Last week, the government of French President Emmanuel Macron invoked Article 49:3 of the constitution, under which a bill proposed by the premier is considered passed unless the National Assembly majority votes no confidence in the premier and cabinet. The bill in question is a package of pension reforms, which have provoked widespread street protests and strikes. In the first no-confidence motion since Macron invoked the 49:3 procedure, the government has narrowly survived. The motion attained 278 votes, where 287 were needed. This motion was brought by a group of centrist deputies. Another has been put forward by the National Rally and is even less likely to pass.
The current government is a minority cabinet, due to the underwhelming performance Macron’s legislative allies had in the assembly election of 2022–relatively weak, that is, in comparison to a typical honeymoon election (one held shortly after the election or reelection of a president).
The Article 49:3 is in effect a decree provision, as it allows the executive to put in place legislation without an affirmative vote on the bill in the assembly. However, it is one with a clear accountability mechanism, in that the assembly can respond by ousting the cabinet. Basically, using the procedure converts the vote from “this bill vs. not this bill” to “this government (and the bill) vs. not this government.” In the event the assembly motion passes, then there needs to be a new government formed. Or the president could dissolve the assembly. Of course, the latter would not be attractive to Macron given the unpopularity of the bill and, independent of any specific political factors, the general likelihood of decline in existing legislative support for a president’s allies from an election at several months into the term (see the graph for the range of likely effects at elapsed time around 0.2, even if we did not make reference to polling).
Macron took a gamble, but it looks like it will pay off in terms of ability to enact the law and keep his government (whether or not he might decide to change who is at the top). He dared the opposition to combine against him and vote out his cabinet as their only way to stop the bill, possibly provoking an election that they–or at least those not at the relative extremes of the spectrum–may not sincerely have wanted to risk facing.
Was the French 2022 honeymoon election one that defies the usual impact of such election timing? Not to offer a spoiler, but the answer is yes and no.
Back around the time of the presidential runoff, I restated what I often say about elections for assembly held shortly after a presidential election: they are not an opportunity for the voters to “check” the president they have just chosen; presidential and semi-presidential systems just do not work that way. Well, usually. It seems hard to escape the notion that voters did just that–by holding Emmanuel Macron’s allies in Ensemble to less than a majority of seats, and by delivering bigger than expected seat totals to the Mélenchon-led united left (Nupes) and even to Le Pen’s National Rally (RN).
There will not be cohabitation, which was what I really meant in the French context when saying that honeymoon elections were not an opportunity to check the president. The results have not offered up any conceivable assembly majority that would impose its own choice for premier on Macron. I was also generally careful to say that I thought Macron’s allies would win a majority of seats, or close to it. They are relatively close, but considerably farther away that I expected, on about 42%. So, how does this outcome compare to honeymoon elections generally?
I have prepared an updated version of a graph I have shared before. An earlier version appears in Votes from Seats, as Figure 12.2. The x-axis is elapsed time, E, defined as the share of the period between presidential elections at which the assembly election occurs. The y-axis is the presidential seat ratio, RP, calculated by dividing the vote share of the party (or pre-electoral alliance) supporting the president by the president’s own vote share in the first or sole round. The diagonal line is a regression best fit on the nonconcurrent elections (those with E>0), and is RP=1.2–0.7E.
I added the France 2022 data point and label a little larger than the others, to call attention to it. The most notable thing is that this is the only case of a really extreme honeymoon–defined loosely as those with E<.05 but E>0–to have a value of RP<1.00. So in that sense, it is a poor performance. There are other honeymoons for which E≤0.1 that are below RP=1.00, including Chile 1965 and Poland 2001. In the Chilean case, the result obtains simply because the right did not present its own presidential candidate, but ran separately in the congressional election. Although this post is focused on honeymoon and other nonconcurrent elections, I also added labels to the two cases of concurrent elections (E=0) that have unusually low presidential vote ratios. Note that on average, RP in concurrent elections tends to be a bit below 1.00, as a combination of strategic voting and small-party abstention from the presidential contest leads assembly voting to be more fragmented than presidential voting, hence lowering RP. However, in very early term elections, the president’s party/alliance almost always gains. So France 2022 is unusual, but not a massive outlier. In fact, in terms of distance from the regression line, it is about equivalent to France 1997 or El Salvador 2006 (labelled).
