The first round of the French presidential election was Sunday. As expected, the Socialist Francois Hollande edged out incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. These two will square off in the second round on 6 May.
The results show that Hollande obtained 28.6%, Sarkozy 27.2%. In third place was Marine Le Pen of the National Front, 17.9%, and in fourth was left-wing Jean-Luc Melenchon, 11.1%. Centrist Francois Bayrou took 9.1%.
Most polling indicates that Hollande will win the runoff. If he does, he will be the first French Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand, who also won the position by defeating an incumbent (Valery Giscard d’Estaing, in 1981).
The National Front candidate’s support was even higher in this election than it was in 2002, when Marine’s father, Jean-Marie, made it into the runoff. That year Le Pen had 16.9%, but the Socialist candidate (then-premier Leonel Jospin) slipped to third place due to severe fragmentation on the left.
For much of the Fifth Republic, the French party system divided neatly into two blocs, which allowed the first round to function as a de-facto intra-bloc primary. However, the party system is much more fragmented today. One wonders whether a two-round majority system still serves the country well, given the current shape of competition. Would a one-round, but multiple-preference, system such as the alternative vote make more sense now?
Regional data on Sunday’s first round are available at the Guardian. They show one department, Gard (in the south), where Marine Le Pen won the plurality–barely, as all three leading candidates were clustered near 25%.
Once the presidential election is complete, the country will go right into its National Assembly elections, which are also held in two rounds (10-17 June, but by majority-plurality, rather than two-round majority).