French Cantonals 2011

The second round of French cantonal elections were held on March 27. I had talked about the first round in this post last week.

Each canton has one councillor which is elected to a six-year term (sometimes extended to seven) through two-round first past the post. Candidates are deemed elected in the first round if they have won over 50% of votes cast and 25% of registered voters. Candidates are qualified for the runoff if they have won at least 12.5% of registered voters or placed second if they don’t meet the first condition. The threshold for the runoff was raised from 10% to 12.5% of registered voters last year, making these elections identical to legislative elections.

The left hoped to pick between five and ten departments to add to its already long list of general councils it holds. It has come short in this goal, but the left will now control at least 60 departments and the right roughly 38.

Given that national results of the second gives a very rough picture of the situation, don’t place too much into these numbers since they hide reality.

Left 49.9% winning 1169 seats
Right 35.87% winning 731 seats
FN 11.73% winning 2 seats

In more detail, the PS took 808 seats total and 35.8% overall. The UMP took 20.2% and 356 seats, with DVDs taking 9.4% and 258 seats. DVGs have 4.8% and 164 seats. The FG took a national average of 5.1% and secured 119 seats, all but five of which are Communists. EELV took 32 seats with a national average of 2.8%. The MoDem won 16 seats overall, others took 29, regionalists took two (Christian Troadec in Carhaix isn’t counted as such), ecologists took two and there is one miscellaneous far-right. The FN took 2 seats and 11.73%. Sigh of relief? Not really. These results don’t deal only with the 300-400 out of roughly 1000 cantons where the FN had runoff candidates, but all cantons.

Ifop has calculated the average change in FN votes between both rounds here. As in 2004, the FN gained 10.6% in left-FN duels and 10.5% in right-FN duels. In PCF-FN contests, the FN gained 11.1%. The picture in detail is still very favourable to the FN, although minimally less than it was last week. An Ipsos poll which came out last night still shows Marine Le Pen taking out Sarkozy by the first round in all scenarios except if Ségolène Royal is the PS candidate, where Royal would miss out on the runoff.

The left has gained control of the Jura and Pyrénées-Atlantiques, both of which had been tied in 2008 but won by the right because of the age bonus. They had a net gain of two in the Jura and a net gain of one in Pyrénées-Atlantiques. The Loire is on a knife’s edge, but the left is favoured with MoDem votes. The Savoie was the sleeper department of 2011 which nobody saw coming. The left is one vote from winning and could win support from the three independent ‘others’ elected. These are, surprisingly, the only metropolitan departments to switch to the left. The Charente-Maritime held with right-wing gains in three cantons cancelled out three left-wing gains and held the general council tight. The right made small gains in the Côte-d’Or, Hautes-Alpes and Vienne. In the Aveyron, two leftie losses cancelled out two gains and the right held on. The Rhône held as the right had hoped. Finally, left-wing gains in the Sarthe were too minimal to overcome the UMP’s edge in Prime Minister Fillon’s stronghold.

The PCF’s hold on both departments is solid, and the PRG has a shot at taking back the Hautes-Pyrénées. François Hollande narrowly improved his tight majority in Corrèze and will thus soon officialize his candidacy for 2012.

The right’s mood perked up with the Val-d’Oise, which was gained by the right on the back of four gains which overcame two left-wing gains. But it might not be over. Two right-wing gains were very small – 37 and 22 votes – and could be overturned in court. The left gained in Herblay and the Vallée du Sausseron, but the right gained both of Argenteuil’s canton in addition to Franconville and Sannois. Former UMP Argenteuil mayor Georges Mothron won with 55% in Argenteuil-Nord.

Overseas, the new department of Mayotte has been gained by the left. The Réunion is actually governed by a weird centre-left coalition composed of the PCR, PS, MoDem and two UMPers but is presided by Nassimah Dindar (UMP). The true left has enough seats to dump her, but it seems unlikely. Counting it as a left-wing gain would be false at any rate. Martinique will see an interesting fight between the RDM of current president of the CG Claude Lise and the PPM which holds the regional presidency. Supporters of regional president Victorin Lurel (PS) did badly in Guadeloupe, but the left has a huge majority on the general council at any rate.