We see that the 2022 election also features the lowest RP of any of France’s six honeymoon elections to date. The 2002 election (Chirac) produced an especially huge boost, whereas the 2017 election, when Macron had just been elected the first time, is almost on the regression line. (The regression does not include elections after 2015 because the dataset was collected around then; I added these more recent ones to the graph directly.) I also want to call attention to Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s 2019 honeymoon result in Ukraine for Servants of the People, as it is also among the most extreme honeymoon vote surges recorded anywhere as expected, perhaps aided by how uninstitutionalized that country’s party system has been. (If I wanted to be provocative, I’d say that factor also has been present in France, given frequent realignments on the right, the emergence of Macron, etc.)
(As an aside, I was somewhat surprised that an outlier, the one case of E>0.6 to have RP>1 is the French late-midterm election of 1986. This is remembered as the election that produced the first cohabitation of the French Fifth Republic. But the vote share of the Socialists was still considerably higher than Mitterrand’s own vote share in the presidential first round of 1981, when the Communists had presented their own candidate.1)
So much for the votes. I was wondering what happens if we look at seats? Strangely I had never done this before (at least with this dataset). This graph has as its y-axis the seat share of the president’s party (or alliance) divided by the president’s own first or sole-round votes, which I will call RPs. The x-axis is the same. In addition to plotting a best fit line, the diagonal, I also added the 95% confidence intervals from the regression estimates to this graph. There is also a lowess (local regression) plotted as the very thin grey line. Note how flat it is for a long portion of the term, a fact related to a point I will come to at the end (and also suggesting a more complex than linear fit may be more accurate, but I want to keep it simple for now).
The regression line here is very close to RPs=1.5–E, which is a wonderfully elegant formula! It says that at a midterm election, a president’s party’s seat share would be, all else equal, the same as his or her own vote share half a term earlier. At a truly extreme honeymoon election–imagine one held the day after the president was elected, but with the result known–the seat share would be about 1.5 times the president’s vote share. At an extreme counter-honeymoon it would drop to around 0.5. So where did Macron’s Ensemble come out in the election just concluded? His RPs=1.52! So the party actually did about what the average trend says to expect. It was his 2017 surge that was higher than we perhaps should have expected (although, again, not as high as Chirac’s in 2002).
The result in the second figure is obviously holding constant the electoral system, so it should be taken with a grain of salt, given the importance of variation in electoral systems in shaping the size of the largest party (which is usually the president’s party, at least until we get to midterms and beyond).
What I find particularly elegant about the equation is its suggestion that midterm elections are no-effect elections, in terms of seat share for the president’s party. This was presumably what major party leaders were going for in the Dominican Republic when they shifted to the world’s only ever case (to my knowledge) of an all-midterm cycle. Both president and congress were elected to four-year terms, each at the halfway point of the other. (Actual outcomes during were not always no-effect, though on average they were close2; they have since changed back to their former concurrent elections.) This may seem a surprise to readers who know the American system and its infamous midterm decline, but actually the midterm-election median in the US is 0.969. In an almost pure two-party system, anything below 1.00 might look bad, and be both politically consequential and also somewhat over-interpreted. But 0.969 is not really that much below 1.00! Okay I am cheating just a little by reporting the median. The mean is 0.943; it is brought down by a few major “shellackings” like 2010 (0.891), although 1990 was worse (0.719, in this case because G.H.W. Bush had won such a big landslide of his own).3
In concurrent elections, the regression suggests also that on average, RPs is around 1.00. For the US, the median is 0.979, and the mean is 1.009. Note how it is higher than the midterm average, but perhaps not as much as one might expect.4
At this point, both these equations are just empirical regression best fits, not logical models. There is logic behind the general effects of electoral cycles on a presidential party’s performance, but not a logical basis for the specific parameters observed. I would very much like to have such a logical basis, but I have not hit upon it. Yet.
