13

"Historical", "a tsunami" -- these are the headlines one can read or hear at all French mainstream media. They are about the victory of La République en Marche at the first round of French parliamentary elections.

They got 28%.

I could understand such headlines if they got 60 or 80% - but here this is less than 1/3 of voters. The second result was about half of theirs.

What is so extraordinary about these results?

2

There are several reasons why this election is unusual. The proportion of votes obtained by the largest party isn't one, though. 28% for LREM (32% if you include its ally Modem) is actually on the low side.

An unusually high number of seats

France doesn't have proportional representation, so the propotion of votes obtained by a party isn't a good indication of how many seats a party or coalition gets. Members of Parliament are elected according to a two-round, first-past-the-post system. In each constituency, the top two candidates from the first round compete in the second round, and the one that gets the most votes in the second round gets elected. (It's possible to have more candidates in the second round but that requires them to pass a voter threshold and turnout was so low that this only happened in a single constituency this time.) As in any election where candidates compete for individual seats, majorities get amplifies: winning a seat with 50.01% of the vote is just as good as winning with 99.99% of the vote.

The two-round system and the winning coalition's political positioning amplifies the winning coalition's victory even more. Macron's party has a centrist positioning, in a country where the traditional division is left vs right. If a centrist candidate makes it to the second round, and the opposition is a left-wing candidate, the centrist candidate tends to get votes from right-wing voters. Likewise if the opponent is a right-wing candidate. So even in many places where the centrist candidate came second in the first round, they'll win the second round from fallback votes. This is why Macron is poised to get a very comfortable majority.

It's likely that LREM (Macron's party) will get a record number of seats in Parliament, although in all likelihood as I write it won't be a record for winning coalition (in 1993) the right-wing coalition got 472 representatives).

An unusual political positioning

A second reason why this election is unusual is the nature of the winner. Ever since the current electoral system was established in 1958, French politics has been dominated by a left/right opposition, with the right mostly dominated by a socially conservative movement (roughly comparable to the US Republicans and the British Conservatives) and the left consisting of a spectrum from communists (now moribund) to social-democrats (roughly comparable to the British Labour before New Labour). Although there have always been socially progressive, economically liberal movements (roughly comparable to the British Liberal-Democrats) that label themselves “centrist”, they have mostly allied themselves with conservatives to form a right-wing block. Macron's party is a centrist movement that won by itself rather than in a coalition with the right.

In previous elections, centrist candidates who didn't particularly appeal to the mainstream right tended to be beaten by both left-wing and more right-wing candidates. In this election, most centrist candidates made it to the second round, for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that freshly elected president always get a popularity boost (“state of grace”). Another reason is that the left went into this election divided, and the right ran a poor campaign (especially in the presidential election just before), so there weren't many constituencies where both a right-wing candidate and a left-wing candidate managed to qualify for the second round.

A new party

Macron's party LREM is barely one year old. And it isn't a mere renaming of an older party, either. The closest pre-existing party with a somewhat similar political positioning was MoDem, which got 7.6% of the vote in the first legislative election after it was founded in 2007 and had been losing popularity ever since. Nor was LREM a spin-off of another party: Macro had been briefly a member of the Socialist Party and an advisor and minister of a Socialist Party president, but his political positioning was initially considered too far right for even many “New Labour” supporters.

A party came from basically nowhere to dominating the political scene, on a course that another had tried before and failed. That's a third reason why its victory is unusual.

13

Because saying "Things as usual" provide fewer page views.... just kidding, there is always some sensationalism but the main points are:

  • "Traditional" parties have suffered a severe setback. According to current data:

    • Parti Socialiste would have got 7.44% votes, from 29.35% in 2012
    • Les Républicains would have got 15.77% votes, from 27.12% in 2012
  • The winner is a new party formed around the (relatively) newcomer Macron.

Also, let's not forget that given France electoral system, the winner usually gets a number of seats out of proportion to the votes it got; currently by some estimates La République En Marche could get up to 400 MP (out of 577 in total). So in practical terms, it is not just "less than a third".

  • 1
    I just wish we had him in Britain! – WS2 Jun 12 '17 at 20:45
  • 3
    You got my +1 for the first sentence only. But the key point is the last paragraph I think. You should maybe flesh it out by explaining the French electoral system for the National Assembly elections. – Taladris Jun 12 '17 at 23:10
7

The most dramatic aspect of this election is the (projected) number of seats the party and its allies is likely to win next week, not the proportion of vote. We will only truly know when the final results are in but the models presented in the media predict somewhere between 400 and 455 seats for the party. That's a lot, more than any party could win in the last few parliamentary elections so that would be an extraordinary feat in itself. This for a movement that did not exist a few months ago and managed to completely upset the party system, as SJuan76 already explained.

As you note, 30% is actually quite low but that only make the number of districts La République en Marche is likely to control even more remarkable. What happened is that the rest of the vote is divided and the gap with the next party is wider than unusual. This and various other peculiarities of the electoral system could turn this moderate success into a large win. And the raw number of votes (as opposed to the percentage) is even lower than what you would expect to reach 30% because the turnout was historically low as well!

3

France does not use a proportional system; they use a first-past-the-post system. Therefore, the proportion of (party) votes in total is close to meaningless. What matters is how many candidates of a party win their districts by getting more votes than the other candidates.

The National Assembly has 577 seats, therefore everything above 289 is a majority. According to the New York Times, the candidates of La République en Marche were first in 449 districts in the first round. If the results next week - France uses a two-round voting system - look anything like the first round, La République en Marche will have seats well beyond a two-thirds majority (385 seats.)

Add to this that the party is only about one year old.

  • 4
    (-1) France does not use a first-past-the-post system but, as you write later in the answer, a runoff voting system. That's not the same thing and the proportion of votes is much more important in the latter than you seem to realise. Being first in a district is only half the battle, what the other parties were, what results they had and whether they can have candidates in the run-off matters a great deal. – Relaxed Jun 13 '17 at 19:15
  • A first-past-the-post-system can have two rounds. "The 577 members of the National Assembly are elected using a two-round, first-past-the-post electoral system with single-member constituencies." As per Wiki:French Legislative Election 2017. – knallfrosch Jun 13 '17 at 19:46
  • No, it can't, the French system is very different and using that terminology is just confusing. Case in point: Your next sentence is just flatly wrong. – Relaxed Jun 13 '17 at 20:32
  • Unless you post sources, this will be ignored by me and probably moved to chat by others. – knallfrosch Jun 13 '17 at 20:35
  • You posted a source yourself: Read the wiki article you linked to in the first sentence! Why do you think it does not even so much as mention France? And I am just explaining my vote out of courtesy, I don't think we are having a serious discussion, everything you wrote suggest you just know very little about the French electoral system and are just asking for sources to deflect attention from this. – Relaxed Jun 13 '17 at 20:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.