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Wrapping it up: a final take on the FN in the 2014 municipals
By Jocelyn Evans, Gilles Ivaldi
02 April 2014 | Polls & Forecasts | 1927 words
With the municipal elections already fading from view, we take a last look here at the aspect we focused most on throughout the campaign and the two rounds – the performance of the FN – and revisit our own forecasts.

The national scorecard

The municipal elections confirmed the stabilisation of the FN vote since the 2012 legislatives, from a national to a local election. This success eclipsed the 2008 municipal setback where the party had polled an average 5.5 per cent of the vote where present, and won a mere 59 seats. With 11 wins in cities with more than 1,000 inhabitants, a small town with less than 200 inhabitants in the department of Oise (Le Hamel), and 1,544 councillors, the FN result in the 2014 municipals is a huge advance on previous local elections, particularly in the South. As a bonus, 459 FN representatives will now sit in the municipal corporations (intercommunalités) of larger conurbations, extending their influence further.

The FN ran in a total 317 second-round runoffs out of 321 cities where its candidates had surpassed the 10 per cent threshold in the first. Three of them stepped down – in Bessan (Hérault), Plan-d’Aups-Sainte-Baume (Var) and Mtsamboro (Mayotte). Between the two rounds, the FN also merged with the mainstream right in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges (Val de Marne), winning 4 seats, and in L’Hôpital (Moselle), where the joint list was led by the FN candidate, Jean-Claude Dreistadt. A quick look at the FN runoffs shows highly fragmented competition: Marine Le Pen’s party contested 8 duels (mostly against the right), 201 three-way contests, 98 four-ways and 10 five-ways. This can be mostly accounted for by the lower runoff threshold in the municipals –the 12.5 per cent legislative threshold would have halved the number of FN runoffs.

In the second round, the FN lists totalled 675,000 votes, polling an average 17.2 per cent of the valid vote. Except in a few symbolic wins, there was no surge in support for the party in the second round, indeed the party lost about 20,000 votes between the two rounds, down by 1.5 percentage point of the valid vote count on average across the 317 runoffs. Gains were made in only 95 cities (30 per cent), but elsewhere the FN lost ground. Over half the gains were concentrated in the Mediterranean belt, with a similar proportion of the losses found outside of its Southern and North-Eastern bastions. The Mediterranean strongholds were particularly consistent in their scores.

As had already been the case in the first round, support for the FN was higher in zones more severely hit by the economic crisis: the average unemployment rate was 11.8 per cent in the 317 FN municipal runoffs, up to 13.3 in cities won by the party and culminating in the headline victories of Hénin-Beaumont (17.9 per cent unemployment) and Béziers (16.4 per cent).

FN performances varied also according to the structure of runoff competition: in the small number of duels, the FN progressed by 9.5 percentage points on average, while losing 2.0 points in three-way runoffs. This confirmed the ‘reservoir of votes’ of the 2011 cantonal and 2012 legislative elections, whereby the FN was able to increase its between-round support in two-way contests, drawing votes from both the left and the right.


Who wins where?

In 1995/97, the party had fielded 490 lists and had secured three municipalities with more than 30,000 inhabitants (Orange, Marignane and Vitrolles) as well as a much larger regional city (Toulon). In 2014, the FN won a total of 11 municipalities out of 587 lists, the biggest takes being the 7th sector of Marseille with more than 150,000 inhabitants, as well as Béziers and Fréjus. The rest of the communes won by the party had fewer than 30,000 inhabitants. Additionally, in the ‘promised land’ of Vaucluse, Jacques Bompard’s Ligue du Sud gained an additional three municipalities in Orange, Bollène and Camaret-sur-Aigues where the Ligue’s candidate, Philippe de Beauregard, had received official support from Marion Maréchal-Le Pen in the runoff – a consolidation of a far right’s Provençal axis since 2012. Only Mantes-la-Ville and, depending where one draws the boundary between Paris and the North-East, Villers-Cotterêts, fall outside those regions.


