Monthly Archives: April 2012

France 2012

The first round of presidential elections were held in France on April 22, 2012. The President of France, the head of state in a semi-presidential system, is elected for a five year term which is renewable once. France uses a traditional runoff system, where a candidate must win 50%+1 of the votes in the first round to be elected outright, or else the top two candidates in the first round proceed to a runoff held two weeks later. France has held eight direct presidential elections since 1965, and in none of these eight contests has a candidate ever won an absolute majority of the votes cast in the first round.

France is notorious for quickly turning sour on the presidents it has just elected, yet since 1965, only one presidential election – 1981 – has resulted in the defeat of an incumbent president. However, this year, circumstances are a bit different for incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was first elected in 2007.

The incumbent

Sarkozy, a talented and ambitious politician, had his eyes fixed on the presidency since his political career began in earnest in the mid-1980s. The presidency has only been won by politicians who are talented and skilled at manipulating their political opponents and rivals within their own party, and by politicians who are willing to betray old friends and drive over old enemies if getting to the top job in the country requires that. Being popular is not good enough, as countless unsuccessful candidates have learned throughout the years. Leading in polls a year out from the election, furthermore, has never proven successful.

Nicolas Sarkozy had a good mentor, Jacques Chirac, his predecessor who served twelve years as France’s President and had built himself a stature as the big boss and top predator of the French right whose ability to destroy opponents was second only to that of his left-wing frenemy, President François Mitterrand (1981-1995). Sarkozy maneuvered his way to political prominence similar to how Chirac had risen to the top in the early 1970s, but he made a few mistakes along the way.

Jacques Chirac, who had structured his own political party (the Rally for the Republic or RPR, a neo-Gaullist party) in 1976 as an electoral machine to get himself elected president, had ran and lost in two previous presidential elections by 1995 (in 1981 and 1988). After his 1988 defeat, Chirac’s leadership of the RPR faced criticism from young reformers, though Sarkozy had not been one of them. After the right-wing mega-landslide in the 1993 legislative elections, in which President Mitterrand’s unpopular Socialist Party (PS) was handed an unprecedented slap in the face, Jacques Chirac thought he was promised the presidency in 1995. He constructed his own little plan through a deal with Balladur, his old ally, who would become Prime Minister while Chirac would become President in 1995. However, encouraged by his strong standing in matchup polls against Chirac and the left, Balladur broke the deal and announced his own candidacy in addition to Chirac’s long-standing candidacy. His budget minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, turned into one of Balladur’s most loyal supporters within Chirac’s own RPR. Sarkozy, who served as Balladur’s campaign spokesperson, might have taken his support of his candidate a bit too far. When Balladur was defeated by the first round, Chirac, who eventually became President, vowed to take his revenge on “the traitor”, Sarkozy.

Between 1995 and 1999, Sarkozy endured what is often called in French a traversée du désert (crossing the desert). Out of cabinet, and shunned by the Chiraquiens in the RPR’s machinery, Sarkozy was relegated to his homebase as mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, the wealthiest city in France. However, in 1999, two years after the defeat of Chirac’s RPR in the snap legislative elections of 1997, the RPR was in a pitiful state. The Élysée Palace, the president’s residence, had a hard time attracting talented politicians to take the helm of the president’s party. In 1998, Philippe Séguin, the leader of the RPR who maintained cool relations with Chirac, suddenly resigned the party’s leadership and the top spot on the RPR list for the 1999 European elections. By necessity more than by choice, Chirac and his right-hand man, Dominique de Villepin, were compelled to call on Sarkozy. However, just as Sarkozy was emerging from the desert, he fell into quicksand. In the 1999 European elections, the RPR-DL list for the European elections, led by Sarkozy, placed a distant third with only 12%, being distanced by a small margin by a dissident right-wing Eurosceptic list – the Pasqua-Villiers tandem. Sarkozy was unable to take charge of the party, and his political career was seriously threatened following the humiliation he suffered in the Euros.

In 2002, Jacques Chirac, freshly reelected to the presidency by a stroke of luck – he faced the controversial far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen and not his Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the runoff – proceeded to hatch his idea of a “united right”. Since the 1970s, the French right had been divided between two big parties, allied for electoral necessity but sworn rivals in other cases. Chirac’s RPR represented the Gaullist tradition, whatever “Gaullism” meant by then after having been associated with Reaganite neoliberalism in the 1980s but populist fracture sociale rhetoric in 1995. On the other hand, the Union for French Democracy (UDF) was a fairly unstructured partisan coalition uniting the liberal tradition (including former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing) and the centrist/Christian democratic tradition (including Balladur’s education minister François Bayrou). The UDF was not the RPR’s sidekick, but it never became the electoral machine the RPR was (lack of Chirac-like leaders, disunity) and was to be contented by its status as the perennial junior partner in any right-wing government. The idea of a “united right” gained support within the UDF, including with the liberals (who had left the UDF in 1997 to form DL) and some centrists. Over the opposition of a rump UDF led by Bayrou, Chirac was able to carry through with his ambitious plan when he hatched the UMP – which would become the Union for a Popular Movement, the “single party” of the French right.

Chirac did not envision for the UMP to be the vehicle of his sworn enemy, Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2002, Chirac had named Sarkozy as Interior minister, a position in which he gained a reputation as a tough-working, straight-speaking law and order politician. Sarkozy gained notoriety, popularity and standing from his role as Interior minister – and later during his short stint in 2004 as Minister of Economy and Finance. In 2004, the president of the UMP and Chirac’s close ally Alain Juppé was forced to step down from the leadership of the UMP following his indictment in an old case of corruption in the RPR. Sarkozy understood what this meant, and immediately jumped on the opportunity to run for the presidency of the UMP, despite Chirac’s dead set opposition to the prospect of his enemy taking over “his” party, which would have driven “his” candidate – Juppé – to the presidency in 2007. When Chirac failed to find a serious rival to Sarkozy, he decreed that he would compel Sarkozy to resign from cabinet if he won the leadership of the UMP. Sarkozy won the UMP’s leadership easily over token competition in November 2004, and resigned from cabinet. He proceeded to turn Chirac’s party into Sarkozy’s party.

Following the government’s defeat in the 2005 European constitutional referendum, Chirac was forced to renege on his previous statements about how the leader of the party could not be in government. But Chirac would not bow entirely to Sarkozyst pressure. He did not name Sarkozy as Prime Minister in replacement of the battle-worn incumbent, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Instead he named Dominique de Villepin, the old right-hand man and lifelong civil servant. Still, Sarkozy became the number two behind Villepin in the new cabinet, taking office as Interior minister once again.

Villepin was Chirac’s last-ditch attempt to block Sarkozy’s irresistible accession to his office. At first, it appeared as if Villepin would be a serious rival to Sarkozy, who suffered a succession of bad news in 2005. But Villepin would find himself destroyed by the curse of Matignon (the PM’s residence). The Clearstream scandal, aimed at Sarkozy, backfired on Villepin, as did an unpopular youth employment scheme (the CPE). Ironically, Chirac saved Sarkozy’s pre-candidacy by not naming him to Matignon in 2005. Chirac did not seem to understand the curse of Matignon, whereby no incumbent Prime Minister has ever been subsequently elected President (Chirac88, Balladur, Jospin). Being Prime Minister might be a political reward for close friends – that is how Chirac saw it – but in practical reality it is perhaps best used as a cemetery for political rivals – which is how Mitterrand understood it.

At any rate, having failed to buoy a Villepin or any other non-Sarkozy candidacy to the presidency in 2007, Chirac was compelled to acquiesce to Sarkozy’s crowning as the UMP’s presidential candidate and forced to endorse his old enemy, though obviously with no great enthusiasm. In the 2007 campaign, Sarkozy proved that, like the old man Chirac, he was an able and talented politician. Running as the candidate of the party of an incumbent president with an approval rating lower than Nixon during Watergate, he quickly ran away from the ‘old days’ of the Chiraquie and presented himself as a change candidate. Viewed as an elitist liberal (in the French sense of the word ‘liberal’) until then, he managed to find a populist appeal to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s voters and working-class voters. His rhetoric about the “value of work”, boosting French competitiveness, lowering taxes in addition to his trademark tough actions against criminality, insecurity, illegal immigration and so forth struck a chord with many voters.

Sarkozy defeated PS candidate Ségolène Royal in the runoff on May 6, 2007 with 53% of the votes, after having successfully crushed the old patriarch of the far-right, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the first round.

However, it may seem as if Sarkozy – like Chirac – is much better suited to winning power than he is to successfully doing something with it. Unlike Chirac, nobody can criticize Sarkozy for inaction. Since 2007, he has been very much of an hyperprésident, parading around with his wealthy friends or his new supermodel wife Carla Bruni, while politically he centralized power in the Élysée Palace in a way not seen since Giscard’s presidency. Sarkozy won flack for his bling-bling ‘unpresidential’ stature, including celebrating his election by eating out with friends at a big restaurant and taking a cruise on a businessman-friend’s yacht. His tendency to speak off the cuff, with his (in)famous casse-toi, ‘pov con! response to a heckler, has not compared favourably to the very presidential and aloof style of politics practiced by all his predecessors including Chirac.

His honeymoon period proved very short lived, ending with the new school year in October 2007. The 172% increase in his own salary combined with a controversial new law (paquet fiscal) which included a tax cap for high earners destroyed his standing with the working-class electorate he had conquered in 2007, leading his critics to denounce his proximity to big money and high earners. He was able to stabilize his popularity in 2008-2009, when he took a leading role in the worldwide financial crisis and his mediation in the Russian-Georgian conflict in 2008. The crisis allowed him to present himself as a safeguard against the economic crisis, and as a world leader in tough times. He did not hesitate to take measures which liberal critics would denounce as statist, such as stimulus spending or bailouts for troubled banks.

In 2009, his popularity started collapsing again. The government was hit by a succession of corruption cases and affaires which seriously weakened Sarkozy, who in 2007 had campaigned on the basis of an “irreproachable republic”. The controversial idea of naming his politically ambitious but not too talented son Jean Sarkozy to head a large public office (the EPAD) in 2009 will probably be looked back on as a major turning point in his presidency, when all hell started breaking loose. It was followed by small corruption cases involving two cabinet ministers, then the Bettencourt-Woerth affair, then the controversial displacement and expulsion of Roms in the summer of 2010, the controversial retirement reform (raising the retirement age to 62, from 6o), and the reminders of France’s proximity to the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia when he was overthrown in January 2011 (right after Sarkozy’s hapless foreign minister had spent her vacations in Tunisia). The left has been vocal in criticizing the countless corruption cases, his tough stance on immigration (removing French citizenship from criminals, linking delinquency to immigration, the Roms affair) which is seen as a political ploy to receive far-right votes or the retirement reform (which polarizes on party lines).

Economic troubles including rising unemployment (almost 10%), a decline in consumers’ purchasing power and a very heavy debt load (over 80% of GDP) have worsened the climate even further. Some of the working-class voters who were part of Sarkozy’s 2007 coalition have been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis, but for some there is an added feeling of betrayal by the President, who promised in 2007 that jobs – such as jobs at a steel plant in Gandrange – would not be lost when they were later lost. For some lower middle-class voters who backed Sarkozy in 2007 on the back of his populist rhetoric, the image of a President who favours his rich friends with tax caps is clearly not what they had voted to get.

From an electoral standpoint, Nicolas Sarkozy clearly aimed to give the far-right FN the “Mitterrand treatment”, that is do with the FN what Mitterrand did with the PCF – turn it from a party winning 20% to a bunch of archaic also-rans winning less than 10%. In 2007, he had managed to win over two in ten of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s 2002 voters by the first round and in the subsequent legislative elections, the FN was dealt a nearly fatal blow by winning a terrible 4.3%. Even as Sarkozy’s popularity eroded in 2008 and 2009, the FN failed to reap the benefits of the UMP’s troubles in the 2008 local and 2009 European elections. However, the 2010 regional elections proved to be the FN’s unexpected resurrection, at which point it appeared as if the FN could only go up and Sarkozy’s UMP could only go down. A lot of far-right supporters and some of the lepenistes which had backed him in 2007 felt betrayed by Sarkozy.

Sarkozy’s 2007 strategy was ingenious, but he placed himself into a box which he would find hard to get himself out of once the shine started wearing off for good. In a sense, he got himself into a “damned if you, damned if you don’t” kind of situation. His tough rhetoric in 2007 had won him FN votes, but he lost them in earnest beginning in 2010. His tough rhetoric in 2007 had frightened away some moderate centre-right voters. Once the FN votes started being lost, Sarkozy found himself in a box where he would risk losing the support of his right-wing if he tacked too much towards the centre, while conversely he would risk losing support in the centre if he tacked too much to the right. Ultimately, he chose the latter course and kept tacking right. Anti-Sarkozyst feelings flooded rightwards from the left into the centre.

The opposition

In certain cases, Nicolas Sarkozy’s best asset – until recently – was his opposition. The Socialist Party (PS) has been out of power at a national level for ten years, last won a big national election in 1997 and last won a presidential election in 1988. In 2002, the PS was shocked out of its comfortable little world when its candidate, then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (1997-2002) was eliminated by the first round, placing third behind the FN’s Jean-Marie Le Pen. Jospin, who had been a fairly popular Prime Minister during an economically favourable period, had been confident of his ability to not only feature in the final two against President Chirac but also fancied his chances at defeating Chirac, who was a particularly weak incumbent despite the cohabitation scenario (which usually favours incumbent Presidents rather than the incumbent majority) because of a series of corruption scandals.

Jospin’s defeat and shocking withdrawal from electoral politics that April evening proved to be the beginning a tough road for the PS. The party was certainly not as badly off as they had been the previous time they had not featured in a runoff – in 1969 – but they still had a long way to go. However, the PS resisted pressure to revitalize itself through serious soul-searching and was thrust back in a comfortable position which it fancied by voters in the 2004 mid-term elections in which Chirac’s UMP did very poorly. The PS chose to read the good news, trying to forget its own weaknesses: deep internal divisions, made very public by the conflicting egos and personalities of its top echelon. The 2005 debate over the EU constitution revealed these divisions, even though the incumbent leadership led by party boss François Hollande won a large majority at a party congress that same year.

In 2006, the PS once again fancied its chances at winning the presidency when it fell across Ségolène Royal, a regional president who injected a new voice and a breath of fresh air in a party known for its “elephants” (the ‘old guard’). However, Royal, as politically skillful as she was, was still no match for Sarkozy. Though she could compete with Sarkozy well on the terrain of populism, her penchant for bizarre statements and policy proposals or her erratic personality would hurt her during the course of the campaign. A lot of left-wingers felt a bit uneasy about her, especially when she had weird flirtations with right-wing themes or with jingoistic patriotism. Royal was probably the best they could have found, but she lost to Sarkozy by a fairly consequential margin (53-47).

The PS’ knack for factional battles, personality clashes and internal wranglings would hit a climax at the Reims Congress in 2008. The election of the party’s first secretary ended up as a battle between two tough women: Royal and her sworn rival, Lille mayor Martine Aubry. Aubry ended up winning, but by the narrowest of margins (102 votes) in a race marred by voting irregularities on both sides. The image of a divided PS, divided more because of egos and personalities than deep ideological problems, would result in its fairly unexpected thumping in the 2009 European elections when it won distant second, only a few hundreds of votes ahead of a left-wing Green coalition. However, the PS was able to put Reims behind it and began cashing in on Sarkozy’s woes in 2010 and 2011. However, the risk for the PS at this point is its slow transformation into the second coming of the old Radicals, fairly powerless nationally but with a formidable local base of local elected officials (mayors, regional and general council presidents, councillors etc).

From this post, you can go back to all my old posts concerning the PS’ historic “open primaries” of the fall of 2011 which culminated in the nomination of François Hollande. Hollande is a novelty in the realm of presidential contenders: he has never served in cabinet, his executive experience is limited to the local level and he managed to become his party’s nominee at a time when nobody seriously thought he would be the PS candidate. He was obviously helped by DSKgate, in which the early favourite for the PS nomination, IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested last May in New York City on counts of sexual aggression in a hotel room. But he surprised those who remembered him from his eleven years as the PS’ secretary-general in which he was fairly competent leader but did not show any special or particular ambition, political talent or drive. A mix of his own skills, his successful campaign and the failure(s) of his opponent(s) all amounted to a comfortable victory in the open primary against the PS’ first secretary, Martine Aubry. The aforementioned posts recount how he got where he is today.

The 2009 European elections saw the emergence of the Greens as a potent political force, potentially posing a threat to the PS’ hegemonic control of the left sustained since the Mitterrand years. The Euros success led to the transformation of the old decrepit Greens into a new party, EELV, which was confident and ambitious. Though its results in the 2010 regionals and 2011 cantonals were not as spectacular, the Greens still remained a much more serious political option and weighed much more against the PS than it had at any point since 1993. However, the Greens likely got too ambitious and opted to play a game too many by putting a lot of its cards on the presidential election. The Greens usually find themselves squeezed in presidential elections, because their most charismatic figures do not run and their hapless candidates find themselves stuck between the PS and the ‘left of the left’.

On the other hand, the Communist Party (PCF) which came out of 2007 with its head held very low indeed found its unexpected salvation in the hands of a charismatic former Socialist cabinet minister, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. His new party formed in the wake of Reims – the PG – allied with the PCF as part of a Left Front (FG) which won the PCF and its allies much better results than those it had become used to.

The French centre has been a constellation of factions, parties, personalities and elected officials since 2007. Since 2002, a small centrist rump of UDF members, led by François Bayrou, had resisted their incorporation in the single party of the right and took an ambitious posture of independence against the UMP. Between 2002 and 2007, Bayrou progressively moved the UDF away from the right and towards the hypercentre (dead-centre). In 2007, Bayrou was able to surge to the heights rarely achieved by centrist presidential candidates since 1965. On the back of anti-system, anti-establishment third way rhetoric, Bayrou surged from 5% to 20% and briefly placed in contention for the runoff. He would eventually fall back down to 18%, which is what he won in April 2007. It was a high water mark for the centre, but Bayrou totally misread his result. Bayrou’s coalition in 2007 was a bit different from the old UDF coalitions. A lot of right-wingers and left-wingers left in the dark by their candidates opted for the centrist option, as did a fair number of fickle socially liberal moderate swing voters. Bayrou read his result as a full endorsement of his policies, rhetoric and political agenda by 18% of voters, and proceeded to overreaction. He decreed the death of the UDF, and its replacement by a new party – the Democratic Movement (MoDem).

In the legislative elections which followed, the MoDem won only 7% of the votes and three seats. The creation of the MoDem as a fully independent centrist party, not allied with the right, did not really speak to the political agenda of the UDF’s incumbent caucus of 30-some members. Those members’ political survival was in many cases dependent on the good graces of the UMP, and their own political views might have been more in line with those of Bayrou than those of Sarkozy but deep down, they remained loyal to the UDF’s roots as a centre-right party. The bulk of the UDF’s incumbents shut the door on Bayrou’s strategy, and founded their own party – the New Centre (NC), allied with the UMP. The NC won 20-some seats, the MoDem won only 3 seats. The centre was thus left with “a party without parliamentarians, and parliamentarians without a party”.

Bayrou’s control-freak and centralist nature within his own party led to a steady outflow of members from the MoDem, which after another bad defeat in the 2009 European elections became a party on life-support propped up by its leader only for the purposes of his next presidential candidacy. At the same time, attempts by other centrists (or centre-right figures) to recreate a united centre fell flat on their face. They didn’t quite understand that creating their own new parties (including, for example, Senator Jean Arthuis’ AC) did not help centrist unity but rather rendered the centre a mish mash of parties, parliamentarians, and egos which nobody could pretend to understand.

The centre came close to finding the man who might have carried a solution to the chronic disunity of the centre since 2007. Jean-Louis Borloo, the leader of the Radical Party, a social liberal ally of the UMP, had been a popular environment minister in Sarkozy’s cabinet but fell out with Sarkozy and the UMP after he saw his prime ministerial dibs crushed in 2010. Borloo proceeded to ally with the NC and smaller centrist party, in the hopes of recreating the UDF of yesteryear. Yet, Borloo’s coalition – the ARES – was almost immediately burdened with its own problems. Firstly, not all Radicals were hot on the idea of distancing themselves from the UMP. Secondly, Bayrou’s MoDem was not involved, which did pose some problems because, despite the MoDem’s pitiful state after 2010, Bayrou still remained a fairly popular and powerful political actor in the centre. Thirdly, the ARES idea was in part dependent on the eventuality of receiving the support of the UMP’s centrist wing – those UMP members who had been members of the UDF prior to 2002. Attempts to divide the UMP and restructure the centre-right along the pre-2002 lines were too ambitious and amounted to naught. Finally, the ARES adventure relied heavily upon Borloo and his candidacy in 2012. The ARES proved stillborn when Borloo backtracked and surprised observers by announcing that he would not run for the presidency. He was the only non-Bayrou centrist with a presence and an ability to perform well in 2012, as the NC’s hapless leader Hervé Morin quickly found out during his short and aborted presidential flirtation.

On the far-right, the 2007 election was the last hurrah for the old patriarch of the FN, Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose peak was in 2002. After Le Pen and the FN’s collapse in 2007, the FN entered its toughest period in years – tougher even than the acrimonious years of division with Bruno Mégret’s dissidence in the late 1990s. The party was nearing bankruptcy, failed to save the sinking ship in either the 2008 or 2009 mid-term consultations and was generally perceived as being in a comatose status. The only bright spot for the party proved to be the solid results won by Marine Le Pen, the old patriarch’s daughter and chosen successor, in her new home base of Hénin-Beaumont, a troubled mining town in the north of France.

2010 proved to be the FN’s rebirth. The party benefited from the collapse of Sarkozy’s image with the far-right electorate and won strong results throughout the country in the 2010 regional elections. The FN rising from the ashes, like the phoenix, proved that Sarkozy had ultimately not been able to deal the FN a fatal blow in 2007, unlike Mitterrand who had dealt the PCF fatal blows in the 1970s and 1980s. After 2010, as mentioned above, the FN went from success to success and the UMP from defeat to defeat. The election of Marine Le Pen to the party’s leadership in 2010 rejuvenated the old party somewhat as she discovered a new appeal to a working-class base discontent with Sarkozysm but still unconvinced by the increasingly moderate PS. Much has been written, perhaps too much, about her ‘transformation’ of the FN into a more respectable and less extremist party or about her new appeal to new electorates. Journalists like to write sensational stuff like that, even though it’s not quite true.

In early 2011, the FN was boosted by ‘shock polls’ which showed her running ahead of Sarkozy in the first 2012 matchups. The party did very well in the 2011 cantonal elections, proving that the surge was real.

The candidates

Ultimately, ten candidates gathered the 500 signatures/endorsements required to run. On the far-right, Marine Le Pen, in the running since 2010 if not 2007. She successfully managed to win the 500 signatures which the FN always complains are hard to get, but she also totally sidelined and silenced the factions of the FN which were unhappy about her leadership. Of course, those folks, led by Carl Lang, never had any serious appeal.

On the right, Nicolas Sarkozy took the traditional route of announcing his candidacy quite late (February 2012). Few people doubted he would, however, not run for reelection. The UMP gives the appearance of being more cohesive and more peaceful than the PS, but that is only because Sarkozy knows how to place a cap and silencer on the internal wranglings behind the scenes. The UMP is just as divided internally as the PS, and its personality and ego battles are just as fierce. Sarkozy, however, has been successful in giving the appearance of a fairly serene party which is united behind him. To an extent it is united behind him, but it is artificial unity maintained by the constraints of power. The early battles over the legislative elections, the most emblematic of which is the fight in Paris between Prime Minister François Fillon and MEP/former justice minister Rachida Dati, are proxy battles for the battles which would be waged within the party if Sarkozy loses (the Fillon-Dati civil war’s battle lines reflect those of a potential civil war within the party).

Also on the right, a lone Gaullist candidate, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, managed to stand. Dupont-Aignan, who left the UMP quite some years ago already, is the leader of a small Eurosceptic “paleogaullist” party called ‘Arise the Republic’ (DLR). DLR has never gained the footing granted to similar predecessors including Charles Pasqua’s RPF or even Philippe de Villiers’ MPF, largely because NDA (as he calls himself) is nowhere near as well known as either of those two retreads. NDA has a conservative but fairly traditional Gaullist (which means, economically, more statist than liberal, and generally Eurosceptic) platform.

Dominique de Villepin, who still has a small base of political support within the UMP as expressed by his party (‘Solidary Republic’, RS), attempted to run, for reasons it seems more related to his old personal vendetta against Sarkozy. In 2010, when his bubble was still fresh, he might have been a half-serious threat to Sarkozy, but became an irrelevancy rather quickly (in part because of Clearstream rearing its head on him). He was unable to gather his 500 signatures.

Ultimately, in the centre, François Bayrou ended up being the “last man standing”. Morin’s candidacy in the lack of a Borloo candidacy was quickly aborted in the wake of 1% polling averages, which would have hurt the NC’s standing against the UMP in negotiations for the legislative elections. The NC ended up backing Sarkozy, as the Radicals did, without much enthusiasm. Corinne Lepage, a former environment minister and an ex-ally of Bayrou (she had already run in 2002), did not gather her required signatures.

On the left, François Hollande was the nominee of the PS and PRG (a small party allied to the PS). Hollande managed to motivate a base which was, in part, rather cool to him. Clearly, his ability to win in May proved to be a major element in his appeal to the left-wing base. EELV nominated Eva Joly, an MEP and well-known Franco-Norwegian magistrate who has a good image in the realm of public opinion but is not a very good politician. Joly had surprisingly defeated the favourite for the EELV nomination, the well-known TV star (a ‘telecologist’) Nicolas Hulot, who was ultimately too ‘impure’ for the party’s base. The FG (the PCF and PG) nominated Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who had emerged as the FG’s top icon beginning in the 2009 Euros. Mélenchon faced two rivals in the PCF internal vote, including the little known but locally popular Puy-de-Dôme deputy André Chassaigne.

On the far-left (the ‘Trotskyist far-left’), the 2012 battle will be fought in the absence of the movement’s two main stars: Olivier Besancenot, candidate of the LCR in 2002 and 2007 and Arlette Laguiller, the well-liked candidate of LO in all elections since 1974. Arlette retired from politics, in favour of another woman, Nathalie Arthaud who managed to gather the 500 signatures. Besancenot had managed to transform the old LCR into a new party – the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) – but the NPA failed its first electoral test in the 2009 Euros and Besancenot’s star began to fade with the rise of the Greens and Mélenchon as rivals on the left. Besancenot, a postman in Neuilly-sur-Seine, opted not to run, giving the NPA candidacy to a little known union activist and auto worker named Philippe Poutou, who still managed to win 500 endorsements.

Finally, the surprise candidate of 2012 ended up being Jacques Cheminade. Cheminade, who had run in 1995 but failed to run in 2002 and 2007, is linked to the Lyndon LaRouche’s bizarre political movement, often classified as being far-right in France. Nobody really knows him or what his ideas are (as if anybody understood LaRouchism), but he has become a practical joke for comedians and observers alike who poke fun at the conspiracy theories underlying Cheminade and Lyndon LaRouche’s political views.

You can read more preview materials here and here.

