The French Presidential Election: Voting and Polling

February 26, 2017

This spring, France will elect its eighth President under the Fifth Republic. 71 candidates are currently looking to participate in the first round of the election on 23 April, although only those who obtain 500 ‘parainages’ from elected representatives will be allowed on the ballot paper. The two candidates with the most votes will then battle each other in the second round on 7 May. Among the current candidates, only eight have polled at more than 1 per cent; five of them account for around 95 per cent of voting intentions.

Candidates for the two main French parties — Les Republicains (formerly known as the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) and the Socialist Party (PS) — were elected by means of an open primary. For the first time, both of those primaries were preceded by a televised debate.

Francois Fillon was elected the Les Republicains candidate in the ‘Primaire de la droite’, in which over four million people voted. Although Fillon was subsequently ahead in the Presidential polls, he has seen his support challenged since ‘PenelopeGate’ (perhaps not, however, to the extent that some anticipated).

Benoit Hamon was elected for the PS in the ‘Primaire de la gauche’, in which 1.5 million people voted. Hamon’s election has seen some renewed interest in the PS, a party that has been very low in the polls under Hollande’s leadership. However, there was fear that Hamon, who is on the left of the party, might ostracise some PS voters, and create a haemorrhage of votes for the centrist candidate Emmanual Macron — although there has been no evidence of this yet. There was also much noise in the media about a possible alliance between Hamon and the leftist MEP Jean Luc Melenchon (who is polling at 10-14 per cent), but Melenchon has said publicly that he does not want to ‘attach himself to a hearse’ (‘Je ne vais pas m’accrocher à un corbillard’), so that seems unlikely.

In addition, Marine Le Pen — the Front National (FN) candidate — is currently at around a stable 25 per cent in the polls (FN received about that amount of the vote in recent elections, too). It is quite likely that she will reach the second round, but every survey so far has forecast that she would then lose by a large portion against either Fillon or Emmanuel Macron (the independent centrist liberal candidate) in the subsequent round.

Having decided to run solo in the Presidential contest, Macron — a former Economy Minister — set up his new party, En Marche!. He is currently attracting 20-23 per cent of those polled, but it is worth noting that when some surveys have asked respondents whether they were ‘sure’ that they would vote for him, it has seemed, to a large extent, as if they were not (in comparison with those voters who said they were ‘very sure’ that they would vote for Fillon, or for Le Pen).

It is important to note that France’s electoral structure has created a ‘false’ two-party system, which is geared towards the centre, and fails to account for the diversity of views in the country. There has also been a recent shift from a right/left divide to one focused on liberalism/protectionism, as observed elsewhere. Moreover, although the left and the centre-left, when combined, are polling higher than the right, they are severely divided. This explains why France has had many more right-wing governments, and why the left has struggled to reform.

Something else to consider is tactical voting. Currently, none of the candidates has started to talk seriously about this, although we have begun to see important politicians and public figures announce that they will vote against their usual personal allegiances in order to prevent Marine Le Pen reaching the second round. Indeed, trauma still abounds about the fact that her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, reached the second round in 2002, before losing to Jacques Chirac by 80 per cent. This means there is a chance that the election’s result could look fundamentally different from what we are seeing in the polls.

This Le Point chart shows an aggregation of all the polls (except the most recent one):


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