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Ils ne passeront pas – the stemming of the FN tide in the regional run-offs
By Jocelyn Evans, Gilles Ivaldi
14 December 2015 | General | 1266 words
The Front national (FN) in France has a problem. Despite topping the polls in half the regions in the first round of the regional elections, it was unable to convert a single one, even in a region – Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine – where the Socialist runner-up refused to stand down to allow the mainstream Right to faire barrage (stem the tide) of the FN. In the end, the famous front républicain – the merger of Left and mainstream Right, whose collapse had been widely predicted in the months leading to the election – kept two regions out of FN hands.

Conditions for the FN could not have been better. A national administration, hampered by growing unemployment, failing schools and social inequality, and consequently failing to provide its citizens with a sense of confidence in the future; continued disenchantment with the governing class more broadly; a new wave of Islamophobia in the wake of an unprecedented terrorist attack amid the current EU migrant crisis – all of the FN’s campaign boxes were ticked, and the first round results reflected this.

The progress the party has made in the past five years, in terms of overall vote but also in terms of representatives in all levels of governance across France, is undeniable. The strength of such a party threatens more than ever the balance of power between Left and Right not just in its strongholds in the North, South and East, but increasingly in other regions where its support has previously been marginal. Almost 7 million votes in the second round easily surpassed Marine Le Pen’s presidential score of 6.4 million in 2012.

However, a party which, having spent thirty years in political isolation, has dedicated half a decade to a process of detoxification, still presents a face which drives a majority of voters to ensure its defeat in run-offs. Marine Le Pen points to establishment manipulation of voters to achieve this – ‘collective suicide’ of the Socialist Party in standing its lists down, the likening of the party to Jaws (les dents de la mer).

Nonetheless, voters are not compelled to follow their party’s direction. Unlike Presidential or legislative elections with majoritarian systems, the FN cannot blame the electoral system. A proportional system with low thresholds for progress to the run-off presents as propitious a playing-field as they are likely to find, short of a national list-system. Evidently, the regional spread of votes did disadvantage them – overall, with only half a million votes more, albeit on a reduced base of ten regions, the Left bloc managed to win five of these. In a democratic system based upon government/opposition alternation, a third party – no matter how strong – can never hope to oust a bloc which forms in spite of, rather than because of, the main competitive axis.

Whilst the FN might present itself as the first party of France, France appears not to want this party in power. On a turnout of 58.4% of just over 45 million voters, the FN vote nationally represents just over one in eight registered voters. As in 2002, the possibility of an FN victory mobilised a further 3.5 million voters. In net terms, given individual vote transfers are yet to be estimated, 22% - c. 800,000 - of these voted for an FN candidate in metropolitan France (see table). France mobilized in the face of the FN threat – for every one who voted for, four voted against.

If the FN has a problem, so do the parties of both Left and Right. The Socialist joy at holding on to five regions is a celebration based on relief rather than expectation. Bretagne, Aquitaine – Limousin – Poitou-Charentes and to a lesser extent Languedoc-Roussillon Midi-Pyrénées were always going to remain on the Left. Bourgogne Franche-Comté and Centre-Val de Loire were much tighter races and clear instances of the FN exerting its traditional nuisance power against the mainstream right. This does not change the fact that the Socialists have lost a former heartland of Socialist support in the North, on the back of a poor economic record, as well as high-profile infighting and financial scandals over many years.

The success, or rather lack of failure, of the Republican decision not to stand down where it came third will also be a source of relief for Nicolas Sarkozy in allowing his party to at least roll back the previous monopoly of the Left in regional administrations. However, compared with his possible whitewashing of the Socialists predicted two months ago, seven regions looks a mediocre result, not least with two of the victories being in large part due to the Socialist withdrawal. From a position of President-in-waiting v2.0, Sarkozy now stands out as a candidate unable to beat François Hollande in the first round, let alone Marine Le Pen. His relief may be short-lived as Alain Juppé’s momentum towards the Republican presidential candidacy builds.