Results and Analysis

Turnout was 79.47% – abstention was low at 20.53%. Many observers had predicted high abstention – perhaps as high as in 2002 (28.4%) because the presidential campaign and the candidates failed to engage and motivate voters in a significant way, and most judged the campaign to be of very low quality. Ultimately, the high turnout surprised almost everybody. Despite most voters feeling that the campaign was bad, the high stakes in this election and the prestige of the position up for grabs likely motivated voters who had considered abstention. The left was able to keep its more abstention-prone base motivated by the lure of defeating Sarkozy. The right prevented demobilization of its base, which was what had happened in the 2010 regional elections in good part.

The geography of abstention reflected traditional patterns. Highest in the overseas department (especially high in non-white areas, like the Kanak areas of New Caledonia), Corsica but also urban areas and more isolated rural areas (including mountainous regions) largely in eastern France. Turnout was low in Île-de-France, where, like in 2002, school vacations are likely to blame. According to Ipsos’ exit poll, it was unsurprisingly younger voters, lower socioprofessional categories (CSP- including manual workers) and low income voters who had the lowest turnout. There were no clear links between partisanship and low turnout, though a quarter of Bayrou’s 2007 voters abstained. UMP, PS and PCF sympathizers had high turnout, but all partisans usually tended to post high turnout numbers. In the 2010 regional elections, a lot more right-wingers had opted not to vote than left-wingers.

The results were:

François Hollande (PS) 28.63%
Nicolas Sarkozy (UMP) 27.18%
Marine Le Pen (FN) 17.89%
Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FG) 11.10%
François Bayrou (MoDem) 9.13%
Eva Joly (EELV) 2.31%
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (DLR) 1.79%
Philippe Poutou (NPA) 1.15%
Nathalie Arthaud (LO) 0.56%
Jacques Cheminade (S&P) 0.25%

François Hollande came into the first round as the favourite and comes out of the first round as the favourite. He led a smart campaign, despite small ups and downs, and has played all the right cards to win the runoff. Despite being criticized on his left as being too soft and indecisive, and to his right as being wishy-washy and indecisive, his image as a ‘normal’, consensual and moderate candidate has appealed to voters in the centre who were scared away by Nicolas Sarkozy’s tack to the right. Hollande, since day one, has set out to win this election in the centre, by appearing as a low-key consensual moderate who doesn’t give the image of improvising or panicking like Sarkozy. He has skillfully taken on the Mitterrand ’88 mantle, that of a moderate guy behind a “France unie” appeal who stands against the divisive, ideological and sectarian right. Like Mitterrand in 1988, by taking on this image and appeal, he has already positioned himself favourably for the runoff. As a person, Hollande might not win personality contests and his personal image could use some significant improvements on stuff like presidential stature and credibility in foreign relations, but as a candidate he has managed to brush off his weaknesses by staying clear of any traps and controversies and keeping a consensual moderate approach.

His image, adopted from day one, as the “normal president” has been a positive image for him. In contrast to an incumbent known for his erratic temper and his tendency for wild escapades, Hollande’s image as an amiable and congenial provincial ‘notable’ has been a boost for him not only in this campaign but before that during the PS primary. He has remained a safe option for more centrist-leaning voters, evoking consistency and moderation despite his various bouts of left-wing rhetoric during the campaign.

On the other hand, to keep his left-wing base, Hollande also seized unto the mantle of anti-incumbency and specifically anti-Sarkozysm. In the PS primary, his ability to defeat Sarkozy – which his main rival Martine Aubry perhaps did not possess as much – proved to be a major boon. It remained a major advantage for him in the general election campaign, helping keep left-wing voters perhaps uneasy with his wishy-washy softness in the fold. He did keep them satisfied by various short-lived adventures to the left, not hesitating to use more left-wing rhetoric, but overall he kept himself from falling into a box of being too centrist for left-wingers and too left-wing for centrists. As aforementioned, Hollande steered clear of traps and his weak points and instead focused heavily on his strengths. He almost turned himself into the ‘not Sarkozy’ candidate and transformed the election into a referendum on the incumbent president.

In an equal head-to-head contest, Sarkozy is likely the strongest against Hollande on issues such as the debt, reducing the deficit, economic management and presidential stature. Hollande understood that and refused to play that potentially dangerous game. Instead, he skillfully presented himself not as Mr. François Hollande but as Mr. Not-Sarkozy. The incumbent president entered this campaign with some of the weakest approval numbers of any incumbent facing reelection, and feelings of anti-Sarkozysm run very high on the left. For many left-wingers, the main point of this election is defeating Sarkozy and the main motivator is anti-Sarkozysm (rather than, say, Hollande’s personal qualities or platform).

According to Ipsos, 28% of French voters voted they way they did to show their opposition to another candidate, the remaining 72% voted to show their support to their particular candidate. However, a full 38% of Hollande’s voters placed his name in the little envelope to show their opposition to another candidate – no prize for guessing who this other candidate might be – rather than their support to his candidacy.

By placing first, Hollande not only prevented any mystical Sarkobump which might have been the result of Sarkozy placing first in the first round, but he also gained some additional momentum for himself. While their air of inevitability is not necessarily a boon for frontrunners, Hollande is surrounded by a media narrative of inevitability and it will probably take a screw up on his part for him to lose in the runoff.

Nicolas Sarkozy will make the history books: the first incumbent president to trail in the first round. Though his 27.2% of the vote is not awful, by any means (it is way better than Chirac’s result in 2002, for starters) but Sarkozy had banked a lot on placing first in the first round with a result closer to his 2007 result (31.2%). Sarkozy seems to be a big believer in some mystical theory whereby placing first in the first round is a game-changer, when it never has been. Yet, for him, the incumbent, to place second is not good news. He is probably in a worse spot than Giscard in 1981, which is an election which carries many similarities to this current election (as does 1988). The election is for all intents and purposes a referendum on his presidency and his personality as a political leader, and that is not something which plays to his advantage. Despite his strengths, his weaknesses are many and they are, for many voters, far more important than any of his strengths.

Looking back, Sarkozy likely opted for the wrong strategy. As described above, his 2007 strategy inadvertently placed him in a box of his own making, where he was vulnerable both on his right if he went too much towards the centre and vulnerable on his centre if he tacked too much to the right. In this campaign, Sarkozy clearly opted to tack right. By focusing his campaign on themes such as immigration, criminality, security, authority, responsibility and traditional values he was clearly aiming to appeal to FN voters who had fallen out with him since 2010. As his advisers have said, the Sarkozyst strategy was a campagne au peuple, or, in other words, a populist campaign aimed at winning “with the people”.

At the outset, the Sarkozyst strategy was fruitful – in part – for the UMP candidate. He progressively gained support in the first round, clearly at the expense of Marine Le Pen. However, he was unable to maintain his momentum as the official campaign – and equal air time for all candidates – began. His mini-surge began to peter out and he slowly lost some support to Marine while Hollande retook a very narrow lead in the first round. Sarkozy’s strategy of a right-populist campaign had two problems. Firstly, it was a first round strategy. Understandably, Sarkozy might have been concerned about his viability in the first round, so instead of playing a Giscard ’81 or Jospin ’02, he seemed to focus both on Hollande – his likely runoff opponent – and Marine Le Pen (perhaps indirectly). It was successful, but it remains a first round strategy because runoffs are usually won in the centre – only 1981, 1995 and 2007 are exceptions to the rule.

Secondly, the populist route is best taken by non-incumbents. Mitterrand’s 1981 campaign was not quite the populist route, it was rather a fairly left-wing anti-incumbent strategy not entirely repeated by Hollande this year. However, Chirac in 1995 and Sarkozy himself in 2007 were both successful in their populist strategies in those respective elections because they were not incumbents and were rather anti-incumbents. Jacques Chirac positioned himself, backed by the fracture sociale and nascent anti-EU populism, against the incumbent and establishment Édouard Balladur and later against a Lionel Jospin still too tied to the incumbent Socialist head of state. In 2007, as described above, Sarkozy clearly positioned himself as the anti-incumbent with his rhetoric of a rupture with the dusty past. The populist route has never really been tried by incumbents, except perhaps Chirac in 2002 – but he was not really the incumbent in that case. It is hard to position yourself as a populist, playing on the division of France between “elites” and “people” (as exemplified by the 2005 referendum and skillfully played on by Sarkozy in 2007), when you are an incumbent. Even harder when you are an incumbent naturally tied to your record, like it or not. Sarkozy’s record, on issues such as the bouclier fiscal makes him appear far more as the candidate of the wealthy elites of Neuilly-sur-Seine than of the steel workers of Gandrange. The poor economy, not of his own making, but still a disadvantage for him, gives populism fertile ground but not when you are the incumbent who has presided over a degradation of purchasing power and employment.

To use a weird swimming analogy, Sarkozy often gave the appearance (during the campaign) of being trapped in the deep ocean, not knowing how to swim around sharks and constantly – and desperately at times – improvising a strategy to get out of shark-infested waters. In sharp contrast, Hollande went by swimmingly, avoiding the shark-infested waters which would have been dangerous for him. The result is that while Sarkozy managed to keep his head above water in the end, he is no closer to shore than he was before the runoff. Hollande is much closer to shore and remains the top dog in our swim meet.

Marine Le Pen was the other big winner of the night – if not the ‘real’ winner. With 17.9% of the vote, she has won the highest result for the FN in any national-level election. She won more raw votes and a higher percentage of the vote than her father did in 2002 when he qualified for the runoff (16.9% and 17.8% respectively). However, she did not repeat her father’s shocking performance of 2002, which means that her performance will not be remembered as being as remarkable as her father’s 2002 result. Her result this year confirms that Jean-Marie Le Pen made it into the runoff in large part because the vote that year was exploded beyond recognition and the left in particular had seen its voters extremely divided between the various candidates of the left. This year, given a far more cohesive vote around the PS and the presidential majority, she did not come close to challenge either Sarkozy or Hollande for a spot in the runoff as she could have done in 2011.

Marine Le Pen was underestimated by all pollsters. Ipsos estimates that she gained a net 1.1% due to additional mobilization and a net 1.8% due to gains from other candidates – including 0.6% from Sarkozy, 0.5% from Hollande and 0.4% from Bayrou and Mélenchon.

Like her father in 2002 but unlike in 2007, Marine was underestimated by all pollsters though not by a very significant amount. In the final stretch, it appeared as if Marine’s campaign was running of steam. After the Toulouse tragedy, her campaign seemingly realigned on the traditional themes of the FN – security and immigration – rather than sticking true to the ‘new’ themes of republicanism, secularism, anti-Islamism and anti-establishment populism which had done her good in 2011 and early 2012. That decision to realign the campaign along her father’s favourite hunting grounds was controversial internally. Yet, her result showed that voters responded differently than the media to her final days of campaigning. Polls did pick up a slight recovery in her numbers in the final week or so of the first round campaign, kind of correlated with Sarkozy’s post-announcement momentum petering out in her favour. Some voters who had been on the fence between the incumbent and Marine likely opted for the latter vote.

Marine’s strong result will, first and foremost, assert her as the quasi-uncontested leader of the far-right. It is hard to remember, but her ascension to the top of the party which had since the late 1990s been, for all intents and purposes, her father’s party, was not without difficulty. She was not the uncontested heir to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s legacy. Already in 2009 she had managed to crush the nascent anti-Marine far-right led by Carl Lang and Fernand Le Rachinel, similar to how her father was able to electorally destroy Bruno Mégret’s MNR in the late 1990s and 2002. In 2010, she skillfully trounced her main rival, Bruno Gollnisch, with a bit over two-thirds support and slowly but definitely shaping the FN machine and institutions in her favour. With her strong result, she will be the uncontested leader of the FN and of the far-right for years to come.

Marine Le Pen’s fantastic result is a major failure for Sarkozy. In 2007 it was clear that his strategy was to marginalize and fatally wound the FN similar to how Mitterrand had been able to marginalize and wound the PCF in the 1980s. Besides proving that Mitterrand remains the most skillful and Machiavellian figure of recent French politics, Marine’s result is a clear black eye for Sarkozy. He was able to target the FN vote in the 2007 election(s), but in the long term he was unable to keep it either because of an economic situation not of his own making or because of his own mistakes. Some of Sarkozy’s policies including, again, the bouclier fiscal or the EPAD/Woerth-Bettencourt affairs were frankly boneheaded moves by Sarkozy and his entourages which proved that Sarkozy and the UMP still misinterprets the FN vote and still believes that the FN vote is that of 1984-1988. Even then, his style and policies were not even fair game for the type of FN voter he had done best at picking up in 2007 (the boutiquier-type vote). Because of her strong result, she will plunge the right back into the 1983-1988/1998 era where the question of what to do with a rising far-right became a key concern for all mainstream right politicians and a factor of division between the various clans of the French parliamentary right.

For the FN as well the question of its political future will be up for discussion. Even though Marine Le Pen/Louis Aliot are probably more hungry for real political power than her father probably was, Marine Le Pen – despite cozying up with former mégretistes including Nicolas Bay and even Steeve Briois – remains very much loyal to her father’s old ni-ni line (neither left nor right) and will not be likely to change her rhetoric away from “they’re all the same” (UMPS) to “perhaps the right is the least worst option”. The FN clearly is not looking towards the future with the same view as Wilders’ PVV or even the FPÖ. It remains very much a protest-oriented party which balks at any idea of Mégret-like formal deals with the right. Given the recent experience of the PVV or the past experiences of the FPÖ, this strategy is probably the one which remains the most politically lucrative for the FN.

Much has been said about how Marine Le Pen’s vote probably reflects rejection of other candidates and protest more than anything else. Apparently those who actually voted for her see things differently. Ipsos’ poll showed that while 35% of her voters voted for her to express rejection of another candidate (the second highest, only Hollande’s 38% – described above – is higher) you still have 65% of her voters who said that they opted to vote for her to express their support for her candidacy. Furthermore, 67% of her voters cited “meeting their concerns” as one of the two reasons they voted the way they did – and this number is above both the current national average (47% of all voters voted they way they did because their candidate met their concerns) but also above her father’s own results in 2002 and 2007 on that factor (he got 52% both years, still above average). We will have more later about the new face of her electorate.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon ended up raking in a fairly disappointing performance. With “only” 11%, he still has won a significant and satisfying result, but it is much less than what he could have expected by reading the polls and the trends. Of course, his surge has ended in a peak at 15% and his momentum had started to fade away in the final week of the campaign. However, he could yet have hoped to win something closer to 12-14% even if his chances of placing third diminished in the final days as he lost and Marine gained. It is likely that Mélenchon lost some swing votes to Hollande by way of the vote utile phenomenon and more proletarian voters to Marine Le Pen. According to Ipsos, he lost a net 0.8% to abstention and a net 2.6% to other candidates, comparing their last poll with the result. Ipsos estimates that he lost most (0.9%) to Hollande, but also not insignificantly to Poutou/Arthaud (0.4%), Le Pen (0.4%), Joly (0.3%) and even Sarko (0.3%).

In a long-term perspective, Mélenchon’s result is still significant and positive both for his political future and that of his political avatar, the Left Front (FG). From his personal point of view, while it is significantly below his expectation, such a result solidifies his place as the quasi-leader of the “left of the left” and gives him some not insignificant political capital to use against his rivals on the “left of the left” which, in this case, are not the Trots of the far-left but rather the rank and file of the PCF. It is clear that Mélenchon does not care much for the continued existence of the PCF, though attaching himself to the PCF, like Oskar Lafontaine attached himself to the PDS in Germany, is politically and electorally beneficial for him because of the weakness and irrelevance of his own political party (the PG). Mélenchon’s objective is also clearly that of his friend Lafontaine: to slowly take over the PCF and keep its electoral machine to recreate a German-like Left Party suited to his political ambitions and desires.

Like many of his critics assumed he would, Mélenchon played the good soldier despite his very apparent frustration and anger on April 21. He quickly endorsed Hollande and told his supporters to vote on May 6 as if they were voting for him. His reluctance to pronounce the PS candidate’s name has become the butt of many jokes and comments, but Mélenchon has still played the good soldier. It is clearly not in his immediate political interest to lump Hollande and Sarkozy together (which is something the old PCF would never have done either…). While Mélenchon remains adamant about the fact that he refuses a government deal with the PS if Hollande is elected, he will face some internal wranglings on that matter from the PCF, which has a significant base of local officials who are much closer to the PS and recognize that they owe their spots, in part, to the PS’ good will. In other words, Mélenchon’s aim of transforming the FG/PCF into an emulation of Germany’s Die Linke will prove fairly difficult. His political capital is significant and the PCF will be quite grateful to him for inadvertently resuscitating the old machine, but he will face significant resistance from within the PCF apparatus. Even the apparently loyal mélenchoniste boss of the PCF, Pierre Laurent, probably allied more with Mélenchon for the positive effects he would have on the PCF’s empty coffers by way of public financing following the legislative elections.

In the eventuality of a Hollande presidency, the FG will likely prefer to play the role of the PCF between 1988 and 1993 rather than return to a 1997-2002 gauche plurielle type of setup. The FG will be eyeing the legislative elections in June above all else, where the PCF’s fairly decent resistance at a constituency level gives it a sizable base to start from and which it will hope to add to in the eventuality of a left-wing sweep. But it must also prevent that a vague rose really is a “pink” rather than “red” wave like in 1981, when the PS swept the legislative elections but in which the PCF took quite a tumble. Afterwards, Mélenchon and the FG’s interests remain best served by a position similar to “constructive opposition” given that the austerity measures which will likely be forced upon the new government and the country would significantly weaken the FG if it was in a gauche plurielle-type formal coalition with the PS. Mélenchon’s pipe dream is something similar to what is happening in Greece: a left-wing government forced to take unpopular measures, leading to an explosion and ‘atomization’ of the main left-wing party’s vote and a major strengthening of the “left of the left”.

Mélenchon’s success in large part stems from his ability to unite the dispersed “left of the left”, which had been exploded in 2002 and 2007 between a negligible PCF and a much more attractive far-left (Laguiller and Besancenot). Though assuming that all of those who voted for the far-left in 2007 voted for Mélenchon is far from being entirely accurate, given the diverse and nontraditional compositions of those electorates in both 2002 and 2007, he still rallied a fair share of Besancenot and Arlette’s ‘personal voters’ from 2002 and 2007. The combined “left of the left” weighed 9% in 2007 and 13.8% in 2002. In a long-term view, Mélenchon’s performance is thus in the upper end of results for the “left of the left” and PCF constellation since the 1980s.

François Bayrou, not too unexpectedly, suffered a major reversal of fortunes after his 2007 success (18.6%). He won only 9.1% of the vote, a bit less than expected but above all a full 9.4% below his 2007 result. In 2007, Bayrou had announced that politics would never again be the same. Indeed, he was correct. The old UDF was never to return to its former prominence!

As I have written countless times, Bayrou was guilty of grossly misunderstanding and misinterpreting his fairly remarkable success in 2007 as a full confidence vote in his policies, political views and Third Way centrist strategy. As an old UDF politician, he likely believed that he had retrieved the old Christian democratic Lecanuet-Barre electorate of 1965/1988, and that he could use this more solid electorate as a solid political base for a revival of the centre in a new type of centrist dynamic. In fact, his electorate was, despite appearances, rather different from the traditional UDF electorate of the past. Faced with a polarizing and markedly right-leaning UMP candidate who was clearly tacking in the FN’s direction rather than in the UDF’s direction, he gained moderate centre-right votes. But faced with a PS candidate with credibility issues and whose personality failed to convince a lot of left-wing voters, he gained the support of centre-left voters who did not want to vote for Royal. Above all, his “respectable anti-system” appearance in 2007, unusual for a centrist candidate, allowed him to appeal to a certain kind of anti-establishment voter who would otherwise certainly not have voted for the UDF.

Bayrou certainly miscalculated because the creation of the MoDem led to the implosion of the remnants of the UDF and the transformation of the French centre into a minefield lacking a leader. He was left politically isolated. The only thing Bayrou has going for him is that he remains the most well-known leader of the leaderless centre, and also one of the most popular active politicians in France.

Bayrou opted to play the same game as in 2007 in 2012, taking up the same image as a respectable moderate anti-establishment candidate. However, the mood in 2007 was far more suitable to such a candidate than the mood in 2012. The economic crisis certainly has resulted in a certain radicalization or toughening of political rhetoric on both the left and the right, and voters are not as keen on Bayrou’s low-key moderate and respectable anti-establishment creed, preferring instead the more virulently anti-system discourse of Mélenchon and Le Pen. Secondly, Bayrou’s 2007 performance was helped in large part by the lack of credibility and cohesive partisan support for the PS’ candidate, Ségolène Royal. Faced with a far more credible and appealing PS rival, one who has discovered the strong appeal of anti-Sarkozyst message to left-wingers but who also has a much wider centrist appeal than the erratic Royal, Bayrou was squeezed badly on his left.

Bayrou’s opening would have been to take advantage of Nicolas Sarkozy’s centrist weakness, especially in the wake of the right-populist tone struck by Sarkozy’s campaign. However, Bayrou was unable to capitalize on Sarkozy’s weakness, as those centrists who were unhappy with Sarkozy preferred to vote for Hollande anyway and Sarkozy proved surprisingly strong in his ability to hold more centre-right voters loyal to the fold. Bayrou might have suffered from a vote utile phenomenon to his left and right. On paper, his electoral appeal probably remains rather significant, but centre-leftists might have preferred a vote utile for the PS candidate while centre-rightists might have preferred a vote utile for the UMP candidate. Bayrou was thus left with a core centrist electorate, probably a tad more right-leaning than his eclectic 2007 electorate was.

Bayrou’s poor showing will, in the long term, further marginalize him and his party to the point where he will become (if he hasn’t already become) the sole thing going in the MoDem’s favour. He will probably have lost some credibility as a centrist leader, further weakening his potential ability to play a major role in any future centrist refoundation. The potential of a Hollande presidency could serve to further weaken him, given that certain MoDemites have shown a strong attraction to Hollande and the left, and some – mostly municipal councillors governing with the left locally – have already talked over their boss’ head to endorse Hollande.

Eva Joly, of course, had a disappointing but not unexpected showing: only 2.3% of the votes. While narrowly beating out Dominique Voynet’s terrible 2007 result (1.6%) allows her and EELV to save face, her result is definitely very much on the low end of results for green candidates since 1974. A far cry not only from the heights of Green support in 2009 and 2010 but also from Noël Mamère’s successful candidacy in 2002, which had allowed the Greens to break 5% support in a presidential election.

Presidential elections – very personalized contests – are never favourable to the Greens whose few strong personalities (Daniel Cohn-Bendit) often opt out of presidential contests and whose support is usually much higher in more impersonal types of contests. However, after the formation of a surprisingly solid and strong Green electorate after the 2009 Euros, EELV certainly expected a relative success in 2012. At the campaign’s outset, their goal was clearly to break Mamère’s 2002 record and win upwards of 5-7%. Such a strong result would give EELV strong bidding power against the PS. However, the Greens probably chose the wrong candidate. While Nicolas Hulot would have been vulnerable on his left because of his clear weakness with EELV’s core ‘red-green’ type of clearly left-wing electorate, he would probably have been able to, temporarily, challenge Hollande and Bayrou for centrist/centre-left, socially liberal urban voters who had made EELV’s success in 2009 and, to a lesser extent, 2010. Hulot, on top of that, had a media-savvy personality far more suited from prime time and the image-driven world of personalized presidential politics than Eva Joly, an austere and unappealing candidate who was clearly not suited for presidential politics.

Joly’s campaign was unsuccessful. Her more markedly left-wing tone and her unappealing ‘end-is-nigh’ type of environmentalist rhetoric probably lost her the backing of centrist/centre-left 2009 Green supporters as early as day one. However, her campaign was so unsuccessful that she was not even able to draw any profits from Hollande’s slightly less ‘green’ image and his more pragmatic positions on issues such as nuclear energy which might have alienated some eco-conscious left-wingers. Clearly, she suffered from Hollande’s strong appeal to the anti-Sarkozyst left through the vote utile phenomenon but her unsuccessful and unorthodox type of campaign clearly weakened her. As is common for Green presidential candidates, Joly found herself squeezed by the far more successful campaigns and personal appeal of Mélenchon and Hollande – and perhaps even Bayrou.

Joly’s terrible result throws EELV back into the ditch which it had managed to climb out of in 2009 and stay out of in 2010 and 2011. Between 2009 and 2010 (2011 arguably), the PS needed EELV. Strategical considerations of this type prevented the PS from playing hardball with the Greens as they had in 2007, and forced the PS to give in to EELV’s fairly ambitious demands. EELV’s success in 2009 and even in 2010 gave them grand ideas, further boosted by the relative success of EELV candidates against PS candidates in certain cantonal runoffs in last year’s cantonal elections. EELV became a very demanding partner, getting used to the old intra-left politics of bidding for power.

By getting thrown back into the ditch, EELV can no longer afford to be a demanding ally. Unlike in 2009-2010, it is not the PS which needs EELV but rather EELV which needs the PS. The Greens are threatened with a return to subservience to the PS, the eternal threat of marginalization and transformation into the PS’ aile verte. They are lucky that they were able to extract a juicy electoral deal from the PS in November 2011, but they are likely concerned that Joly’s weak result will increase the opposition within the PS to that controversial deal. A particular attention to conserving the gains they made in relative bidding power vis-a-vis the PS likely explains why Joly and the Green establishment led by Cécile Duflot have proven to be particularly keen on doing all they can to help Hollande defeat Sarkozy on May 6.

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan‘s 1.8% result can be described as decent. It is not great, but it is in the upper range for his “type” of paleo-Gaullist right-wing candidacies. It is both above the 1.77% his party won in the 2009 European elections and the fairly comparable 1.66% won by Michel Debré in 1981, on a not too dissimilar type of platform.

I feel as if NDA could have done a bit better, given his surprisingly strong result running in the 2010 regional elections in Île-de-France (4.2%). However, a presidential election probably remains too personalized for NDA/his party. He was probably squeezed on both sides, by Marine Le Pen on a similar type of national-conservative souverainiste rhetoric and by Nicolas Sarkozy, on a traditional appeal to the type of conservatives who would be prone to voting for NDA. In the end, some right-wing voters who might have flirted with the possibility of voting for NDA probably chose the vote utile with Nicolas Sarkozy, perhaps buying into Sarkozy’s mythical belief in the first-place-in-the-first-round theory.

The souverainiste family of the French right, lying between the FN and the mainstream right, has found itself orphaned and leaderless since the departure or political marginalization of its old leader, Philippe Séguin, Charles Pasqua and Philippe de Villiers. NDA, despite being a fairly good orator (and this despite a tendency to use stupid language), has not really been able to restructure a Gaullist or national-conservative right lying between the FN and UMP in the wake of the RPF and MPF’s demise. The ever-increasing polarization of French politics and the UMP’s shift away from the centre-right chiraco-villepinisme towards a sarkozysme which is far more right-populist makes the emergence of an independent national-conservative right (a bridge between FN and UMP) much harder than it could have been in the 1990s. Ironically, it might be the Droite pop wing of the UMP which is in a better position to emerge as the quasi-heir to Pasqua-Villiers souverainiste family.

Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud were, unsurprisingly, unable to catch on to the magic personal appeal of their respective predecessors (Olivier Besancenot and Arlette Laguiller). Both of those charismatic leaders of the French far-left had an electoral appeal which far surpassed that of their fairly weak and marginal parties, meaning that their presidential candidacies were always or almost always able to appeal a much wider left-wing base than the single far-left family. With Arlette’s retirement and Besancenot’s progressive withdrawal from politics after the total failure of his attempt at structuring the far-left excluding the FG, their respective parties (LO and NPA) have been reduced to where they laid in the 1960s and 1970s: a core far-left and more purely Trotskyist electorate.

