France assembly 2022: Putting the prospects for NUPES in context

The first round of the French 2022 National Assembly election is on 12 June. As readers of this blog recognize, this is an extreme honeymoon election, owing to the short time that has elapsed since the presidential election. In that two-round contest in April, Emmanuel Macron was reelected, winning 27.9% of the vote in the first round and 58.6% in the runoff.

The runner-up in the presidential contest was Marine Le Pen of the extremist National Rally, with 23.2% in the first round and 41.5% in the runoff. In a close third place was the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, with 22.0%. In the period since the runoff results were known, Mélenchon has led the formation of a left alliance known as the New Ecologic and Social People’s Union (NUPES). (See the series of very helpful comments from Wilf at an earlier post, where he shared news stories about the coalition bargaining as it was taking place.) Mélenchon has not been shy about his goal, proclaiming that he is running to be premier. If this happened, it could usher in a period of cohabitation, defined as president and premier from opposing parties and the president’s party not in the cabinet. (I say “could usher in” because there’s always the possibility Macron’s party would be in a cabinet headed by Mélenchon, although if the latter actually were premier–and especially if NUPES won a majority of seats–that would be rather unlikely.)

As readers of this space will know, I find such an outcome extremely unlikely. Honeymoon elections do not work that way. They are not a second chance for voters to “check” the president. They confirm the mandate the voters have just conferred on the new (or newly reelected) president. Or do they? Maybe this will be a special case. That is what I am setting out to explore in this post.

Regarding “normal” honeymoon elections, see the post on France that I wrote in 2017, just before the presidential runoff, suggesting that Macron’s then-new party would get around 29% of the vote, and be the largest party. It actually won almost exactly that, 28.2%, and given both allies and the majoritarian two-round electoral system, Macron ended up with a large assembly majority. See the graph in that post, which also appears in Votes from Seats, and shows how nearly all elections early in a presidential term result in rather significant surges for the president’s party. The graph shows something called “Presidential Ratio” graphed against “Elapsed Time.” The ratio, RP, is simply the vote share of the president’s party, divided by the president’s own (first or sole round) vote share in the preceding presidential election. The elapsed time, E, is the percentage of the time between presidential elections at which the assembly election takes place.

For all non-concurrent elections, a best fit shows a steep slope starting at about 1.2 if the honeymoon election is immediately after the presidential election, and dropping steadily as assembly elections occur later in the period between presidential elections. It crosses the 1.00 line (indicating identical assembly and presidential vote shares) at around E=0.28, or just past the quarter mark, then drops to around 0.84 when E=0.5, encompassing the well known midterm-decline phenomenon. Given that for France in 2022 (as in 2017 and some previous cycles), E=0.017, we expect RP=1.19. Taking Macron’s first-round vote of 27.9%, his party should win around 33.1% of the votes. Presumably that would be a plurality and would again be sufficient to win a majority (or close to it) in the assembly when the two-round process is all said and done. Or should we be sure that would be a plurality this time? Let’s see.

Please remember that the equation of this line for presidential vote ratio is not a logical model (like the Seat Product Model or the Cube Root Law), and in any case, even logical model predictions get tripped up by real politics at times! Maybe this honeymoon election will be different. Macron won many voters in the runoff who would have preferred Mélenchon but felt they had to vote to stop Le Pen. There may be much more energy on the side of NUPES than is normal for an alliance that backed a loser.

So how surprising would a good performance be? I decided the best way to put a potential answer to this question in context was to go back to my dataset and augment it with votes data from runners-up and third-place presidential candidates. I have never looked into this before! So here we go…

First, let’s see what it looks like for the party of the candidate who finished second in the second or sole round of presidential voting.

We see that honeymoon elections are really bad for your party if you just lost the presidential election as the runner-up! All data points are below the 1.00 line until nearly E=0.3. The dashed curve is just a lowess (local regression) curve. I did not continue it much past the midterm, because the data get rather sparse late in the term. Not because there are no such elections (again, see the graph for presidential parties), but because the farther you go into the term, the more likely the runner-up’s party does not exist in a recognizable form. Presidential and semi-presidential systems can be that way.

In France 2022, it was Le Pen who finished second, and I do not think anyone would be surprised if her party got less than two thirds of what she won (in other words, around 15%). In fact, it will probably be much worse than that for her.

The topic of interest here, though, is the third presidential candidate’s party. Here is what that graph looks like:

Interestingly, the party backing the candidate who came in third quite often increases its support in a honeymoon election. In most cases, that probably comes predominantly at the expense of the second candidate’s party. But there is probably no reason why it could not come from the winner’s, in a case where there was a good deal of strategic voting in the presidential election (or specifically, in a runoff).

