French Presidential Election R1 2012

The Stockholm Network’s Who Governs Europe? website has put together a short analysis of the first round of voting in the French presidential election.

The French electorate went to the polls on Sunday 22nd April 2012 to vote for one of ten presidential candidates. It was the ninth public election for the presidency and, as with every other previous vote no candidate received a necessary majority to prevent a second round. François Hollande of the Socialist Party topped the poll with 28.63%, 2.55% less than Nicolas Sarkozy of the Union for a Popular Movement received in the first round of the previous election in 2007. Sarkozy this time finished runner-up with 27.18% of the vote, 1.45% less than Hollande, which is the closest ever gap between the top two candidates. It is the first time in French electoral history that an incumbent president has not topped the first round of voting. Hollande is the third Socialist Party candidate to top the first round of voting, after François Mitterrand in 1974 and 1988 and Lionel Jospin in 1995. Hollande and Sarkozy will now compete against each other in the second round of voting on Sunday 6th May 2012. In the eight previous presidential elections, the candidate that topped the first round of voting has gone on to win the second round on five occasions. Only on three candidates, Jacques Chirac in 1995, Mitterrand in 1981 and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1974, has the second placed candidate topped the second round of voting.

Marine Le Pen from the National Front party finished third with 17.9% of the vote, which is the highest that her party has ever receive in the first round of voting and more even than her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, received when he finished second in 2002 with 16.86%. In total, Le Pen received more than 6.4 million votes, which is even greater than her father received in the second round of voting in 2002, when he received 5.5 million votes. Le Pen also received the second highest number of votes for a female in a French presidential election, after the Socialist Ségolène Royal in 2007. The vote share for the National Front in France is more than any of its fellow members of the European Parliament Alliance of European National Movements has ever received in a national vote and is the most votes received by a far-right European political party in recent history. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of Left Front finished third with 11.10%, despite suggestions that he may have been able to top Le Pen in opinion polls close to the election. It is the fifth consecutive election, since the National Front first contested the presidential election in 1988, that the far-left/communist candidate has finished behind the candidate from the far-right. Mélenchon’s 4 million votes is however almost double the votes received by the Revolutionary Communist League’s (Olivier Besancenot) and the French Communist Party’s (Marie-George Buffet) combined total in 2007. Not since 1981, Georges Marchais of the French Communist Party, has a far-left candidate received more share of the vote than Mélenchon. François Bayrou of the centrist Democratic Movement party contested his third consecutive presidential election. Bayrou received considerably less than his previous attempt, with just 9.13% of the vote compared to 18.57% in 2007. Bayrou did however score more than his first attempt in 2002 when he received just 6.84%. The remaining five candidates received just 6.06% of the votes. Jacques Cheminade of the Solidarity and Progress finished bottom of the poll with just 89,545, repeating his last attempt in 1995 when he received just 84,969.

In total, 35.9 million people voted in the French presidential election, which is the second highest number of people in presidential election history, though less than the last election when 36.7 million people voted in the first round. The turnout was 79.48%, which again was slightly less than in 2007. The turnout in this French presidential election is higher than the last presidential election in the United States, which was 57.37%.

Although presidential elections are not usually directly translated into legislative elections results, which take place a month later, they provide a pretty useful indication of intentions. Usually, the party of the winning candidate will finish above the other main party, even if they did not top the first round of presidential voting, as in 1981 when Mitterrand finished second in the first round voting, first in second round and then topped the parliamentary election with the Socialist Party. The National Front’s second placed finish in the 2002 presidential election did not translate into any seats for the party in the parliamentary elections that followed.

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