 demonstrators across France. Meanwhile, researchers at the Center for Research in Economics and Statistics, a joint research unit of École Polytechnique and Genes located at ENSAE, published an article outlining the origins of the movement and mapping out the rallies on a national scale.

In their article, published in the April 2019 Report of the Public Policy Institute (IPP), the article examines the areas where the yellow vest movement first gained popularity. Using new data from Facebook, the researchers reveal a strong correlation between online and offline mobilization since the first Saturday of protests on November 17, 2018. They also highlight the dual nature of the yellow vests, as a localized movement on a countrywide scale, and present a contrastive map of the protests according to French administrative department and employment zone.

The article seeks to identify determiners for the initial mobilization of the yellow vests by simultaneously monitoring various factors likely to explain the movement’s genesis, namely political preferences, government decisions, socioeconomic factors and geographical constraints. This study reveals that—while the 2017 presidential election results, local percentage of diesel vehicles and poverty rate of retirees are all weakly correlated with the movement’s popularity—the legislation to reduce the speed limit to 80 km/h was an important element in triggering its inception. However, the researchers also point out that “the subsequent evolution of the movement seems to have largely transcended this single theme”.

“The results presented in this report are just the first step in analyzing the yellow vest protests. The yellow vest movement questions our relationship to both physical and digital territories; the transformation of a movement of this magnitude from online to offline is unprecedented in France. It is essential that research be conducted with the help of digital platforms in order for us to understand new forms of political mobilization,” concludes the article.

>Read the article published in the Report of the Public Policy Institute (in French).