The curve is pretty level until E=0.2, with a mean of almost 1.5. Given how sparse the data are–there are lots of presidential elections with no third candidate or where the third had no party–I would not draw too much of a conclusion from this. However, note that 1.5 times Mélenchon’s vote would reach 33%, or almost exactly what we “predict” for Macron’s La République En Marche! (The exclamation point is in the party name, although you should be as excited about this convergence of their potential shares as I am!) If one were to add in the votes of the other presidential candidates whose parties since have joined NUPES, perhaps we would “predict” a voting plurality for Mélenchon.

So, while I still do not think Mélenchon is going to become premier, this data exploration has led me to believe it would not be as shocking a development as I initially assumed. It could be that this is the honeymoon election that has the ideal convergence of factors to generate an upset. And make no mistake, if a just-reelected president were to be forced to appoint as premier someone opposed to him, it would be an upset. On the other hand, polls do show it will indeed be close, at least in the first round.

15 thoughts on “France assembly 2022: Putting the prospects for NUPES in context

    • Thank you. The question about reelected incumbents is a good one. I have never tried to break it down, in part because so many of these systems do not allow immediate reelection. I would guess they get less benefit, but that the overall pattern is not affected too much. I should redo the plot in the original post (and book) with differentiation for just-reelected vs. first-timers.

      (If I recall correctly, the Socialists’ vote surge was less in 1988 and than in 1981, so there are a couple of data points for you!)

      What you say about his movement’s advantage in 2017 is likely accurate. Of course, at the time, the press coverage was all about how he was doomed to cohabitation precisely because he was running a bunch of nobodies. As I pointed out even before the presidential runoff, that was hogwash. It seems plausible to me that the extreme “presidentialization” of an early honeymoon election would benefit a new president with an “unknown” party more than a continuing and hence known one.

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  1. Meanwhile, NUPES and the alliance backing Macron (“Together”) are indeed neck and neck in first-round votes, as the above exercise (and the polling) suggested they would be. However, they are both running considerably behind where I thought they might be: around 25% instead of 33%.

    So this looks to be a case where the presidential vote ratio will be under 1.00 in a honeymoon election. This is not unprecedented, but it is rare (see the graph in the post linked above).

    On the other hand, in seats, the honeymoon effect is safe. Projections reported by France24 suggest that after the second round, Together should be on 255-295 seats (44.2% to 51.1%) while NUPES has a range of only 150-190 (26.0% to 32.9%).

    These show there remains the question of a majority or not to play for, but still we have a president whose first-round vote was only 28% but who should have at least 44% of seats with a decent chance of a majority.

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  2. Paris (AFP) – “The presidential party is defeated,” said Sunday Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of France Insoumise and the union of the left (Nupes), calling on his troops to “surge” in the second round of legislative elections. “La Nupes comes first, it will be present in more than 500 constituencies in the second round”, he added alongside other leaders of the union of the left gathered in Paris.

    Often grouped together under the label “Republican and Socialist Left”, the sixty socialist dissidents, candidates with the support of François Hollande, Carole Delga or even Bernard Cazeneuve, have hardly met with success.

    One Socialist dissident is in the lead: David Habib, outgoing PS deputy for the 3rd district of Pyrénées-Atlantiques. He obtained 36.6% of the votes in the first round, ahead of the candidate Nupes (20.6%); they can both progress to the second round.

    Olivier Falorni of the PRG (Radical Left Party) can hope to be re-elected. Outgoing Deputy of the 1st constituency of Charente-Maritime, he came first in the first round, with 29% of the vote, ahead of the Nupes candidate (23.4%).

    In Paris “in the 15th voting district where there is a standoff between the Nupes-backed candidate, Danielle Simonnet, of the France Unbowed movement, and the Socialist Lamia El Aaraje. El Aaraje has refused to drop out and back Simonnet’s campaign, because she is technically the outgoing candidate, and part of the agreement was that outgoing candidates would be able to run again. El Aaraje has received the support of former prime ministers Lionel Jospin and Bernard Cazeneuve, as well as Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo and the Socialist party leader, Olivier Faure.” Not enough: Simonnet is leading with 47,31%, El Aaraje second with 17,87% and she has the right to run in the second round.
    El Aaraje is one of 60 or 65 Socialist “dissidents” of the Nupes.

    The Socialist Party president of the Occitanie region, Carole Delga, did not hide her opposition to Nupes, taking a stand for dissident left-wing candidates during this legislative campaign. In the second constituency of Gers, her dissident PS David Taupiac came out on top (24.15%), while the Nupes candidate stood third, eliminated. However she called “Clearly to vote for the left candidates against the right.” “for a republican front against the far right and to vote for the left candidate qualified in the second round. Or, without naming it, for the “Nupes” coalition led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.” “In particular against the candidates of the National Rally, like the one who qualified in the second round on his former constituency of Haute-Garonne, facing the outgoing socialist Joël Aviragnet, of which she was the campaign manager.” He is leading in the 8ème circonscription with 28,67% as a dissident candidate of the “Diverse Left” but there is no candidate of Nupes; the second candidate is Le Pen’s. Otherwise was a crushing defeat of the dissident socialist candidates in the region other than Joël Aviragnet and David Taupiac.

