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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.