Remember: Honeymoon elections matter

On 23 April, when many commentators were lamenting how weak (then-expected) President Emmannuel Macron’s support might be in the National Assembly, I offered an estimate of 29% of the vote for his newly formed party. I based this solely on the mean surge that presidents’ parties tend to have when an assembly election occurs early in their terms–a honeymoon election.

Maybe that was an underestimate. While one poll (OpinionWay/ORPI) has Macron’s party, La République en marche! (LRM), on 27%, Harris Interactive sees it on 32%. Both agree this will be the biggest party (Reuters). Given the electoral system, such a share puts Macron well within reach of having a majority in the Assembly.

And what a party it is!

Half of the LRM preliminary list of 428 candidates for the 577-member National Assembly are women and 52 percent are civil society figures.

Better yet, 95% are not current MPs and one of them is a “rockstar mathematician”! (France24)

Macron has also named his cabinet. The premier will be Edouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre and a member of the Les Republicans (the party of defeated and discredited presidential candidate François Fillon). Reuters reports:

A leading French conservative accused President Emmanuel Macron of “dynamiting” the political landscape on Tuesday as he put together a government that is expected to include former rivals on both left and right.

In other words, he is being “accused” of doing precisely what he won nearly two thirds of the vote (in the runoff) saying he would do.

Furthermore,

over 20 LR members of parliament, including some party heavyweights and former ministers, issued a joint statement on Monday urging the party to positively respond to the “hand extended by the president”.

All of the above should serve as a reminder of two things: (1) the purpose of the upcoming election is to ratify the new executive’s direction, not to be a second chance for an alternative vision; (2) the honeymoon electoral cycle matters.

46 thoughts on “Remember: Honeymoon elections matter

  1. From what I understand, French media outlets have been pretty united in urging people to vote for Macron and his “party”.

    This is actually a major flaw with democracy. As it turns out, most people will vote for whoever or whatever they are told to vote for. Opponents of extending the suffrage beyond essentially the proprietors pointed this out in the nineteenth century.

    • That is not strictly accurate. The opponents of extending the suffrage in Britain, when the Great Reform Acts and the Ballot Act were considered, were complaining that they would no longer be able to elect members of parliament by telling their tenants what to do. Opponents to the secret ballot in several US states made exactly the same argument in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

      • Australian experience with preference “leakage” – at least when voters have to physically write numbers on the ballot-paper, not tick a box –
        argues against that.
        Prime example: The Democratic Labor Party (DLP), a Scoop Jackson-ish breakaway form the ALP whose members left (or were expelled from) the ALP during an acrimonious split over Communism in the mid-Fifties (still acrimonious in the mid-Eighties, when the DLP dissolved and some of its members and unions tried to re-join the ALP) consistently recommended, for two decades, that its voters preference the conservative parties over the ALP, Despite that, around 20% of DLP voters still put Labor second. An 80% compliance rate with the party’s how-to-vote card is considered unusually high. And that’s in elections where electors were compelled by law to vote and (usually) compelled by law to number all candidates, so the “Meh” or “a plague on you all” option was not available as an easy way out.

      • Another example is that at the 2016 federal election 18.06% of Green votes ran 1 Green 2 Liberal. Almost 1 Green voter in 5 gave their next preference to the major party most removed from their first preference. At the same election 29.89% of LDP votes ran 1 LDP 2 Labor. The LDP is a radical libertarian party that has absolutely nothing in common with the ALP.

        Some of those votes may be ‘signal’ votes where your first preference is a way of signalling to the party that gets your ultimate preference that you want them to change their policies on the environment. I myself have been known to vote 1 Unelectable Single Issue Party That I Approve 2 Green 3 Labor.

      • > “The LDP is a radical libertarian party that has absolutely nothing in common with the ALP.”

        Apart from the fact that the ALP’s federal leader 2003-05 has just joined the Libertarian Anti-Democrats https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Latham#Re-entering_politics and a rather depressing tendency to jump whenever the pornography industry tells them to http://cpcabrisbane.org/Kasama/2005/V19n1/JoyceWu.htm – yes, very few points of contact there between ALP and LDP.

        This would be rather as if, say, Jim Webb joined the Constitution Party.

      • I can see 1 LDP 2 ALP as a perfectly valid signal vote that says: ‘I want Labor to win but I wish they were not so ambivalent about issues like marriage equality, drug reform, police powers, or censorship’.