    Sylvie Tolmont, outgoing deputy in the 4e constituency of Sarthe, got only 15,47% as a dissident socialist, while the Nupes candidate got 21,87% and will face a LePen candidate in the second round. In the 5ème Sarthe the Nupes candidate and the dissident socialist defeated each other, leaving an Ensemble candidate with 33,73% facing a Le Pen candidate. The same happened in the 3rd district of Charente, where the PS deputy Jérôme Lambert, nephew of François Mitterrand, elected since 1997, stood fourth with 17,92%, just behind the Nupes candidate with 19,48%, also eliminated.

    An untypical result: In the 2e constituency of Ariège, the outgoing deputy LFI Michel Larive (29%) is threatened in his second round duel by the dissident socialist Laurent Panifous (21.8%); third was Le Pen’s, fourth Macron’s, will they vote for the socialist?

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  3. The number of three-way runoffs, or triangulaires, increased from one in 2017 to eight at this election, despite the seemingly more bipolar nature of this contest and basically unchanged turnout. All of the triangulaires are extremely close (and all but one are between three of the four major national groups), so this is seemingly down to random chance and not differential turnout or local factors.

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    • I thought there would be fewer three or four-candidate runoffs this time, due to an expectation of turnout being lower. But higher fragmentation apparently has counteracted the low (if not lower than 2016) turnout to some degree. Also, maybe it’s not more bipolar than 2017, at least not everywhere.

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  4. How many of Macron’s candidates in constituencies Ensemble held, as a result of the 2017 honeymoon election, failed even to make the second round?

    A diligent Wikipedian is listing them, 27 so far.

    Let’s look at Occitania, whose Regional President is Carole Delga, a leading dissident Socialist, one of the only four women regional Presidents. Occitania has almost 6 million people, from the Spanish border to the mouth of the Rhone, centred on Toulouse (urban area 1.3 million) and Montpelier 0.6 million), worth studying.

    The Honeymoon election cut down her 36 Socialist National Assembly members to only 3, along with 3 LFI and 2 PRG, with Macron’s “marchers” winning 33, plus Modem 1, and 1 AC who became LREM. (Also LR 3, FN 3). Still, her Regional government’s 109 councillors sit as Socialists (69), PRG (18), Communists (15), or diverse ecologists (7). No LFI, since they were excluded from the Socialist alliance and fell below the threshold.

    She did not wait for negotiations with France Unbowed. She presented Socialist candidates in three of its constituencies. She called the alliance with LFI a salad. “I sold salads at the market to pay for my studies. To my fellow citizens I do not sell salads” she tweeted. “You have to have the courage to say that there are positions that we do not share.”

    So how has she made out this year, so far?

    Of Occitania’s 49 constituencies, 10 are among those where Macron’s candidates have slipped from first place to being excluded. Most will go to Nupes, along with a quite a few other gains for Nupes.

    In Gers 2nd, an incumbent Socialist retired but is campaign manager for her likely successor, a dissident Socialist who declares himself “loyal to Carole Delga.” Conversely, the other two incumbent Socialists are running for Nupes in Haute-Garonne 8th and in Tarn-et-Garonne 1st. But in Ariège 2, one of the incumbent LFI (now Nupes) deputies faces a dissident Socialist who may well win.

    Note that 5 of Macron’s incumbents in Occitania had originally been Socialist deputies but had switched to Macron’s team in 2017, like many moderate socialists including Macron himself. They will mostly be re-elected.

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  5. Pingback: The French thresholds for runoff participation | Fruits and Votes

  6. “Asked about the situations in which a Nupes candidate finds himself facing the RN in the second round, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne ensures that the political line of the presidential majority is clear: “No voice for the far right.” “Fabien Roussel [PCF] is a Republican and I support him ,” she says.”
    https://www.francetvinfo.fr/elections/legislatives/direct-legislatives-2022-la-premiere-ministre-elisabeth-borne-attendue-dans-le-calvados_5198767.html

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  7. Political scientist Martial Foucault expects the honeymoon to continue. “”We have a system wherein the presidential election has taken up so much space that voters consider all bets are off once the president is elected,” said political scientist Martial Foucault, who heads Sciences Po’s CEVIPOF research centre. The country’s legislative elections tend to pale in comparison to the earlier, flashier presidential vote. Less focussed on individual personalities, they are seen as less accessible, with 577 individual races waged for as many lower-house seats. Voters have measurably lost interest in the parliamentary polls over the past 30 years. The National Assembly itself has, in parallel, often seen its role overshadowed by the reigning executive.