Without further adue, here is the revised version of my now famous cantonal map.

The map is huge, so open at your own risk. Certain computers will throw a hissy fit if you try opening it.

There isn’t much change to the previous map, most changes are minor and are probably at too small a scale to be seen on this very minimized preview. I need not explain the patterns which are already very clear and which were clear on the original map. I regret the “others” category, but it’s very hard to figure out some of the affiliations of these candidates sometimes. On the same topic, errors are possible if not likely, and the map will be updated if errors are fixed. La Croix still has its nice map of results.

The FN won the cantons of Carpentras-Nord and Brignoles. Brignoles was held by the PCF, and likely saw very good right-wing to FN vote transfers. Carpentras-Nord was PS held, and likely saw the same phenomenon. The disfavourable nature of cantonals struck again and prevented the FN from winning anything more than very little seats.

A word on the interesting races profiled last week. In Neuilly-Nord, Fromantin won a 70-30 landslide. Patrick Devedjian (UMP)’s hold on the presidency is stabler with his 51.2-48.8 win in Bourg-la-Reine. It is further helped by the 56-44 defeat of rival Isabelle Balkany (UMP) in Levallois-Sud to a DVD candidate who took all anti-Balkany votes in a major setback for the Balkany clique in Levallois.

In Porto-Vecchio (Corse-du-Sud), Angelini (PNC) defeated UMP deputy Camille de Rocca Serra 53.7-46.3 in the second straight local defeat for the Rocca Serra dynasty in their stronghold. Christian Troadec (dvg regionalist) ended up being elected unopposed in Carhaix-Plouguer after the PS candidate dropped out. In Sarre-Union, Unser Land autonomist David Heckel was elected 55-45 against the UMP candidate, benefiting from the support of the retiring DVD-regionalist incumbent.

In Vannes-Centre, François Goulard (UMP) won surprisingly easily 55.4-44.6 against the left, a big margin for a candidate who obviously did very well with FN voters or who added new voters.

In Amiens-4 Est, insane orthodox PCF deputy Maxime Gremetz lost 61-39 to the PS incumbent.

The right gained two seats in Nice. In Nice-14, mayor Estrosi’s wife was elected 54.5-45.5 against the PS incumbent Paul Cuturello. The FN came close to taking a PCF-held seat in Nice-3, losing 51-49. The FN also came close in a number of PS-held cantons in Marseille (Guérini’s mafia only lost one seat overall, to the right) and other places throughout the south. In Perpignan-9, however, Louis Aliot (FN) lost 54-46 to a Socialist candidate who had trailed him badly in the first round. He threw a hissy fit after losing. In Montigny-en-Gohelle, Steeve Briois (FN) lost 55-45.

The Greens kept their candidates in a number of PS-EELV runoffs. It seems to have paid off in three cantons. In Strasbourg-2, the EELV candidate won 53-47 against the PS incumbent. In Lyon-III and Villeurbanne-Centre, EELV candidates won narrowly but still quite comfortably against PS incumbents. Right-wing voters were likely important in these matchups for the Greenies. The Greenies, however, did lose Montreuil-Ouest 51.9-48.1 to the PCF. This might be interpreted as a negative mid-term result for the city’s Green mayor, Dominique Voynet. Overall, most of EELV’s 30-few wins came directly from deals with the left/PS.

The Left Front, more specifically the PCF, maintained its strong territorial grassroots base almost entirely intact. Though Communist positions continued to dwindle away in the old Red Belt of the Côtes-d’Armor and Morbihan (the PCF lost one seat in both departments), the PCF maintained and slightly increased its domination of the old coal basin of the Nord, held its ground by the first round in the industrial-mining basin of northern Lorraine, held its ground in the Rural Communist territories of the Allier and, most interestingly, did especially well in the Haute-Vienne where it ended up gaining three seats. An old PCF stronghold, the PCF had dwindled locally following the reformist split of Marcel Rigout whose local eurocommunist outfit, the ADS, was especially strong in the Haute-Vienne.