      • Or the right to arm oneself with semi-automatic shotguns if one can afford them…
        I think Alan’s right. Growing up in Queensland, where the Nationals were very non-civil-libertarian, I saw that the ALP tended by default to attract civil-liberties-minded people who were probably more small-L Liberals of the Alan Missen type. Now that Labor has had its turn in power, some (eg, Ross Fitzgerald) have fallen out with the ALP.

  2. Why isn’t the French Presidential election held at the same time as the legislative? It seems like an onerous punishment to make voters go to the polls 4 times in one year, considering the two round nature.

    • I think its deliberate. Elect a president. Give him a parliament. If the elections were held together there would be too much chance, at least in some years, of outright cohabition or a losing candidate (on any side of the left/right divide) getting a block of seats and making life difficult for the president.

    • They used to be held before the presidential election (in March) but when the term was shortened from 7 to 5 years they reversed the calendar, so they are now held in June. Explicitly to avoid a situation where an incoming president might face a hostile majority.

      • In the days of 7-year presidential terms, assembly elections could (and did) come at various points in a presidential term, whether on their own 5-year schedule or due to dissolution by the president.

  3. The French might surprise and there still could be cohabitation, so honeymoon elections might be a correction or wanting to balance the President. The French parliament is more powerful than one thinks, and the French President has no veto power over laws. Could the National Front be the largest party in the French parliament, but the 2nd round means that everyone bans together to keep them out?

    • The National Front is in deep trouble because their leader’s debate performance, and the party’s policy infightings on about everything, have ashamed their own supporters. Marine Le Pen will run in a constituency where she made 58% in the runoff, but who knows, she might even lose that one. I’d bet Macron will let her win, because the Le Pens have proven to be a blessing for their alledged enemies.

      The Republicans are also in deep trouble. Though they have a very pro-market platform – and were the only French party that voted the CETA treaty in Strasbourg – they have moved deeper into identity politics to keep their base. Now the whole liberal aisle is now calling for cooperation with Macron, while conservative figures oppose him totally.

      This means that Macron and his backers have managed to wreck the entire political system. Not so hard, considering that he is a consensus candidate between the oligarchs.

      The only united party would be Mélenchon’s, who seeks election in Marseilles, but his movement’s unknown candidates will have to take on socialists, often incumbents, before taking on a Macron candidate. A nearly impossible feat. Notwithstanding the presence of up to 3 communist parties and 3 green parties in the first round…

    • I think the National Front being the largest party in any sense is most unlikely. Even considering that the national polling figures for En Marche may not reflect local factors, they have a comfortable lead over the FN, which is still basically level with the Republicans. Rob’s no doubt right that the FN will no doubt struggle to win a second round even in those seats where they do come first, given that centre-leaning LR voters might be more comfortable voting for EM now that Macron has appointed a (former?) LR Prime Minister and left-wing voters are unlikely to turn out to back a FN candidate.

      The FN will be further hurt by the ability of LR candidates to progress to the second round if they can crack 12.5% of the total registered voters in a seat (I estimate this to have been about 21% of the actual votes cast on average in 2012), meaning that LR voters sympathetic to the FN can stick with their first preference. A seat projection by OpinionWay gives the FN 10-15 seats based on 20% of the first round vote.

    • The notion that French voters might seize the opportunity to balance the president is a proposition entirely without any evidence from any honeymoon election in any country that I know of. It defies logic. I already tried to knock down this argument back on 23 April, just after the first round of the presidential election, and it really isn’t worth seriously entertaining.

      If such balancing was ever to occur, 2002 was the year, given that a large chunk of the electorate was explicitly voting to stop Le Pen, not to endorse Chirac, and given that Jospin might reasonably have won had he made the first round. Yet Chirac’s party benefited handsomely from the timing.

      Yes, the French assembly is “powerful” in the sense that the cabinet must have its backing and need not have the president’s. The key is the election result (obviously) and we’ve seen cohabitation only when elections were some years after the presidential election, not when they are a month after.

      In the 2002 case, the UMP (Chirac’s party) won a third of the (first-round) votes and over 3/5 of the seats. This is despite Chirac himself (the incumbent) having managed only 19.9% in his own first round. It is also an increase over the 30% that the parties that formed the UMP (RPR & UDF) had managed in the 1997 election (which had produced cohabitation). Thus 2002 was a pretty typical honeymoon, despite the highly atypically features of that presidential contest.