(Considerably nerdier and some rather half-baked stuff the rest of the way.) Such a logical model may be closer now that there is a simple and elegant empirical connection between presidential votes and seats. Seat shares are more directly connected to parameters of the electoral system than votes shares are–even vote shares for assembly parties, but vote shares for presidential candidates are a good deal more remote from the assembly electoral system. Nonetheless, in Votes from Seats we do derive a predictive formula for the effective number of presidential candidates, based on the assembly’s seat product. A regression reported in the book confirms its plausibility, but with rather low R2. From that formula one could get an expected relationship for the leading presidential candidate’s vote total, vp. It would be vp = 2–3/8[(MS)1/4 +1]–1/4. We already have, for the seat share of the largest party, s1=(MS)–1/8. It so happens that these return the same value at around MS=175. Expectations of vp<s1 or s1<vp would then depend on whether MS (mean district magnitude times assembly size) is higher or lower than 175; for most presidential systems it is a good deal higher (the median in this sample of elections, including semi-presidential, is 480). Tying this observation to the one about midterm elections (E=0.5) yielding actual (not predicted) sp=vp and accepting for simplification that the president’s party seat share (sp) is also the largest party seat share, at least in elections that are not after the midterm, might be a path towards a model. But that may take a while yet. Below I will copy a table of what the formulas for vp and s1 yield at various values of seat product, MS, for simple systems. These values of s1 are without regard to elapsed time when the assembly election takes place.
Table of expected values of presidential vote shares (pv) and largest assembly party seat share (s1)
Note how we would expect president’s parties to have a seat share greater than the president’s own vote share at low MS due to system disproportionality, but higher as MS increases beyond 175, presumably because of strategic behavior being different around the majoritarian presidential election and the more permissive assembly electoral system. The smallest MS observed in this dataset for a (semi-)presidential system is 124 (Sierra Leone, 2002, 2007). The largest is 202,500 (Ukraine, 2006, 2007). For nonconcurrent elections, the minimum MS is 240 (Chile, 1997, 2001).
Also, Mitterand himself had finished second in the first round, with 25.9% of the votes (the incumbent, Giscard, had 28.3%). The Communist candidate had 15.4%. In the 1986 election, Socialists won 31% of the votes, for RP=1.2. (I am not counting the Communists as part of Mitterrand’s alliance by then, as he had fired the Communist ministers that were in his initial cabinet.)
The values for RPs in these Dominican elections were: 0.587 in 1998, 0.975 in 2002, 0.945 in 2006, and 1.067 in 2010. So other than that first run, if the no-effect was what they wanted, they basically got it.
[Added, 21 June.] I somehow forgot that my first publication on this topic, in the APSR in 1995, also used seats as its outcome of interest–but it was change in seat percentage for the president’s party from the prior assembly election (with president’s vote share as a control). Looking back on that pub, I see that my regression there would agree with my updated analysis here in suggesting that midterm elections, all else constant, are no-effect elections. The regression line clearly passes very near the change=0, E=0.5 point in the article’s Figure 1. And, yes, in that article I commented on this as a “particularly striking feature” (p. 332).
The way I set up the regression, its constant term would be the RPs when E=0, a concurrent election. This constant is actually 0.95, but its 95% confidence interval includes 1.00 (it is 0.844–1.057). The coefficient on the nonconcurrent dummy is 0.552, from which I get the approximation, 1.5, in the equation in the second figure (summing this coefficient and the constant). The coefficient on E is –1.072. R2=0.215.
Sunday is the final round of the four-round French election–two rounds for president, two for National Assembly. Thus the legislative runoffs are now upon us. Although we have the unusual case of a honeymoon election in which the leader of an opposition alliance is proclaiming he is running for prime minister, probably the only real question in the results is whether the just-reelected President Macron gets a assembly majority or not. (See earlier planting for discussion of such points.)
In advance of the runoffs, I been poking around in the statements (profession de foi) that candidates make available. It’s a great resource for anyone wanting study patterns in the way the candidates and parties/alliances communicate. I am not about to look at this systematically, but I note a few stark differences in presentation. (Most of the following is based on a comment by me at the earlier post, but with some elaboration.)
