March electoral roundup

Time for a quick look at what’s been happening electorally around the world.

France

It’s two and a half weeks to the first round of the French presidential election on 10 April. Centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron has been a favorite for re-election for some time, but as we noted last time the war in Ukraine has put him in a seemingly unbeatable position. His main opponents all have embarrassingly pro-Putin remarks on their record that they are now desperately trying to play down.

The latest polls have Macron close to 30% and therefore a certainty to make the runoff, where his most likely opponent is (again) Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally, currently polling in the high teens. The far left’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in the low teens, is now a clear third: apart from Macron, he is the only candidate who has been making up ground, as left-of-centre voters gravitate towards the only one with a chance of getting into the second round.

Even so, the other three serious candidates on the left (Green Yannick Jadot, Communist Fabien Roussel and Socialist Anne Hidalgo) are still polling around ten per cent between them. If the drift towards Mélenchon continues he could well collect enough of that to overtake Le Pen. But there is no reason to think he would do any better than her in a runoff against Macron.

Colombia

Like France, Colombia has a presidential system; presidential and legislative elections happen in the same year, but not together. But whereas in France the presidential election happens first, Colombia does it the other way around.

The term of incumbent president Iván Duque runs until August, and an election over two rounds in May and June will choose his replacement (presidents are limited to a single term, although Duque is the first to hold office since that restriction was introduced). The legislative election, however, was held earlier this month – you can read the official results here.

In keeping with what we’ve seen recently in Peru and Chile, the movement was clearly towards the left. Duque’s centre-right party, Democratic Centre, lost substantial ground (although some of that went to the Conservative Party), as did the centrist Party of the U and the right-liberal Radical Change. The biggest gains were made by the Historic Pact, a coalition of left-wing parties that last time won only a handful of seats but will now be one of the two largest parties in each house.

That said, there is nothing that looks like a cohesive majority in either house, with six or seven major players, so whoever wins the presidency will have to do some bargaining to get their agenda implemented. The polls currently have Historic Pact’s Gustavo Petro and the centre-right’s Federico Gutiérrez as the front-runners.

Canada

Readers may remember that Canada went to the polls last September in an unnecessary early election, in which Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau again failed to win either a plurality of the vote or a majority of the seats. He remained in office, however, with the tacit support of the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP).

That support has now become official: an agreement announced yesterday pledges the NDP to back the government on issues of confidence for the remainder of the parliament’s term, in return for concessions on policy. Between them the two parties have a comfortable majority – 184 seats out of 338.

That majority reflects (somewhat surprisingly for Canada) a majority of the vote, albeit a very narrow one: the Liberals won 32.6% and the NDP 17.8%. So there is no case for attacking the agreement as undemocratic, although that has not stopped the opposition Conservatives from doing so. But whether the two partners can remain on good terms for another three and a half years, and whether Trudeau himself will stay around that long, remain unanswered questions.

Malta

Finally to Malta, which goes to the polls for a parliamentary election on Saturday. I previewed it a month ago when it was called, and very little seems to have changed since then. There has been perhaps a slight narrowing in the polls, but the centre-left Labour government of prime minister Robert Abela still holds a commanding lead.

This is the first national election held in Europe since the invasion of Ukraine, but there’s no sign of a difference between the parties on that issue. Its effect has rather been to dominate the news coverage and prevent other issues that might have influenced the election from getting a hearing.

Malta’s 65 MPs are elected by (effectively) Hare-Clark proportional representation in 13 five-seat districts; there is also the possibility of adding up to four additional members to remedy any disproportionality caused by the district system. Last time around, in 2017, a lead to Labour of 11 and a half points produced a tally of 37 seats to 28, to which an extra two compensatory seats were added for the opposition Nationalists.

Labour’s lead this time looks to be of a similar magnitude, so unless something quite unexpected is happening it will probably produce a similar result.

5 thoughts on “March electoral roundup

  1. Looking at the French opinion polls, I can’t help feeling that if French voters were given a choice between Emmanuel Macron and ‘a President to be named later’, the incumbent would be in serious trouble. The opinion polls look as if a lot of French voters feel they want something different from what they’ve got; the problem they have is that they can’t agree about what that ‘something different’ should be–all they know is that each option that’s actually on offer is not it, and even less preferable than the incumbent. In 1873 Adolphe Thiers said that a republic (which showed no signs of having affirmative majority support) was ‘the government which divides us least’, and now Emmanuel Macron could be, without affirmative majority support, ‘the President who divides us least’.

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    1. I think that’s true, but it’s true of pretty much any election where the winner gets less than 50% of the vote. If the contest goes to a second round (and in France it always does), then by definition the majority of voters wanted someone else. I’m not sure that discontent is any greater now than usual.

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  2. I think that’s true, but it’s true of pretty much any election where the winner gets less than 50% of the vote.

    One thing you can’t tell from the usual kind of opinion poll is how close together or how far apart people’s first and second choices are. In Australia, for example, I estimate that out of all those people who give a first preference vote to one of the Coalition parties and a second preference to the other (when the question actually arises), there’s a small minority for whom there’s a big difference and who don’t like their second choice much, but a large majority who are similarly favourable to both and for whom choosing one over other is a matter only of fine distinctions. I suppose I’m mostly just guessing when I imagine that a lot of people who vote for Emmanuel Macron in the second round will do so with a definite lack of enthusiasm, much preferring whoever their first choice was, but my impression is that none of the other parties whose candidates have significant support are as close to him as the Coalition parties are in Australia. This isn’t something that is always true in elections where winners get less than 50% of the vote.

    One of the things you can tell from opinion polls, at least sometimes, when polls of this kind are conducted, are how popular or unpopular incumbents are, independently of choices about voting intention, and those polls in France aren’t giving the President good results, not nearly as good as would more commonly be associated with an expectation of likely re-election.

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