Philippe Poutou was the one who came out of it all with his head held highest, winning 1.15% of the vote. In recent years, the NPA has tended to have a slightly larger natural electorate than LO. This is perhaps because the NPA has a slightly more media-savvy profile, and its figures tend to love being in the media and play to that. Furthermore, they are also far more “modern” than LO which reads like Marxist philosophy from the 1960s and seems to act and run campaigns as if it were still the 1960s – in contrast to the NPA which appears far more “hip” with its more “up-to-date” anti-capitalism, anti-liberalism and semi-adoption of New Left discourse on feminism, self-determination or environmentalism (combined with a less dogmatic approach to economic matters). Poutou’s image of “I’m a manual worker, like you, not of them politicians” might have boosted his profile and standing a bit. In contrast, Arthaud had a very austere hard-left appearance, had no charisma and ran a pretty terrible campaign. She comes nowhere close to the warmth and congeniality which Arlette gave off.

With the withdrawal of Besancenot and Arlette from active politics (Besancenot might yet return, but his moment in the sun came and went), the old far-left (LO/NPA) has been reduced to crumbs, where it stood prior to Arlette and later Besancenot’s resuscitation of far-left fortunes in 1974 and 2002 respectively. Mélenchon’s somewhat ironic progressive unification of the left of the left constellation will continue to marginalize the LO/NPA far-left to its core 1-2% base – basically, the minority of hard left activists who have an unfavourable view of Mélenchon, the former Socialist cabinet minister, and who will never vote FN or PS.

Jacques Cheminade won more raw votes than in 1995 but a lower percentage of the vote than in his previous candidacy. He was the practical joke throughout the campaign, and most people will have gotten a few laughs out of him. He certainly swept the Martian vote. Every presidential election needs its “how the hell did they manage to run?” category of candidates who turn into joke candidates. Cheminade played that role in 1995 and again in 2012.

Exit Poll Analysis

Ipsos and Ifop both conducted some fairly reliable studies on the sociology of the electorate, similar to the exit polls we can see in the United States. The table below presents the results of the Ipsos exit poll/sondage jour du vote for each of the top five candidates. Their results are compared to the 2007 Ipsos exit poll on the sociology of the electorate. Mélenchon’s result is compared to the sum total of Schivardi+Arlette+Besancenot+Buffet in 2007, while all other candidates are compared to their own personal showings or that of the candidate of their parties in 2007. These exit polls give us some quantitative data from which we can form theories or prove theories about the results. The comparison to 2007 allows us to see where the candidates improved most and least, or where they lost the most and lost the least.

Ipsos found some starker gender gaps for both Mélenchon and Le Pen than Ifop had. Ipsos had Mélenchon winning 14% with men, but only 9% with women while Ifop found no significant gap (12% ans 11% respectively). According to Ipsos, Marine did significantly better with men – no gender advantage for her – taking 21% of their votes against only 15% with women. Ifop found a similar but much smaller gap (20% and 17% respectively). Rather interestingly, Ifop, which also broke down gender by age groups (35 and under or 35+) found that Mélenchon and Marine both did a bit better with women aged under 35 than with men aged under 35. However, I usually don’t place much emphasis on a gender gap unless it is a well known significant vote determinant.

The 18-24 demographic had received particular attention when CSA had come out with one of its typical “shock polls” which had shown Marine Le Pen winning 26% of the vote with this age group. Fairly unsurprisingly, while Marine Le Pen did improve significantly upon her father’s showing with the same age group in 2007, she did about average (18%) with this group. According to Ifop, she even performed below average (15%) with these voters. The top FN age groups remained middle-aged voters between 25 and 49, something which is also confirmed by Ifop. The oldest voters remained most resistant to the FN’s appeal, while young voters showed no particular bias in the far-right’s favour. In the same 18-24 age group, Ipsos and Ifop have major disagreements on Mélenchon’s appeal. Ipsos has him pegged at 8%, which would actually be 4% below what the far-left/PC combined won in 2007. It is not unreasonable to assume that the older Mélenchon might not have the same appeal as the young Besancenot had with young voters. However, Ifop tells us that he did significantly better with young voters 18-24 (16%) than with any other age group. Something’s fishy, but I tend to trust Ipsos more on this particular case.

As always, the data by socioprofessional category is always the most interesting – but Ipsos and Ifop apparently polled different planets! Fairly obviously, Sarkozy clearly won artisans, commerçants category – traditionally a petit bourgeois electorate of shopkeepers, artisans and small business owners. These voters tend to be the most favourable to the right, which places emphasis on their preferred themes of low taxes, less regulation and looser labour laws. Ipsos has Marine Le Pen winning 25% in this boutiquier electorate which has always had a certain inclination towards the FN, even if Ifop pegging her at 17% with these voters make more sense (Ipsos had her father at 19% with artisans, commerçants in 2002).

The cadres supérieurs (managerial) and professions libérales (higher professional) form the real peak of the CSP+ category and have shifted fairly dramatically to the left in recent years. Hollande does not seem to have improved significantly upon Royal’s 2007 performance, which had already been very strong. Ipsos has him at 30%, while Ifop has him at 31%. Mélenchon carried a certain appeal to these voters, especially those cadres sups or higher professionals in the public sector, and won a fairly strong 9%, 7% above the combined total of the far-left/PC in 2007. Ipsos sees Sarkozy at 33% with these voters, which would actually be a 4% improvement on his 2007 result with this electorate. It is possible that he gained a few Bayrou 2007 voters within this category (with which Bayrou did well but lost very heavily), but Ifop’s poll, which has him at 27% with these same voters, might tend to be closer to reality.

The President’s troubles can be seen with employees and intermediate-grade (professions intermédiaires), two socioprofessional groups forming a sort of lower middle-class and average middle-class respectively, with which he lost heavily compared to 2007. Ipsos has him with 22% with both groups, Ifop has him at 19% and 21% respectively. Hollande and Mélenchon did very well with intermediate-grade voters, especially those in the public sector, who form a type of electorate which is very much dissatisfied with Sarkozy’s policies and record (purchasing power, fiscal policy) but probably still too well-off to vote for the FN in larger numbers (though Ifop has Marine at 19% with these voters, Ipsos has her at 12%. Her father won 14% in 2002). On the other hand, employees (considered CSP-), while sharing perhaps similar concerns and views on Sarkozy’s record and policies, a certain category of employees (in the private sector, in small businesses including vendors and cashiers) have a strong inclination towards the FN. Ipsos has her at 21% with employees, up 5% on her father’s 2002 showing with employees, while Ifop has her tied for first at 28%. In this case, Ipsos seems closer to reality.

A lot of ink has been spilled about the voting patterns of ouvriers (qualified and unqualified manual workers, either working-class or lower middle-class). Formerly the electoral base of the left, the PCF in particular, it has become a swing electorate in which the FN but also the traditional right can expect better results. Since 1995, the FN has been the dominant party with ouvriers and they were the type of FN voter who remained most loyal to Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2007. While Sarkozy did well with these voters in the runoff (46%), his first round performance was actually not too spectacular (21%, behind Le Pen). In both the runoff and first round, Sarkozy has a problem with these voters. Ipsos has him at 19%, Ifop has him even lower at 14%. Ipsos has Marine Le Pen at 29%, which would actually be one percentage point behind her father alone in 2002 (30%). However, Ifop has her at 33% which might more accurately reflect the ‘new’ nature of her electorate as we will see later. Ifop and Ipsos also differ on Hollande and Mélenchon’s comparative performance with this electorate. Ipsos places the former at 27%, which would be 6% better than Royal in 2007, and Mélenchon at 11% – paradoxically below his average and 3% behind the combined far-left/PC in 2007. Ifop has the latter narrowly trailing the former (18% vs. 21%). Ipsos, in this case, seems closer to reality.

Retirees remain the backbone of Nicolas Sarkozy’s solid electorate. In fact, Ifop has Sarkozy in third place behind Marine Le Pen with all actifs (active workers/citizens). Though Hollande posts a strong performance with retirees, which is not extremely surprising, Sarkozy remains dominant – though Ifop has the President at 37% against only 33% for Ipsos.

Breaking down the electorate in terms of employment sector, the public sector unsurprisingly shows a strong bias towards the left and a very weak showing for Sarkozy. Mélenchon, Hollande but also Bayrou and Le Pen do well with those in public sector while Sarkozy performs very poorly (16-17%). Marine Le Pen won about 19 or 23%.

Private sector employees usually have a much sharper bias in favour of the right, but it has disappeared this year. Ipsos has Hollande and Sarkozy tied at 27% apiece with 20% for Marine Le Pen, while Ifop actually has him third with 22% against 27% for Hollande and 23% for Le Pen. Ipsos seems more accurate, especially since I have a hard time buying Ifop seeing Mélenchon as strong in the private than in the public (13%). Finally, in the self-employed (indépendants) and employers category identified solely by Ifop, Sarkozy leads with 38% to Marine’s 19% and Hollande’s 16%. Self-employed independent workers and employers are a very heavily right-wing category, which is why I have a very hard time buying Ipsos’ results for self-employed voters: Sarkozy only up 4 on Hollande?!

In terms of education, the right’s performance usually tends to form a sort of concave downward parabola (in recent years) with weak(er) performance with those with no diplomas at one end and those with higher certifications (BAC+2-3 and upwards). This is, at least, how Ipsos sees Sarkozy’s performance this year: strongest with those with a BAC (high school diploma) or trades certifications lower than the BAC (BEPC/BEP/CAP/CEP). Marine Le Pen’s results are fairly similar, though she does better with those with no diploma and far worse with those with the highest certifications. With the bobo phenomenon, a significant percentage of voters with university or post-secondary education or certification lean to the left, in increasingly large numbers. Ifop’s results are a bit different, showing Sarkozy still performing very strongly (over 30%) with superior qualifications, similar to Hollande and Bayrou.

Income questions rarely feature prominently in French exit polling, at least much less prominently than in American exit polling. Ipsos actually asked based on set income brackets, unlike Ifop which erred on the safe side and asked the less intrusive question of how easily voters made ends meet. Unsurprisingly, Sarkozy’s support had a strong positive correlation with higher income, performing best (30%) with those earning over 3,000€ and worst with those earning less than 1,200€ (23%). Ifop found even starker differences when it asked how easily voters made ends meet: Sarkozy won 46% with those who said they made out very easily with their income but only 15% with those who said they had lots of difficulty. With Ifop, Marine Le Pen’s support followed the opposite pattern than that of Sarkozy: poor with the most well-off voters and strongest (32%) with those who reported lots of difficulty in making ends meet. Ipsos found no stark income differentiation with Marine’s voters, those she did perform worse with the wealthiest voters. On the left, Hollande’s patterns in both Ifop and Ipsos were not as clear, reflecting a largely middle-class electorate. Ipsos has him performing strongest at both ends of its small income range, while Ifop has him low at both extremes and strongest in the middle (those who had mild difficulties making out but also those who have it generally easy).

The questions based on recalled past votes and ideological/partisan proximity are also interesting, beyond the obvious realities. Hollande, Sarkozy and Le Pen all had strong retention with those identifying with their respective parties (85, 90 and 88% respectively for the three) while Mélenchon and Bayrou only convinced about two-thirds of their partisan bases (64% and 66% respectively). Eva Joly retained between a third or 40% of Green sympathizers, with Hollande winning about three in ten.

Ideologically, Ipsos’ data based on ideological self-identification is fascinating. Especially for Bayrou’s electorate. He collapsed by a full 22% with those who identify as “rather left-wing”, taking only 6% to Hollande’s 67% – who improved by a full 24% on Royal’s performance. Clearly, Bayrou, in 2007, had taken a lot of soft-left/centre-left voters who were uneasy with Royal. To a more credible and convincing PS opponent, he lost all but a handful. He performed only minimally better with those who were “rather right-wing”, falling by 16% to take only 11% this year with these voters. Sarkozy managed 67% with these voters, up 15% on his 2007 result in the same category. If you believe the polls, it seems as if Bayrou also lost on his right to Sarkozy despite all that has been said about Sarkozy’s weak centre-right in this campaign. In Ipsos’ new ‘centrist’ category, Bayrou dominated with 47%.

Overall, both Hollande and Sarkozy improved on their parties’ 2007 performance with their grand ideological family: Hollande took 61% with the combined left against 23% for Mélenchon while Sarkozy took 65% of the combined right against 25% for Le Pen. Conversely, they both lost a bit on their ‘extremes’ – Hollande was especially weaker than Royal with “very left-wing” voters, losing a lot to Mélenchon (who did not actually gain that much, his strongest gains came with “left-wing” voters); Sarkozy was weakened a tiny bit by Marine’s result with “very right-wing” voters (71% for Le Pen vs. 26% for Sarkozy).

Ipsos and Ifop both asked voters about their vote in 2007. According to Ipsos, Hollande retained 71% of Royal07, Sarkozy retained 73% of his 2007 vote and Marine Le Pen retained 75% of her father’s 2007 vote. Ifop has very similar results. Hollande lost about 10-15% of Royal07 to Mélenchon and Sarkozy lost about 11-13% of his 2007 vote to Le Pen (which is less than what he had gained from JMLP02 in 2007). About 12-13% of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s 2007 electorate preferred to vote for Sarkozy over his daughter this year. Bayrou retained either 36% (Ifop) or 39% (Ipsos) of his 2007 vote. Ifop says he lost 25% (of his 2007 electorate) to Hollande, 15% to Sarkozy, 10% to Le Pen and 9% to Mélenchon. Ipsos says 27% to Hollande, 11% to Sarkozy, 9% to Le Pen and 8% to Mélenchon. Talking about Mélenchon, Ipsos found that he won 45% of the combined far-left/PC/Green vote in 2007 while Ifop says he won 39% of the 2007 “far-left” vote. At any rate, as imagined previously, a fair share of 2007 “left of the left” voters opted for Hollande over Mélenchon this year.

Ifop has asked voters to recall their vote in the 2005 EU constitutional referendum, and broken down ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes by ideology. Hollande won 77% of left-wing yes voters and 53% of left-wing no voters – Mélenchon won only a third of left-wing no voters but a decent 10% of left-wing yes voters. Sarkozy won 67% of right-wing yes voters against 16% for Bayrou and 11% for Marine. Marine, in contrast, won 51% of right-wing no voters (and 6% of left-wing no voters) against only 34% for Sarkozy.

Ipsos likes me, apparently, because they also asked about voting by faith. 54% of regularly-practicing Catholics voted for Sarkozy, against 14% for Hollande and 12% for Le Pen (but only 9% for Bayrou!). Occasionally practicing Catholics went for Sarkozy 38-21 over Le Pen with 17% for Hollande and 11% for Bayrou and 7% for Mélenchon. Non-practicing Catholics gave Sarkozy a three-point edge (30-27) over Hollande and a ten point advantage over Le Pen (20%). Those reporting another religion (Muslim in large part, but also Jewish) voted 47% for Hollande against only 22% for Sarkozy and 14% for Mélenchon. With 8%, Marine Le Pen narrowly beat out Bayrou (6%) with these voters. Those with no religion clearly preferred Hollande (34%) but second place was more divided – 18% voted Sarkozy, 17% voted Mélenchon and 16% voted Le Pen.

Finally, in terms of issues, economic and fiscal considerations predominated. For Ipsos, 46% of all voters identified purchasing power as one of three top issues, 44% identified the economic and financial crisis and 30% identified unemployment. Ifop found that 42% cited the reduction of the public debt as one of their three top issues (but only 20% for Ipsos) while 38% identified the fight against unemployment and 35% cited raising purchasing power. Immigration was cited by about 24-28% of voters in both polls and 20% cited security-related issues. Ipsos found only 15% citing the educational issue as one of their top three issues, but Ifop reported 24% citing education. Healthcare was cited by either 13% or 17% depending on the pollster, environment was cited by 6% of voters and taxes by 17%.

Mélenchon’s voters were not concerned by the debt or deficit, but many cited issues such as purchasing power, wages, pensions, unemployment, inequalities/poverty, healthcare and public services among their three issues. Compared to the wider electorate, extremely few (1-3%) of his voters cited security or immigration as top concerns.

Hollande’s voters were, like Mélenchon’s voters, concerned about purchasing power, wages, unemployment, pensions and healthcare. However, fewer of his voters identified inequalities/poverty as one of their three issues, but a lot more identified education (43% according to Ifop!) as one of their three issues. They were also a bit more concerned, according to Ifop, about reducing the debt. Again, few cited immigration or security as major concerns.

Bayrou’s voters were very concerned about the deficit/debt and education. The percentage citing issues such as taxes, unemployment, purchasing power and healthcare were close to the national averages for those issues. Immigration and security are of a little more concern, but still under 10% of his voters cited those issues in their top three.

Sarkozy’s voters were very concerned about the debt/deficit (up to 76% says Ifop, Ipsos says 30%) and taxes, while very few were concerned about inequalities/poverty, education, healthcare, public services, unemployment or purchasing power. We see a much stronger concern, however, with Sarkozyst voters, for immigration and security issues. For Ifop, 45% cited fighting illegal immigration as one of their top three concerns and 29% also identified fighting criminality. Ipsos found that 35% of his voters gave immigration as one of three issues, and 28% gave insecurity as an issue.

Marine Le Pen’s voters, unsurprisingly, are heavily concerned by immigration and security issues (77 and 54% in Ifop, 62 and 44% in Ipsos). They are by far the electorate which is the most concerned by these issues, even more than Sarkozy’s voters. Taxes and the debt, major issues for Sarkozy’s voters, were of little concern to her voters. Those who also cited social and economic issues in their top three were more likely to cite those which are of concern to left-wing voters: purchasing power, wages, pensions and inequalities/poverty. However, left-wing biggies such as healthcare, education and public services did not feature prominently and unemployment was not represented above average in her electorate. Compared to 2002, economic and social issues including purchasing power and inequalities have gained much prominence within her electorate.

Geographical Analysis

A geographical analysis remains, as always, the best way of understanding a candidate and better identifying his strengths and weaknesses. Overall, the results of this election reflect a fairly strong division between the east and west of the country, but above all something of a clash between what has been called the ‘integrated core’ and the ‘marginalized peripheries’, a phenomenon which is very clear in Marine Le Pen but also Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s electorate.

% vote for F. Hollande (PS) by constituency

François Hollande, like in the PS primary, benefited from a fairly even distribution of support throughout the country. Compared to Royal in 2007, he not only kept her strong support in the old Socialist strongholds of the southwest and her gains in the west/Brittany, he also significantly improved on her showings in the old proletarian Socialist bases in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardy, Ardennes, Lorraine and parts of Franche-Comté and Burgundy. Of course, Hollande found some very strong support in his political home (Corrèze), where he won 43% in the old lands of the chiraquie.

Compared to Mitterrand in 1988, Hollande’s base remains a bit more western than that of Mitterrand, reflecting long-term Socialist decline in the working-class regions of eastern France. Hollande, however, has if not turned around this trend at least abated it somewhat. Yet, while his map – unlike that of Royal in April 2007 – does have shades of the classical map of the PS (in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Ardennes, Picardy or Lorraine), his relative weakness in a large region which lies to the east of a Le Havre-Reims-St Etienne-Perpignan line is rather striking. The new solid core of the PS appears to be found in the old chiraquie (now hollandie?), the old solid bases of Limousin and the southwest and Brittany (in addition to most of the Petite Couronne of greater Paris).

On the other hand, compared to Mitterrand, Hollande – like Royal – has raked in far stronger performances in western France, Brittany and parts of the Massif Central, Limousin and Auvergne. All of Brittany, including traditionally more conservative Morbihan, voted for Hollande by comfortable margins (except Morbihan). His inroads in departments such as Mayenne, Maine-et-Loire and Manche, historically conservative (if not reactionary!) Catholic heartlands of the inner west, are equally as impressive. When set against 1988, his gains in Limousin and Auvergne are even more impressive. Hollande clearly gained favourite son support in native Corrèze but, like for Chirac, his favourite son support turned into a regional boost which has created a halo of stronger supporter in neighboring regions of the Haute-Vienne, Creuse, Lot, Puy-de-Dôme and Cantal.

The gains registered by Hollande in Catholic heartlands including Cantal, Aveyron, Haute-Loire and Lozère are nothing short of impressive. In a historical perspective, that Cantal, Haute-Loire and Aveyron vote for a Socialist candidate in the first round is nothing short of phenomenal. Of course, we all know that these departments are evolving and that Hollande’s victory was in part based on raking in huge performances in the core left-wing regions in these departments (Aurillac, Decazeville and the Brivadois respectively), but Hollande made clear inroads into previously fairly conservative but rapidly evolving regions (such as the Cantal bordering Corrèze, Millau-St. Affrique and the Grands Causses and the Puy basin respectively).

These are clear signs of the progressive left-wing trend in the old Catholic heartlands of France – except those in eastern France – famous in the past for their rock-ribbed conservatism but also their politically moderate, Christian democratic traditions. It is no surprise that Hollande would prove an appealing candidate for these type of voters, left without a clear partisan home since the creation of the UMP in 2002 and the collapse of the UDF in 2007.

% change in the PS vote, 2012 vs. 2007

François Hollande’s map is both more western and more urban than classical PS maps. Hollande performed well throughout France’s major urban centres, winning all but seven of the 50 large cities in mainland France, including more right-leaning ones. This is the logical evolution of a sharp trend towards the left in urban areas, especially middle-class cities and their suburbs. The seeds were sown as early as 1977, but they became very apparent in 2007. In the 1960s, urban politics in France were marked by a generally straightforward clash between bourgeois urban centres and their proletarian suburban hinterland, but the cards have been changing dramatically in French urban politics since the 1960, creating a mosaic of different socio-economic environments and dramatically changing the makeup of both the old suburbs and the old inner city. The results of oft-cited boboïsation phenomenon in the largest cities are very clear on the above map in Paris, parts of the Hauts-de-Seine but also the old moderate bourgeois city of Lyon.

The most important contemporary change in urban politics, especially in western France, has been the growth of the left-wing (PS) vote in the growing middle-class suburbs of cities such as Rennes, Nantes, Caen, Niort, Poitiers but also Angers or Laval which had been conquered beginning in 1977. Population growth in the suburban commuter belts of these and other large urban centres in western France has been favourable to the left, as young families and ‘urban’ professionals move – often by choice – to these growing accessible suburbs. The PS remains much weaker in more distant and less accessible exurbia.

Compared to Ségolène Royal’s performance in 2007, Hollande – predictably – recorded the strongest gains in Corrèze and neighboring regions (the Lot is a particularly amusing example of Hollande’s regional halo effect). However, he also gained considerably in regions where Bayrou had done well in 2007 and where more left-leaning centrist/centre-left voters either returned home or preferred the consensual moderate over the populist-right incumbent head of state. Hollande recorded significant gains in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, bocage vendéen, parts of Ille-et-Vilaine, Finistère-Nord, the Cotentin, the bocage normand and a scattering of cantons in the inner west. Hollande’s gains in the north of the Cotentin peninsula (Cherbourg) were rather impressive – doubly more impressive if you thought that Hollande’s stance on nuclear energy could hurt him in a region home to the Flamanville nuclear reactor. Some have theorized that Bernard Cazeneuve, a close ally of Hollande and the PS mayor of Cherbourg, might have sped up Hollande’s gains in the region, like Michel Sapin could explain Hollande’s strong performance in the Indre.

Hollande also made sizable gains throughout most of the greater Paris region, both in lower-income Socialist strongholds or in more affluent conservative municipalities. Despite being rivaled by Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, he also scored some gains in working-class regions of northeastern and eastern France, though there are no clear patterns of gains in traditionally left-leaning working-class regions – he made strong gains in the Ardennes and in parts of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, but far more tepid gains in Lorraine or Franche-Comté. Throughout the country, especially in the east, Hollande made pretty significant gains in the immediate commuter belts of most large urban centres.

In contrast, Hollande underperformed not only in Royal’s political base of Deux-Sèvres but also parts of the Alps, rural areas in the Drôme-Ardèche, the Cévennes and a lot of more rural parts of the Midi. It was in these predominantly rural and usually solidly left-wing regions where he proved most vulnerable to Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Mélenchon did limit his gains in traditionally Communist proletarian regions, but as we shall see later, Mélenchon’s electorate is not as simple as one might assume.

% vote for N. Sarkozy (UMP) by constituency

Nicolas Sarkozy‘s electoral geography reveals his problems and his many weaknesses, touched on in the preceding paragraphs. While his map is a bit more eastern than older, classical maps of the right, his current map is a rather “classical” map of the right, devoid of the regions where he himself had recorded unusually strong appeal for a right-wing candidate back in 2007. On his map, we find the core strongholds of the right in affluent urban and suburban areas, the fading remnants of the old Catholic heartlands, the wealthy countryside of the Champagne region, the Lyonnais, Savoie and the conservative bastions of the Var and Alpes-Maritimes. Obviously, Hollande has eliminated almost all remnants of the chiraquie, but that had already been apparent sans Hollande in 2007.

Gone, however, are the Sarkozyst gains of 2007 in the Rhône valley, parts of Nord Isère, Languedoc, Franche-Comté, Lorraine and the Nord. These had been the regions where Sarkozy, generally, had eaten into Jean-Marie Le Pen’s 2002 electorate with the most impact. As shown in the exit poll analysis, while Sarkozy probably did keep parts of the Le Pen 2002 electorate, he lost about 10-16% of his 2007 electorate to Marine Le Pen this year.

In Sarkozy’s case, looking at the comparative gains and loses is rather instructive. The areas where he gained are a few and far between. He did gain uniformly in the Vendée (the only department where he performed better in 2012 than 2007), where the absence of Philippe de Villiers allowed him to gain some – but perhaps not all – of those who had voted for the native son in 2007. Sarkozy also gained in the Choletais and Saumurois, where Villiers had performed fairly decently in 2007. Otherwise, Sarkozy’s limited gains generally came from isolated areas where Bayrou had don unusually well in 2007 and where some of his votes went to Sarkozy this year. This is apparent in a handful of cantons in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques but also in more clearly defined areas which are concomitant with the constituencies of NC deputies who had campaigned for Bayrou in 2007 but supported Sarkozy this year: Hervé Morin in the Eure, Maurice Leroy in the Loir-et-Cher and François Sauvadet in the Côte-d’Or.

Sarkozy’s loses were more limited in western France and in other traditionally Catholic conservative areas (the plateau of the Jura, for example). His performance there in 2007 had generally been unimpressive compared to Chirac and the right’s past performances, while Bayrou had performed very well. While it is clear he was unable to recoup all of Bayrou’s loses, Bayrou’s strong performances in 2007 and his strong loses in 2012 in these regions allowed Sarkozy to limit his loses to levels below his national average (-4% between 2007 and 2012).

% change in the UMP vote, 2012 vs. 2007

Sarkozy’s resistance was also particularly strong in the most affluent areas of the country, where the right has always been dominant and where Sarkozy had already done well in 2007. Perhaps Sarkozy’s past fiscal policies and fear of Hollande’s 75% tax bracket limited any tide against Sarkozy. He lost minimally in the affluent regions of his native Hauts-de-Seine and Yvelines but proved resistant in other affluent areas in France: Deauville/Trouville, Marcq, Limonest, Meylan, Cannes, Antibes-Biot, Saint-Tropez and La Baule. As in 2007, but even more this year, Sarkozy’s electorate in many places took the form of a very class-based vote.