Every candidate for an assembly seat runs with a substitute, who would replace the the originally elected member were the latter to vacate the seat for any reason (including becoming a cabinet minister). Thus, in effect, France has two-person (closed) lists for each single-seat district. The replacement is typically, although not always, featured on the statement (and, from photos I have seen, in campaign signs). But there is considerable variation in how they are presented.
Also, as typifies highly presidentialized parties (or, given that this includes major opposition parties, too, leader-ized?) as France has, almost every candidate is featured next to the presidential candidate in whose alliance the assembly candidate was running.
For example, in Bouches-du-Rhône no. 4, the candidate from Nupes features the principal and the substitute prominently, side by side. The national leader, in this case “candidate for premier” Mélenchon, is shown towards the bottom of the first page. This is the reverse of what seems to be the norm for candidates of Ensemble or RN, where the candidate is pictured (photo-shopped, more to the point) next to the leader, with the substitute in a smaller photo on a later page.
For instance, see the Ensemble candidate in the same district.
See this one for a candidate of RN (Bouches-du-Rhône no. 1). Unlike most that I have seen for candidates in other parties, this does not talk about the candidate or the district at all. It just tells what the RN party program is. It also does not mention the substitute. Instead, a picture of the main candidate with Le Pen and also (strangely) a picture of the party president, Jordan Barella. The main message comes through clearly in all caps at the top: “La seule opposition à Macron” (the only opposition to Macron).
Here is another RN candidate statement that is marginally less party-centric than that one. In Hérault no. 7, it is a little more specific to the local context, not in the sense of any mention of district issues, but in calling out the “extreme left” opponent in the district who must be stopped. The Nupes candidate in the same district has a statement that looks like the other Nupes one I mentioned before (and with minor variation, all those from Nupes that I have seen). It has the substitute depicted side-by-side with the principle and featured more prominently than the national leader, while still making room for a photo of Mélenchon at the bottom of the first page. It also has at the very top, “Face au RN, pas d’abstention”–a call not to abstain, given the contest is against the RN. Otherwise, it is mostly oriented around the national program of the alliance.
In general, the Ensemble statements seem to say the most about the candidates themselves, with information on their career on the second page, often along with some words about the district’s needs. Maybe this is to be expected for the alliance that has already won the presidency, and now wants to show how the majority Macron is seeking would be in tune with local voters’ needs. The other two main forces, RN and Nupes, on the other hand, need to emphasize how they seek to counter the president’s national policy priorities. The candidates in Nupes and RN most certainly are not cultivating a personal vote or a local vote on their statements–or rather on the subset of statements I saw.
I actually did find one from Ensemble that did not show a photo of Macron at all, although it does say “presidential majority” at the bottom of the front page. Instead, it shows the principal candidate and the substitute standing side-by-side in a park. This district is one of the three-way runoffs, Dordogne no. 3 (first round: NUPES 24%, Ensemble 23%, RN 22%), and the second page of the statement has a large block of text denouncing the “extremes” represented by the other two runoff candidates’ national programs. It still saved plenty of locally targeted information about priorities.
We can probably draw some conclusions from these patterns–if they are indeed patterns–about the priorities of the parties and alliances, in terms of local vs. national emphasis, as well as how important the leader is to the vote-seeking strategy. I looked at dozens, and while I can’t claim they were representative of the wider set of districts, it seems they just might be.
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.
I still think Emmanuel Macron will win reelection, but it is going to be a closer fight than most prognosticators expected before this past Sunday’s first round. In the results of that vote, Macron has the expected plurality, and it was a few percentage points higher than he got in 2017 (27.8% vs. 24.0%). His runoff opponent in both 2017 and later this month, Marine Le Pen, also improved a bit over last time (23.3% vs. 21.3%). What is new–or really accelerating a trend that was already there–is the total collapse of older established parties. The Republican (mainstream right) got 20% in 2017 but only 4.8% this time, fifth place. The Socialists were already in dire shape in 2017 with 6.4%, but did even worse this time, 1.75%, despite (or because of?) running the mayor of Paris, a seemingly high-quality candidate. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise, a far left group, made the race for a runoff slot pretty close this time, coming third with just under 22% (19.6% last time, fourth place). Given just over 7% for the far-far-right Eric Zenmour, one could say there was a majority for extremes of one sort or another.