      • Actually, the surge from 19.9% (president) to 33.3% (assembly) in 2002 is much MORE than a typical one. If you look at the first graph in the earlier post on honeymoon effects (23 April), France 2002 is the data point in the upper left corner.

      • I think the real question is whether Macron’s new party will have an absolute majority on its own, or not. It will almost certainly be the largest party precisely due to the trends you describe.

  4. A lot of people cast blank ballots in the French Presidential election, if the blank ballots were treated as a third candidate, what would the results of the Presidential election be?

      • Le Pen didn’t benefit from Blank/Null Votes, it looks like the leading candidate benefited from it, but I wonder if an optional ranked preferential vote system could be set up with exhausted ballots treated as a third candidate and the criteria being that a second round be held if the one candidate don’t win 50% plus 1 after all the ballots have been transfered, treating exhausted ballots as a third/dummy/placeholder candidate. This might avoid the problems of Monotonicity.

      • I suppose one could hold a third round and hope the same problem did not recur and require a fourth round. Or one could just accept that Macron won quite a large majority in the second round…

  5. Here’s a question I have not had time to research: Macron is promising to re-introduce proportional representation into the National Assembly, the only legislative body in France that does not use it. If his party does not get a majority, will he have enough allies who support PR to carry it through?

    • My understanding is that Macron is proposing an ‘element of proportionality’ – I think a small proportional tier, making the system MMM.

      It is also not true that the National Assembly is the only body in France not to be elected by PR. In fact, as far as I know New Caledonia’s assembly is the only body to actually use PR, as well as France’s *delegation* to the EU parliament. Other bodies use either some type of two-round majority-plurality or two-round bonus-adjusted PR with a massive bonus (25% of the whole Assembly) guaranteeing a majority to any party or coalition which manages a majority in the first round or a plurality in the second round. Because of the size of the majority, any party/coalition winning in the second round with more than a third of the vote is guaranteed a majority. The indirectly-elected Senate is elected in a mixture of TRS in some ‘districts’ and PR in others, with the electoral system being proportional over a certain district magnitude.

      • According to the Senate website, about 52% (180) of the senators are elected by proportional representation, so I propose it should be thought of as a chamber elected by PR, although I accept it’s a borderline case. Districts of magnitude 3 and below use TRS.

      • Indeed, Le Pen’s plan for an Assembly electoral system was for a somewhat similar system to that used for local elections (list PR, 30% bonus for the largest party, 5% threshold) with no runoff; such a system would have continued the existing disproportionality for the Assembly (and possibly made it even greater) while removing the two-round component that hurts the FN.

      • Alan, 52% proportional systems are not ‘proportional representation’… At best it’s Mixed-Member Majoritarian, though since there is not a separate, horizontally-parallel component but instead some districts use PR and others don’t, I think it probably deserves a label of its own.

  6. Macron’s party have dominated the elections for the seats for French citizens living abroad, coming ahead in 11 of 12 seats. Despite a number of the candidates winning outright majorities a second round will have to be held due to very low turnout. .

    • I’d heard of that requirement before, but never understood its operation. Who moves on to the second round? What happens when if there is low turnotut in the runoff?

  7. Pingback: France 2017–Honeymoon Election time! | Fruits and Votes

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  11. Macron has just reaffirmed his intention to drastically downsize France’s legislative chambers, reducing each by a third, thus bringing the National Assembly down to 385 (currently 577; cube root is just over 400), and introducing ‘more proportionality’ to the National Assembly’s electoral system.

    • “Macron has just reaffirmed his intention to drastically downsize France’s legislative chambers, reducing each by a third, thus bringing the National Assembly down to 385 (currently 577; cube root is just over 400), and introducing ‘more proportionality’ to the National Assembly’s electoral system.”

      I don’t have any idea what the specifics of the proposal are, but I have an idea of the simplest method for how this could be done.

      Currently, in the French legislative constituencies have an average population of 120,000 (i just did the math and it actually comes out closer to 117,000). There are currently two Departments, with populations each of 120,000 and 77,000, that each elect a single deputy. There are three overseas Departments, one in the Pacific, one in the Caribbean, and one in the North Atlantic, that combine for a population of 66,000, with the largest having a population of 45,000.

      Reducing the size of the chamber by a third alone implies an average population size for each constituency of 180,000, but then Macron wants to introduce “more proportionality”, whatever that means. But more proportionality can only be done by adding non-constituency MPs elected from lists in one or multi-member seats, unless he wants to introduce STV, which I really doubt. So that means cutting the number of constituency MPs even further, raising the average population size of the constituency more.

