France 2017: Round 4 (honeymoon elections and presidentialization matter!)

Today is the fourth round of the French 2017 election process–that is, the runoffs of the honeymoon assembly election.

Following round 1 (the first round of the presidential election), I used a formula (from Shugart and Taagepera, 2017, Votes from Seats) to “predict” what the round 3 (first round, assembly election) vote percentage would be for the party of first-round leader Emmanuel Macron (on the safe assumption he would win the second round). I pegged it at 29%, based only on Macron’s first-round vote and the elapsed time between then and the scheduled date of the assembly first round.

In the actual voting, La Republique En Marche! (LREM) got around 32%, although I believe that also includes some small vote share for MoDem (which was part of a pre-election coalition). In any case, I won’t quibble about an error of ±3 percentage points. At the time, various commentators were fretting over how “weak” EM would be, what with an untested party and Macon’s having come from seemingly nowhere. Some folks even were wringing their hands over possible cohabitation. It did not take long for polls to catch up with the institutional reality, which is that honeymoon elections matter. The voting result was highly predictable.

Where I went well off the rails was in questioning whether a plurality of votes of around 30% in the first round could translate into an assembly majority. I noted that similar percentages of the vote in previous first rounds in France had translated into around half the seats, but that a safer prediction might be for Macron’s party to be just short. I was not worried about a “weak” presidency, but I thought some degree of post-electoral bargaining would be necessary.

Well, that was silly. I somehow forgot that our assumptions about how votes translate into seats in France are based on the “textbook” French V party system, whereby there are many parties, but two dominant blocs. In such a setting, a leading party (such as a just-elected president’s) with around 30% of the vote would be just far enough ahead of both its allies and the leading party of the opposing bloc so as to translate into a solid majority of seats for the alliance, but not necessarily for the leading party itself. The bloc of the loser of the second round, in the “textbook” party system, is not so far behind the president’s bloc. Therefore, you get a clear pro-presidential majority, but not a knock-out.

Two things should have given me pause. First of all, that the second round presidential candidate was of the National Front, so 2002 would be a better guide than, say, 2012. In 2002, the party of the second major bloc (i.e., the Socialists, whose presidential candidate had finished third) suffered terribly from the honeymoon cycle, and of course, the FN assembly candidates did poorly for lack of allies. This allowed just 33% of the first-round votes for the newly elected president’s party to translate into more than 62% of the seats.

Second, and more to the point, the party system of France 2017 has collapsed badly. Thus being at only 30% of the votes makes you a dominant player in what is, for the time being, a one-bloc system. If you are the centrist party in a two-round system, it does not matter that you lack allied parties in a bloc; what matters is that you have no opposing parties that combine for a coherent bloc against you. Seat projections, issued on the day of the first round of the assembly election, suggested that LREM could get over 400 seats. Some even say 475 (out of 577). LREM candidates will win by default, because in relatively few districts will there be active coordination against them. Moreover, turnout is (predictably) low today.

The following screen shot from Henry Schlechta on Twitter, shows just how dominant the LREM is in today’s runoffs. In other words, don’t let 32% of the first-round votes fool you (as it did me). With different opponents in different districts, from different political camps, there is no reason not to expect a massive majority.

Now that everyone seems to accept that LREM will have a big majority, the concerns (expressed in various news media stories) has shifted to how difficult it may be to govern with a party full of novices. Such concerns are also misplaced. That the party is full of novice politicians makes it more, not less, likely that it will stick to Macron even when times get tough. They have nowhere else to go. They owe their nominations and assembly seats to Macron. France 2017 is presidentialization on steroid!. And, remember, honeymoon elections matter.


6 thoughts on “France 2017: Round 4 (honeymoon elections and presidentialization matter!)

  1. Current projections put the Macronists on about 340-370 seats (around 62.5%)… not quite the 400+ seat landslide that was predicted a week ago.

    • I just saw that on France24. So there might have been some district-level coordination just to preserve the presence of an opposition. Or else one of the projections (last week’s or the current one) is wrong.

      • Yeah, I actually wonder if Henry’s table is ‘raw’ outcome of the first round, or including the impact of candidates who withdrew.

  2. From the European Tribune website:

    “Poll closed at 20:00 CEST. First estimates are in:

    La République En Marche 355 seats
    Les Républicains 125 seats
    Parti Socialiste 34 seats (PS + allies 49 seats)
    France Insoumise & PCF 30 seats
    Front National 8 seats

    It is a landslide all right, but not the tsunami wave that was predicted last week where estimates were giving Macron’s LREM up to 450 seats.”

    Big win, but not a “rewrite the Constitution”style win, and Macron owns whatever the French government does in the next five years.

    The Socialists are pretty screwed, they look like they will wind up with the same fate of the Radicals, unless they just merge with Macron’s party.

  3. Some records were broken in this conclusion to a remarkable election year in France:

    Abstention, at 57%, a new record
    223 women have been elected deputies, the most ever
    75% of the new assembly are new deputies, also a record
    For the first time ever, 3 Corsican nationalists have been returned to the assembly

    LRM has 308 seats by itself, with an allied centrist paty Modem winning 42

  4. Small caveat on this point:

    “That the party is full of novice politicians makes it more, not less, likely that it will stick to Macron even when times get tough. They have
    nowhere else to go. They owe their nominations and assembly seats to Macron.”

    I think this is probably right only to the extent that these folks aspire to political careers. If they do, then, yes, they rode in on Macron’s coattails and are likely to do his bidding. But it’s also possible that many have joined his merry band in a fit of enthusiasm and advocacy that will wane as the reality of life as a politician sets in, and many may choose to return to their normal lives rather than run for a 2nd term. In that case, he has little with which to motivate them other than policy reforms, and “anti-establishment” is a pretty weak basis for policy consensus.

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