Table 1. FN city wins in 2014

Municipality

Population

% FN round 1

% FN round 2

Configuration

Beaucaire

15 894

32.8

39.8

4-Way

Béziers

71 432

44.9

47.0

3-Way FN-Left-Right

Cogolin

11 119

39.0

53.1

Duel FN-Right

Fréjus

52 344

40.3

45.6

3-Way FN-Right-Right

Hayange

15 730

30.4

34.7

4-Way

Hénin-Beaumont

26 868

50.3

––

First round

Le Luc

9 532

36.9

42.0

4-Way

Le Pontet

16 899

34.7

42.6

3-Way FN-Right-Right

Mantes-la-Ville

19 839

21.7

30.3

4-Way

Marseille Secteur 7

151 327

32.9

35.3

3-Way FN-Left-Right

Villers-Cotterêts

10 411

32.0

41.5

3-Way FN-Right-Other



Interestingly, only five of the successful candidates ran under the official ‘Blue Marine’ tradmark, while another three had the old FN label; in Fréjus, Hénin-Beaumont and Béziers, no reference was made to either the FN or the RBM. With men making up more than 80 per cent of the FN candidates, the reality of the party ‘in the field’ contrasted sharply with Marine Le Pen’s feminine and more amenable profile, showing the continuation of the traditional radical right gender gap at party level.

Finally, the best runoff performances were achieved by relatively well entrenched local FN activists such as Fabien Engelmann in Hayange and some of the party’s young turks such as David Rachline in Fréjus, often with little national profile. Conversely, the stars of ‘de-demonization’ and party apparatchiks such as Florian Philippot, Louis Aliot and Gilbert Collard all fell short.


How did we do?

In the forecast that we issued after the first round, we anticipated a total of eight city wins for the FN. Based on first-round results, we looked at a number of possible municipal takes and correctly predicted the final outcome in 14 out 21 cases (two-thirds), with a slightly higher rate of success in forecasting FN defeat than victory. What happened in the remaining third? In Saint-Gilles, the final outcome showed the unexpected resuscitation of the defunct Front républicain, as left-wing voters and first-round abstainers turned out to defeat the FN candidate, something that had simply not happened in the 2012 legislatives where Collard had won an absolute majority in the city. This contrasted with the situation in Cogolin where the FN candidate won the duel against the right with the help of a small contingent of first-round stay-at-homes and, possibly, left-wing supporters. It seems in particular that Collard’s reluctance to run a campaign in conquered territory might have cost him an otherwise easy victory in Saint-Gilles.

Similarly, in Forbach, an unanticipated remobilization by socialist voters helped contain Philippot in the runoff: abstention fell by 6.5 percentage points, while the PS candidate, Laurent Kalinowski, augmented his vote share by 14.7 points.Left-wing voters demonstrated diametrically opposite behaviour in Marseille where they allowed Stéphane Ravier to take the city’s seventh sector. This happened despite the PS-FG alliance forged by Mennucci and Coppola, and despite the left polling no less than 39 per cent of the first-round vote, a comfortable 6.5 point lead on the FN candidate which should have ensured a left win in this traditional socialist working-class bastion. Finally, in Mantes-la Ville and Hayange, the FN success was largely attributable to the division of the left and the presence of ‘other’ candidates with no clear political affiliation and more volatile electoral support, in highly fragmented 4-way contests with low turnout.


Table 2. Assessing our city-win forecast

Municipality

Region

Runoff

Predicted

Correct?