Politicians of the Left and Right have predictably gone out of their way to underline that lessons must be learnt from the result. As Socialist regional councillors sacrificed by their own party between the two rounds can attest, the front républicain on this scale is a scorched earth strategy which cannot present a long-term approach to facing the FN. Six years of political wilderness will do nothing in a region such as NPCP to redig local entrenchment in a region governed entirely by the Right. Whilst the FN will not be leading councils as it had hoped, it will gain experience as the sole opposition in two regions, and minority opposition in all others, enjoying mainstream status. In a region such as Bourgogne Franche-Comté, where the left has only a two-seat majority, the capacity of the FN to put pressure on the Moderate Right will be considerable. With 358 regional councilors (as opposed to 118 before), the FN continues to build its local base of party cadres and grassroots which is key to any successful presidential bid.

When the front républicain meant the standing down of a handful of candidates in legislative elections, with mutual agreement on both sides, its challenge to the competitive structure of the system was marginal. The abandoning of swathes of a country, and with no guarantee of similar retreat by the opposition, is not sustainable as an election strategy. The Presidentials do not pose a problem, given the electoral law (although Marine Le Pen’s possible progression to the second round poses a very different problem). However, the Legislative elections could well see hundreds of FN candidates in the run-off. Large-scale withdrawals to block them will simply not be possible.

The FN’s problem, then, is to ensure the regional disappointment does not demobilize its voters in the way that similar letdowns in the 1990s and 2000s used to. As 2002 showed, a strong showing in the Presidentials can be followed by dismal apathy a month later at the legislatives. Only if that pattern continues to be reversed over the next 18 months will the glass ceiling, which the party looked set to break through on Sunday, finally give way.


FN electoral results by region

Region

FN candidate

% vote 1st round

Voters (n) 1st round

% vote 2nd round

Voters (n) 2nd round

FN seats

Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne et Lorraine

Florian PHILIPPOT

36,1

 641 234  

36,1

 790 179  

46

Aquitaine, Limousin et Poitou-Charentes

Jacques COLOMBIER

23,2

 480 621  

21,7

 507 770  

29

Auvergne et Rhône-Alpes

Christophe BOUDOT

25,5

 639 923  

22,6

 667 084  

34

Bourgogne et Franche-Comté

Sophie MONTEL

31,5

 303 143  

32,4

 376 902  

24

Bretagne

Gilles PENNELLE

18,2

 218 474  

18,9

 246 177  

12

Centre - Val de Loire

Philippe LOISEAU

30,5

 262 156  

30,0

 308 422  

17

Corse

Christophe CANIONI

10,6

 14 176  

9,1

 13 599  

4

Ile-de-France

Wallerand DE SAINT JUST

18,4

 580 499  

14,0

 521 383  

22

Languedoc-Roussillon et Midi-Pyrénées

Louis ALIOT

31,8

 653 573  

33,9

 826 023  

40

Nord-Pas-de-Calais et Picardie

Marine LE PEN

40,6

 909 035  

42,2

 1 015 649  

54

Normandie

Nicolas BAY

27,7

 317 118  

27,5

 374 089  

21

Pays de la Loire

Pascal GANNAT

21,4

 270 888  

19,7

 286 723  

13

Provence-Alpes-Côte-D'azur

Marion MARÉCHAL-LE PEN

40,6

 719 746  

45,2

 886 147  

42

FRANCE TOTAL

 

27,7

 6 018 914  

27,1

 6 820 147  

358

FRANCE TURNOUT

 

49,9

 22 609 335  

58,4

 26 455 563  

 



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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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Estimating Marine Le Pen’s 2017 presidential vote share
Walking a fine line? Hollande and the French Left
All roads lead to Rome: French parties on the way to the 2017 presidentials
Ils ne passeront pas – the stemming of the FN tide in the regional run-offs
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France’s new earthquake election? The FN in the European elections


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posts have been published
since 10 January 2012

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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
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