On the other hand, Sarkozy’s loses were very heavy in regions where he had attracted many frontiste voters in 2007. Although there is almost no correlation between Sarkozy’s losses and Marine’s gains vis-a-vis 2007, the map of his loses make it clear that in regions such the Mediterranean coast, Rhône-Alpes, Île-de-France and Picardy he lost what he had gained in 2007. His losses basically reflect two major loses:

Firstly, and most unsurprisingly, he lost very much in working-class areas – of all kinds. The contours of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais’ mining basin, Meurthe-et-Moselle and Moselle’s iron ore/steel country, the mining basin of Moselle, the Montbéliard-Sochaux-Héricourt basin, Le Creusot-Montceau, Oyonnax and industrial suburbs of Le Rouen or Marseille are all apparent. Sarkozy lost heavily with a working-class (populaire) electorate which had been quite crucial to his victory in 2007. If his loses in other working-class areas (Carmaux, Decazeville, Saint-Nazaire) are not as stark, it is because he had not performed well in these areas in 2007. His loses were strongest in these proletarian, low-income regions where he had done unusually well in 2007. A mix of presidential style, presidential policy and economic conditions create a toxic mix for Sarkozy in these working-class areas.

Secondly, but perhaps most worryingly for the UMP, Sarkozy lost heavily in most of lower middle-class suburbia and exurbia. This is most apparent in Île-de-France and Oise, where Sarkozyst losses were very heavy, but also east of Lyon or around L’Etang de Berre outside Marseille. It is true that in 2007 he had managed to attract a lot of frontiste voters in these exurban (but not really rural working-class) areas, so heavy loses are to be expected. However, in large parts of the Parisian basin, Sarkozy’s losses don’t really correlate well with Marine Le Pen’s gains. He necessarily lost some support directly to the left. In 2007, Sarkozy had performed fairly well in both left-leaning inner suburban populaire areas and in more lower middle-class conservative exurbs – in both cases appealing to poor whites who commute to work and have been forced to live in less desirable locations because of high property prices downtown. There are certainly a lot of UMP-frontiste swingers in these areas, but necessarily some UMP-PS swing voters. Sarkozy’s elitist (bling-bling) style and policies, but also the impact of the economic crisis on the purchasing power and incomes of generally quite indebted middle-class exurban families are the most likely explanations for these loses.

% vote for M. Le Pen (FN) by constituency

Changing gears to Marine Le Pen‘s map makes for a smooth transition of paragraphs. Her map generally remains loyal to the old FN pattern of strength east of the old Le Havre-Valence-Perpignan axis (perhaps better redefined to Le Havre-Reims-Valence-Perpignan) with an appendage into the Garonne Valley, but there has been a certain nationalization of the FN vote as it expands, slowly but surely, into areas of western France where it used to be very weak but where it can now count on a fairly limited but nonetheless significant base in the same type of areas where it is dominant in eastern France. The grand talk about massive gains in regions such as Brittany still miss the mark somewhat, but there is still some sort of nationalization if you look only at the big picture.

While the map gives the appearance of yet-another traditional frontiste-lepéniste map, the details hide another story. Marine Le Pen’s electorate has become unusually populaire (working-class/low income/working poor/small salaries-salariat modeste) by traditional FN standards. In a geographic sense, the new very proletarian nature of the mariniste vote is reflected by her excellent performance in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais (a certain favourite daughter effect for sure, but still), Picardy and a good part of what is commonly referred to as the grand est (regions bordering Germany and Belgium). The shifting sociological base of the FN vote had been apparent in 2007, where Jean-Marie Le Pen resisted the Sarkozyst assault most successfully in Picardy, parts of Lorraine or the Nord-Pas-de-Calais. This year, the statistical correlation between Marine Le Pen’s vote and the percentage of ouvriers at a cantonal level is 0.466 – it had been 0.471 in 2007 but in 2002 the correlation between the two variables was only 0.237. The correlation between her vote and the percentage of those defined as salariat modeste (small salaries: ouvriers and employees) is 0.475. In the realm of political correlations at a fairly micro level, this is very stark – and the contrast with 2002 is fascinating and very telling.

Another novelty this year has likely been Marine Le Pen’s fairly strong and in many cases historically strong appeal in old proletarian Communist areas. While I still balk at talk of a PCF-FN correlation, this year is the first time where there appears to have been a fairly noteworthy and quasi-universal correlation between the two. To test this theory out, we still need analysis down to the precinct level, but Marine Le Pen clearly appealed to a fragment of the old Communist base in these working-class locales which had not usually been noted for their large FN votes. In old proletarian areas dominated, historically, by the PS, Marine Le Pen’s performance was solid but in most cases not quite “historic”. 1995 likely remains the peak of gaucho-lepénisme between PS and FN, but 2012 might be the peak (?) of gaucho-lepénisme between the PCF and FN.

As I had noted in another post, the purely working-class/proletarian “type” of FN vote – whether it is found in urbanized industrial conglomerations or in some cases in rural areas (the oft-ignored ouvrier caché phenomenon) – is the “type” of FN vote which can best be described as a protest vote. A protest vote against long-term perennial unemployment, declining urban environments, disappearing public services, low income, bleak economic future and the continued oblivion of successive government. Immigration might be a factor for these voters – the idea of immigrants who either take jobs from locals or don’t work and live comfortable lives on social assistance, but recall that the exit poll analysis above had shown the increasing importance of economic and social issues including purchasing power, wages or inequalities for FN voters.

The other main evolution of the frontiste has been a pretty generalized morphing into a very périurbain (exurban) vote. Much ink has been spilled recently about the idea of measuring voting patterns based on distance to large cities, and a handful of new explanations of voting patterns based on dividing the country into Marxist-like peripheries and cores have sprung up. Ifop drew up a post-election analysis to complement its past studies (usually the best studies on the topic) on this issue. This year, Marine Le Pen’s vote peaked (at about 21%) in areas which are between 30 and 50km from urban centres of more than 200k inhabitants. In 1995, daddy’s vote shares had peaked in communities 10 to 30km away from a large city, in 2002 his vote had peaked in areas 20 to 40km from a large city and in 2007 his vote had been highest in places which were also 30 to 50km from a large city.

There is an important contrast between what can be described as the périurbain choisi and périurbain subi (basically, “chosen” exurbia and “suffered” exurbia). The first denotes more comfortable upper middle-class exurban areas, accessible and connected to large business and educational cities, populated by professionals and higher-income earners who have chosen to live in the suburbs. The latter denotes lower-income, though not “poor” people who have been compelled to move to less desirable, less accessible and semi-rural exurban municipalities because of rising property prices in the old inner city and the inner suburbs. In this case, the FN vote can express concerns about security and opposition to immigration – because despite living in “lily-white” areas, these inhabitants work and socialize alongside immigrants in more ethnically diverse urban conglomerations – but it also expresses the concerns of a lower middle-class electorate which is considered about social marginalization, their wages, their purchasing power and their economic future. Similar to the Poujadist vote in 1956, there is a certain fear of ‘proletarianization’ or déclassement (falling down the social ladder). Marine Le Pen’s appeal to the “invisible” rural and exurban France likely struck a chord and hit all the right notes for these voters. Their vote for the FN, like for a lot of Marine Le Pen’s voters, does not necessarily represent racism but rather fears about the future and frustration at their marginalization in the “invisible” peripheral regions of France.

Marine Le Pen’s vote does reveal a schism between the ‘integrated’ core and the marginalized periphery, which was first apparent in 2005. The abundance of FN votes in peripheral France shows a widening gap between the “elites” and the “people”. Nicolas Sarkozy had proven successful in speaking to these voters in 2007, but their disappointment with his government and the UMP has been very deep. Sarkozy’s loses and performance in the exurban country of Seine-et-Marne, Yonne, Aube, Oise and Aisne was very weak.

Marine Le Pen was also successful in recouping most of her father’s loses in the old FN strongholds of Provence and the Languedoc, regions where the FN vote – in part – reflects a similar kind of increasingly marginalized petit bourgeois or lower middle-class in addition to other, local, factors.

% change in the FN vote, 2012 vs. 2002

A comparison to 2007 is interesting but not very telling: Marine Le Pen obviously outran her father’s weak result almost everywhere. A comparison to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s vote in 2002 - when he won 16.9% (about 1% less than what she won) is much more interesting. The map on the right shows cantons where her father did better in 2002 in blue and cantons where she did better this year in various shades of orange.

The first phenomenon is a generalized, quasi-universal decline for the far-right (in this ten year period) in almost all cities and towns and their immediate, older, suburbs. This is particularly clear, of course, in and around Paris (the blue on the map is a good guide to where population growth due to bobos/professionals was highest around Paris since 2002!), where the FN vote declined pretty significantly between 2002 and 2012. But it is also clear around Lyon, Marseille, Lille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Nantes or Montpellier (to cite only a few examples). Ifop’s analysis found that the only type of community where Marine did not do as well as her father in 2010 were those places located 0-10km from a large city. Her vote in these places were, on average, a full 4% below her national average. The FN vote dropping like flies in the core urban areas has been ongoing since 1984, when the FN vote was concentrated within large cities! It reflects a process of progressive gentrification and ‘professionalization’ which, combined with accompanying increases in property prices, forces lower income inhabitants (more prone to a FN vote) to move into the aforementioned exurbia.

Otherwise, her loses also reflect her more working-class electorate. It appears as if she was unable to regain some of the FN voters who had voted for Sarkozy in 2007, particularly the more affluent and professional ones (CSP+), which can serve to explain – perhaps – why she did comparatively poorly in Savoie (where it is very stark: she even lost heavily in working-class Cluses-Scionzier), Alsace or PACA. Part of the more traditionalist and conservative FN electorate apparently preferred to stick with Sarkozy. The result is that her voters are much more of the protest variety than of the ideological variety.

Her gains reflect a certain nationalization of the vote, as apparent by strong gains in weaker regions including Limousin, Charentes, Poitou, parts of Aquitaine, the inner west, Brittany and Normandy. Her gains, furthermore, in Picardy (but also parts of Upper Normandy) and the Pas-de-Calais are very clear – reflecting, again, the shifting face of the FN electorate. But in this particular case – especially in the Somme estuary – they also reflect the elimination of CPNT, the hunters’ party, very strong in the region, and which took away a lot of potential FN votes in 2002.

These gains reflect, primarily, the nationalization of the périurbain vote for the FN – describing the FN vote as a vote périurbain is reductive but not wrong – but also a strengthening in more isolated rural areas which are very distant from large urban areas. Ifop’s analysis picked this up: unlike in 1995 or 2002, but like in 2007, the FN vote declines progressively as you leave those places 30-50km from the city but it now picks up again in areas over 100km from the nearest city. Rural areas have felt increasingly dispossessed in recent years (loss of public services, marginalization, weak economies) and Sarkozy has proven to be quite unpopular even in conservative rural regions. Marine Le Pen’s strong results in places such as the Cantal or Mayenne reflect a certain rural conservative vote for the FN, which is not entirely new, but which is becoming more generalized.

% vote for J-L. Mélenchon (FG) by constituency

Jean-Luc Mélenchon‘s map gives a certain superficial appearance of a rather traditional Communist map. Once again, however, the devil is in the details. It is true that Mélenchon won most of his strongest results in old Communist strongholds: the ceinture rouge, the north of Marseille and its industrial hinterland, Haute-Vienne, the Trégorrois, Le Havre, Rouen’s suburbs, Vierzon, Longwy, and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais mining basin. After all, Mélenchon was the candidate of the FG – a coalition in which the PCF is the strongest partisan force – and he primarily attracted those who had voted PCF either in 2007 or before that.

However, looking at the details, Mélenchon’s pattern of support reflects a base which is more southern than the traditional PCF base. He did very well in places such as the Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Ardèche, Lozère, Hérault, Ariège, Hautes-Pyrénées and Lot which may certainly have old PCF strongholds but which are not usually thought of as being core Communist strongholds. In fact, his results in places such as the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Ardèche, Ariège and Lot are far more impressive than his performances in core Communist departments such as the Allier, Nord, Pas-de-Calais or Meurthe-et-Moselle.

Looking over Hollande’s performance compared to that of Royal in 2007, we had noted that he had underperformed Royal’s results in a lot of very left-wing rural areas in the Midi, Languedoc and Provence. In these and other regions (some with a stronger Communist history), Mélenchon’s candidacy seems to have awakened dormant forces of rural communism, or at least re-ignited the old left-wing traditions of certain rural regions in southern France.

The correlation between Mélenchon’s map and Arnaud Montebourg’s pattern of support (outside his native Burgundy) in last November’s PS primary are rather interesting. Montebourg had done fairly well in rural areas, where his vote expressed left-wing concerns about declining rural areas, the loss of public services and economic/demographic stagnation. The correspondence is not universal, but it appears as if Mélenchon was particularly successful in appealing to some left-wing Socialists who had supported Montebourg in the PS primary. His strong support in left-wing rural areas is a reflection of local services about a bleak economic future and especially the viability and disappearance of public services (healthcare, schools, post office, courts, police) from these isolated areas.

Mélenchon likely benefited from something of a left-wing protest from lower-income left-wing voters in rural areas. In a lot of more isolated and declining rural areas, such as those where Mélenchon performed best, with the slow decline of small businesses and other local industries, local administration and local schools have become the largest employers in these stagnating or often declining small towns. With the backdrop of regions which have been known for years for its anti-system but staunchly left-wing and socialist orientations, Mélenchon likely had a large appeal with employees in public administration or teachers, who found in his candidacy an attractive representative for their concerns about the loss of jobs a and public services in rural regions. It is clear that he touched an electorate which did not usually vote Communist in the past, and he awoke a dormant communist/socialist/red tradition in a lot of rural areas.

Combined with the strong vote for Marine Le Pen in exurban and rural areas, Mélenchon’s high support in rural areas reflect a certain cry of despair, which is both right-wing and left-wing, from rural areas which fear marginalization, further decline, job losses and weakening public services. The UMP and PS both seem unable to respond adequately, in the eyes of these voters, to the plight facing rural areas with their rhetoric focused on their classical themes and larger macroeconomic concerns.

Mélenchon also performed relatively well in most urban areas. He did very well in northeastern Paris, an historically working-class sector of the capital but which has undergone extensive gentrification and boboïsation. His results in other urban areas including Grenoble, Lille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Montpellier or Rennes, not noted for their Communist strength, were also pretty strong. For some, the prospect of deriding Mélenchon as the “candidate of the bobos” has proven very attractive, and while it is true that he had an appeal to ‘bobo’ voters which far surpasses that of the PCF in recent years, it would be extremely reductive to sum up his vote solely to that factor (as his strength in rural communist area shows) and also pretty misleading. It appears as if Mélenchon did extremely well in places such as Lyon’s 1st arrondissement, Paris’ 19th and 20th arrondissement, Marseille’s 1st arrondissement or Montreuil, that is to say demographically evolving areas with a clear proletarian tradition which has seen significant gentrification in recent years even if they remain fairly low-income and still contain large concentrations of low-income residents.

One type of area where Mélenchon’s performances were rather underwhelming – to say the least – were in heavily proletarian old PCF strongholds. As noted above, while Marine Le Pen realized some historic highs in a lot of PCF-dominated working-class concentrations throughout France, Mélenchon’s results – while above average in the lot of them – were not what could have been expected given his still very good performance nationally (11%). It is clear that he was not really successful in attracting the entirety of dormant Communist votes in these largely urban working-class strongholds of the PCF.

% change in the FG/PCF vote, 2012 vs. 1995

Indeed, if you compare Mélenchon’s performance with that of Robert Hue in 1995 – the closest appropriate comparison for Mélenchon, really – a paradoxical pattern of losses or tepid gains in the traditional Communist strongholds contrasted with strong gains in non-Communist departments is drawn up. Hue, who only won some 8% of the vote in 1995, actually performed better than Mélenchon in core PCF bases such as the Allier, Pas-de-Calais, Somme, Aisne, Ardennes and Dordogne. Mélenchon’s gains were not very impressive in other traditional strong departments for the PCF, including the Cher, Indre, Haute-Vienne, Seine-Maritime, Val-de-Marne, Gard, Côtes-d’Armor and Lot-et-Garonne. Taking this analysis down a notch to the cantonal level would reveal loses in old PCF bastions including the Trégorrois, the Pas-de-Calais mining basin, the Longwy-Villerupt area, the industrial waterfront of the Hérault and Bouches-du-Rhône and even the rural communist terres rouges of the Allier, Cher and Nièvre.

Therefore, Mélenchon’s weak appeal to the dormant old PCF base was compensated – somewhat – by a much stronger appeal to voters in regions outside the PCF’s traditional bases, likely to voters who had not been Communist sympathizers or voters in the past. The map to the left reveals gains in departments which are, for the most part, outside the traditional confines of the PCF’s electoral map. While the map of his raw strength does not really show this, Mélenchon was a much better candidate outside the old PCF bastions.

% vote for F. Bayrou (MoDem) by constituency

François Bayrou‘s map reveals an old but very interesting paradox between a candidate who claims to be the ‘modern’ candidate of post-ideological, Third Way, social liberal and centrist politics but whose basis of support reflects the oldest political map of France – that of the Catholic heartlands and their penchant for Christian democracy. Even if he would like to deny it, Bayrou very much remains the candidate of Christian democracy and the centre-right tradition.

Even more starkly than in 2007, Bayrou’s map – besides a little favourite son appeal in and around his native Pyrénées-Atlantiques – draws up the map of “Catholic France” as described a hundred years by André Siegfried and visible in almost all electoral maps since then. Bayrou’s strongest support can be found, as always, in Brittany (except secularized central Brittany), the inner west stretching from the Cotentin to the bocage vendéen, the southern Massif Central (Cantal, Aveyron, Lozère), the Lyonnais, Savoie and Alsace. He has kept, as in 2007 and in the past, a strong base of support in the rather bourgeois western suburbs of Paris in the Hauts-de-Seine and Yvelines and in other affluent and educated urban and inner suburban areas of the country.

We thus have a candidate whose base has been further reduced and marginalized to the core heartlands of French Christian democracy and Catholicism. It is not necessarily an electorate of devout, religious, church-going Catholics but rather an electorate of occasionally practicing Catholics who have nonetheless grown up and been socialized in a “Catholic tradition” and have retained the political markers of such a tradition: centrism, humanism and Christian democracy.

The north of France – too secularized, too poor and too industrial – and the Mediterranean coast – too secularized and too demographically unique – appear as ‘dead zones’ for the candidate of the MoDem. Similarly, he is rather weak in left-leaning rural areas, be they in southwestern France or in far more proletarian Picardy. His appeal in areas where Marine Le Pen performed best is minimal, except perhaps Alsace which continues to mix, paradoxically, strong far-right tendencies with a resilient centrist vote (which is pretty right-wing).

Compared to 2007, Bayrou generally lost the most support in (a) those regions where he had done best back then – which are also those where his results this year remain the highest but also (b) large urban areas. The losses in urban areas probably reflect the loss of more centre-left voters who had preferred Bayrou to the PS’ 2007 candidate, while the losses in the regions where he had done best have apparently been fairly favourable to Hollande but also to Sarkozy.

Towards the runoff and the future

François Hollande goes into the runoff as the overwhelming favourite. Boosted by his first round success, he sails into the runoff campaign with the wind in his sails and rather few big clouds on the horizon. His first round campaign was able to play both to his left-wing bases’ anti-Sarkozyst demands and to the centre. Unlike Sarkozy who, as explained above, led an unsuccessful first round campaign both ill-suited for an incumbent and for a presidential election of this nature, Hollande understood that this election – despite the appearances – would be decided in the centre.

Hollande does not need to really re-evaluate or alter his campaign in any significant way. He can afford to not bend over sideways to desperately appeal to those who voted for Marine Le Pen, or at least he can content himself with vague rhetoric which both acknowledges the presence and demands of Le Pen’s voters without frightening centrists and moderates away. He can continue to surf on the wave of anti-incumbency which is both national and international right now. He does not really care if he wins “by default” as some variables indicate and as many observers seem to think.

The reward which lies at the end of the road – defeating Sarkozy, an unpopular incumbent hated by the left – will prove a big enough lure for the vast majority of Mélenchon’s voters who expressed an ideological, semi-protest vote in the first round but who will turn around to vote for Hollande with little afterthoughts in the runoff. Mélenchon himself as basically endorsed Hollande, and while there might be some unease on the ‘left of the left’ about Hollande’s qualities and ideas, it would take a lot of disagreements and unease for one of Mélenchon’s voters to sit out the runoff rather than vote, even if with some remorse, for Hollande, who could (will?) defeat Sarkozy – a thing which remains a major factor of unity on the left behind the PS candidate.

Few of Mélenchon’s voters will even consider voting for Sarkozy (not more than 3-5% polls say) and only 10-15% of his first round voters will probably sit out the runoff. The left, united by the prospect of ousting ‘Sarko’ and the attraction of powers after ten years in the ditch, is fully united behind Hollande. While the possibility that a lot of Mélenchon’s voters could vote for Hollande only by default could spell trouble down the road for a President Hollande, that danger is not really evoked much at this point. Eva Joly’s small electorate can be counted on to be very loyal to Hollande: the Green electorate has been amputated of its most centrist elements and its remnants are all pretty left-leaning and thus very favourable to Hollande.

Hollande’s lead is so big – 54 vs 46 or something along those lines (Mitterrand’s 1988 margin!) – that it would take a disaster for him to tumble. His weaknesses remain his (lack of a) presidential stature and his economic/fiscal policies. Sarkozy likely understood this when he came up with the desperate idea of holding three debates, an idea which Hollande’s team probably turned down in part because of fears that so many debates represented stumbling blocks for him. His performances in the PS’ primary debates had been neither good nor bad, allowing him to maintain his advantage and remain above the fray. In a one-on-one encounter with Sarkozy, who had clearly dominated the 2007 debate with Royal, he could prove vulnerable to Sarkozy’s potential line of attack on his economic policies or his foreign policy credentials. However, it would take a knock-out win for Sarkozy in the scheduled May 2 debate for there to be a major game-changer. Hollande is riding so high that he can content himself with a mediocre performance, in which he is not too weak but without a real need for him to score a game-changing knock-out blow on Sarkozy. Debates since 1974 have not really had major, decisive impacts on the election and it is unlikely that this year’s debate will prove an exception to the rule.

While Hollande swims on with ease, Sarkozy is like a toddler in a deep ocean, struggling to stay afloat and desperately clinging to any piece of wood he finds to remain afloat. Marine Le Pen’s success in the first round is a major defeat for Sarkozy, but he and his team see Marine’s voters as their last remaining escape route. The decision of the Sarkozyst high command has thus been to tack heavily to the right, and bet everything on her voters. The entire Sarkozy campaign seems to be destined at appealing – pandering – to the FN’s electorate. He is in a position similar to that of Jacques Chirac in 1988, whose weak first round result combined with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s very strong showing (14%) had shoved his runoff campaign into the ditch, desperately attempting to appeal to Le Pen’s voters while Mitterrand sailed on, unabated and above the fray.

However, the UMP apparently has not read the tea leaves and still assumes that the FN electorate has not changed much since 2002 or even the 1980s. As noted above, Marine Le Pen’s electorate this year is much more working-class and populaire than that of her father ten years ago and is a planet away from the first FN electorate of 1984. The UMP believes that rhetoric of low taxes and less state regulation on businesses, combined with old rhetoric based on conservative fears of the left, will be a good starting point for FN voters. That might have been true in 1984, but the FN’s electorate of marginalized exurban middle-classes and proletarians is not really overly concerned by keeping taxes low and getting the state out of business. Those issues, likewise that of cutting the debt, does not feature prominently in the preoccupation of FN voters. Rather, they are concerned about economic issues such as wages or purchasing power on which the UMP does not have a very strong record or playbook to run on.

Secondly, the UMP has decided to woo FN voters by tacking heavily to the right on issues such as immigration and security, resorting to openly nationalistic and protectionist rhetoric. Yet, while a lot of FN voters are undeniably concerned about immigration and security, it either reflects a certain disapproval of government policy on those matters or is tied in with other fears and worries. Furthermore, FN voters in the past have shown countless times that they are not big fan of mainstream politicians who desperately pander towards them in a last-straw bid for their votes. They are said to prefer the “original” to the “copy” and past experience shows that most of the mainstream right’s attempts to appeal to them through rhetoric rather than actual action or policy have fallen flat on their faces.

The sociology of the 2012 FN vote is more inclined towards depoliticization, anti-establishment/anti-system politics and abstention than it is towards conservatism, law and order and traditionalism. Sarkozy did manage to make inroads with Marine Le Pen’s electorate beginning in the first round, and roughly 45-50% of her first round voters will likely vote for Sarkozy in the runoff. Predictably, those FN voters most inclined towards voting for Sarkozy in the runoff are disproportionately concerned by immigration/security and are of higher socioprofessional status (CSP+). It is probable that those rural or exurban voters who voted for Marine will vote for Sarkozy in the runoff, largely because the left’s appeal to the périurbain subi remains fairly weak, for a variety of reasons.

However, 45-50% transfers remain insufficient for Sarkozy who had still managed to get about 63% of Le Pen’s voters in 2007 (despite, already, a largely populaire FN electorate). He would need about two-thirds of her first round voters in order to have a shot at winning. In a year like 2002 or even 2007, that would have been possible, but the new nature of the FN electorate this year makes it very tough for Sarkozy to retrieve his 2007 appeal to FN voters. The abundance of the FN vote in working-class areas denotes a very anti-system vote which is hardly of the old Poujadist/conservative variety. In regions such as Picardy or the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the FN vote probably also includes a large element of gaucho-lepénisme which will be inclined towards voting for Hollande or not voting at all. Royal won only 12% or so of Le Pen’s voters in 2007, but this year Hollande could win about 20-25% of Le Pen’s first round voters in the runoff. In a lot of regions, the high FN vote reflected a fear of marginalization and a cry of despair from what Marine Le Pen called the “invisibles” of rural and exurban France. Nicolas Sarkozy tacking to the right with open efforts to woo FN voters with tough talk on immigration and security probably won’t be enough for a lot of these voters whose vote for Marine Le Pen represents a clear rejection of Sarkozy and his government.

At the same time, Sarkozy’s runoff strategy – not noticeably different from his rather unsuccessful first round strategy – really continues to place him in a ditch where any gains on his right can be cancelled out by loses on the centre. Indeed, besides Marine’s voters, Bayrou’s voters – though not as electorally important – remain the other main electoral clientele which is really up for grabs. On paper, Bayrou’s narrower base indicates that he has lost of a lot of his more “unorthodox” 2007 voters who came from the left, and this narrower base reduced to the Catholic heartlands and an old centrist base should be more favourable to Sarkozy. However, the geographic analysis above showed that Sarkozy did gain a not insignificant number of Bayrou’s 2007 voters, meaning that Bayrou not only bled to his left (to Hollande) but also to his right (to Sarkozy), indicating that rather than returning to an old UDF centre-right base he rather was confined to a more centrist, third way base.

