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PARIS (Reuters) - While street demonstrations are mainly a younger person's domain in France, when it comes to protest voting by spoiling ballots, the over 65s appear to be the most active age group.
Turned off by the choices on offer in the country's most unusual presidential election run-off in decades, the segment of voters most likely to have protested by casting spoiled or blank ballots were retirees, according to Reuters research and pollsters.
Older voters seem to have been put off more than most by having to choose between a youthful centrist who broke with the traditional mould of French politics and a far-right candidate who wanted to ditch the euro.
Emmanuel Macron, a former economy minister under outgoing President Francois Hollande, defeated the National Front's Marine Le Pen on Sunday after candidates from the traditionally dominant conservative and Socialist parties were eliminated in the first round of voting last month.
Casting of spoiled or blank ballots - widely considered to be an act of protest - showed a 78 percent positive correlation with the percentage of over 65s in an administrative department or county, Reuters research found (see graphic, tmsnrt.rs/2qWhL54).
Other factors ranging from median income to education levels showed no sign of such a link in a Reuters review of more than a dozen variables.
The finding chimes with opinion polls conducted during the campaign, said political analyst Bruno Jeanbart at pollsters Opinionway, which found in a survey in May that 14 percent of retirees planned on casting a spoiled or blank vote - more than other social categories.
"We see more of a political than a sociological reason with people in this part of the population tending to be unhappy about the last presidency and didn't want to get Emmanuel Macron," Jeanbart told Reuters.
"Voting for the National Front (FN) also clashed with their values, particularly because of the memory of World War Two and the National Front's positions on the euro," he added.
The FN has worked hard to throw off its past image as anti-Semitic, with a degree of success among younger voters, although other politicians seek to ram home the message that the party is extreme. Macron sought to paint the party as the legacy of war-time collaboration.
Jerome Sainte-Marie, head of PollingVox, has another theory.
He said that since more elderly people tend to live in small villages where they will be recognised on their way to vote, many decided to cast spoiled or blank ballots rather than abstain, because they feared the stigma.
"In rural areas and small towns in particular, you know that if you don't vote, it will be known and it's frowned on," Sainte-Marie said.
Reporting by Leigh Thomas and Matthias Blamont; Editing by Andrew Callus and Janet Lawrence