According to French election: Turnout sharply down in Le Pen-Macron battle, voter turnout in the second round of French presidential election was the lowest since 1981:

The participation rate reported by the interior ministry for this election at 17:00 was more than six points lower than the 72% recorded at the same time in 2012 and nearly 10 points down on the 75.1% of 2007. In fact, it is lower than all the elections back to 1981.

I think that one possible reason for this lower turnout is that all polls declared Macron a clear winner, but the elections from 2002 had a higher voter turnout, when Jacques Chirac was the clear winner even more (got 82.2% in the second round with almost 80% voter turnout).

Question: why was the turnout so low in the second round of French presidential elections?

  • Why wouldn't it ? In switzerland voter turnout is commonly arround 40% and that's considered normal.
    – Bregalad
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 8:27
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    As the answer for your question, it's because many people disliked both candidates apparently.
    – Bregalad
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 8:37
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    It looks like this question is conflating two different definitions of turnout, since the 2002 80% turnout figure includes spoilt ballots, whereas the 66% turnout this year doesn't appear to.
    – origimbo
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 8:52
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    @Bregalad the fact that for Switzerland 40% is "normal" does not mean that is is/should be also for France.
    – Federico
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 10:22
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    Something worth mentionning: the number given in the article is misleading: the turnout was actually 74.5%, but around 10% voted for neither candidates (but still casted a ballot, even if it isn't counted toward the final result). For comparison, the turnout in 2002 was 79.5%. It is still lower, but not as low as BBC would have people believe.
    – njzk2
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 16:22

4 Answers 4


More people did not really support either candidate this time around. This is evidenced by the fact that the number of empty ballots was higher in this election, where other's with the same inclination probably just stayed home on a dreary day in France.

  • While it's difficult to be sure what's exactly in the mind of people, this is the same reason I suspect too, and I think it can be in some way even confirmed by looking at this year first round number, where you basically have parties included in a 4 percentage points gap (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_presidential_election,_2017). So yes, many didn't know who to choose at the second round (confirmed by some French friends of mine, even if obviously it's not statistical relevant)
    – motoDrizzt
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 9:51
  • Plenty of people did not really support either candidate the last time (2002). Commented May 8, 2017 at 10:54

When you ask people to vote against a candidate, the more repulsive he is, the more votes against him you get. Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine's father, was known to actively take part in torture during the algerian independence war. He has also been condemned several times for anti-semitic rethoric and hate speech, much more often than his daughter. His daughter tried to distance herself from this past with a dédiabolisation ("un-devilisation") policy, with a limited success.

Also, for people on the left, my guess is that it was felt like doing dirty chores (in 2002, some wanted to go to the polls with masks and gloves, but it would have been illegal, you are not supposed to show your political orientation while voting). A lot of people were ready to scrub the toilet (vote for a capitalist) once, but not twice.

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    Melenchon supporters (20% of voters in the first round!) were told not to vote for Le Pen; they were explicitly never told to vote for Macron either, though, which Melenchon had qualified of Extreme Finance. Also, it is possible that unlike in the Chirac-Le Pen duel of 2002 (right vs extreme right), a number of right-wing voters felt closer to the extreme right than the left centre. Commented May 8, 2017 at 15:31
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    @MatthieuM. For both right wing and Melenchon voters, more than expected showed up to vote for Macron. Estimations of vote shifts are starting to come up, see this: ipsos.fr/decrypter-societe/… Commented May 8, 2017 at 16:09
  • This is an excellent presentation! It certainly qualifies Marie Le Pen as a populist candidate (low-education/low-salary is where she makes the most of her votes). Commented May 8, 2017 at 16:37
  • @MatthieuM - the link provides good information and I think it can be the base of a good answer for the question. I wish I had so nice political analysis in my country.
    – Alexei
    Commented May 13, 2017 at 20:44

Voter turnout was low for two reasons. One, neither candidate was particularly popular and so the vote became a choice of the lesser of two evils, or as the French say 'between cholera and the plague'. Voters are less likely to be motivated to vote when they're voting against someone, rather than for someone. Two, voters in France (and in democracies all around the world) are becoming disillusioned with their political systems. People vote for change but it never happens. So why bother voting at all?

  • What do you mean, "change never happens?" Macron wasn't a candidate of either the old left or the old right, he started his own party. That's unlike say the USA, where even a relative outsider as Trump used the existing party system. And getting new parties in power is exact the kind of change you can expect from a democracy. The fundamental problems of France won't be fixed by democracy; they're cultural/economic. To put it bluntly: for France to have the influence of Germany, France will need to become more like Germany.
    – MSalters
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 14:19
  • Note that in 2002, Chirac vs Le Pen (the father), Chirac won with 82.2% with only 20.29% of abstention. The progression of Le Pen to the second round had sparked riots in the streets, and people voted en masse against him. So I am not sure that your first point really stands... unless you take into account the fact that the Front National underwent a radical change of image (but not ideas) to avoid such a mobilisation against it. Commented May 8, 2017 at 15:35

8th May is a public holiday in France, the election was held on the second day of a three-day long weekend.

A significant part of the population got away from home for the weekend, and not all of them bothered to register for voting at their place of stay.

  • As a French, the only way I know for voting away from home are (1) for expats, voting at the French Embassy of the country you live in provided you registered the year before and (2) for all other cases, handing down your vote to some other voter in the same voting office (which will choose in your stead). Are you sure I could register in another city to vote? Commented May 8, 2017 at 15:28
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    This is not a public holiday where lots of people go away for the weekend. And for people who want to vote this is not a problem. Those who did not vote either did not want to vote purposefully or don't usually vote.
    – None
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 16:22
  • @MatthieuM. No you can't register in another city. As you say it has to be in the voting place where you are registered, but you can have s.o. vote by proxy who doesn't belong to the same voting polling station.
    – None
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 16:27

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