In the 2007 runoff, Sarkozy had tied or narrowly lost Bayrou’s first round voters with Royal. This year, as Bayrou’s support dwindled, polls picked up a net strengthening of Sarkozy’s runoff standing with Bayrou’s first round voters – returning Sarkozy to where he stood in 2007 with Bayrou’s voters (35-40%). This is certainly a bit of good news for Sarkozy, but it is far from enough. Given Bayrou’s smaller and less left-wing base this year, he should – on paper – be stronger with Bayrou’s voters than he was in 2007. Furthermore, the latest polls have shown that Hollande has managed to erase Sarkozy’s narrow advantage with Bayrou’s voters, probably the result of moderates and centrists fleeing as a result of Sarkozy’s balls-to-the-wall wooing of Le Pen’s voter. The danger for Sarkozy is that his very right-wing runoff campaign will scare away centrist voters – perhaps not directly to Hollande but rather towards abstention. At the same time, Hollande continues to sail away, capable of playing to his left and to the centre without endangering any of his inroads with voters on those sides.

Bayrou has said that he would announce his intentions on May 3. In 2007, he had not endorsed any of the two candidates (despite Royal being rather desperate for his support) but had taken a pretty anti-Sarkozyst position. While his announcement is unlikely to have a major impact on the evolution of vote transfers, an endorsement of Hollande or a 2007-like position (which is probably likeliest) would have a very bad effect on Sarkozy’s momentum right after the debate on May 2.

Sarkozy pulling off a win is not impossible – but if he does so, it would make him the comeback kid of the century. He is the heavy underdog in this contest, and as noted above, he has so many weaknesses and his strategy is so imperfect that his reelection would be a true miracle for the right. Sarkozy still has things going in his direction: his more “presidential” stature, his strength on foreign affairs/diplomacy, a certain charisma, undeniable stamina and energy and an alleged debating advantage over Hollande. But he made use, more or less, of most of his strengths during the campaign but did not profit much from him. Anti-incumbency and anti-Sarkozysm in particular remains too widespread and too solidly implanted in France and on the left (and even centre and far-right) for him to have a real fighting chance at reelection. Even the narrative of Hollande being the president-in-waiting will probably not demotivate the left (‘why vote if the outcome is basically ensured?’), because anti-Sarkozysm remains a very powerful magnet on the left.

The recent revelations about Gaddafi’s illicit bankrolling of Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign could potentially play the role of a bombshell ‘October surprise’ which further cripples Sarkozy’s hopes. It remains to be seen if this scandal could shift any voters or if it will only solidify votes on the left without having a major impact on softer right-wing voters.

Hollande, at this point in time, seems likely to win with about 53 or 54% of the vote, which would be a far wider margin than the last time an incumbent got shafted (1981) and which would be, in the wider realm of things, a very comfortable margin. He could be approaching the margin by which Sarkozy won in 2007 or even the margin by which Mitterrand trounced Chirac in 1988. In the eventuality of a left-wing victory, it is very likely that the left would sweep the legislative elections in June.

The most interesting impact of a left-wing victory would actually be on the right, where internal tensions and conflicts have been shut off with some success during the campaign, but where there are a lot of dynamites and bombs which are ready to be ignited. Already there have been signs of brewing public battles within the UMP, with centrist figures of the UMP such as Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Chantal Jouanno making clear that they feel “uncomfortable” with Sarkozy’s right-populist campaign strategy which all but ignores centrist voters. Within the UMP, the lines of a future battle featuring the incumbent party boss – Jean-François Copé, who has for all intents and purposes announced his candidacy for 2017, and his opponents which notably include François Fillon, Alain Juppé, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Laurent Wauquiez and Xavier Bertrand. Copé is an ambitious and Machiavellian figure who is accused by his opponents of being sectarian and authoritarian.

In good part, being in power ever since its foundation has helped the disparate coalition that is the UMP stick together, because there could be a bit of power for everybody. Sarkozy was careful in pleasing most coalitions within the UMP and playing them against each other, and it seems as if Copé is in a similar position. As a former chiraquien, he can count on the support of a few remnants of this old but leaderless politically. He has followed Sarkozy in his shift to the right, and could count on the support of the fairly structured but not institutionally prominent droite populaire faction. However, he faces a potentially bloody succession battle to fully take over the party. Out of power, the UMP faces potential implosion if the more centrist/centre-right factions decide to walk out. But the centrist and ‘humanist’ factions of the UMP are too disparate, too divided, too weak and too leaderless to be able to form a cohesive new movement or even political party. Copé remains in a strong position as party boss, and other constraints suggest against a full implosion of the UMP.

The FN’s strong result, as noted above, places the right back into the unfavourable spot it found itself in right after the FN’s emergence in 1983-1984 and after its decisive role in the 1997 legislative and 1998 regional elections. In the latter case, the eternal question of “what do we do with the FN” led to the first division of the UDF and threw the right into disarray as it divided itself over whether the FN should be shunned or if mini-alliances of sorts with the FN would be a better idea. There have already been the first inklings of internal divisions over this issue, and things should hardly get any calmer after a potential defeat on May 6. However, the FN remains in a traditional ‘UMPS’ stance rejecting any deals with either left or right, which could perhaps calm the debate down on the UMP’s side a bit. The FN will remain comfortable in its stance as an opposition anti-system force, and some will fancy a left-wing government as a golden opportunity to assert the FN as the main force of the opposition. Marine Le Pen’s dédiabolisation efforts were probably the first step in a bid to widen the FN’s base and rid itself of the baggage accumulated over the years by the old patriarch.

The centre, after Bayrou’s weak result and the total flop of the Borloo-induced bid to recreate the UDF, finds itself further marginalized, divided as ever and lacking a leader capable of uniting all of its elements. The NC faces tough days ahead if a vague rose in June claims the lives of a few of its sitting members, and no prominent figure in the NC is capable of uniting the centre. Borloo’s Radicals fell from their pedestal as soon as they climbed onto it, and they destroyed their chances of being at the forefront of the recreation of the UDF through the ARES experiment. The MoDem will be weakened further by Bayrou’s poor showing and it remains a bit ‘outside’ the traditional centre-right universe to partake in any recreation of the UDF. It also faces division, as some of its more left-leaning members are already tempted to join the Hollande bandwagon while others (Bayrou, de Sarnez) remain on a centrist position while a few remain closer to the centre-right. Jean Arthuis’ AC is a party more suited to the world of the Third Republic than to 2012. Ironically, the most prominent leaders of a potential centre-right UDFish force are currently within the UMP and their RPR roots make them more reluctant to leave the UMP (a RPR 2.0): Juppé, Fillon, NKM and even Wauquiez.

We shall meet up again for a runoff which will hopefully remain pretty exciting or at least interesting on May 6. In any case, I will be liveblogging the results of the runoff vote again throughout the day on May 6. As in the first round, I hope that you come a-plenty and make for lively and interesting discussion. Even if the results aren’t interesting – we’ll find a way to make them interesting.

Alberta (Canada) 2012

Provincial elections were held in the Canadian province of Alberta on April 23, 2012. All 87 members of the Legislative Assembly were up for reelection. Four additional seats were drawn up by the boundary commission during redistricting in 2010. Although Alberta, like other Western provinces, toyed around with IRV and STV in the past, Alberta uses traditional FPTP and has done so since 1955.

Politically, Alberta is famous for being Canada’s conservative heartland, which earns it many comparisons to Texas. Besides the conservatism, Alberta is also Canada’s oil country and the province has been the top beneficiary of the boom in the oil sands industry in recent years, allowing the province to ride the wave of high oil prices to make it Canada’s wealthiest province.

Alberta’s provincial political history is rather unique in North America. Since Alberta entered Canadian confederation in 1905, its provincial politics have been dominated by four successive dynasties. Only four political parties have ruled Alberta, but what makes it stand out is that no party which has formed but later lost government has been able to regain power. Two of Alberta’s three former governing parties are dead (or very close to it) and the other one has been dragging its comatose self forward without much luck for the past two decades. Albertans usually remain very loyal to their governing party, until they throw it out in a grand fashion.

The changing dynasties reflect the changing economic and social realities of the province since 1905. When Alberta entered confederation, it was an agrarian rural western province with a diverse population of European immigrants, Americans and Britons. The Liberal Party, the party of low tariffs and agrarian interests out west, built up a strong political machine fueled and fed by the federal Liberals under Sir Wilfrid Laurier, allowing it to govern Alberta between 1905 and 1921. In 1921, however, the Liberals got swept up in the wave of agrarian progressivism and radicalism which was taking roots in Western Canada. In the 1921 provincial election, the first dynastic change occurred when the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), originally a lobby group for local farmers transformed into a progressive agrarian political movement, defeated the governing Liberals in a landslide. Although the federal UFA MPs in Ottawa sat on the left of the wider Progressive Party, being strong advocates of a radical reinvention of partisan politics along the corporatist non-partisan lines of “group government”, the UFA provincial governments in Edmonton proved to be fairly moderate and cautious in their policy though their caucus resisted party discipline, leading to government disunity in the legislature.

The election of the UFA represented, in a way, the first cry of Western alienation in Alberta. The UFA presented itself as being different from the two old parties, which Western farmers claimed represented their eastern bases at the expense of the sparsely populated Prairies. Federal tariff policy, the main concern of the UFA and the Progressive Party in Canada, was an example of this control of the two main federal parties by their high-tariff eastern bases. Although the UFA’s style of intergovernmental relation would prove far more moderate than those of later governments, it was under the UFA government that Alberta gained power over its natural resources in 1929, a power which had until then been reserved for the federal government under the terms of confederation in 1905.

However, the UFA’s cautious and moderate fiscal policies were no longer popular in 1935. Alberta, like the rest of the West, found its agrarian economy hit very hard by the Great Depression. The economic ruin and poverty wrought by the Depression fed the rise of third protest parties throughout Western Canada, such as the CCF (later the NDP) in Saskatchewan. In Alberta, the third option would be Social Credit, led locally by a charismatic Christian preacher William “Bible Bill” Aberhart. The SoCred’s simple solution to the economic crisis in the form of their social dividends and other social credit theories made them an attractive option for unemployed workers and impoverished farmers who had lost everything with the Depression. In 1935, the SoCreds took 56 out of 63 seats and 54% of the vote, scoring one of the most phenomenal landslide victories for any party in modern worldwide electoral history. The UFA was swept out altogether.

Aberhart’s government was compelled to introduce social credit legislation after a backbenchers revolt in 1937 despite the dubious constitutionality of such measures. In fact, most of the SoCred’s attempts to introduce social credit-type legislation were either struck down by the courts or disallowed by the federal government. After Aberhart’s death in 1943, the SoCreds and Alberta fell under the leadership of Ernest Manning, who steered the party away from its traditional social credit ideology towards an attractive mix of conservative fiscal stability (though Manning did issue ‘prosperity certificates’ twice in the late 1950s), social conservatism, regionalism all under the cloak of “good government”. Manning governed Alberta until 1968, using his personal popularity to win huge majorities at the polls.

Going into the 1971 election, the SoCreds were led by Harry Strom, a capable Premier but one who lacked the charisma or political touch of Manning. Furthermore, the opposition finally found itself an attractive leader: Peter Lougheed, whose Progressive Conservatives (PCs) had emerged from the political abyss in 1967 to win 26% of the vote and 6 seats, most of them urban seats. Lougheed’s rhetoric touched a chord with Albertans at a moment in Alberta’s history where the province was evolving rapidly. Alberta was now booming with oil, urbanizing rapidly and gaining political prominence and influence in Canadian confederation. The SoCreds looked like a tired, old and complacent regime who could not really play to Alberta’s desire for a greater role in Canada or adapt their agrarian third party roots to the urban nature of Alberta in 1971. Campaigning on a centrist platform, Lougheed’s PCs won the popular vote by a fairly narrow margin (46-41) but the quirks of FPTP turned that into a large 49-25 majority over the SoCreds.

Lougheed presided over a booming economy, but his claim to fame in Canadian politics would probably be his role in intergovernmental relations in the 1970s. Lougheed emerged as a powerful actor within Canadian federalism, representing a decentralist and province-centered vision of Canadian federalism which would stick to Alberta and later be taken up, unsuccessfully, by Brian Mulroney’s federal Tories in the late 1980s. In some cases, Alberta found common cause with Quebec but in other matters Alberta and Quebec stood at opposing extremities. Lougheed feuded with Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberal government over the National Energy Policy (NEP) scheme which found extremely strong opposition in Alberta and Western Canada and led to the demise of the federal and provincial Liberals in the province for a few years.

In 1985, Lougheed was succeeded by Don Getty. The provincial deficit grew rapidly under Getty’s premiership. Getty, like his predecessor, was a fairly moderate ‘Red Tory’ who had some inclinations towards government intervention and deficit spending to relieve a bad economy. The idea that the government had a “spending problem” strengthened the provincial Liberals, led by Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore, who ran to the PC’s right on issues of deficits and state intervention. However, to stem the tide, the PCs replaced Getty with someone who shared Decore’s views on budgets and deficit spending, Ralph Klein. Klein was unambiguously on the right of the provincial PCs and broke with the style and policies of his moderate predecessors. Despite the Liberals taking 32 seats to the PC’s 51 in the 1993 election, the PCs under Klein held on and won huge majorities in 1997 and 2001. Klein, who governed until 2006, implemented tough fiscal austerity measures which would eventually result in large provincial surpluses. Klein governed in a right-wing populist if somewhat autocratic style, leaving few indifferent.

In 2006, Klein was replaced by Ed Stelmach, an Edmontonian, who despite a tough beginning was able to win a huge majority in the last election, held in 2008. However, following the 2008 election, Stelmach’s government grew more and more unpopular. The financial crisis threw Alberta’s books into the red for the first time in years in the 08-09 budget and the deficit kept growing until 2010-2011. Stelmach stepped down in 2011, and was replaced by a moderate ‘Red Tory’, Alison Redford.

Instead of facing rivals to its left, however, the PCs were challenged to their right by the Wildrose Alliance (now Wildrose Party). Since the 1980s, the PCs had faced some fringe right-wing populist opposition, largely rural-based. The Alberta Alliance proved to be the most successful of these movements, winning nearly 9% of the vote and one seat in the 2004 election. Prior to the 2008 election, the Alberta Alliance became the Wildrose Alliance. The new party took 6.8% of the vote and lost the sole seat held by the Alliance. In 2009, the party seized on discontent with the PCs when it won a by-election in a suburban Calgary seat held by the PCs since 1969. A few months later, a political novice – the former provincial director of Canadian Federation of Independent Business Danielle Smith won the leadership of the party. Smith was able to transform the party’s image from a bunch of ragtag social conservative ‘rednecks’ to a more urbane coalition of libertarians and conservative. Smith herself is a libertarian, who is liberal on social/moral issues but clearly libertarian on economic matters.

Wildrose supports a balanced budget, one of its policy priorities. To achieve a balanced budget, it supports spending cuts, a reduction in the size of government, tax incentives to boost investment and tax cuts on individuals. It wants to cut regulations and red tape which it claims has stifled investment, and has also taken a strong stance in favour of lower oil royalties in order to encourage investment in the oil sands. It supports a public health care system along the lines of the Canada Health Act, but has spoken in favour of “decentralized healthcare” and “patient choice” which tends to insinuate support for private healthcare solutions. Wildrose has also promised a controversial energy dividend, where 20% of natural resource surpluses would be redistributed directly to Albertans.

In federal relations, Wildrose has a slight regionalist element to it. They claim, like most Albertans, that the federal equalization program is biased against the province (as a rich province, Alberta does not receive equalization but some of the taxes paid by Albertans are used for the equalization program; Canadian equalization does not, however, “steal” from the revenues of the rich to give to the poor provinces). They oppose federal environmental regulation, the Canadian Wheat Board, the gun registry. They want Alberta to have more power, like Quebec, over immigration. It insists that only ‘elected’ Senators should be appointed to represent Alberta: Alberta holds non-binding ‘senate nominee’ elections – one was held in 2004, another is being held this year, which elects ‘senators-in-waiting’ which the Prime Minister is free to appoint if he wishes.

Wildrose, in a way reminiscent of the UFA, has made a big case out of accountability, good governance and democracy. It claims the PCs have become, like the old SoCreds, an old and complacent governing party which doesn’t listen and which thinks its way is the right way. It has come out in support of free votes, citizen initiative, recalls and more accountability in government. The PCs took much criticism when details about a “do-nothing” committee of MLAs came out: some MLAs were paid to be on a committee which never met. Premier Redford was forced to get them to return the money.

Redford’s election to the PC leadership led to a PC surge in polls, breaking 50% and sending Wildrose down from its 2010 heights (it led in polls for a brief while, then fell to 25-30%) to 15-25%. The gap narrowed with the news of the “no-meet” committee and the Wildrose surged into the lead shortly after Redford called the election. From day one, the battle would be between Redford and Smith, PC and Wildrose. The NDP has remained at or a bit above its 2008 levels, while the Liberals have collapsed from about 25% in 2008 to a paltry 9-12%. The Liberals have changed leaders at a dizzying pace since 2008, their new leader since September 2011 is former PC MLA Raj Sherman. A few Liberals including Calgary MLA Dave Taylor have left the party, Taylor chose to join an upstart party, the Alberta Party, which shifted from a Wildrose-like right-wing fringe party in the past to a left-wing/progressive/green party, though it has failed in its attempts at a breakthrough.

The PCs attempted to play the ‘social conservative’ card on the Wildrose, accusing Smith of hiding a secret socially conservative agenda, a charge which she and her party deflected easily. But there is still a lot of unease concerning Wildrose and social issues, in the wake of the usual controversial comments from the crazy candidates. Strategic voting has gained some prominence in the campaign, as some Liberals may be tempted to vote strategically for the fairly moderate PCs to prevent what would likely be a very right-wing Wildrose government. However, Smith was able to hold her ground in the debate. The polls narrowed in the final week, with the final polls indicating a comfortable but single-digit lead for the Wildrose – enough for a minority government, possibly for a majority. Only a single final poll by Forum Research saw the gap narrow significantly: down to a two-point Wildrose lead.

The result were (changes on dissolution)

Alberta PC 43.95% (-8.77%) winning 61 seats (-6)
Wildrose Party 34.29% (+27.51%) winning 17 seats (+13)
Alberta Liberal 9.89% (-16.54%) winning 5 seats (-3)
NDP 9.82% (+1.34%) winning 4 seats (+2)
Alberta Party 1.33% (+1.33%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Evergreen Party 0.39% (-4.16%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.32% winning 0 seats (-1)

In the days of accurate polling to the last second of the campaign, rare are the elections where the results come as a complete shock. I have a hard time thinking back, in recent electoral memory, to an election where the results were not surprising but downright shocking. Alberta’s 2012 election will go in our memories as one of those rare shockers. Wildrose had a lead in every opinion poll conducted in the last week – it never led by  less than two points and often led by 5-10 points. All predictors had predicted a Wildrose majority or minority governments and I’d wager that the journalists had written up their “PC dynasty tumbled in Alberta” articles for the next day’s paper. That was not what happened. At all.

The incumbent PCs led by Premier Alison Redford won the popular vote by a comfortable 9.7% margin and won a majority government, taking 61 seats against only 17 for the Wildrose Party. The pollsters will go into mass spin mode soon to prevent losing their reputation after Albertan voters fooled around with them and gave them a black eye, but the reality is that the polls got this one wrong. It might have been fair to spin a 1-point PC victory in the popular vote as a last-minute small swing within a large margin of error, a trend perhaps picked up by Forum Research’s last poll which had the WRP up two. However, you can’t spin a nearly ten point victory to a small swing or margin of error differentials. Even Forum Research’s WRP+2 poll on April 22 had underestimated the PCs by 8 and overestimated the Wildrose by 4. Angus-Reid on April 20-21 underestimated the PCs by 12 and overestimated the WRP by 7. Clearly there was a last minute swing (or else the pollsters methodology is completely off), and it was a significant last minute swing which concerned a sizable share of the electorate. What can explain this last minute swing?

Undecided voters? Polls apparently reported that up to 20% of voters were undecided in the final stretch. It is quite possible that undecided voters broke en masse for the PCs – but it must have been by a huge margin with upwards of 60-70% of undecideds voting PC. It is fair to claim that undecideds did break late for the PCs, with conservative voters opting to go with “the devil they know” – the PCs – which offered them a safe choice. The WRP clearly had some tough final days with the series of controversial crazy comments from its crazy candidates, most comments being about moral-social issues such as homosexuality. The thought of electing a WRP majority government which would have untested cabinet ministers and a large caucus probably including deadwood and crazies probably sent a chill down the spine of more than one voter. Danielle Smith herself might have defeated Redford in a one-to-one direct vote for Premier, given that Smith is fairly moderate compared to some in her party and she maintained a good, congenial personal image. However, Smith was unable to detach herself from the baggage which was her party and some of its candidates. Undecided conservatives went with a safe choice, the PCs, perhaps not as conservative as they would wish but still a safe right-wing option. Some more centrist or centre-left undecideds might also have broken PC instead of Liberal or NDP because of fears of a Wildrose government. This brings up a second point…

Did Liberal voters switch en masse to the PCs? The Liberals lost 16.5% of the popular vote compared to 2008. However, the Liberals won roughly what they were predicted to win. Forum had them at 10% in the final poll, and that is roughly what they got. Those who voted Liberal in 2008 but for another party this year likely switched their voting intentions way before election day. It was clear as soon as the WRP surged ahead that a fair share of Liberal voters from 2008 were going to vote for the PCs, for strategic reasons but also some proximity to a PC party led by a moderate ‘Red Tory’ no less. Polls in the final days did show some erosion of the Liberal vote, which is likely strategic voting, but the Liberals did not overpoll significantly in either Calgary or Edmonton (12% and 15% respectively, only a tad below where they were pegged at in the final days). If anything, it seems as if the NDP might have suffered a bit more in the final days/hours. They overpolled by 1-3% provincewide and apparently their voting intentions in Calgary (where they won only 5%) took a bit of a tumble in the final days. There was clearly some strategic voting by soft left/NDP voters in favour of the PCs, the “devil they knew” but also a safe bulwark against the very right-wing Wildrose.

Strategic voting, overall, likely has got to be a major explanatory factor here. Strategic voting featured rather prominently in the final days, but from appearances it seemed to largely be the matter of the centrist/centre-left minority rather than the centre-right/right-wing majority of voters.  It might explain why the Liberals did so poorly and why the NDP did not do much better than in 2008, but, in my opinion, it appears as if a good part of the late swing was the work of WRP-to-PC switchers rather than anything else. I explained above why such a switch would make sense. It is also true that the two parties are fairly complementary (especially in terms of voter base), despite what their partisans might say. It does not take much for a PC voter to go Wildrose or for a Wildrose voter to go back to the PC. It is still easier than a Liberal or NDP voter to go PC. Thus, to do some spin work for the pollsters, it is likely harder to see any intra-right vote switching rather than the usual cross-partisan vote switching between parties such as the Tories, Grits and Dippers.

Turnout was 57%, which is very high (the highest since 1993) for Alberta which usually sees some very low turnout numbers in provincial elections. The fact that this election had much higher stakes and was miles closer than any Albertan provincial election since 1993 easily explains why many more apathetic voters might have felt motivated to turn out. Can high turnout completely explain the late WRP-PC swing? It really is a pity that Canada does not do exit polls which would help us explain who turned out and what their political inclinations were. In the absence of hard data, we can only limit ourselves to guesswork and hypotheticals. The map of turnout shows no clear political correlations, though ridings won by the PCs might have seen marginally higher turnout on balance.

A look at the geography of this election explains the mystery of the late swing a bit more. The Wildrose clearly dominated in rural southern Alberta, which has usually been the most conservative region of Alberta and the one with the most inclinations towards the populist right of the WRP variety. Besides the larger urban centre of Lethbridge (though not Medicine Hat, which is much more conservative) and the resort town constituency of Banff-Cochrane, the WRP swept through rural southern Alberta. By and large, like southwestern Saskatchewan, southern Alberta is dry and arid ranching country, which is usually the most conservative of all ultra-conservative territory in the rural Prairies. Cardston-Taber-Warner, which is the only riding won by the Alberta Alliance in 2004, has the added advantage of having lots of Mormons. Unfortunately for the WRP, there are only so many people in rural southern Alberta. The WRP also performed well in exurban territory around Calgary, including Highwood where Danielle Smith won her seat but also Chestermere-Rocky View where Bruce McAllister defeated Ted Morton, the most prominent figure of the PC’s right-wing, by a very large margin (58.5 vs 35.2). The WRP won only a single seat outside southern Alberta/Calgary: Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills which had amusingly been one of the few rural ridings to vote Liberal in the 1993 election.

However, the shocker in terms of the map was without a doubt Calgary. Throughout the campaign, Calgary – Alberta’s most conservative and oil-driven city – had been the WRP’s urban base. Anger against Ed Stelmach’s PC government until last year had been concentrated in Calgary (Stelmach himself was from Calgary’s rival, Edmonton) and the Wildrose led throughout the campaign, even though Redford herself is from Calgary. In the final days, the PCs roared back nicely in Calgary but still trailed the Wildrose, with about 37.5% to a bit over 40% for the WRP. In the end, the PCs took 45% in Calgary against 36% for the WRP. The late swing was very big in Calgary. It seems as if urban conservative voters were the ones most likely to switch back to the PCs after flirting with the WRP throughout the duration of the campaign. The PCs won 20 seats in Calgary, against three for the Liberals and only two for the Wildrose. The WRP’s Paul Hinman even lost Calgary-Glenmore, the riding which they had picked up in that famous 2009 by-election which sparked the first Wildrose surge in 2009.

The Wildrose, not as surprisingly, fared no better in Edmonton, the more liberal/left-leaning of Alberta’s two major cities. The Wildrosers won about 20% of the vote in Edmonton, falling far short in almost all ridings. Amusingly, the PCs still did better in Calgary than in Edmonton – who would have thought that a day before election day? The PCs still held their ground extremely well in Edmonton, though they did lose two seats to the NDP they gained one from the Liberals. They won 17 seats against four for the NDP and two for the Liberals. Liberal leader Raj Sherman, elected in 2008 as a Tory, held his Edmonton-Meadowlark riding by the narrowest of margins.

The PCs held their ground in rural central and northern Alberta, winning a few seats by narrow 2-5% margins but a lot of others by more comfortable margins. The PCs won Alberta’s oil sand country around Fort McMurray (including a riding where they defeated a PC-turned-WRP member), though turnout in northern Alberta’s remotest ridings was very low.

In terms of other parties, the Liberals managed to not only stay in the legislature but place third ahead of the NDP. In Calgary and Edmonton, the Liberals’ sagging fortunes were locally boosted by popular incumbents in the ridings they held. They narrowly beat the NDP for third place in the raw votes. The NDP won all of its four seats in Edmonton, picking up two seats from the PCs. Former NDP leader Ray Martin failed to win the Tory-held riding of Edmonton-Glenora, but current NDP leader Brian Mason held his Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood riding by a large margin. The most left-wing riding in the province, Edmonton-Strathcona, posted a huge NDP margin – over 60% of the votes for incumbent MLA Rachel Notley. The Alberta Party failed to make the impact it could have made, taking only 1% of the vote. Its leader won about 17% and third place running in West Yellowhead, one of the most left-leaning rural ridings in Alberta (though that isn’t saying much). The Evergreen party, the successor, in part, to the old Green Party which was deregistered after the 2008 election due to a factional fight and missing paperwork, did poorly.

In the Senate nominee election, the three PC candidates placed first (Doug Black, Scott Tannas and Mike Shaikh), narrowly beating out the three WRP candidates for the chance to be appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Harper. As the Liberals and NDP did not run candidates, the Evergreen Party’s sole candidate took 6% of the vote.