      The simple way to do this is to abolish the 11 constituencies for ex-patriots introduced before the 2012 election, which cuts the assembly size from 577 to 566. The average population of each constituency is then doubled to 240,000, which cuts the number of constituencies roughly in half, to 288.

      Then introduce 100 MPs elected nationwide by party list proportional representation and you get a chamber of 388 deputies, under 400, with your element of proportionality. Since its only an element, I assume this will not be additional member or MMP!

      The two departments in metropolitan France would continue to elect their single member, which will probably raise the total of deputies a little, even though both departments will be quite overrepresented. I don’t know what to do with the three overseas departments that are already over-represented, and would be over-represented much more under this proposal. The fairest solution would be to dis-enfranchise them and to treat their residents as ex-patriots, who would vote absentee and whose residence in metropolitan France would be the Palais Bourbon.

      • Of course the main point of this thought exercise is to illuminate some of the flaws with this idea.

        Once a single member district reaches a certain population size, the value of whatever constituency services provided by its member goes down (at the least you would have to introduce US style large staffs of constituency workers). At 120,000 or so residents, the French constituencies were already somewhat larger than British or Canadian constituencies, so cutting their number alone is a bad idea.

        Also, there is a case for introducing full proportionality, though it should be noted that the attempts to do this in the 20th century didn’t work as well as the current electoral system. But its not clear what an “element of proportionality” would accomplish. The two round system in practice works quite well to get minor parties represented in the Assembly, by enabling deals with the major parties to give minor party deputies clear runs in some seats in return for support for the major party in other seats. And even parties that can’t do these deals such as the FN in practice have been able to win a couple of seats. Its not the full proportional direct relationship between party seats and votes, but in practice the element of proportionality already exists.

  12. Well he could start by getting rid of the eleven districts for the French residents overseas, which was introduced as a piece of light gerrymandering by the last conservative government (no reason they couldn’t vote at the addresses in France they were registered at absentee, like in all other countries), but eight or nine of the eleven are Macron supporters!

    • Diaspora representation is becoming common. What you describe as ‘all other countries’ is not quite accurate. Until 2011 the French diaspora deputies were elected by single-member constituencies outside France. Italy divides the world outside its borders into 4 three-member constituencies for overseas citizens. There is some discussion of Australia and New Zealand opening polling booths on each other’s behalf to enable New Zealanders living in Australia to vote in New Zealand elections and vice versa.

      • Sorry, Alan, I’m sure exactly what you’re referring to. Ed didn’t use the words ‘all other countries’. Meanwhile, I thought the representation of overseas voters in single-seat districts was an innovation of the 2012 election, as Ed stated, and specifically something that did not exist before 2012.

      • …and I immediately regret posting that. When are we getting an edit function here.

        Anyway, I’m still confused at what you meant by “Until 2011 the French diaspora deputies were elected by single-member constituencies outside France.”

  13. Other countries might have constituencies for their ex-patriats, so I stand corrected, but the more common practice is that they are registered in whichever constituency in the country they maintained residence in when they left.

    Eleven constituencies for ex-patriots were implemented by the conservative (UMP at the time) government for the 2012 election. At the time, it was widely thought to be a somewhat cynical maneuver to bring in more UMP and allied deputies, given that the ex-patriots tended to be Frenchmen working in the corporate sector overseas and were thought to be natural supporters of the parties of the right. As it happened the Socialists wound up winning several of these constituencies in 2012, against expectations. All but a couple went to centrist/ neoLiberal REM and the allied MoDem in 2017, so as things stand they never really benefited UMP/ LR but have benefited Macron.

    If Macron really wants to cut the number of deputies this is a good place to start. There are also at least a couple of really low population overseas Departments that have their own deputies, St. Pierre and Miquelon with about 5,000 residents (going off of memory) comes to mind. The typical French legislative assembly constituency has about 120,000 residents.

  14. One more addendum to my other comments, STV actually would work quite well and meet many of the objections I outlined. You could even keep the deputies for the ex-patriots, you just pool them into a single 11 member district, or 7 member district if the assembly size is really going to be reduced by two thirds. St. Martin/ St. Barts, and St. Pierre and Miquelon would combine with French Guinea, and Walis and Futuna with New Caledonia, into three member districts. There would be a few departments who elect a single member or two members using AV, and a few that would have to be divided into two multi-member districts, but most would form natural STV districts.

    But you run into the usual problem with STV as not being part of the country’s political tradition.

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