    Both those sentiments have been bolstered since 2002, when the French electoral calendar was rejigged to set legislative elections just weeks after the presidential run-off. “The sequence of four elections, the two presidential rounds and now the legislative elections, has flattened turnout,” said Foucault. High abstention rates like the ones France is seeing raise concerns about democracy, worries the specialist, who calls the parliamentary polls “fundamental” because they “allow the election of the representatives who make law”. “It’s a bit of a paradox, because a segment of the French people who don’t vote reproach President Macron of exercising power alone or even in an authoritarian way,” mused Foucault. “And yet the National Assembly is where opposing powers express themselves. One wonders whether the French are still politically aware because the opportunity to send their representatives to the National Assembly doesn’t incite them to take part.”

    Specialists agree the most likely outcome next Sunday is a hung parliament for Macron’s centre-right alliance. Pollsters see Ensemble winning between 255 and 295 seats next Sunday. An absolute majority in the National Assembly is 289.

    https://www.france24.com/en/france/20220615-voter-turnout-issue-looms-over-french-legislative-elections-after-record-first-round-abstention

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  8. “While the left’s tireless campaigner held rallies up and down the country to drum up support for NUPES candidates, “[Macron] and his allies chose instead to abstain”, wrote French daily Le Monde in a scathing editorial on Monday, noting that the ruling camp had skipped its duty to “argue, clarify and debate” during the campaign. “Perhaps they placed too much faith in the natural order of things, since recent elections have always rewarded the winner of the presidential race,” the paper added. “No doubt they did so by design too, mindful that low turnout is good news for a party that can count on older, wealthier, more educated voters who are less prone to abstaining.” Either way, “the tactic has backfired, demobilising Macron’s own camp.”

    The fact that efforts to remobilise that base rest largely on demonising the opposition points to another weakness in the ruling camp: its reluctance to discuss Macron’s policy agenda for the next five years. “Macron’s camp has precious little to say aside from attacking Mélenchon – which is a bit thin for a political platform,” said Michel Wieviorka, a sociologist and professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), adding that the president’s decision to “skip” the legislative elections mirrored his “lack of consideration for parliament as a whole”.

    The ruling party has singled out the veteran leftist and his fledgling coalition as the new threat to the Republic. It has portrayed the NUPES as another extremist outfit – in the words of Macron’s former education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, an extreme “just as dangerous as [Le Pen’s] far right”. It’s a narrative that fits well with Macron’s moderate constituency, says Jean-Yves Dormagen, a professor of political science at the University of Montpellier and the head of polling institute Cluster17. “What binds together Macron’s camp, more than a political project, is a rejection of extremism, of populism, of figures deemed too radical and extreme, like Mélenchon or Le Pen,” Dormagen said. “When Macron presents himself as the head of the ‘republican camp’, of the party of order and stability, he highlights that which underpins his electoral coalition: namely a desire for good governance, stability, order and the status quo,” he added. “That’s the cement holding together his support base – a coalition of centre-right and centre-left voters who disagree on most other issues.”

    The ruling party was not alone in underestimating this year’s parliamentary polls. Many observers also assumed the re-elected president would sail to a majority just like his predecessors, thereby misreading both the public mood and the shifting balance of power in what is now a tripolar system.

    Macron’s re-election on April 24 was historic, making him the first president with a parliamentary majority to win a second term. His failure to follow that up with a win in Sunday’s first round of parliamentary elections was equally historic, since no other president had so far failed to top a legislative vote immediately following a presidential one (counting overseas votes, Macron’s ruling coalition trailed the NUPES by a whisker). “If you look at genuine support for Macron and his government, you see that only a minority of the French back the presidential camp,” said Dormagen. “It’s a very different situation from five years ago, when Macron’s election signalled a change of power and his parliamentary candidates rode a wave of sympathy. This is why the ruling party is finding these legislative elections so challenging: its supporters are a minority of the French.”

    While Macron trounced Le Pen for the second time in the April 24 run-off, only 38 percent of registered voters actually cast a ballot for him – the lowest tally in history. And that was including the many tactical voters who did so out of “republican” duty. According to a recent Elabe poll, an even smaller number – 35 percent – actually want the president to have a majority in parliament. Those numbers were enough to win re-election in April against a candidate most French voters deem unfit to govern. Whether they can also guarantee the stability that is Macron’s main selling point is far from certain.”

    https://www.france24.com/en/france/20220616-macron-or-chaos-french-ruling-party-flags-red-menace-in-tight-election

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  9. Pingback: France 2022 fourth round (legislative runoffs) | Fruits and Votes

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