This election was not only one for the history books because of its shock value, but also because, regardless of the results, Albertan politics have been shaken up a bit by the emergence of a right-wing rival to the PCs. The cards have changed. Up until then, the PCs were in a much more comfortable position because their main rivals – the Liberals and the NDP – were too left-wing for Alberta as a whole and thus had their strength concentrated in “Redmonton” and other urban areas. Now the PCs face rivals who can appeal to rural conservative voters which remain crucial to forming government in Alberta despite the voting weight of both Calgary and Edmonton. The Wildrose being the official opposition for the next four years gives them a unique opportunity of proving their competence and talent as parliamentarians to voters, time to revamp their image and dust off their brand a bit. If it can do that, then it will be in a very good position to topple the PC dynasty in four years time. If it can do that, it also threatens to further marginalize the Liberals and NDP in their urban redoubts. This election might end up looking something like the 1967 election, when the SoCreds won their final victory but where they faced the emergence of a serious opposition alternative led by a popular leader. However, unlike in 1967 (or 1993), it was not the urban areas which carried the bad news for the governing dynasty but rather the rural areas (in fact, the places where the WRP won were the last redoubts of the moribund SoCreds in 1971). The PCs have become a fairly ‘urban’ party in this election, unlike the SoCreds in 1967 who had taken their first hit in urban areas. Albertan provincial politics are changing, slowly but surely.

France 2012: Liveblogging the first round

Join me for a special live blog of the first round starting at 18:00 local time (noon on North America’s eastern seaboard), featuring comments on turnout, the trends, the expectations, the exit polls at 20:00 and then the official results as they flow in. I’ll also be taking all your questions related to the election, the results and what’s coming up next.

To access the live blog, please click here.

Thank you for joining us!

Election Preview: France 2012 Q&A

Presidential elections will be held in France on April 22 and May 6, 2012. The President of France, who holds significant powers granted that he controls a parliamentary majority, is elected for a five-year term, renewable once. France uses a traditional runoff system, where a candidate must win 50%+1 of the votes in the first round to be elected outright, or else the top two candidates in the first round proceed to a runoff held two weeks later. France has held eight direct presidential elections since 1965, and in none of these eight contests has a candidate ever won an absolute majority of the votes cast in the first round.

Thanks to all readers for their interesting questions concerning the 2012 presidential election or the world of French politics in general. Without further a due, here come to answers to the questions which have been asked thus far. I’ll answer questions from readers until, well, the runoff or even further.

What explains Melenchon’s rather sudden surge in support?

This has been an issue which even French political scientists have struggled to answer. His surge was rather sudden, and took pollsters, observers and foreigners by surprise. His surge in support, alongside Nicolas Sarkozy’s gains since he announced his candidacy, are really the two main significant trends of this rather stale campaign.

I tried to answer, in detail, a similar question in this post on my blog dedicated to French elections. To summarize what I said in that post, I attribute the surge to these three factors: his personality, his rhetoric and outside factors.

Firstly, Mélenchon fits the qualities which all successful candidates usually tend to have: charisma, a talent for the oratory arts, dynamism and an ability to convey his message clearly and forcefully. In the French media, for example, Mélenchon is commonly referred to as a tribun de la gauche, tribun being a very good word to describe a charismatic political speaker like Mélenchon. In contrast, the Socialist candidate – François Hollande – has not really been able to shake off an image of him as “soft” or boring in a traditional, moderate style. A lot of left-wing voters may have shifted more to the left as a result of their hatred for Sarkozy, and they may tend to find Hollande’s moderate pragmatism a bit off-putting or ‘soft’ in a time of economic crisis which they believe warrants radical solutions comparable to the economic and fiscal measures proposed by Mélenchon.

Secondly, as touched upon above, Mélenchon’s rhetoric is appealing to anti-system/anti-establishment voters. Political scientists in France since the 2005 referendum on the European constitution have taken to speaking about a fundamental divide between the “elites” – urban, young and educated, socially liberal, tolerant, pro-European and the “people” – suburban-exurban or rural, older, less educated, poorer, more working-class and conservative on issues such as immigration and skeptical of European construction. Unsurprisingly, the FN has been the party of choice for most of the “people”, but in 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy had skillfully scripted a similar appeal to the “people” – or what a recent Ipsos study called “the weakened peripheral France”. Mélenchon’s “new” supporters – those who came around to him during the surge – are rather likely to fall in the latter category.

With the economic crisis, there is a certain demand in France – especially on the left – for a candidate who speaks in tough terms about the banks (or the ‘banksters’ as the Greek have taken to saying), high earners (perceived as not paying their fair share), tax evaders (a lot of wealthy French artists or singers tend to take their money abroad, as do a few high earners), austerity measures (unpopular because of their impact on wages or welfare) and defense of social policies or the welfare state. Mélenchon’s tough rhetoric – which includes concrete proposals including a 20% hike in the minimum wage, a ‘100%’ tax bracket on revenues above €360,000 and a cap on maximum corporate earnings – tend to speak well to “the people”. It is fairly symbolic that Nicolas Sarkozy has felt the need to advocate a tax on ‘fiscal exiles’ or tax evaders, an idea originally proposed by  Mélenchon.

As I noted in the aforementioned post, an Ipsos poll showed that 31% of Mélenchon’s voters cited “a desire to reflect my discontent” as one of their three reasons for voting for him – which is quite a bit higher than all voters combined (23%) but still way below the same number (46%) for Marine Le Pen’s voters. On top of that, Mélenchon’s voters rarely cited a rejection of other candidates as a motivator but were very likely to cite agreement with his ideas or proposals as a reason for leaning towards him. On a final note on this topic, Marine Le Pen remains the top candidate for those who fall in this “people” category popularized by researchers. The composition of Mélenchon’s base is far less proletarian than her base (it is also far less proletarian than the PCF’s electorate in, say, 1981, when the PCF polled 15%). In fact, Mélenchon’s core base has been with a type of fairly “well integrated” petite bourgeoisie made up of public servants and government/public employees (teachers, social workers etc). He has performed well both with ouvriers (manual workers), intermediate-grade folks and managerial-higher professional categories (granted that they are in the public sector).

Finally, in terms of “other factors”, we can cite the media narrative about this election (and its impact on voters) and an ability to unite the “left of the left”. The media narrative about this election is about how Hollande is the big favourite, not a sure winner but a likely winner at least, who will certainly place first or second in the first round and enter the runoff as the favourite given his sizable poll lead (if you believe polls, he could surpass Mitterrand’s 1988 margin against Jacques Chirac). I won’t touch on Hollande’s strong demographics, but rather his (few) weaknesses: on his left. He was not the “left-wing candidate” in the open primary, and there used to be some worries on the left of the PS about his commitment to “left-wing values” or something along those lines. Following the primary, some of the left-wingers lukewarm about Hollande may have come around to supporting him (party unity, ability to win). However, they may have been flirting with Mélenchon following Hollande’s fairly low-key and inaudible campaign as of late. The narrative and appearance of Hollande’s inevitability makes it “safe” for these voters to vote their heart (Mélenchon?) in the first round but back Hollande without too much reluctance in the runoff. Polls shows that about 85% of Mélenchon’s voters will vote for Hollande over Sarkozy in the runoff.

The other “other factor” is the new-found unity of the ‘left of the left’ behind Mélenchon. For sure, a few hardcore left-wing partisans dislike Mélenchon who they still see as a Jospin cabinet minister and a Socialist masquerading as a leftie. But he has managed to appeal to a majority of those who voted for Olivier Besancenot and perhaps even José Bové and Arlette Laguiller in 2007. As we will find out on April 22, a lot of the votes cast for Besancenot (like Arlette in the past) were not cast by hardcore partisan Trots but rather by left-wing and/or protest voters who voted for them based in good part on his personality. The ‘left of the left’ in France, since 2002 if not earlier, has been a chaotic mess. A mish-mash of obscure ideological battles, disagreements over the best direction for the movement and above all personality and ego clashes have made it divided, almost impossible to unite. The PCF-driven attempt to nominate a common “anti-liberal left” candidate in 2007 amounted to naught, as the far-left (old LCR and LO) felt that it was a PCF shenanigan and everybody else didn’t like the idea of losing a primary. The ‘left of the left’ had five candidates in 2007: Besancenot, Arlette, an obscure far-leftist from the PT (Schivardi), the PCF’s disastrous boss Buffet and Bové. This year, with the strong personalities of Besancenot and Arlette gone, it appears as if Mélenchon has achieved the impossible unity of the ‘left of the left’.

Mélenchon has also taken support which once flirted with Marine Le Pen, François Bayrou and probably Eva Joly. The aforementioned post explores all these issues in more detail, alongside the inter-connected old myth of PCF voters flowing to the FN.

According to the Guardian Le Pen’s FN is leading among young voters, but considering that most French Muslims would not be voting for her and among youths Muslims and other minorities is higher in proportion than among the population generally, how many “native” French youths are supporting Le Pen?

A poll by CSA showed Marine Le Pen leading the pack among voters aged 18 to 24 with 26% against 25% for Hollande, 17% for Sarkozy, 16% for Mélenchon and 11% for Bayrou. Compared to a previous poll they had done with the same voters back in late 2011, Marine gained 13 points while Hollande lost 14. Mélenchon gained 11. I will believe this poll when I see its finding corroborated by other polls and by the serious exit polls on April 22. CSA is not one of the best pollsters out there, and has a knack to come out with ‘shock’ polls or outlier numbers. Ifop’s rolling polls have not shown Marine particularly overperforming her national numbers (15-16%) with young voters. Exit polls in past elections have not shown that the FN does particularly strongly with young voters. Her father won 16% with them in 2002, against 14% apiece for Chirac and Jospin. In 2007, he took 7% and in 1995 he had won 17% with them. OpinionWay’s exit poll for the 2010 regional elections showed the FN getting 12% with them, only one point above its national average. Turnout is a big variable with young voters, who are some of the least prone to turn out. In the regional elections, only 33% of them voted. In 2002 – whose record low turnout overall (73%) might be where turnout will be this year (if not lower) – 37% of young voters (18-24) did not vote.

It is not totally unfathomable that Marine Le Pen could perform well with a certain category of young voters – those who are not university students or grads, but rather those who are unemployed youths living in low-income areas. If this category bothers voting at all, Marine Le Pen might carry a special appeal to them in a way which neither Hollande and Sarkozy can match (but which Mélenchon could). She is probably a more ‘appealing’ candidate to these voters because she is much younger and has a slightly less ‘harsh’ image than her father whose appeal to young voters might have been stymied by his age and ‘old ways’ of doing campaigns and politics. Yet, I still have a very hard time seeing her overperform her national average by 10 points or more with voters aged 18-24, when there is no indication that her support has collapsed with the FN’s traditionally strongest age groups: middle-aged voters.

It is true that French Muslims are overwhelmingly young and, in the general young population, do make up a larger percentage than they do in the wider total population. Yet, French Muslims are a smaller share of the total electorate and an even smaller part of the ‘regular’ electorate. A lot of them are not registered voters, either because they are not French nationals or because they have not signed up to vote. Voter turnout, furthermore, is often low – in some cases very low – within the French Muslim population. Those who do vote are overwhelmingly left-wing.

How are French Protestants voting in this election?

Protestants make up about 2.5% of the total French population and a similar share of the electorate. There are, basically, two significant geographical concentrations of Protestants in France: in Alsace (Bas-Rhin especially) where most are Lutherans and in the southwest (Lozère, Gard, Haute-Loire, Aveyron, Ardèche), where most are Calvinists. Despite their small size in the overall population, their voting patterns are far from homogeneous over the territory.

The differences between Protestant and Catholic voters are fairly easily perceptible in both of these regions, but in different ways. In Alsace, the denominational cleavage has become significantly weaker than it was in the 1950s (when it was very stark). However, it has been shown that Alsatian Protestants are more likely to vote for the FN and, in the past, for Gaullists than their Alsatian Catholic counterparts who were far more likely to vote for Christian democratic candidates (MRP, UDF) than Protestants were. This was particularly true in the 1950s up until the 1980s, but the cleavage is far less tenuous nowadays. Yet, Protestant areas in Alsace still tend to be marked by stronger results for the FN than demographically similar Catholic municipalities. In some cases, Protestants vote in slightly larger numbers for the left in Alsace than Catholics do, but they remain largely right-wing in their overall political orientation. Religion likely plays a role in explaining why Protestants are more inclined to vote for the far-right, but their demographic nature in rural areas obviously plays a major role in their voting behaviour: most tend to be working-class.

In sharp contrast, the Protestant regions of the Cévennes mountains in southwestern France are very solidly left-wing. Calvinists in these areas, historically a persecuted minority (revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the terreur blanche) sided very quickly with the Revolution and the creed of religious freedom and tolerance. They have remained, since then, very loyal to the left – the PS in particular, in rarer cases the Communists. The Protestant-Catholic divide remains very perceptible in departments such as Lozère.

An Ifop poll (though on a small sample of 410 Protestants) recently showed that Protestant voters would vote in larger numbers for Sarkozy than the overall population. With Protestants, Sarkozy scored 33.5% (+5 on the overall population) against 22.5% for Hollande, 16.5% for Bayrou (+4.5 on the total population) and 14% for Marine Le Pen. In the ‘east’, Protestants placed Sarkozy in first with 35% to Marine Le Pen’s 28%, with Bayrou in third at 19% and Hollande pulling only 13%. Yet with Protestants in the ‘south’, Hollande won 37% to Sarkozy’s 31% and Bayrou’s 13%. This poll seems a bit too slanted towards the right, especially in the case of the ‘southern’ subsample.

How are Harkis (Algerian native loyalists) voting?

The political preferences of Harkis tend to be lumped in with those of pieds-noirs, the European settlers in Algeria who were resettled in France fifty years ago. I wrote a piece on my other blog which included some reflections on the voting preferences of pieds-noirs 50 years later. A poll by Ifop for the Cevipof in January showed that Marine Le Pen narrowly led the field among those voters with 28% against 26% apiece for Hollande and Sarkozy. In 2007, the study found that 31% had voted for Sarkozy against 20.5% for Royal and 18% for Le Pen. The political preferences of pieds-noirs have often been stereotyped as being overwhelmingly lepeniste. From this stereotype, people also like to explain away the FN’s strength in PACA and the rest of the riviera by laying it all on the voting preferences of the pieds-noirs. This is not quite the case: pieds-noirs are not homogeneous in their voting preferences nor are they a significant enough share of the population in the lepeniste regions of the southeast to shape their political profiles single-handedly.

There have been no specific studies on the harkis, but it seems to be assumed that they vote similarly to the European pieds-noirs, which could make them the only significant French Arab group which votes in significant numbers for the far-right. For harki voters, the issue of ‘recognition’ (recognition by the state that France abandoned them in 1962) is a touchy but important political issue in every election. In 2007, Sarkozy had talked about compensation and a memorial law recognizing the state’s role in the ‘betrayal’ of the pieds-noirs and harkis. More recently, he once again mentioned similar issues.

In the political geography of France, we see that unlike in most English-speaking countries, you don’t have much of an urban-rural divide, rather both left and right have strongholds in both the city and the country. It is also my impression (unverified) that politics are a lot less regional than in other countries. Is this true, and if so why?

It is true that the urban-rural divide is not as important in France as it is in the United States, the United Kingdom or Canada. There has been an increasing divide between urban and rural areas in recent years, as urban areas tend to shift to the left (Paris is a great example) while a lot of rural areas (especially in eastern or northern France) shift to the right. However, some of the left’s strongholds are rural areas (the Limousin, Midi, parts of Aquitaine) while the right can still perform very well in core urban areas unlike the Republicans in the United States or even the Conservatives in other Anglophone countries.

The urban-rural cleavage has been a determinant of voter behaviour, but the fact is that it has never really been the key factor in shaping voter behaviour. Religion, land ownership, class and political traditions have traditionally been the top determinants of voter behaviour in (rural) France.

Religion – specifically the divide between clerical devout Catholics and secular voters – has played a major role in shaping some of the main trends in French electoral geography which persist to this day. ‘Clerical’ voters, be they rural or urban (most were rural), voted heavily for the right. ‘Anti-clerical’ voters formed the backbone of the republican parties and later the Radicals and subsequent left-wing parties. Voters with no religion are overwhelmingly left-wing to this day, church-going Catholics are still heavily slanted in favour of the right. The role of religion as a determinant of the vote has weakened in recent years with secularization since the 1970s, as the inner west and especially Brittany so eloquently shows. But a lot of the political traditions in rural regions remain shaped by religious traditions. The old Southwest has long been the hotbed of anti-clerical and Masonic political sentiments in France (alongside other political sentiments, including anti-establishment and anti-authoritarian streaks), and remains one of the most solidly left-wing regions in France. On the other hand, in the same region, the very religiously inclined herding plateaus of the Aveyron, Cantal or Lozère remain very conservative.

Land ownership has often gone hand-in-hand with class and religion, but has been the other main factor in shaping the political profiles of rural France. Smallholders – farmers who owned their land – were in general the biggest supporters of the republican cause, out of opposition to the aristocratic and authoritarian leanings of the old right. When they were outside clerical regions, sharecroppers or tenant farmers in large properties could be counted upon to harbour some socialist or communist tendencies. When they were in clerical regions, large property often went hand-in-hand with monarchist or conservative traditions. My political profile of the Vendée explores these issues in more details.

Class is not as important in France as it is in the UK or Scandinavian countries, but poverty and social standings has shaped and still shapes political cultures and opinions in France. Religion still trumped class – as Brittany or the inner west showed until recently – but when poverty was found in anti-clerical regions, socialism and later communism could be promised a fertile ground. Class became more important in the post-war era, as the political battle clearly became a fight between “Marxism” (PCF, Socialists) and non-Marxism (right, Radicals, centre). The first constitutional referendum in 1946 is often thought to be a major realigning vote. In this referendum, anti-clerical but fairly well-off rural and urban areas (Champagne or the Beauce) realigned with the right. Anti-clerical but poorer or more anti-system regions (the Southwest, Limousin, Berry, Bourbonnais, parts of Aquitaine) remained aligned with the left, the Socialists being the natural heirs of a left-wing Radical party.

Settlement patterns have also played their role in forging voting patterns. Areas of nucleated rural settlements were more favourable to the left, perhaps because the concentration of voters in a nucleated setting made the exchange of ideas easier. On the other hand, areas of dispersed settlement were more likely to favour the right, as voters remained geographically separated, making the exchange of ideas and views harder.

In the 1960s, the political leanings of urban areas could generally be summarized fairly easily: a bourgeois and right-leaning urban core surrounded by a proletarian hinterland, with solid Communist or left-wing leanings. The image is not so simple anymore. The inner suburbs of most large cities are no longer proletarian in the old sense, but either gentrifying or working poor (employees, low-paying jobs, public servant). Inner cities have shifted to the left as part of a mixed phenomenon of gentrification (eastern Paris or inner suburbs such as Montreuil are great examples) and boboïsation - young professionals who are not too badly off but hold left-libertarian political opinions. Even affluent inner suburbs have begun voting consistently for the left, while the right has made some inroads in some more working-class left-leaning suburban areas.

The divide between ‘rural’ and ‘urban’, furthermore, is no longer clear-cut. With exurban growth and rural decline, some rural-looking areas are actually suburban or exurban communities with residents fleeing high inner-city property prices and forced to drive long commutes to large urban areas for work. Agriculteurs - the socioprofessional category made up of farmers who work their own land – barely account for 1% of the French population. A lot of distant rural communities have a population made up of semi-rural low-income working-class employees or manual workers who work in small firms or companies in neighboring towns.

In the 2007 election, there was an unusually strong urban-rural divide. Ségolène Royal outperformed the traditional left in urban areas  – notably Paris – while Nicolas Sarkozy outran the traditional right in a lot of rural areas in eastern France (taking a lot of FN votes). The 2007 election also showed a strengthening of the left in regions such as Brittany with a declining Catholic tradition.

Politics are indeed less regional in France than in other countries. Obviously, each regions have their own political history and traditions but France does not really have well-defined political cultures like that of the South in the United States, Bavaria in Germany or Alberta in Canada. France being the dictionary definition of a centralized nation-state likely plays a major role. ‘Peripheral’ ethnic groups (Alsatian, Breton, Occitan, Basque, Savoyard, Catalan) have been, through government policies since the 1870s, reduced to sad shadows of their former selves or totally eliminated beyond recognition. The lack of any major regional languages besides French (though Alsatian, Breton, Basque and Corsican retain a not-insignificant proportion of speakers) have stymied the growth of ‘regional identities’ comparable to those found in Spain, for example. In the media narrative, furthermore, all talk about elections – even regional elections – are run through ‘national’ lenses – which is not the case in the US, Canada or Spain.

Only Corsica and some overseas territories can be said to form fairly cohesive ‘regional identities’ with political traditions clearly separate from those of metropolitan France. But even in those cases, their regionalism does not measure up to the regionalism found in other countries. The closest we can find to regionalism might be the FN’s strong implantation east of the oft-discussed Le Havre-Valence-Perpignan.

If (and i realize it’s a HUGE if) Mélenchon manages to go to the runoff on April 22nd:
1. Can he win whether it’s against Sarkozy or Hollande?
2. What does that mean in connection to the Greek elections that are being held on May 6th (same day as French runoff)?
3. Is it possible to see a MLP vs. JLM on May 6th?

It is indeed a ‘huge if’ and it would prove an upset equal to or even bigger than Le Pen’s 2002 upset. It would require a lot of things to align for him in the next week, which is of course nearly impossible. Assuming, for a second now, that he does indeed make it as your question asks. I threw together a few simulations based on your questions, which you can see here (vs. Hollande), here (vs. Sarkozy)

If it is against Hollande, he would at best win something like 35% of the vote. Though a lot of right-wingers would not vote, Hollande would receive the bulk of Sarkozy, Bayrou and Marine voters who choose to vote in the runoff. Mélenchon would only win support from the far-left’s two candidates and a bit from Joly.

Against Sarkozy, Mélenchon would probably still lose but would easily clear 40% and win something similar to 44-46% of the vote against Sarkozy. Sarkozy is unpopular, and many Hollande voters would vote for Mélenchon over Sarkozy (as would Joly’s voters). However, it is unlikely that Bayrou’s voters would prove as ready to vote for Mélenchon then they are for Hollande. My scenario is fairly generous in assuming that 20% of Bayrou’s voters could vote for Mélenchon over Sarkozy. There is more uncertainty here, as Mélenchon’s surge has significantly improved his image in the wider realm of public opinion and might – I haven’t checked the numbers – be more popular than Sarkozy currently is. But could Mélenchon hold up his positive image in what would certainly be a very bloody runoff?

A runoff between Mélenchon and Marine is even harder to envision, as it would require both to surge further while Hollande and Sarkozy collapse, benefiting small candidates and Bayrou (but also Marine and Mélenchon). I ran a little scenario here which gives my opinion about how such a runoff would shape up to be. It would probably not result in excessively high turnout, as the far-right being qualified would boost centrist and left-wing turnout while Marine Le Pen’s voters would of course turn out in their quasi-entirety (unlike in a normal runoff where a third will likely not vote). The main uncertainty concerns the behaviour of Sarkozy’s voters. With him winning only 21% of the vote, he would be done to a core right-wing rump but would also have shed almost all FN-UMP swing voters and Le Pen 2002 voters which he had won in 2007. I believe about 55-60% of his voters in such a scenario would vote for Marine Le Pen, though Sarkozy himself would not give any endorsement. Marine Le Pen, however, cannot win a runoff election. She is too polarizing and her image is still too negative. However, a runoff against Mélenchon could be her best chance out of any runoff scenario. She could win anywhere between 40 and 45% of the vote in such a runoff against Mélenchon.

It is hard to see the elections in France having a major impact on the elections being held in Greece on the day of the runoff election. Could the sensation of a Mélenchon-x runoff on May 6 have a non-negligible impact on the Greek elections? It could minimally boost the chances of the anti-austerity left-wing parties there, but the Greek elections will first and foremost be fought around and decided by issues which are much closer to home. That being said, if Mélenchon does indeed qualify for the runoff, it could send shockwaves around Europe and indirectly impact the popular support of similar parties and candidates in other European countries, including Spain or Italy.

 Translated from French: Can the FN place first in certain communes because of Marine Le Pen’s new base?)

There are 36,000 communes (municipalities) in France, and Marine Le Pen will win a lot of those – a lot of which tend to be very small villages with less than 1,000 voters. Her father had won communes – most of them tiny places – in 2007 despite his poor showing that year. He even won two cantons that year. The better question is whether or not she can win a legislative constituency and even a department. Her winning a department depends a lot on the gap which separates her from the first-placed candidate nationally, be it Hollande or Sarkozy. If she does well, with something over 16%, but the gap which separates her from a Sarkozy or Hollande is over 10 percentage points, then she could still not win a single department. If, on the other hand, she does well and the gap between her and first place is fairly small, then she could stand a chance in departments such as the Aisne or Haute-Marne. She will probably place first in her political home base, Hénin-Beaumont, and record a swing above the national average in the Pas-de-Calais and its general region.

Translated from French: In the next legislative elections, could there be surprises? Is a cohabitation possible?

Since the Jospin-Chirac tandem agreed to ‘realign’ the electoral calendar in 2000, legislative elections have become of much less importance and usually confirmations of the result of the presidential election held a month beforehand. The new electoral cycle, with a synchronized presidential and legislative term, has worked to reassert the predominance of the presidential election as the ‘top’ election in France. In this perspective, the next legislative elections should not see any surprises.

In the scenario that Hollande is elected, the PS allied with the left will not struggle too much to win an absolute majority. In the past, the only election held immediately after a presidential election in which the president’s party failed to win an absolute majority was 1988, when Mitterrand’s PS only won a plurality of seats despite Mitterrand’s landslide trouncing of Chirac.

If Sarkozy is reelected, however, there is an outside chance that there will be a cohabitation because of the circumstances in which Sarkozy would win reelection. However, it is still tough to see the electorate turning around in such a rapid fashion to hand somebody the elected a month ago such a stunning rebuke. The idea of cohabitation is fairly unpopular in France, and voters would be reminded of it during the course of the legislative elections’ campaign. Yet, if Sarkozy wins a magical underdog reelection, it probably won’t be through a miraculous improvement of his approval ratings to June 2007 stratospheric levels, meaning that there is a serious chance that legislative elections held in the wake of an underdog Sarkozy win could result in some surprises.

The main things to watch for in these legislative elections would be as follows:

Firstly, turnout. Turnout hit an all-time low in 2007 – 60% – which is not too surprising given the (eventually wrong) vague bleue narrative and the low stakes of the election. This year, following a presidential election which has struggled to motivate voters very much at all, how many voters will be bothered to go out to vote in an election which will, probably, be of very low stakes and even less interesting than the presidential election? It is possible that turnout could descend to catastrophic (for French legislative elections) levels nearing only 50%.

Secondly, in the most likely scenario of a Hollande victory, the overall performance of the left. Will the PS and its close allies win an absolute majority on their own, or will they be in a ‘minority’ situation dependent on either the centre or the Left Front (FG)?

Within the left, and in the context of government formation and relations during a Hollande presidency, the strength of the PS’ allies – notably the Greens – will be very important. In November 2011, the Greens and the PS signed a controversial electoral deal which gives the Greens (who currently hold only three seats) at least 15 seats if not nearer to 25-30 members (enough for a parliamentary group of their own). Some Greens are concerned about the PS’ goodwill in the wake of a humiliating result for their candidate, Eva Joly, on April 22. Some Socialists, including sitting PS deputies who got shafted by the deal, showed their displeasure with the deal (as did some Greens). Some incumbent PS deputies or dissident Socialists in a few constituencies are running against the Green candidate co-endorsed by the Socialists, the most high-profile of these cases being a Parisian constituency where Green leader Cécile Duflot (currently seatless) is running against the incumbent PS deputy who got dumped on the sidewalk by her party as part of the deal with the Greens.