While the Economist’s forecast model still has Macron’s win probability at around 80%, it was just short of 100% as recently as 21 March. An extreme right candidate actually has a roughly 20% chance of being the next president of France.
It is never a good thing for democracy when the fate of the republic hinges on one person. But it is hard to exaggerate how absolutely essential it is that Macron win. France has been running a decades-long experiment in whether a highly presidentialized system would eventually destroy the party system. The French party system held up pretty well, despite the adoption of a relatively strong presidency with the 1958 constitution and direct election to that office in 1965. The party system did indeed become presidentialized in ways that David Samuels and I document in our 2010 book, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers. Parties reorganized themselves internally around the goal of advancing their presidential candidate, rather than emphasizing their parliamentary party organization. This presidentialization was only further enhanced by the decision in 2002 to make assembly elections follow immediately after presidential, with both elected for five-year terms. The party system’s left and right blocs, starting from the 1960s, came to be dominated by whichever party could present the successful presidential candidate–the identity of these parties changed over time on the right, but presidentialization allowed the Socialists to surpass the Communists on the left. However, with the demise of the old right and left, there is not much remaining to the party system other than presidential aspirations. Macron himself is the perfect demonstration of presidentialization–having no party at all till he was on the cusp of the presidency, and then creating one that swept into power on the heels of his own win.
The combination of direct election of a politically powerful presidency, honeymoon election of the assembly, and majoritarian electoral rules is toxic. It means that someone from outside the party system potentially can win the presidency and then, in short order, a majority in the assembly. If you get lucky with this combination, you get a Macron. If you get unlucky, you get a Le Pen (or potentially a Mélenchon).
Make no mistake. Honeymoon elections, with majoritarian rules, are the real deal. If Le Pen manages to win the runoff, there will be no “second chance” at which voters can check her with a majority opposed to her in a cohabitation via the assembly. Presidential and semi-presidential democracies just do not work that way. If she wins the runoff, we can expect her National Rally to win around 28% of the vote in the first round of the assembly (see the just-linked post or the one from 2017), and that to be a plurality. Could a broad alliance form to block her candidates, given the two-round majority-plurality system? Sure. Just don’t count on it. Do count on her getting support from various other anti-system forces and being in a much stronger position going into the second round of the assembly election than that 28% estimate implies.
Do I think this is the most likely outcome? No, I do not. I think Macron will win, and go on to win a large majority of the assembly. However, it is a bad situation for French democracy–and the world–to be dependent on this one man not slipping up in some way in the final days before the presidential runoff–especially with a major war going on in the extended neighborhood and related economic difficulties at home. France is in dangerous territory in these moments with its toxic institutional combo, and the overly high stakes that combo generates.
French election season is upon us. In four rounds of elections over the next three months France will choose their President and National Assembly. The presidency is elected by two-round majority (10 and 24 April), followed closely by the assembly using two-round majority-plurality (12 and 19 June). Predictably, the news media are already starting to suggest that President Emmanuel Macron, while likely to be reelected, might be at risk of losing his assembly majority (e.g., The Economist). Will he?
What is almost as predictable as the media expressing this outcome as a real possibility is that presidents–just elected or reelected–see their parties do really well in honeymoon assembly elections. You can’t get much more honeymoon-ish than the French cycle. The assembly election occurs with approximately 1/60 of the time between presidential elections having elapsed. It just so happens that we have a formula for this.
where Rp is the “presidential vote ratio”– vote share of the president’s party in the assembly election, divided by the president’s own vote share (in the first round, if two-round system)–and E is the elapsed time (the number of months into the presidential inter-electoral period in which the assembly election takes place, divided by the total months comprising that period).
In 2017, there were actually news reports suggesting that because Macron at the time he was elected did not yet have a true political party, he would face cohabitation. That would mean an opposition majority, which under French institutions would also mean a premier (head of cabinet) from parties opposed to the president. This was, even at the time, obviously hogwash.
The formula suggested that, once we knew Macron’s first-round vote percentage, we could estimate his (proto-) party’s first-round assembly vote percentage–assuming he would go on to win his own runoff (which was never seriously in doubt). Given that Macron had won 24% of the vote in his own first round, that implied 29% of the vote for the party in the first round for assembly.
