Week 51: Heroes – The French Electorate

by Jackie_South on December 21, 2015

French_hero2The French electorate win our award for Hero of the Week, following their tactical voting in last Sunday’s regional elections

It might seem a little strange celebrating the French electorate at the moment that they make a rightward turn. In 2010’s regional elections, the Socialist Party won control of twenty regions. This time they only held on to six. Some of that is due to a reduction in the number of regions (from 26 to 17), but more resulted from the contrast of the 2010 socialist landslide and the current unpopularity of Hollande’s government.

But the results were far, far better than the first round of voting and the polls suggested things panning out. Marine Le Pen’s Front National won six regions in the first round, but some masterful tactical voting denied them victory in any region in the climactic second round. In the weeks where the Front National has made significant headway in the wake of the Paris attacks, this is no small feat.

I know what you are all thinking. Elections? Where’s the maps, Jackie? Well, I’d hate to disappoint.

First, below are the previous results. Mainland France is almost entirely red through Socialist Party victories: 19 of the 21 mainland regions, with just Alsace (won by Sarkozy’s conservative UMP) and Languedoc-Roussillon (won by a leftwing maverick) bucking the trend.

France 2012

In this year’s elections, those 21 regions on the mainland have been reduced to 12 (the five other regions – French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion – remain unchanged). This has been achieved through a number of mergers, which go live on 1 January. One of their first tasks will be to sort out the new names.

  • Alsace, Champagne-Ardennes and Lorraine  (also known as Le Grand-Est)
  • Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes (I’ll abbreviate to Greater Aquitaine)
  • Auvergne and Rhone-Alpes
  • Burgundy and Franche-Comte (Greater Burgundy)
  • Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrenees (Greater Languedoc)
  • Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy (The North)
  • Lower Normandy and Upper Normandy (Normandy)

French elections take place in two rounds, in this case separated by a week. In the first round, on 6 December, the Front National was ahead in six of the twelve mainland regions, compared to four for Sarkozy’s renamed The Republicans and just two for the Socialists.

France 2015 R1

Yet, despite that first round lead, the Front National (FN) won nothing. The Republicans and the Socialist Party took three of those six each, whilst holding on to the other regions where they led in the first round (the Socialist Party also took a lead in French Guiana over the independence candidate).

France 2015 R2

Part of the reason was increased turnout in the second round: almost three and a half million more people voted on 13 December than the weekend before. Whilst the decisive second round usually has more voters, this increase was double the increase seen in 2010’s elections.

The three regions with the largest increase in votes cast – Le Grand-Est, Burgundy and Centre-Val-de-Loire – were all regions where the FN was ahead in the first round. Similarly, Languedoc (where the FN led in the first round) and Normandy (where they were only 0.2% behind The Republicans) saw significant increased levels of voting.

France 2015 turnout

There were two regions where the FN led in the first round, however, where the increase in turnout was more modest: The North and Provence. There is a reason for this that hints at the other big factor at play: the Socialist Party withdrew from the second round in both of these regions to ensure that The Republicans would beat the FN. Given that these were the two regions were the FN had the largest lead in the first round, it was a tactic that paid off.

This was the percentage size of the lead for the first-placed party in the first round of voting:

France 2015 R1 maj

Below are the leads from the second round. Note how the FN’s first round sizable majority of 16% in The North turned around to become a 16% lead for The Republicans in the second. This was despite the FN actually increasing its share of the vote there slightly, from 40.6% to 42.2%, due to a barnstorming increase of 32.8% for The Republicans (from 25% to 57.8%) as a result of all the other parties vacating the field. The Republicans picked up over 830,000 votes (of the total 2.4m cast) in the region over that week.

France 2015 R2 maj

Whilst the results in The North and Provence came in part from the Socialist Party’s withdrawal, what is also abundantly clear is that voters elsewhere did not need the parties to make that choice for them. The Socialist Party told its regional candidate in Le Grand-Est to stand aside, given the FN’s first round lead of 10% there. The local party ignored the instruction but voters still produced a 12% led for The Republicans in the second round whilst the socialist share of the vote dropped slightly.

A similar story followed through in the other regions where FN led, although in two – Centre-Val-de-Loire and Burgundy – the Socialist Party jumped from third place to first in three-cornered contests with The Republicans and FN.

A particular mention should go to Ile-de-France, the area around Paris. Given the terrorist attacks there, it was good to see the FN’s vote fall, not only in percentage terms but also in numbers cast: 59,000 fewer voted for them in the second round and the FN ended up a poor third there as The Republicans and Socialists fought out a tight result.

Marine Le Pen had looked set to become the regional president of The North, and with it gaining the political kudos and momentum that could have taken her to the Elysee Palace.  The French voters have denied her that boost.

So, despite the apparent disaster augured by the first round results of the Front National running regional governments, the French voters have swung around to prevent them making that dangerous headway. Increase turnout and canny voting have frustrated the neo-fascists route to apparent respectability.

We salute you, France.

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