In the broader context of the left, especially in the wake of the potential for a big success by Mélenchon on April 22, the FG will be very eager to try to convert its presidential success into a legislative success. The most recent case of a fairly surprising “presidential success” is that of Bayrou in 2007, and in his case, he totally failed in his attempt translate his presidential result into a strong result in the legislative elections. He failed because he totally misunderstood and misread the nature, makeup, attitude and politics of those who made his success on April 22, 2007. Mélenchon does not appear to be a Bayrou, that is one who overreacts to a presidential success by attempting to “transform” politics altogether. The FG will make the case to voters, especially those who voted for Mélenchon, for the necessity of a strong left-wing bench in the National Assembly to exert pressure on Hollande’s government from the left. I haven’t run through the FG’s candidates in its intricacies to assess their chances, so I cannot expand much on this point.

Assuming Hollande fails to win an absolute majority for the ‘close-knit’ left-wing parties (PS, PRG, Greens) and is dependent on the support of the FG or the centre in the National Assembly, then the old debate of whether or not the FG/PCF should cooperate with the PS and participate in a PS cabinet will come up again. The PCF’s leadership generally looks upon the idea of Communist participation in a PS government quite favourably, but Mélenchon has shown himself to be quite resistant to that possibility. The issue could prove a major source of tension between the PCF and Mélenchon’s friends (the PG), but it is unlikely the PG will emerge from the legislative elections with a significant caucus at all.

The third thing to look out for will be the FN, which will be aiming to regain a foothold in the legislative elections following the slap they received in the 2007 legislative elections which came on the heels of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s poor performance in the presidential election. The electoral system and high likelihood of low turnout all plays against the FN, which will struggle to win a single seat. However, if it is able to win strong results in constituencies through eastern and southeastern France, it could find itself in a make-or-break role for UMP deputies and candidates in the runoff. The probability of low turnout will reduce the number of three-way runoffs – triangulaires, thus removing the terrible shadow of 1997’s  triangulaires de la mort for the right. However, the FN’s strong showing, if it is in the backdrop of something close to a vague rose will inject the old issue of right-FN electoral alliances or unofficial deals into debates on the right as it seeks to rebuild itself after a defeat.

[updated April 18] Could you give some information about the political or personal platforms of the lower tier of candidates?
Why are they standing and who votes for them?
I’m particularly interested in Jacques Cheminade as even detailed accounts of the candidates do not elaborate on him, or even (sometimes) mention him. I have heard he is the Lyndon LaRouche affiliated candidate but what does that mean in terms of French politics and demographics?

The “small candidates” as they are often called are Eva Joly (the Greens-EELV), Nathalie Arthaud (LO), Philippe Poutou (NPA), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (DLR) and Jacques Cheminade (S&P). Presidential elections are the “big” elections, so it is necessary for all parties and movements to try to gain a presence and a voice in the presidential elections. They know they won’t win, but the equal airtime allows them a chance to voice their platforms and get free publicity for their parties or ideas.

Joly didn’t want to be a small candidate and she started off as a second-tier candidate, not a last-tier candidate. But, not being a traditional politician, she led a very poor campaign. Like most Green candidates in presidential elections, she found her base squeezed out by Hollande who appeals to ‘pragmatic’ Greens who vote more “strategically” (against Sarkozy) or by more ‘red’ Greens who have flowed to Mélenchon. She is left with the hardcore of the Greens, more left-leaning than their ‘wider’ electorate (2009 or 2010). As mentioned above, there is a fear that her poor showing will hinder her party vis-a-vis the PS, because EELV is hungry for a parliamentary group (20+ members in the lower house) and for cabinet positions. Her platform takes up the usual Green themes (no nuclear energy, green jobs, sustainability, social justice, democratic reform, decentralization, European federalism, left-libertarianism). She got into deep controversy when she suggested removing the traditional military parade on Bastille Day (July 14). She has been mocked for her Norwegian accent in French, by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld.

Nathalie Arthaud (LO) and Philippe Poutou (NPA) are usually grouped as the “far-left candidates”, which is fair enough given that there are few differences in the platforms of both candidates. Arthaud is the successor of LO’s popular six-time contender Arlette Laguiller, who stepped down from politics after the 2007 election. Traditionally, LO is the more ‘traditional’ of the two Trotskyist-leaning parties in France – it usually sticks to old-style Marxist rhetoric about the class struggle, the bourgeoisie, exploitation of the proletariat. It focuses quasi-exclusively on economic, fiscal, monetary or social issues and does not usually touch issues such as political reform, the environment, foreign policy and so forth. On the other hand, the NPA – which is the successor of the old LCR, and is often presented as “Olivier Besancenot’s party” – has abandoned old Marxist rhetoric in favour of a New Left orientation, though still clearly on the far-left. The LCR usually was the more hippie/modern party out of the two Trot parties. Up until 2007 at least, the LCR had more appeal to non-working class urban voters, young voters and students. The NPA’s policies vis-a-vis economic issues is very much like that of LO, but it mentions environmental issues and political reforms/institutions a bit more.

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (NDA, as he says) is a right-wing ‘paleo-Gaullist’ candidate. Dupont-Aignan is a former UMP member who left the party before the 2007 election to form a new party, Arise the Republic (DLR). NDA is a deputy in the National Assembly and a very popular mayor of Yerres, a suburban town in the Essonne department. He did not run in the 2007 election but ran in the 2009 EU and 2010 regional elections, doing decently for a small party with little funds. NDA’s political views are similar to those of Charles de Gaulle, in that he is fairly Eurosceptic (against the 2005 EU Constitution, for a ‘Europe of nations’), supports an independent foreign policy (getting out of the joint command of NATO) and has a fairly statist/colbertiste economic agenda including re-nationalizing the formerly public electricity and gas companies (EDF/GDF). He supports protectionism to fight outsourcing to foreign countries. It is surprising his candidacy has not done any better, but he likely finds himself squeezed in this “big” contest between the “big” contenders he stands between: Marine Le Pen and Nicolas Sarkozy, both of whom have of course flirted with populism and nationalism/thinly veiled nationalism.

Jacques Cheminade is the “surprise” candidate. Cheminade had already run in 1995, taking 0.3% of the vote. His movement and his ideas are indeed close to those of Lyndon LaRouche, which has led to some disagreements about how to classify him. Most sources classify him and his party on the far-right. Nobody has focused on his ideas, because they are so bizarre and unclear. Most people prefer to make his candidacy the butt of jokes, poking fun at his and LaRouchites obsession about conspiracy theories and their hatred of Elizabeth II, the “drug dealer”. He takes up a lot of LaRouche’s conspirationist views about “the world of finance” and big business, crying out against “the City” and “Wall Street” bankers or the financial oligarchy. He shares the LaRouche movement’s knack for “multinational” type technological programs through nuclear energy. For some reason, he also talks about going to outer space (he is probably concerned that aliens will take him away or something) and development in Africa. Overall, far-right seems like a fair classification but a weird type of technocratic far-right with a concern about New World Orders and black choppers. It is hard to say who are the people who vote for him, but we’ll soon find out, I guess. This post details Cheminade’s ideology and links to the LaRouche movement.

Thanks again to all readers for some great questions. In the lack of a proper preview post per se, I will be more than pleased to answer additional follow-up questions or any other questions from readers about French politics and/or the 2012 election(s) in particular.

Election Preview: France 2012

Presidential elections will be held in France on April 22 and May 6, 2012. The President of France, who holds significant powers granted that he controls a parliamentary majority, is elected for a five-year term, renewable once. France uses a traditional runoff system, where a candidate must win 50%+1 of the votes in the first round to be elected outright, or else the top two candidates in the first round proceed to a runoff held two weeks later. France has held eight direct presidential elections since 1965, and in none of these eight contests has a candidate ever won an absolute majority of the votes cast in the first round.

In the runup to this election, World Elections opens to ground to any questions by interested readers on the topic of French politics and the 2012 elections. All types of questions, ranging from general questions about the candidates and their parties to more specific questions about the impact of this election, the polls, runoff prospects, the trends, the background, the political history of France, voting patterns and voter behaviour or electoral geography are acceptable. Please post your questions in the comments section below, tweet them to me (@welections) or email them to me. In due time – that is, before April 21 – all these questions will be answered in a thorough and accessible manner in this post.

In the meantime, you can read some background to this election by reading these posts on recent elections in France since 2009 or about French political history in general:

2011 Presidential primaries

2011 Senatorial elections

2011 cantonal elections

2010 Regional elections

2009 European elections

Political analysis and relevant history

Post all your questions below!

South Korea 2012

Legislative elections were held in South Korea (Republic of Korea) on April 11, 2012. All 300 seats in South Korea’s unicameral National Assembly were up for reelection. 246 members are elected by first past the post in single-member districts, while the remaining 54 ‘block seats’ are elected on a separate ballot through proportional representation. South Korea is a presidential system, where the executive is not responsible to the legislature, but as in any presidential system, a loss of control in the National Assembly can hamper a president. This particular election is widely seen as an indicator for the presidential election, due in December 2012.

South Korea’s contemporary politics are heavily influenced by two factors rooted in the country’s recent political history: military rule and regionalism. Between 1962 and 1992, South Korea was ruled by the military, and alternated between authoritarian periods and semi-democratic openings. Between 1962 and 1979, under the presidency of Park Chung-hee, South Korea experienced a period of rapid economic growth which transformed the poor country into an advanced industrialized economy. In this period, South Korea’s economic structure began being marked by the chaebol structures – large industrial conglomerates which ran the country’s economy through a close alliance with the state. The rapid economic development of the country thanks to Korean state capitalism remains Park’s main achievement, but he remains a very controversial figure in Korea because of his authoritarianism. Economic development, indeed, went hand-in-hand with draconian repression of the opposition (students, intellectuals and unionized labour) and an authoritarian political system rigged in favour of Park’s party and the military. At the same time, Park’s regime laid the foundations of regionalism in South Korean politics, which is one of the most surprising aspects of politics in a fairly homogeneous country. Park, a native of Gyeongsang province (Daegu and Busan), led policies which heavily favoured his native province over Jeolla, native province of his top political rival Kim Dae-jung and historically sidelined by political elites. A wave of opposition and the risk of losing Washington’s crucial political support led Park’s secret services, the KCIA, to turn against him and assassinate him.

Out of the chaos which followed Park’s death, another military officer from Gyeongsang, Chun Doo-hwan, seized power. Chun quickly asserted his power by setting up his own dictatorial regime, arresting opponents and bloodily putting down a revolt in Gwangju (Jeolla). With the backing of US President Ronald Reagan, the country’s economy continued to grow at a rapid pace during the 1980s, but opposition movements gained strength, to which Chun responded by an eclectic policy of political reforms mixed in with good ole repression. In 1987, Chun and his handpicked successor – another military officer from Gyeongsang, Roh Tae-woo, were forced to agree to the direct election of the President in 1987. That year, Roh, the candidate of Chun’s incumbent right-wing Democratic Justice Party, was elected president over an opposition divided between Busan native Kim Young San and Jeolla native Kim Dae-jung. Roh’s administration slowly democratized the system, but with the unfortunate backdrop of corruption, regional discrimination, economic decline and associated labour unrest. Prior to the 1992 election, Kim Young Sam had merged his party with Roh’s party, and had in the process managed to take control of the party to run against Kim Dae-jung in the 1992 election, which was disturbed the emergence of a populist centrist force led by Hyundai patriarch Chung Ju-yung. Kim Young Sam defeated the other Kim in the 1992 election, with the results revealing – once again – a deep regional divide between Jeolla and Gyeongsang.

Kim Young Sam’s presidency, disturbed at the end by the Asian financial crisis of 1997, marked the end of military rule in the country. Kim Young Sam proved to be the Trojan Horse who took control of the military-led Korean right to destroy it from within, which he did through the arrest and conviction of both of his predecessors in an ambitious and ultimately successful anti-corruption campaign. However, the economic crisis in Korea in 1997 hurt his party – now styled the Grand National Party (GNP) – in the 1997 elections which were narrowly won by Kim Dae-jung.

Kim Dae-jung, who became the first “liberal” president of the country – the opposition to the Korean right/military has largely been styled as liberal (which means slightly different things in Korea) – had a succesful presidency marked by economic growth, economic reforms aimed at breaking the chaebols power and a new policy of détente with North Korea (the Sunshine Policy). In 2002, he was succeeded by Roh Moo-hyun, whose presidency might be one of the most controversial in South Korea’s post-military history. The GNP led a futile charge for his impeachment in 2004 while backfired on them, while his economic policies in a period of less impressive economic numbers and growth attracted criticism. He also faced allegations of corruption (which led to his party’s collapse and later his own suicide in 2009) and incompetence.

Roh was succeeded by another controversial figure, Lee Myung-bak, the GNP candidate who won the 2007 election by a landslide over a discredited and unpopular liberal government. Already in hot water before his election for involvement in a scam by an investment house, Lee has been a polarizing figure. His opponents decry his authoritarian style, his economic policies which they claim are too favourable to big business and the chaebols, as well as a controversial free trade agreement with the United States. Lee has also led a more stridently pro-American foreign policy, and has shifted gears in relations with the North by adopting a more confrontational posture than the controversial Sunshine Policy of past liberal government. Lee had also struggled with a divided right – in 2007, he faced a dissident candidacy by former two-time GNP presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang who founded his own party, the Liberty Forward Party (LFP) – but also a divided party. Lee’s loyalists have battled with members closer to Park Geun-hye, the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee, herself defeated by Lee in the 2007 GNP primaries.

The last legislative elections, held in 2008, right after Lee’s election, resulted in a decisive right-wing victory, with the GNP holding an absolute majority on its own, complemented by 14 pro-Park right-wingers and 18 LFP MPs. The liberal opposition, divided and discredited, won only 84 seats in all, the bulk of them held by the United Democratic Party which became the Democratic Party in 2008 before changing names, again, to become the Democratic United Party (DUP) in 2011. The GNP also changed names in 2012, becoming the Saenuri Party.

Both parties have failed to prove popular with voters. The right is hurt by the unpopularity of some of Lee’s economic and trade policies, while the DUP has leadership troubles of its own (pro-Roh and anti-Roh factions). Above all, however, both parties have needed to go in damage control over the course of the campaign. The DUP was hit by a viral YouTube video in which one of its candidates talked about a terrorist attack on the United States and about sending out serial killers to sexually assault then-US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice but also suggested that the serial killer should attack then-President Bush and then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The DUP called on its candidate to step down, which he has refused to do. Following that scandal, Lee’s office was hit by a memory stick which included details about a government surveillance operation including phone-tapping and spying on journalists, activists and opposition leaders. The Saenuri Party, which is now led by Park, distanced itself from the President, while the administration has responded by claiming that 80% of the surveillance cases were carried out under Roh’s administration, forcing the DUP to go on damage control.

Otherwise, domestic issues rather than foreign policy were key issues in this election. As mentioned above, Lee’s policies have been decried by opponents as being too pro-business. He has been unable to live up to his “747” economic promise (7% growth, per capita income of $40,000, 7th economy in the world). Instead, hit a bit by the economic crisis, the country has had slower growth (3.5%) and rising inflation (3%) and unemployment (4%). Voters are concerned by welfare programs and social services, which have forced both parties to tack a bit to the left. The controversial FTA with the US, which faces domestic opposition from farmers’ movements, has also been a key issue. The DUP promised to renegotiate the FTA.

In terms of party politics, the right remains somewhat divided between the Saenuri Party and Lee Hoi-chang’s LFP, which has however been fairly marginalized. A new conservative party, the K Party, proved unable to make a mark. On the left, the DUP is the dominant party. But the liberal DUP still faces a rival to its left, the new United Progressive Party (UPP) formed, largely, by the old left-nationalist Democratic Labor Party (DLP). The DUP and UPP have formed a shaky alliance, which has been hurt by irregularities in a UPP primary.

Turnout was 54.3%, up from the all-time low of 46% in 2008. The results were:

Constituency votes

Saenuri 43.28% (-3.87%) winning 127 seats (-10)
DUP 37.85% (+8.93%) winning 106 seats (+40)
Independents 9.35% (-1.73%) winning 3 seats (-22)
UPP 5.99% (+2.6%) winning 7 seats (+5)
LFP 2.2% (-3.52%) winning 5 seats (-11)
NPP 0.47% (-0.86%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.86% (-1.54%) winning 0 seats (-1)

Block votes

Saenuri 42.80% (-7.86%) winning 25 seats (-5)
DUP 36.46% (+11.29%) winning 21 seats (+6)
UPP 10.31% (+4.63%) winning 6 seats (+3)
LFP 3.23% (-3.61%) winning 2 seats (-2)
Christian Agape Party 1.21% (+1.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
NPP 1.14% (-1.8%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 4.85% (-3.78%) winning 0 seats (-2)

Total National Assembly

Saenuri winning 152 seats (-5)
DUP winning 127 seats (+46)
UPP winning 13 seats (+8)
LFP winning 5 seats (-13)
Independents winning 3 seats (-22)

Results by constituency (source: Wikipedia)

To the surprise of many observers, the Saenuri Party maintained a thin absolute majority in South Korea’s legislature. This victory is interpreted as a major boost for the party going into the December elections. Although the party was set to suffer and did suffer a bit from President Lee’s unpopularity, the party led a good campaign and managed to distance itself – perhaps because the party’s leader is Park – from the Blue House (the president’s residence) and prevent the DUP from turning the contest into a referendum over Lee. While the saber-rattling in North Korea this week may have influenced some voters, international issues did not really play a role in this campaign.

The DUP made significant gains, but it ultimately fell far short of knocking off the ruling party. A defeat for the ruling party would have given the opposition a significant boost for the presidential election, and allowed it to block Lee’s agenda and notably stall issues such as the FTA. The DUP apologized to its supporters for disappointing them. The DUP lost steam during the campaign, hurt by poor candidate choices and the YouTube video of one of its candidate. It failed to cash in on any anti-government backlash the memory stick scandal may have wrought. The opposition is in a much stronger state than it was after its 2008 rout, but it is definitely the underdog for the presidential race in December.

Regionalism was once again very apparent in the results. The right was shut out of Jeolla (Gwangju city and Jeollabuk and Jeollanam provinces), where the DUP remained the dominant party. On the other hand, with only a handful of exceptions, the right swept Gyeongsang (Gyeongsangbuk and Gyeongsangnam provinces, cities of Busan, Ulsan and Daegu) but also northern Gangwon province. On the other hand, the DUP regained dominance in Seoul – where it has traditionally been fairly strong – and in the fairly working-class suburban hinterland of Seoul in Gyeonggi province. Independents, which in 2008 – for some reason – had won a lot of seats in Gyeongsang province, were all swept out besides three – including two survivors in Jeolla. The two parties split fairly equally in the swing  Chungcheong region, where the LFP had been dominant in 2008 but which has now been reduced to a tiny rump of three members.

This election has been said to foreshadow the more high-profile presidential contest in December. President Lee is term-limited. The presumptive Saenuri Party nominee and early frontrunner is the party’s leader, Park Geun-hye. Park is a competent and apt politician, and she has managed to distance herself from the Blue House. Credited with her party’s victory in the legislative elections, she is unlikely to face tough internal competition and enters the presidential contest as the favourite. The opposition frontrunner, for the DUP, is Moon Jae-in. Moon is a Roh loyalist – he was the former president’s chief of staff. He easily won a seat in traditionally conservative Busan in this election. The presidential contest, however, will not be fought on the same lines as the legislative election. Moon has thus far not been able to seriously rival Park, and there is a chance that the opposition vote will be split by the potential candidacy of an independent, former businessman Ahn Cheol-soo. Ahn’s political future received a boost when the independent candidate he endorsed won the Seoul mayoral by-election last year, defeating the GNP’s candidate (Lee had been mayor of Seoul before becoming president, making it a high-profile defeat for his party).

Burma (Myanmar) by-elections 2012

By-elections were held in Burma (officially known as Myanmar) on April 1, 2012. These by-elections covered 37 seats (originally scheduled to be 40) in Burma’s lower house, the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives), 6 seats in the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities, the upper house) and two seats in two regional Hluttaws (Bago/Pegu and Ayeryarwady/Irrawaddy regions). The Pyithu Hluttaw has 440 seats and the Amyotha Hluttaw has 224 seats.

Burma was ruled by the military between 1962 and 2011 and is only very slowly emerging from decades of being an international pariah state. In 1962, General Ne Win staged a military coup which overthrew a troubled civilian government and replaced it with a military-driven socialist single-party state under the leadership of Ne Win and his “Burmese Way to Socialism”. The Burmese Way to Socialism can more accurately be styled as the Burmese Way to Bankruptcy, because the illogical mix of Marxist dogma and Buddhist astrology bankrupted a country which used to be one of Asia’s wealthiest countries. The autarkic policy resulted in Burma’s quasi-complete isolation on the world stage, economic ruin at home, inflation, debt and a decline in rice exports. This policy took place in a context of internal conflict with Burmese insurgents and ethnic minorities liberation armies, both of which seriously weakened the hold of the Burmese state on its sovereign territory. At the same time, political opposition was violently repressed by the military. Anti-government protests in 1962, 1974 and 1976 were all quashed by the military. However, in 1988, in a context of economic collapse and near-bankruptcy, Ne Win’s regime faced a serious threat from a student-led protest which quickly turned into a full-scale uprising.

In this chaotic context, the military staged a quasi-coup in August 1988, suspended the constitution and instituted martial law. The new military junta, officially known as the rather aptly-named SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council), cracked down on civilian opposition, including a new opposition force known as the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, the hero of Burmese independence. Aung San Suu Kyi quickly rose to prominence as the major leader of the Burmese opposition after her role in the 1988 uprising. In 1989, the SLORC placed her under house arrest (which she remained under, save for a few stints, until 2010). However, the SLORC did agree to hold free elections in May 1990. However, after the NLD won 80% of the seats up for grabs, the SLORC refused to acknowledge the results, preferring instead to cement its power and crack down on the NLD. The SLORC did try, very half-heartedly and under heavy foreign pressure, to negotiate or play nice with the NLD, but nothing came out of these talks. This policy came at the price of economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, which kept Burma’s military regime isolated. However, the regime could remain solid through close ties with Beijing. Economic, military and political alliance – or rather dependence – on China was not, however, the regime’s preference but rather something it imposed on itself (or was imposed on it) because of its policies.

Burma is a state which has failed to unify its territory since independence. Although successive military rulers since 1962 have attempted to promote the idea of a Burmese nation-state, centered around the dominant Bamar ethnic group and Buddhism (Bamars account for about 70% of the population), in reality Burma is not anything close to a nation-state. Isolation in small, isolated hamlets in remote mountains or valleys of Burma’s periphery and a tradition of indirect rule under the British (especially in Shan State) have contributed to the state’s failure to assert its authority over its entire territory.

The central government and the unity of the country has found itself challenged since the 1960s by armed insurgent groups seeking independence or autonomy for Burma’s peripheral “ethnic states”. The three most prominent insurgent challenges from the periphery are the Karens (a Buddhist and Christian ethnicity in eastern Burma and around Rangoon), the Shans (a Buddhist ethnicity in Shan State) and the Kachins (a predominantly Christian ethnicity in northern Burma).

Since the late 1990s/2003, the regime has been trying to soften its image a bit. The harshly-named SLORC became the SPDC in 1997. In 2003, the regime announced a “roadmap to democracy”. However, in 2007, the regime violently cracked down on the so-called “Saffron revolution”, an uprising led by Buddhist monks. In 2008, the regime got a new constitution approved, which would officially transfer power to civilians but which in practice did not change much. The military’s commitment to any democratic transition is certainly quite debatable, but the military is not a monolithic beast either. It is rather divided, either on the basis of personality squabbles (such as the 2005 fight between the SPDC’s boss General Than Shwe and his then-PM General Khin Nyunt) or on the desirability of reforms. At any rate, the military, in the ongoing transition process, intends on controlling the process as tightly as possible. It reserved a quarter of the seats in all legislatures for military personnel, appointed by the military itself (hence destroying whatever legitimacy these legislatures had). It established its own political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to control the ‘elected’ seats. Elections were held in 2010, but they were badly rigged and had no international legitimacy. The USDP, officially a civilian-led party, in practice a pro-regime party or tool of the SPDC, won nearly 60% of the seats (in addition to the 25% of seats held by the military). The NLD boycotted the vote, leaving only inoffensive tiny ethnic parties or pro-regime outfits such as the vaguely leftist National Union Party (NUP) which had been the creation of Ne Win’s old single-party (the BSPP) for the 1990 election.

Whatever the commitment of the SPDC to any democratic transition, it did hand over power – officially – to the civilians in 2011. In March 2011, Than Shwe, the hardline military boss of the country since 1992, stepped aside in favour of a civilian figure (still very pro-regime and in cahoots with the military), Thein Sein. Whatever we say of him, Thein Sein is far more open-minded and reformist than Than Shwe ever was. In November 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and started holding talks with the regime. Political prisoners were released in small waves beginning in 2011. Some political restrictions and regime censorship have progressively been eased or lifted. On the economic front, the government is moving towards economic liberalization to attract more foreign investment. The west has been cautious but generally warm towards the reforms. Of course, much work remains to be done. The electoral process is not yet free, fair and transparent; human rights violations continue in remote ethnic states; political liberties still weak and an independent judiciary still miles away.

For a regime which until only a few years ago was branded as one of the most repressive and backwards in the world, in a country internationally known as a pariah state, the pace of the reforms since 2010 has still been quite staggering. What is at play in this apparently very bizarre turn of events?

Firstly, the regime – since 1962 – has never benefited from a strong base of popular support. The Burmese population as a whole have not experienced democracy much since independence, but they have an old appetite for freedom which was very clear in the 1970s, in 1988 and in 2007. With an international context (Arab Spring, Syrian civil war, Russian protests) not too favourable to autocrats, the military may be protecting itself from a violent overthrow in which it would risk losing all it has gained (although the reforms started before the Arab Spring). The military arguably sees an officially civilian government as a good way to protect itself while still ensuring that it retains political power.

Secondly, the Burmese government has resented its ‘humiliating’ dependence on China, which has become the regime’s top political, economic and military ally. Chinese businessmen have come to invest in the underdeveloped but resource-rich country in droves, China sets the price for and sells the bulk of the military’s weaponry (in return it has access to military bases in Burma) and China (alongside Russia) acts as one of the regime’s sole ally on the international stage. However, in recent years, Rangoon (Yangon) has grown wary of China’s increasing influence over the country. In the long term, the regime feared that its dependence on China would weaken Burmese sovereignty and transform the country into something akin to a Chinese autonomous province. The regime has not marched in lockstep behind Beijing in the past few years. Instead, it has been eager for Western investment and a little competition to China’s economic hegemony in Burma. The regime is quite committed to economic liberalization, which in good part necessitates a lifting of Western sanctions, something quite dependent on political reforms and democratization.