What did his party, branded by then La République En Marche!, get? The answer would be… 28.2%. Not too bad for a political science formula. Not too surprising, either. It does not sound impressive as a vote percentage, but when you have the plurality of the vote in a multiparty field with a two-round majority-plurality electoral system, it can be pretty helpful in terms of seats won. Even more when you are a center party, and your opponents are split between left, right, and farther right (and we should not leave out farther left, too). After the second round, LREM ended up with about 54% of the seats. When combined with a pre-election ally, Democratic Movement, the seat total was over 60% (the two parties had combined for about a third of the first-round votes and got 49% of second-round votes).
The Economist article I linked to in the first paragraph was published in the March 5 edition. I want to check how plausible its claim was, using the Economist’s own election forecast model. As of a few days before March 5, that model was basing its forecast on aggregated polls that averaged about 27% of expected first-round vote for Macron himself. In other words, a few percentage points higher than he ended up winning in the first round in 2017. The model also gave Macron at the time an 88% chance of winning the presidency. Thus on the basis of information available at the time–including the Shugart-Taagepera formula for expected presidential-party vote share–we should conclude that LREM would win about 32% of the vote in the first-round assembly election. Assuming this would be the plurality share–a very safe assumption–that would again imply a strong chance of a single-party majority of seats. Not a loss of the majority, or even the need to forge a post-electoral coalition.
Now, since that article was published, Macron has been enjoying quite a surge in the polls. As of today, the forecast model at The Economist has his odds of winning the presidency above 95%. His polling aggregate as of March 12 is up to 31% (Marine Le Pen, his runoff opponent in 2017, is a distant second with 18%). From this we could estimate the first-round assembly vote share is up to 38%.
I will caution that the formula is not a logical model. It is empirical. There is good logical basis behind the general idea of honeymoon surge (and midterm decline, for countries with such cycles). But the specific parameters of the formula do not have a logical basis. At least yet. The graph of the relationship that is shown in Chapter 12 of Votes from Seats (and also included in the 2017 “predictive” post on France) shows a couple honeymoon elections in various countries that have defied the expected surge. However, only one has an elapsed time of less than 0.1 (the specific example of a relatively early honeymoon decline was Chile 1965, in an election held at 0.083 of the presidential inter-election period.1)
So I can’t predict what LREM will get in June. But it would be a surprise if it was worse than around a third of the vote, even if Macron’s own polling surge does not hold. Given the fragmentation of the party system–which looks even higher now than it was in 2017–and the majoritarian nature of the electoral system, anything short of a majority of seats for Macron would be a surprise at this point.
The notion that voters will come out and vote to “check” a just-elected president that they maybe were not all that enthusiastic about is a hard notion for the news media (not only The Economist) to shake. But there just is not much evidence that politics in presidential and semi-presidential systems works like that.2
____ 1. This election saw the Christian Democratic Party of newly elected President Eduardo Frei win a very strong plurality, 43.6%, but Frei himself had won 56%. The problem–for the formula–is that there were only two serious candidates and three total in the presidential election, whereas the PR-elected legislature featured many parties, including allies of the president running separately. The formula implicitly assumes that all parties contest both elections. This is one of the reasons I can’t call it a logical model, because such conditions have not been incorporated, and perhaps can’t be without making it too complicated to be useful. It is pretty useful as it is, even with its oversimplification and lack of true logical basis!
(By the way, in the next Chilean assembly election, held with 75% of the term elapsed, the party’s vote percentage fell to 31%. The formula suggests 37%, but given that we already know the party did worse than “expected” at the honeymoon, we should just use the expected drop from what it actually had. That would “predict” about 25% of the vote at the late-term election. So they did better than expected, actually.)
2. On this point, let me shout out a just-published article by some recent UC Davis Ph.D.s Carlos Algara, Isaac Hale, and Cory L. Struthers on the Georgia (US) Senate runoffs. Even I was skeptical that honeymoon logic could apply to those elections. And in fact it did not turn out as a Dem surge, but there was clearly no evidence of “checking the president” behavior by voters.