Avignon

South

FN-PS-UMP**

No

Yes

Beaucaire

South

FN-DIV-DVD-PS

Yes

Yes

Béziers

South

FN-UMP-DVG

Yes

Yes

Brignoles

South

FN-UMP*

No

Yes

Cluses

Other

FN-DVD-DVD-DVG

No

Yes

Cogolin

South

FN-DVD*

No

No

Digne-les-Bains

Other

FN-DVG-UMP

No

Yes

Forbach

North East

FN-PS-DVD-UMP

Yes

No

Fréjus

South

FN-UMP-DVD*

Yes

Yes

Hayange

North East

FN-DVD-PS-DIV**

No

No

Hénin-Beaumont

North East

First round win

Yes

Yes

Le Luc

South

FN-DVD-DVG-DVG

Yes

Yes

Le Pontet

South

FN-UMP-DVD*

Yes

Yes

Mantes-la-Ville

Other

FN-PS-DVG-DVD

No

No

Marseille secteur 7

South

FN-UMP-PS**

No

No

Montigny-en-Gohelle

North East

FN-PS-DVG

No

Yes

Perpignan

South

FN-UMP*

No

Yes

Saint-Gilles

South

FN-UMP*

Yes

No

Tarascon

South

FN-UMP*

No

Yes

Valréas

South

FN-DVD

No

Yes

Villers-Cotterêts

North East

FN-PS-DVD

No

No

*Front Républicain by the left; **Alliance between the PS and the FG


The main objective of our coverage of the FN in the municipals was to estimate the total number of councillors that the party was likely to win. Whilst our first attempt was based on polls and the 2012 results, we then employed a lagged model estimating the FN score from its first-round performance, a method which we applied also to the total of the left and right blocs to approximate the vote distribution in second round run-offs. We then adjusted the scores for each to sum to 100 per cent to allow for ‘other’ candidates in both the 2014 polls and the 2012 legislatives.

The model suggested that the FN could win a total 1,058 seats in the runoffs, to which we added the 483 seats it had already taken in the first-round (including Briois’s 28 seats in Hénin-Beaumont), as well as the expected 132 bonus seats from its predicted seven city-council wins and those that the party was likely to win in Lyon and Marseille, giving a total seat share of about 1,700 councillors. This compares with an actual outcome of 1,544 municipal seats, which when we take into account the small number of additional bonus seats from our ‘false negatives’ suggests that our lagged approach led us to overestimate the FN’s performances in a number of municipalities. Across the 317 runoffs in which the FN participated, the lagged model indeed over-estimated the FN second-round score by an average 1.8 percentage points, with errors larger than 2 percentage points in about half of the cases.



Estimates of the FN seat share were correct in 27 per cent of the cases (N=86) while FN councillors were under-estimated in 40 communes (12.6 per cent). Our modal error was one seat (N=148 municipalities) and in another 36 cases we inflated the FN seat share by two seats.



Overall, as the first attempt to provide a rigorous forecast of council seats for a party, the model performed well. With the information from this election’s post mortem to hand, it can now run better.


What’s next?

The 2014 municipals represented an important step forward in the institutionalization of the FN. The elections were a confirmation of the FN’s return to its party system position of 20 years ago, responding to the imperative for the party to establish a more solid power-base throughout the country in order to prepare for future electoral success. FN consolidation at the municipal level suggests that the party is likely to further expand its network of local cadres and grassroots in the 2015 departmental and 2016 regional elections. The proportional system used in the latter should clearly give the FN a significant seat share in France’s regional assemblies. The newly elected municipal councillors could also open the doors of the senatorial electoral college, which have until now been firmly closed for the French far right. In the longer run, and on the downside, the FN will have to prove itself as a party of local government and deliver on its campaign promises of lower taxes and fight against criminality.

Of more immediate importance is of course the FN’s showing in the forthcoming EP election in May 2014. The current wave of voter discontent threatens to boost further FN support in the Europeans, with fears that the far right could eventually top the race and contribute to the pan-European populist alliance that Marine Le Pen is trying to set up. A couple of months ago, we asked if the FN could really win one in four voters. In the light of the municipal elections, the assumption would now be closer to ‘Yes’ than it was then.

With that information to hand, 500signatures.com will return later in the month to provide a revised forecast for May’s election. À suivre.

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Welcome to '500Signatures', for analysis and commentary on French politics and elections

This blog is produced by Jocelyn Evans (University of Leeds) and Gilles Ivaldi (University of Nice)

 
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jocelyn Evans [@JocelynAJEvans] is Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds

Gilles Ivaldi is a CNRS researcher in political science based at the University of Nice

 
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CATEGORY
 
DATA

- Forecasting the FN vote in Second-Order elections (updated 12 May 2014)

- Forecasting the FN vote in Second-Order elections (Jan. 2014)

- Polling scores by polling type (CATI v CAWI) (updated 20 April 2012)

- Estimating Marine Le Pen's vote in the 2012 presidentials: an experiment (November 2011)

- Data for the 2011 expert forecast survey (in CSV file)

 

 


 
Last modified on Monday 25 April 2016
Copyright Gilles Ivaldi - @2012-2014