France’s final round

Sunday brings the fourth and final round of France’s extended electoral process. First, a presidential election in two rounds brought victory to centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron, who beat the far right’s Marine Le Pen with 58.5% in the runoff. Now, the second round of the parliamentary election will determine the shape of his government.

The first round, held last Sunday, showed little change since April’s presidential election. Then, Macron won 27.8% of the first round vote; this time, his electoral coalition, Ensemble!, won 25.8%, to which you could add a couple of points for sympathetic independents. Four mainstream left-of-centre candidates then won 30.6% between them; last Sunday, the alliance that has brought their together, NUPES, won 25.7%, while dissident centre-left elements had another 5.8%.*

On the right side of the spectrum, the total is also largely unchanged, but its distribution has shifted. Two far-right candidates in April had 30.2% of the vote between them; this time their parties managed in aggregate just 22.9%. Instead, the centre-right vote increased from 4.8% to 13.6%. That’s good news of a sort for the centre-right, but still a big comedown from the 21.6% it had in 2017, not to mention its 45.6% in 2007.

As I said on Tuesday, if this was a proportional system the far right would hold the balance of power between centre and left. A quick Sainte-Laguë calculation gives me 181 left, 159 centre, 139 far right, 79 centre-right and 19 others. On the other hand, just looking at the first-round leaders in each seat – that is, assuming a first-past-the-post system – gives you something like 207 centre, 201 left, 112 far right, 50 centre-right and seven others.

Both Macron and his predecessor, François Hollande, promised to reintroduce an element of proportionality to the electoral system, but so far nothing has eventuated. (Last year the government repeated its commitment to the idea, while blaming the health crisis for failure to proceed this time.) Instead, Ensemble! and NUPES are both trying to reach the 289-seat mark for a majority by winning over those who voted for candidates eliminated in the first round.

The chance of NUPES doing so is negligible (despite some breathless commentary to the contrary): centre-right voters, the vast majority of whose candidates were eliminated, will not turn out to vote for a left-wing government. The only route to a NUPES majority would be a big migration of the far-right vote to its candidates, and while there are certainly similarities between their policies, there’s no real evidence that voters see it that way.

The very breadth of the NUPES alliance is also a weakness: its leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has to downplay his anti-European and pro-Russian sentiments in order to keep his more moderate allies within the tent. But at the same time, tacking to the centre will alienate potential supporters on the far right.

And in the (quite likely) case where Ensemble! is just short of a majority, those moderate elements of NUPES will have a choice: they can forge an alliance with Macron to provide him with the numbers he needs, or they can stick with Mélenchon and the hard left, forcing the president to rely on the centre-right instead.

The centre-right itself would also be put on the spot: which is the lesser evil, co-operation with Macron or co-operation with the far right? Would it sell its soul to present a viable opposition program, or would it accept that ultimate incorporation in Macron’s coalition offers the better path to preserving its values?

For what it’s worth, my view is that although these questions will remain lurking in the background, they will not come to the fore this time. I think enough voters will opt for stability and rally to the only realistic majority option, putting Macron and Ensemble! across the line – although it may well be touch and go.

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* Technical note: for convenience I’m using the interior ministry’s figures, but as discussed on Tuesday there’s an argument that NUPES really should be slightly ahead. The difference matters for prestige but not really for anything else.

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