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2010 French Regional Elections: Almost a Grand Slam

- March 23, 2010

In our continuing “series of election reports”:https://themonkeycage.org/election_reports/, we are pleased to welcome “Benjamin Preisler”:http://sensemania.blogspot.com/ (who writes for a “trilingual blog”:http://sensemania.blogspot.com/!) with his take on the recently concluded French regional elections. For what it’s worth, “Adam Meirowitz”:http://www.princeton.edu/~ameirowi/ and I have “an article in The Journal of Politics”:http://homepages.nyu.edu/~jat7/Meirowitz_Tucker_2007.pdf in which we present a theory of strategic voting in sequential elections that I believe nicely captures the dynamic Preisler describes in his guest post:

The second round of the elections of regional governments in France this last Sunday, March the 21st finished with an overwhelming victory of the Allied Left (La Gauche Unie). Winning in 21 out of 22 departments, the Grand Slam hoped for on the left was nearly succesful. An explanatory note seems to be in order to put this result into context. France’s 22 regional governments (‘en métropole’ excluding the overseas departments La Réunion, Martinique, Guadelope and Guyane) are elected in two rounds of voting. The first took place on Sunday, the 14th of March. Parties qualify for the second round one week later if they receive at least 10% of the vote. If any party wins more than 50% in the first round then a second round is not held.

While the conservative governmental party UMP (and allies) found itself at the head of the field in nine departments after the first round and only 3% behind the Parti Socialiste (PS), it was clear from the beginning on that this would not necessarily lead to victories in the second round as virtually no reserves were available for the presidential party. While the Left had presented itself for the first round with a wide array of parties ranging from the PS (29,5%) to Europe Ecologie (12,5%) to the Front de Gauche (6,1%, the succesor to – among others – the Parti Communiste Français), the UMP has incorporated most of the moderate right-wing and centrist parties into its fold. Only the liberal (in the European sense), centrist party MoDem under its leader François Bayrou – who had a surprisingly strong showing in the 2007 presidential elections and has since been trying to position himself as an alternative to Sarkozy – has remained independent, but received a disappointing score of a mere 4,3% nationally, only succeeding in one region to reach the second round.

The left-wing parties united then increased their score to an impressive 54,3% in the second round, while the UMP, in most regions one of only three parties remaining, managed to increase its score from the first round by a paltry 10% (from 26,3% to 36,1%) and only avoided the aforementioned Grand Slam of the Allied Left through its victory in Alsace (politically the equivalent of Texas for the Republican Party or Bavaria for the German conservatives) and La Réunion (as a result of local divisions on the left).

The Allied Left (specifically the PS) believes it has taken an important step towards reclamining of the presidency in 2012 then after having lost the last three presidential elections. Martine Aubry seemingly has established herself at the head of the PS after her contested and controversial election to the party presidency. Still, her most prominent rival, Ségolène Royal, winning reelection as the President of Poitou-Charentes with the second-highest score in the country (60,61%) very much remains in the picture. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose; PS infighting will continue. Europe Ecologie which under its charismatic Franco-German leader, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, had had a tremendous success in the European elections a mere nine months ago has established itself a fixture – as the third most-important party – on the national scene.

Yet, most importantly (and controversely) the right-wing Front national (FN) lead by the Le Pen family has made a spectacular return. After Jean-Marie Le Pen’s infamous entry – surpassing a divided left with a score of 18% – into the second round of the 2002 presidential elections, Sarkozy’s tough-minded approach as Minister of the Interior prior to his election to the presidency in 2007 seemingly had sapped the FN of its voters and integrated them into the conservative majority. This impression proved fatally wrong during. Not only did the FN easily finish above 10% nationally (11,6%), Jean-Marie Le Pen won 20% in his southeastern region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and his daughter and heir Marine Le Pen claimed 18,3% in the northeastern Nord-Pas-de-Calais even closing in on the UMP (only 19% in this region). Present in only twelve regions the FN consolidated, even strengthened its position in the second round winning 17,1% where present, 8,7% nationally. Both Le Pens increased their scores to 22,9% (father) and 22,2% (daughter), Marine Le Pen again keeping close to the UMP (25,9%) in her region. The FN’s presence in the second round clearly contributed to an already difficult situation for the UMP. The FN’s numbers especially in the first round having come as a surprise to most polling companies a parallel to the American Bradley-effect has been heavily discussed in France but shall only be hinted at here. (“Le Monde”:http://www.lemonde.fr/cgi-bin/ACHATS/1117727.html?offre=ARCHIVES&type_item=ART_ARCH_30J&objet_id=1117727, “Monkey Cage”:https://themonkeycage.org/2010/03/a_bradley_effect_in_france.html, “French Politics”:http://artgoldhammer.blogspot.com/2010/03/bradley-effect.html).

A few concluding observations. France’s peculiar system, especially under President Sarkozy, of a nominally semi-presidential system clearly dominated by the hyper-président, coupled with the limited importance of its regional governments, the temporal concentration of these elections (unimaginable in federalist systems such as the United States), and the fact that 20 members of the government (more or less voluntarily) were present on the electoral lists of the UMP turned these elections into a referendum on the President who in turn has been suffering for months from extremely high insatisfaction numbers. Arguably it could be said then that these elections were not so much a victory of the Allied Left, but rather a significant loss for the UMP. The extraordinarily high abstention rates (only 46,4% in the first round, 51% in the second, compared to over 61% and 65,7% respectively in 2004) also point to the fact that voters did not really switch their votes (with the exception of some FN voters returning to their fold of origin after a short-lived UMP-adhesion due to Sarkozy’s tough stances on crime and immigration issues) as that conservatives simply stayed at home. During the first round, for example, voters who had voted for right-wing and centrist candidates (Sarkozy, de Villiers, Le Pen, Bayrou) in 2007 were “less likely to go to to the polls”:http://regionales.opinion-way.com/pdf/OW_Fid_Jourduvote.pdf than those who had voted for left-wing canidates (Besancenot, Buffet, Royal, Voynet). Predictions towards the presidential elections 2012 have to be taken with a grain of salt then. This is especially so since the left won impressively in the regional elections 2005 as well only to succumb to Sarkozy and the UMP in the presidential and legislative elections shortly afterward in 2007.

A few numbers for the interested reader:

“The 2010 regional elections results”:http://www.lemonde.fr/elections-regionales/infographie/2010/03/14/la-carte-du-rapport-gauche-droite_1318393_1293905.html
“Participation rates in French elections”:http://www.france-politique.fr/participation-abstention.htm
“The 2004 regional elections results”:http://www.france-politique.fr/elections-regionales-2004.htm
“Polls concerning the first round on Sunday, the 14th March 2010”:http://regionales.opinion-way.com/pdf/OW_Fid_Jourduvote.pdf