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Who lost in the first round of the French Presidential elections?

    In a follow up to yesterday's blog about Marine Le Pen, Professor Jeremy Jennings of QMUL writes on the losers of the first round of the French Presidential election. 

    If Marine Le Pen was the symbolic winner of the first round of France’s Presidential elections, who were the losers?

    Most obviously, Nicolas Sarkozy. No President of the Fifth Republic seeking re-election had previously failed to take the top spot in the first ballot. In 2007, when Sarkozy went on to win easily, he received 31.18% of the vote; in 2012 he received 27.14%. The votes cast for Sarkozy declined by roughly 1.7 million. Only among the self-employed, those over 65 and the French living abroad did he secure any advantage over his opponents.

    Who else fared badly?  The most disastrous result of all went to the centrist candidate François Bayrou. In 2007, he received 18.57% of the vote; last week he secured a meagre 9.14%. If this looks bad in percentage terms, it looks even worse in terms of votes cast, down from over 6.8 million to 3.2 million. It is not clear where Bayrou and the centre go from here. Nor is it clear where those who voted for him will place their votes in the second ballot. The indications are that there will be an equal three-way split between François Hollande, Sarkozy and staying at home.

    The first ballot always has its share of odd ball candidates. The lowest score of all went to Jacques Cheminade, the rather quixotic candidate of the Solidarité et Progrès party. Both Cheminade’s life and his ideas make for fascinating reading – earlier proposals have included plans to colonise Mars and to abolish the IMF – but he managed to secure just 89,000 votes. The various extreme left candidates fared not much better. Philippe Poutou’s proposals to reduce the working week to 32 hours and the retirement age to 60 garnered only 400,000 votes.

    But another big loser was the green candidate, Eva Joly. By general agreement, she fought a woeful campaign, and only managed to attract attention when she fell over and gave herself a black eye. With 2.31% of the vote, she did slightly better than had been expected, but this is far removed from the double digit scores obtained in recent regional and European elections. Bitter internal feuding among the Greens looks the most likely prospect.

    But the biggest loser of all must be Jean-Luc Mélanchon, candidate of the Front de Gauche and advocate of a 100% taxation rate on all incomes over 360,000 Euros. Mélanchon is a man who believed his own propaganda and who was therefore convinced that he would secure third place. As it was, he came a poor fourth with 11.11% of the vote. What made this worse was that he staked all on coming ahead of Marine Le Pen and that he came nowhere close to doing so. For all his anti-capitalist rhetoric and calls for an end to the politics of austerity, only 12% of working class voters gave him their support. Madame Le Pen got 30% of that vote. Having consistently criticised the policies of François Hollande for their reformism and timidity, Mélanchon now has no alternative but to call upon his supporters to “beat Sarkozy”.

    Will that happen? For all his poor showing in the first ballot, Sarkozy did not suffer a knock-out blow. He has come out fighting and is shamelessly courting the votes of Madame Le Pen. His latest TV broadcast and the speech he made in Toulouse on Sunday evening stressed the importance of the French nation and the need to protectFrance’s borders from illegal immigration. If the EU does not respond toFrance’s calls, Sarkozy announced, France would withdraw from the Schengen agreement.

    The opinion poll evidence suggests that this strategy is working. Last week Hollande was credited with 56% of voting intentions. Over the weekend this had slipped to 54%. On Monday it stood at 53%.  The televised Presidential debate on May 2 looks therefore to be decisive. Hollande will need to be at his best. If he isn’t, Sarkozy might yet just sneak it.


    Professor Jeremy Jennings is Director of the Centre for the Study of Political Thought at Queen Mary, University of London. His latest works are 'Revolution and the Republic: A History of Political Thought in France' published by Oxford University Press in 2011 and his edition of Destutt de Tracy's 'A Treatise on Political Economy' published this year by Liberty Fund. 

    Professor Jeremy Jennings is Director of the Centre for the Study of Political Thought at Queen Mary, University of London. His latest work, Revolution and the Republic: A History of Political Thought in France, was recently published by Oxford University Press.

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