The 2011 series included all cantons renewed in 2004, already a pink wave. The left’s rather weak performance – it did not gain a whole lot of seats – tells us two things. Firstly, the pro-incumbent nature of cantonal elections confirms itself. Even in cantons which might have voted solidly against the right in the 2010 regional elections – a very nationalized fight – a right-wing incumbent could have been easily reelected. This is, of course, truer in rural cantons where most incumbents often tend to be well-known local mayors or notables and often do not carry the weight of a party etiquette such as “UMP” (the Ministry’s little games also helped, by classifying as few candidates as possible as UMP). Given that cantons badly overrepresent rural areas, the general trend in this election is a victoire des sortants despite the sortez les sortants rhetoric of the FN which is particularly fruitful in this climate. Secondly, this might tell us that while the left undoubtedly did a strong game of defense even in cantons which aren’t traditionally leftist,  the left might have approached a ceiling. This is not to say that the left will gain nothing else, rather it would need another huge wave or particularly favourable turnout to do so. In close departments like the Vienne where the left failed to break through to gain overall control, the ceiling may have been reached. In other departments, perhaps not.

The right can take solace in the fact that it didn’t suffer a 2004-like wave defeat and merely suffered a small tide against it. It won back a department, which it managed to do in the unfavourable climate of 2004 (Corse-du-Sud) and 2008 (Hautes-Alpes) as well. But the overall picture is bleak. The right itself managed only 36% or so in the first round, a good share of that for DVD candidates whose voters are not all fond of Sarkozy. Though transfers from the FN to the right were much better than expected and helped it, it remains to be seen if those were based on local factors more than anything else. It is still very doubtful that FN voters would transfers very well to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 – if he is even in the runoff.

Next stop is 2012. Polling is very disfavourable to Nic0las Sarkozy. Before anybody counts him dead, though, remember that he’s a very good campaigner and also try recalling who led in polls in 1980, 1987, 1994, 2001 and 2006 (hint: none of them actually won the election). But you can’t hide from the fact that Sarkozy is in worst shape than any other President. Unlike Mitterrand and Chirac, he can’t be saved by a cohabitation. Giscard, who ended up being the only one-termer, was not as unpopular as Sarkozy one year out from the election despite the 1977 thumping he had gotten. Nicolas Sarkozy is in a trap whereby attempts to woo back FN voters with tough-on-crime-and-immigrants stuff isn’t getting them any longer, and is losing him the moderates and centrists; but where attempts to moderate rhetoric loses him votes on the right to the FN. There is rising discontent within the UMP, very bad news for Sarkozy. But on the other hand, it is possible that Marine has peaked too early and her star will come down as people start assessing the credibility or experience of candidates and look beyond rhetoric. It is very possible that Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s Joan of Arc saviour-of-France aura will come down if he comes back from DC to run. The PS has a secret ability to shoot itself in the foot and could very well do so again if primaries become an egocontest.

Technically, there are Senate elections – indirect – in September of this year. The left may very well gain control of the Senate for the first time since 1958. But nobody actually cares about that in practice.

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Posted on March 29, 2011, in France, Regional and local elections. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Bonjour !

    Je suis très admiratif de votre travail, très précis, très complet, et qui manque souvent terriblement, notamment en France. Moi-même je m’y tente, depuis près de 2 ans, mais au niveau local, en Charente-Maritime. D’ailleurs, je me permet de vous préciser que la gauche remporte 4 canton dans ce département (La Rochelle-4, Montlieu-la-Garde, Surgères et Marennes) mais n’en perd “que” 3 (Archiac, Rochefort-nord et Marans), le gain net de la gauche est donc de 1, et n’est pas nul comme vous le dite. On passe de 23-28 à 24-27.

    Pour ce qui est du “plafond” dont vous parlez pour la gauche, je peux y souscrire. Mais il faut préciser que ce plafond n’est atteint, aujourd’hui, qu’à cause du découpage inique des cantons ! Toujours en Charente-Maritime, qui est le département que je connais le mieux, le plus peuplé des cantons compte 22.000 habitants (La Jarrie) et le moins peuplé environ 3.500 (Tonnay-Boutonne). Résultat, la gauche, avec ses 24 élus, représente 30.000 charentais-maritimes de plus que la droite avec ses 27 élus ! Incroyable !

  1. Pingback: Election Preview: France 2012 « World Elections

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