These by-elections covered only about 8% of the total seats in Burma’s legislature, seats which had fallen vacant following the resignation of their sitting (USDP) members to join the government. The opposition NLD, which had boycotted the 2010 elections, was allowed to participate in these by-elections, after their leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2010. She herself stood in a Rangoon area constituency in the lower house, covering the dirt poor and ethnically diverse township of Kawhmu. The NLD put up 44 candidates out of 45 seats, one of its candidates was disqualified. The ruling USDP put up candidates in all constituencies, while smaller parties which had run in 2010 including the NUP, the liberal NDF and the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP).

Though the NLD alleged irregularities in the registration and voting process, foreign observers generally agreed that, despite falling short of international standards, the elections were generally legitimate, free and fair – quite unlike the sham 2010 elections. The results were:

NLD winning 43 seats (37 PH, 4 AH, 2 RHs)
USDP winning 1 seats (1 AH)
SNDP winning 1 seat (1 AH)

The NLD was widely expected to win these by-elections, but the size of their victory surprised both observers and the military. In 1990, the NLD had won a similarly impressive landslide victory over the tools of the ruling elite, and their victory this year looks just as big if not even bigger than their 1990 victory. Observers had expected and the military had hoped that the USDP would be able to resist the NLD’s ascent a bit, but really to no avail. The USDP’s candidates were trounced in the vast majority of constituencies, and only won a single seat – the Amyotha Hluttaw seat in Sagaing region (constituency 7) where the NLD’s candidate had been disqualified. More shockingly, the NLD won the four vacant seats (for the lower house) in Naypyidaw, the military regime’s new capital since 2006 – and an apparently very boring place filled with military personnel and public servants. The NLD even won Zabuthiri Township in Naypyidaw, which had been Thein Sein’s ‘seat’. If even the public servants of the regime opted to vote for the NLD over the USDP, it clearly indicates the size of the NLD’s victory.

Aung San Suu Kyi will become an elected parliamentarian. She was easily elected with something over 80-90% of the votes in her Kawhmu constituency. Kawhmu is an impoverished rural township in the Irrawaddy delta in Rangoon region, which furthermore has a large Karen population. The NLD has tended to be popular with Burma’s peripheral ethnic minorities, although some ethnic minorities still tend to perceive the NLD as the beast of the Bamar intellectual elite. The NLD’s only clear defeat, indeed, was in Shan State where the SNDP (a Shan minority party which had participated in the 2010 elections) won an upper house seat centered around Lashio, a region where the SNDP is somewhat locally influential. That being said, it is hard to judge the appeal of the NLD to ethnic minorities, though the democratization process has reconciled them somewhat with the Burmese state. Only a few by-elections were held in the ethnic states, and the political and military situation in a lot of these states remain shaky.

The NLD won an overwhelming victory, but it would be wrong to hail these by-elections as groundbreaking. They certainly are in a sense, but these only covered 8% or so of the seats in the legislature, and will only give the NLD a very small rump in the lower house and an even smaller bench in the upper house. The USDP, complemented by the quarter of seats still held by the military, retains a large majority in Burma’s legislature. It still has the final word, obviously, on democratization, though it is hoped that Aung San Suu Kyi’s presence will have an impact on these reforms and on the USDP’s policies. On the other hand, the military might recoil from the prospect of further political reforms after seeing the beating it and their proxies got in free elections. If these results were repeated in the 2015 elections, the USDP would be dealt a huge blow and the NLD and their allies would control a large majority. That prospect might frighten the military’s officer corps, which fear that the process is slipping out of their hands. They might step in to block reforms, reassert their powers or trouble Thein Sein’s reformist leadership.

USA GOP 2012: Wrapping up?

The Republican primary season will now be entering its final stretch, following a primary in Louisiana on March 24 and primaries in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Wisconsin on April 3. At this stage, it seems like the race is start to wrap up. I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that Mitt Romney will eventually be the nominee, but beyond that it seems as if he could come close to officially sealing the deal by the end of this month. The chances of a brokered convention or Romney going into Tampa with less than the absolute majority of delegates seem increasingly distant now.

The reason is that most Republicans are rallying to Mitt Romney as their party’s nominee and moving on to the question of beating Obama in November. Following Romney’s big win in Illinois, he was dealt a big but expected blow in conservative Louisiana, but few people in the GOP establishment seem to have noticed that. Romney’s support has become locked in and he has been gathering new supporters at a rapid pace according to Gallup’s national tracking poll which now has him up to 40%, up about 15 points on Rick Santorum, which remains his main rival. The days of the “flavour of the months” which continued up until late February are definitely over. Romney has taken the lead and is running away with it. A nice portion of the base remains uneasy with him, and he does not have the amount of approval from the wider GOP electorate that John McCain had when he was wrapping it up in 2008. But it is too late, at this point, to block Romney bar a major event which would turn the campaign on its head.

The four most recent primaries were, as aforementioned, Louisiana (April 24), Maryland-DC and Wisconsin (April 3).

Louisiana

Louisiana is a Deep South state, very conservative and solidly Republican (at least at a presidential level). But its demographics are a bit different from those found in Alabama or Mississippi. Louisiana has an added French Catholic (Cajun) element which contributes at least 35% or so of the GOP primary electorate, obviously way bigger than the Catholic vote in either Alabama or Mississippi. Mike Huckabee had narrowly won Louisiana in 2008, but it was entirely on the back of his strong base of support with fellow non-Cajun Protestant Evangelicals in northern Louisiana, because John McCain swept Acadiana and won the Catholic vote by a whooping 27-point margin. Santorum has performed poorly with Catholic GOP voters thus far, despite being a (very conservative) Catholic himself. That being said, the Cajun element in Louisiana is definitely not the same type of Catholicism than that found in, say, Ohio’s Catholic working-class urban areas, which favoured Romney.

Romney did not put much of an effort into Louisiana, while Santorum did put some effort. Newt Gingrich will run for President until he drops dead a few years from now, so Louisiana wasn’t a “last stand” for him, because Gingrich is just trolling by now.

Rick Santorum 48.99%
Mitt Romney 26.69%
Newt Gingrich 15.91%
Ron Paul 6.15%
Buddy Roemer 1.18%
Others 1.07%

Looking through exit polls, Santorum’s support broke most income, age, sex and demographic categories. He won all age groups, doing best with young and middle-aged voters. He won all income levels except the top 11% (!) making $200k or more – Romney’s core group of support in any state which went for Mitt 43-24. Santorum did best (65%) with the bottom 11% who make less than $30k. In religious terms, 61% of voters were Evangelicals, and they broke heavily for Santorum (55-20) who lost the non-Evangelicals by one point. Santorum won Protestants convincingly (53-25) and won Catholics, who made up 36% of the electorate, albeit by a narrower 16 point margin (46-30).

Those who were ‘very conservative’ (49% of voters) chose Santorum by 30 point spread (53-23) over Romney, who still lost his core ‘somewhat conservative’ base and moderates (23%). Romney still dominated with those voters who feel that a candidate’s ability to beat Obama is the top quality – he won them by 20 (50-30). These voters, always a plurality in almost every state with about 40% or so voters, have become a solid demographic for Romney.

Results of the LA primary (source: uselectionatlas)

Romney won only a single parish in Louisiana – heavily Democratic and largely black Orleans Parish, which covers New Orleans and some of its more affluent white suburbs. He won 43.6% to Santorum’s 28.5% there, but Orleans Parish only contributed 7.8k voters to the GOP primary, compared to 18.7k and 17.4k in suburban/exurban Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes. Romney ran fairly decently in East Baton Rouge, taking 29.5% to Santorum’s 45.6% but also in the pro-establishment lowland counties along the Mississippi River (which have large black populations, but wealthy white business owners). He lost Caddo Parish (Shreveport) 28% to 50.5%.

Louisiana does not really have lots of affluent suburban voters, and what it does have in suburbs – although fairly well-off and heavily white – are of the Southern, white-flight influenced suburban/exurban variety. Predictably, Romney was a poor fit for these areas in Louisiana. He lost Jefferson Parish, home to most of New Orleans’ conservative white suburbanites, with 31.7% to Santorum’s 44%. He lost St. Tammany Parish, home to some very conservative New Orleans exurbia across the lake with 27.7% against 47% for Santorum.

Rick Santorum won by fairly strong margins in southern Louisiana’s Cajun country (Acadiana) though Romney pulled a few respectable showings in a handful of parishes (as did Newt Gingrich). However, in heavily Evangelical and conservative rural northern Louisiana, Romney was swept out of the water by Santorum. Romney didn’t even break 20% in a handful of these parishes, which had been David Duke’s strongest base of support in that famous 1991 gubernatorial runoff against Edwin Edwards. Santorum won 61% to Romney’s 18% in La Salle Parish, (in)famous for the city of Jena.

Newt Gingrich did extremely badly in Louisiana, winning only 16% in a state which should naturally have given him a bit more support. It definitely appears as if most of Gingrich’s “potential” support coalesced around Santorum, as is happening with most anti-Romney conservatives in other states.

Maryland and D.C.

Maryland (and D.C. which has like no Republicans) was always favourable territory for Mitt Romney. The Republicans in Maryland, save those on the Eastern Shore and the Panhandle, tend to affluent white suburbanites and overall quite moderate. Santorum did not put much effort in the state. As for Washington DC, the few Republicans (when I say few, I mean really few) it has are moderate, white and wealthy. Rick Santorum wasn’t even on the ballot in DC.

Maryland

Mitt Romney 49.18%
Rick Santorum 28.88%
Newt Gingrich 10.92%
Ron Paul 9.5%
Others 1.54%

Mitt Romney 70.20%
Ron Paul 12.01%
Newt Gingrich 10.77%
Jon Huntsman 7.02%

Maryland was, as predicted, a huge Romney win though he ultimately fell just a bit short of winning over 50% of the vote. In terms of exit polls, Romney won big with all those aged over 45, and lost more narrowly to Santorum with the voters aged below 45. Naturally, he found his strongest support from the wealthiest 11% who make over $200k, where he won a staggering 64% to Santorum’s 16%. He did well with other middle and upper-middle class voters. The reasons for Romney’s landslide in Maryland are apparent looking only at exit poll crosstabs: only 7% of voters earned under $30k, but a full 48% of voters made over $100k which is, I believe, their largest share in any state which has voted thus far (though New York and New Jersey might beat that). Evangelicals made up only 38% of the electorate, and Romney even won those voters (although by only 2, 41-39).

30% of voters were “very conservative”, and though those guys favoured Santorum 42-39 over Romney (a strong performance by Romney, still), Romney owned (58%) with “somewhat conservative” voters and with moderates (48%). 41% felt that a candidate’s ability to defeat Obama was the most important candidate quality, with these voters Romney took 72% to Santorum’s tiny 13%.

Results of the MD primary (source: uselectionatlas)

Rick Santorum won only two counties: Garrett County, deep in the conservative Panhandle (and closer to WV or than to the bulk of Maryland) and Somerset County, a rural county on the fairly conservative Eastern Shore. He did not even do all that well in the conservative blue-collar areas of the Panhandle, losing Allegany County (41.6-35.9), and in good part performed fairly atrociously on the Eastern Shore which, at least in the past, had some culturally Southern elements to it. It has likely come under Baltimore’s exurban influence in parts, while other areas have grown affluent with wealthy residents moving in to coastal properties.

Mitt Romney’s base was, naturally, the moderate, suburban and affluent corridor between DC and Baltimore. Though he took ‘only’ 44.5% and 45.8% in Baltimore City and Prince George County (both of which are heavily Democratic), Romney won by much larger margin in the truly suburban affluent counties. He won 50.4% in Baltimore County, 54% in Anne Arundel County (Annapolis), 54.6% in Howard County and 59.8% in Montgomery County (suburban DC) – all four of them tend to be fairly moderate but extremely affluent suburban counties (though Baltimore County has lower-income areas and exurbs). He also won 59.9% in Talbot County, on the Eastern Shore. Rick Santorum raked in more respectable performances, however, in the more conservative exurban counties surrounding Baltimore including Carroll County (41.9-34.3), Harford County (46.4-28.7) and Frederick County (44.2-32.4).

In the District of Columbia, only a bit over 4000 Republicans came out (against 53,000 Democrats) in this black-majority and solidly Democratic city. The Republicans in DC being largely white and affluent (in wealthy neighborhoods such as Spring Valley), they voted overwhelmingly for Romney. Nonetheless, sign perhaps of the very moderate-to-liberal nature of DC Republicans, 7% of DC Republicans cast their ballots for Jon Huntsman – who has been out of the race for over two months now.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin was the big fight on April 3. Polls there pre-Illinois had shown Santorum leading Romney by large margins in the state, but Illinois seems to have been a pretty decisive moment as it convinced a lot of voters of Romney’s inevitability. Wisconsin is not quite identical to Illinois or Ohio, but generally fairly similar. Its suburbs are not as moderate or affluent as Chicagoland and its rural areas largely lack a culturally Southern element (obviously). It does have a sizable Evangelical minority which turns out in Republican primaries, but unlike in the South they do not form anywhere near a majority of voters. Wisconsin is thus more pro-Santorum than Illinois ever was, but slightly less pro-Santorum than Ohio. Romney took the lead in Wisconsin post-IL, leading by fairly comfortable margins in every poll.

Mitt Romney 44.08%
Rick Santorum 36.85%
Ron Paul 11.18%
Newt Gingrich 5.84%
Others 2.05%

Romney dominated almost all demographics in Wisconsin. He won all age groups save those aged 40-49, once again performing best with the quarter or so of voters aged over 65% (53% for Mitt). He won all income categories except for the poorest 13% of voters making under $30k – they voted for Santorum 39-36. He won those making over $200k with 59%, and won those making between $100k and $200k with 52%. 38% of voters were Evangelical, but Santorum won them by only 5 percentage points while losing the non-Evangelical majority by a much wider 47-33 margin. Once again, Santorum also lost his correligionists (Catholics, 37% of the electorate) taking 35% to Romney’s 48%. He even lost Catholics who attend church weekly, although by only one point. He did better with Protestants overall, losing them by 5. 

Wisconsin’s GOP electorate was unusually moderate or liberal in their self-identification: 39% were moderates or liberals. That might be because Democrats made up 11% of the GOP primary electorate in this open primary, and obviously they went overwhelmingly for Santorum (44-24). Santorum lost independents, 30% of the electorate, by four points. As a result, he only lost moderates by three points (33 vs. 36). Most surprisingly, he lost the 32% identifying as ‘very conservative’ by one point to Mitt (43 vs. 44) who dominated with somewhat conservative voters (55 vs. 36). 38% of voters identified the ability to beat Obama as the most important candidate quality. Unsurprisingly, they went big for Romney: 68-22. A margin, when complemented with his traditional domination in the ‘right experience’ category more than makes up for his terrible showings in the ‘true conservative’ and ‘strong moral character’ categories. 80% of voters think Romney will win the nomination. Though 43% feel that Romney’s political positions are not conservative enough, only 31% would not be satisfied if he wins the nomination.

Results of the WI primary (source: uselectionatlas)

Mitt Romney’s core base of support in Wisconsin, was, like in every other state, the suburbs – which cast a bit over half of the votes in this primary. Milwaukee’s suburbs, a lot of which lie in Waukesha County, tend to be much more conservative than Chicagoland’s affluent moderate centrist suburbia. The suburban belt around Milwaukee, save for Racine and Kenosha (two blue-collar Democratic strongholds) tend to be the most solidly Republican area in the state, voting for McCain over Obama in 2008 (or preferring McCarthy over LaFolette in that famous 1946 GOP primary). Milwaukee’s suburbia, with a few exceptions, is also not as wealthy as some of Chicagoland’s affluent suburbs in Lake and DuPage counties or Detroit’s Oakland County suburbs. In a general election, they certainly form a stark contrast with poor inner-city areas of Milwaukee County or liberal Dane County (Madison). A more religious population and a large German Catholic population are the main causes for the conservatism of Milwaukee suburbs, similar to the conservatism of Minneapolis’ suburbs in Minnesota.  

Despite their conservatism, Milwaukee’s suburbs largely prefered Romney over Santorum. Santorum has not performed extremely well in upper middle-class suburbs, even if they are conservative, in primary states north of the Mason-Dixon line. His base is far more rural, blue-collar and Evangelical. At any rate, Romney won the Milwaukee suburbs with results even more impressive than his results in Chicagoland or his native Oakland County. He won 51.9% to Santorum’s 31.9% in Milwaukee County, but in Waukesha County (almost as important as Milwaukee County in raw vote terms) he won a staggering 61.5% to Santorum’s 28.6%. He also won other suburban counties in southeastern Wisconsin by large margins: Ozaukee County (61-27.3), Washington County (54.7-34.7), Walworth County (51.7-30.4), Racine County (54.1-31.7) and Kenosha County (49.8-31.1). These counties were by far Romney’s strongest performances, though he won big in remote rural Vilas County (48.6-29.6) – probably because of the cottages and lake homes on the lakes (Romney loves the lakes, remember) – and did well in the Door Peninsula (Door County, 43.7-36.2).

Mitt Romney narrowly won very liberal Dane County (Madison), with 37.5% to Santorum’s 36.2%, which is a much narrower margin than we could have expected. On the other hand, however, liberal white-collar Dane County is likely filled with those Democrats who voted in the GOP primary to fool around as part of the infamous ‘Operation Backdoor’. Romney and Santorum both performed fairly well, though Santorum a tad better, in the largely Democratic areas of southwestern Wisconsin which are largely Scandinavian in ancestry.

Romney did poorly in most mid-sized cities in the state, besides Winnebago County (Oshkosh) which he won with 39.7%. Rick Santorum surprisingly performed well in the largely Belgian (and Catholic) city of Green Bay (Brown County, 43.7-36.8 for Santorum) and neighboring5 heavily Belgian Kewaunee County (52-31). Santorum otherwise won Outagamie County (Appleton, 40.7-31.7), Fond du Lac County (Fond du Lac, 42.2-41.2), Chippewa County (Eau Claire, 39.4-36.1), La Crosse County (37.9-35.9), St. Croix County (Twin Cities exurbia, 42.2-35.8) and working-class Douglas County (Superior, 44.9-33.4). A lot of these areas are fairly working-class, and a lot tend to be fairly conservative.

Santorum performed best in a string of inland couties in northern Wisconsin, between Lake Michigan and the Minnesota border, a region which is quite Evangelical, fairly low-income and working-class (the Fox River Valley’s mills) and which had given Mike Huckabee a few solid wins in 2008 when he had lost the WI primary by nearly 18 points to John McCain.

As in Illinois, it appears as if Romney owes his victory more to the fact that he mobilized his voters very well rather than any major breakthrough in categories where he was particularly weak (though his victory with ‘very conservative’ voters is surprising and interesting). Despite the inevitability which surrounds his eventual nomination, he still won the state with a fairly anemic 44% (McCain had won it with 55%, despite, it is true, the race being almost over and two-man contest with Huckabee). A good portion of voters, who probably have resigned themselves to Romney’s victory, still voted for Santorum or the the two other also-rans.

The next contests are on April 24 in delegate-rich New York, Santorum’s home turf of Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware. New York, which has 95 total delegates, will be a very big prize for Romney who will win New York in a landslide. Connecticut and Rhode Island will probably go in his direction by a large margin as well. Pennsylvania will be the most seriously contested state, and could prove to be Santorum’s final stand if he loses his home state. Santorum is going to fight to the last man in Pennsylvania, where he has a clear favourite-son advantage but one which is getting eaten into by Romney’s momentum and the Mittens treasury which will likely shower the state with ads. If Santorum wins his home state, it will not be a game-changer for him as it will not be enough for him to miraculously regain viability, but it would guarantee that he stays in the race for a while longer. If he loses his home state, he could be forced to withdraw earlier than he would wish to. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich will not be a significant presence in any of these five states.

Senegal 2012

Presidential elections were held in Senegal on February 26 and March 25, 2012. The Senegalese head of state is elected for a seven year term and is eligible for reelection once. Senegal, open to the Atlantic and often described as being at the crossroads of Arab north Africa and l’Afrique noire (black Africa), has been something of a mild success story compared to its West African neighbors. It is noted for its political stability and moderation, and the lack of a single coup d’etat.

Its elections have been free if not always entirely fair, and have once in the past (2000) resulted in the peaceful transfer of power. Between its independence from France in 1960 until 2000, Senegalese politics were dominated by the Socialist Party (PS) of Léopold Sédar Senghor, the famous poet who served as the country’s president between 1960 and 1980 and then by Abdou Diouf, the current secretary-general of La Francophonie, between 1981 and 2000. Sédar Senghor, a non-Marxist socialist, cultivated close ties with France and allowed for a gradual liberalization of politics and the economy, a policy which was followed by Abdou Diouf. Hit hard by an economic crisis, agricultural decline and a big debt load, Diouf was defeated in 2000 by the old rival of the PS, Abdoulaye Wade of the liberal Democratic Party (PDS).

Wade’s election in 2000 (his fifth candidacy in presidential elections), boosted by the support of Moustapha Niasse, third in the first round, led to a wave of hope and optimism for political change in the country. As happens so often in such cases, the results did not match the hopes. Wade’s style became increasingly autocratic, leading his opponents to criticize him as authoritarian, power-hungry and a megalomaniac. Opponents decried an increase in arbitrary arrests, nepotism, corruption and limits on press freedoms and civil liberties. His government was marked by political instability, as Wade tended to sideline his old allies, including Prime Minister Idrissa Seck (his 2000 campaign manager, PM between 2002 and 2004), who were too ambitious for his likings. The Sufi Mouride brotherhood, politically and economically powerful in Senegal through the alliance of the state with the mouride elders, the marabouts, grew even more influential under Wade, the first mouride president, who cozied up to them. Yet, the economy was not doing too bad despite debt and unemployment problems, and there was still hope or at least optimism for Wade’s big public works projects. In a shock to all his rivals, he was handily reelected with 56% in 2007, in a general free election.

In 2007, there was an opinion widely held amongst Senegalese that Wade, “le vieux“, deserved a second (and, it was thought and promised, a final) term in office given that his two predecessors had served for 20 years. Wade gave the paternalistic image of an old grandfather, and his populist style was a break from Senghor’s intellectual elitism and Diouf’s technocratic style. In 2007, he promised that “the best is yet to come”, as if he tried to maintain the hopes of change (sopi) and reform which his first election in 2000 had bred. However, in his second term, Wade became increasingly power-hungry and megalomaniac. He tried to favour his corrupt and Machiavellian son’s political career, first by toying around with the idea of creating an American-style presidential ticket with a running-mate and then by supporting his son’s unsuccessful candidacy for mayor of Dakar in 2009. He commissioned a huge and costly Stalinist-like monument (the African Renaissance Monument) in Dakar and then tried to get personal profits out of tourist visits to ‘his’ statue, built by the North Koreans. In 2011, there were riots in the country because of inflation and the rising cost of living, which compelled Wade to withdraw his plans for electoral reform including the running-mate idea.

Wade started making public his interest in running for a third-term in 2009. In 2012, the courts agreed with him and allowed him to run for a third-term by saying that he won his first term prior to the current constitution which was adopted in 2001. Like in 2007, a lot of Wade’s top rivals were some of his former allies. Idrissa Seck, his former PM who was then thrown in jail on shaky accusations in 2005, had placed a distant second in 2007 with 15%. He ran again this year, perhaps hoping to catch on to his mini-success in 2007 where he had gotten himself a profile as Wade’s potential successor. Ousmane Tanor Dieng, the leader of the formerly dominant PS, ran again this year after placing third in 2007 with only 13.6%. Moustapha Niasse, an old PS dissident whose support had been key for Wade in 2000 (and later got him the office of Prime Minister, until his inevitable falling-out with Wade), ran for a third time but in 2007 he had won a very disappointing 5.9%. The only top contender who had not run in 2007 was Macky Sall, a former ally of Wade who was Prime Minister between 2004 and 2007. He was thrown out of the PDS and the president’s inner circle after he tried, in 2008 as president of the National Assembly, to get Wade’s son to testify to parliament in a corruption case. Seen as an uncharismatic but hard-working and competent politician, Sall founded his own party after his exclusion from the PDS. Popular local singer  Youssou N’Dour was banned from running.

Turnout was 51.6% in the first round, and 55% in the runoff.

Abdoulaye Wade (PDS) 34.81%
Macky Sall (APR) 26.58%
Moustapha Niasse (AFP) 13.2%
Ousmane Tanor Dieng (PS) 11.3%
Idrissa Seck (Rewmi) 7.86%
9 others 6.25%

Macky Sall (APR) 65.80%
Abdoulaye Wade (PDS) 34.20%

In the first round, Wade’s performance was rather weak, taking only 34.8% of the vote. In a lot of African countries with similarly free elections featuring a controversial incumbent, said incumbent has very little if any additional appeal to voters who did not vote for him in the first round. This was what happened to Diouf in 2000: he won the first round with 41%, but his result in the runoff was only marginally better by 0.2%. All other voters backed Wade, then the opposition candidate.

All of the other main candidates in this case were opposition candidates whose voters were anti-Wade, and all opposition candidates who did not qualify for the runoff endorsed Sall, although they seem to be united only on restoring the five-year term and upholding the two-term rule. Fairly obviously, they did not hold ‘vote reserves’ for Wade and unless Wade was to resort to massive fraud, Wade was in a very weak position ahead of the runoff. Wade did not resort to fraud, fairly honourably, and quickly conceded defeat to Sall who benefited from increased turnout from opposition supporters and the support of all those who had backed the other opposition candidates. Wade polled more raw votes in the runoff, but won a smaller percentage which was quasi-identical to his first round result. Sall won 65.8% against 34.2% for Wade, a much wider margin than Wade’s election against Diouf in 2000.

Wade won most of the country’s department in the first round, performing stronger in the non-Wolof populated regions of eastern Senegal (which is largely Peul) and especially the troubled Casamance region, parts of which are predominantly Diola and Christian. Macky Sall had strong support in his native region and political home base in Fatick but also in Dakar and some parts of Peul country (of the toucouleur group, along the Senegal River). Niasse was triumphant in his native department of Nioro du Rip, as well as a neighboring department. The PS’ Ousmane Dieng did not find much support in some of the PS’ historic bases in Peul eastern Senegal, and was only successful in his native department of M’Bour. Idrissa Seck, like in 2007, was successful in his hometown of Thiès where he is mayor.

In the runoff, Wade won only twelve departments. He received, as in 2007, strong support from his native region of Kébémer, a predominantly Wolof area in Senegal’s agricultural bassin arachidier, but also in neighboring Mbacké department which includes Touba, the centre of the mourid brotherhood to which Wade has been very close to politically. On the other hand, it seems as if Kaolack and Tivaouane, the centre of the other main Muslim brotherhood in Senegal, the tijāniyyah brotherhood, were less favourable to the incumbent. Macky Sall found strong support in Dakar and its low-income hinterland, taking over 70%, but also in his native Fatick region and the homebases of his first round allies; Seck (Thiès), Niasse (Nioro du Rip) and Dieng (M’Bour). Sall’s support does not reveal any clear ethnic divisions. He did well in Serer country, where he hails from, but also performed well in parts of Peul country (toucouleur) and Wolof country. The Wolof bassin arachidier was split between a north favourable to Wade and southern regions which were fairly favourable to Macky Sall. However, it does appear that Wade’s sole strong base was with the Mandingues and Malinkés which populate southeastern Senegal (Kédougou) and Upper Casamance. The predominantly Christian and Diola regions of Lower Casamance (Ziguinchor) backed Wade in the first round by a fairly strong margin but went for Sall by a narrower margin in the runoff.

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