French presidential elections, round 1

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).

Hollande has won the clear backing of Melenchon, while Le Pen said that Sarkozy was a “loser” who does not “deserve” her supporters’ backing in the runoff.

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).

16 thoughts on “French presidential elections, round 1

  1. While I’m none too pleased at who benefitted from it, there is something oddly satisfying about how the French voter upended the table in terms of expectations for this election-in that respect its not unlike what happened in Alberta, as discussed above. The polling companies and political commentators missed the level of enthusiasm completely (though perhaps “enthusiasm” is the wrong word-a lot of voters wanted to give Sarkozy one in the eye for the last five years).

  2. France had a four party system in the 1970s, consisting of the Gaullists, the non-Guallist right (the UDF), the Communists and the Socialists. Though 2002 was particularly embarrasing, it wasn’t the first time a candidate from the left failed to make it to the second round due to fragmentation on the left.

    For awhile, the left vote was consolidated in the Socialists, but it seems to have fragmented instead, though no not-Socialist party on the left has emerged to replace the pre-1980s Communists. On the right, you have the emergence and persistence of the National Front.

    What I found interesting about the results was how many departments Hollande won with a national plurality of almost 2%. Also, I see a clear majority for the right, if you combine the totals for Sarkozy, Le Pen, and Bayrou but apparently Hollande is leading in the second round polls.

  3. The Front de gauche appears to be an emergent far left party, more correctly a far left bloc as it includes a number of groups, even the Communist party. At 11.9% the far left has almost doubled its vote. It will be interesting to see if the ‘anti-austerity left’ (anti-Merkozy left?) has a similar success in the Netherlands.

    Sarkozy cannot legitimately appeal for the votes of Front nationale supporters, which is why Ed’s majority for the right is overstated.

    More broadly, forming a majority government will be very difficult in both countries.

  4. The usual construction in France is to draw a distinction between “la droite (republicaine)” and “l’extreme droite”. I’ve noticed some talking heads on the Right seem to have dropped this distinction to make precisely the point Ed is making, but I think it is somewhat facile.
    The FN didn’t really run a “Tea Party” style campaign, its models are more the Austrian far right, or the PVV in the Netherlands, which are fiercely xenophobic but also more liberal on social issues than the traditional right, as well as more statist economically. So some significant minority of its voters, when faced a choice between centre-left and centre-right, might well choose the former.
    Sarkozy seems to be doubling down on his rightist strategy in the first round, but few seem to rate his chances. On the other hand…

  5. That is becoming quite a common pattern, a party that is both nativist and socially liberal. Katter’s Australian Party fits the template fairly closely, although they are conservative on gay issues.

    Bob Katter once promised to walk ‘backwards from Bourke to Brisbane’, a distance of 917.2 kilometres, if there were any homosexuals in his electorate of Kennedy. Gay activists in Kennedy have been trying to get him on his way for some time now.

    The KAP won seats in the recent Queenslandslide (hat tip to Tom) and is expected to win at least one Senate seat at the next federal election.

    Sidebar, for some reason far right parties in Australia describe themselves as the property of their leaders. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Katter’s Australian Party. I seem to remember the predecessor of the PVV called themselves Lijst Pim Fortuyn (Pim Fortuyn’s List).

  6. Er, can the Front National actually be described as “socially liberal”? Even if we agree to somehow separate the xenophobia from “social issues”, on issues such as gay rights, abortion and capital punishment the FN is hardly taking the traditionally liberal position.

  7. @Vasi: Well I did say “more” liberal, by comparison with the traditional far right-take the example of the FN. Programatically, it is still I think opposed to abortion, and favours mothers remianing at home etc., but the image they choose to project is of their leader, a divorcée with children from two different fathers who is a professional (a lawyer).

    They also seek to present themselves as less Catholic and traditionally religious than previously, embracing a particular interpretation of “laicitié”, which focuses on Islam (you and I may disagree with that interpretation, but the important point for the purposes of the discussion is that it is being presented as a softening or modernistaion of a previously hardline stance in fabour of traditional Cathloic interests).

  8. @Alan: The legislative banner of the FN and its (at present very minor) allies from the nationalist right is apparently going to be “Rassemblement Bleu Marine”-Bleu Marine being “navy blue”, as well as the obvious reference. The French love of puns crosses all ideological boundaries…

  9. @DC

    The Australia Party, a small-l liberal predecessor of the Australian Democrats must be spinning in their graves over ‘Katter’s Australian Party’. On the other hand they came up with the most disingenuous slogan of all times:

    Put Australia before Party

  10. I think “socially liberal” is a phrase that has lost whatever meaning it once had and should be retired. In this context, I’m guessing that it means that the FN is supportive of what used to be called welfare programs, more so than mainstream parties on the right.

  11. @Ed, that too, but I was using “liberal” in its European context, which means more permissive on moral issues-as I said, this is a relative loosening of authoritarian rightwing themes, not their abandonment.

    The FN is however emphasising a more protectionist and welfarist economic approach, even if its economic programme is a little vague at this point. They used to be the most “laissez-faire” liberal party in France up to 2007, at leats up tot he frontiers of France.

  12. @Ed

    May I ask why ‘socially-liberal’ should be retired? In most of the world ‘liberal’ denotes one end of a spectrum from authority and intervention to laissez-faire.

    Economic liberals are not always social liberals and social liberals seem to be relatively rarely economic liberals. A friend of mine once described the Liberal Party of Australia as deeply illiberal.

    If I could have one phrasicide I would kill off ‘fiscal conservative’ which generally means ‘economic liberal’.

  13. To avoid confusion, I would say “deregulationist” for economic issues and “permissive” for social issues. (Albeit that doesn’t account for, eg, Milton Friedman and other libertarians/ classic liberals wanting to “legalise, regulate and tax” marijuana, which is “permissive” in the current climate…)

  14. France votes today in the second round of the presidential elections. The polls seem to suggest Hollande will win with something like 52% of the vote, but the outcome is uncertain. Participation in France’s overseas territories, which started voting last night due to the time zone difference, is up on the first round, but still somewhat below the massive participation in 2007. The consensus seems to be that Hollande will win, even on the right, and the focus is shifting to the fortcoming legislative elections (will the left succeed in presenting a united front and will the putative Hollande victory have significant coat tails? will the FN convert an historic presidential performance into seats in the National Assembly? who will lead the mainstream right, or will it collapse into factional squabbles?

    Another interesting prospect is that both candidates have proposed introducing an element of proportional representation into lower house elections, from 2017. 10-15% of the seats would be elected by list PR, but both projects are extremely vague. While the media refer to a “German-style” two ballot system, they then describe how the two major parties would take most of the PR seats, so the thinking seems to be more along the lines of a Japanese style paralell system-or illustrates journalistic ignorance about PR is not an exclusively Anglo-Saxon phenomenon!

  15. “François Fillon […] won about 67 percent of the vote in the [French Republicans’ 2016] primary contest on Sunday…”
    – Adam Nossiter, “François Fillon Wins Center-Right Nomination for French Presidency” NYT (29 November 2016)

    Okay, MSS (or was it JD?) is right. Using “primary” for both (a) an intra-party pre-selection ballot and (b) the first round of a (public) multi-ballot election is confusing, even though US journalists do it frequently when discussing two-round elections in other countries (speaking of “the primary” and “the runoff”). The above example is a runoff election within a primary election. It’s getting fractal…

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