French Elections

The basics.

So, at first blush, the structure of the French government looks kind of like the US’s (and kind of not). France has an elected president (who is elected in a two-round system requiring majority support of the population and serves a fixed term), but it also has a prime minister, making it a semi-presidential system. The PM is appointed by the president, but it is based on who controls a majority of seats in the parliament. As such, the president might have a PM of their own party, but could also have a PM of the opposition, as might happen after today. The French call this “cohabitation.”

France has a bicameral legislature, but the chambers are highly asymmetrical. The first chamber (the National Assembly), which is the one currently being elected, is the one with the most power. The second chamber, the Senate is indirectly elected and is far less powerful than the National Assembly.

France is also a unitary state (i.e., not federal). While it is divided into departments, the departments do not have the kind of local governing autonomy that US states have.

The elections are explained here by the BBC:

There are 577 seats in the National Assembly, including 13 overseas districts and 11 constituencies that represent French citizens abroad. For an absolute majority a party needs 289. 

[…]

The first round eliminates all candidates who fail to win the support of 12.5% of locally registered voters. 

Anyone who scores more than 50% of the vote with a turnout of at least a quarter of the local electorate wins automatically. That normally happens only in a handful of constituencies, but the RN believes this time it could win dozens.

The second round is a series of run-offs fought either by two, three or sometimes four candidates. 

[…]

Some candidates may drop out before 7 July to give an ally a better chance of stopping a rival from winning, for example from the far right.

So, this is a unique version (I cannot think of any other system that uses it) of a two-round election in single-seat districts.

(Side note: 577 seats for a population of roughly 68 million compared to our 435 seats for a population of over 330 million).

The second round (today) is first-past-the-post, i.e., it only takes a plurality to win.

The first round looked like this in terms of national vote share (source):

So, if the first round was it, and if the system was proportional (it isn’t), then the far-right National Rally would have the most seats, but there would have been a majority of center and left parties to form a majority coalition to govern.

And, it is interesting to note, as per the BBC, there were intra-round tactical moves made: France’s parties pull candidates and trade votes in bid to stop National Rally election victory.

As per Reuters, In France, three-way election battles could bring more far-right MPs.

Nationwide, the first round had originally left three-way contests in about 300 of the races for the National Assembly’s 577 seats. In the past days, more than 200 third-placed candidates have withdrawn their candidacy in an attempt to block the far right from holding power.

Like with the UK, design matters.

FILED UNDER: Comparative Democracies, Democracy, , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    (Side note: 577 seats for a population of roughly 68 million compared to our 435 seats for a population of over 330 million).

    Repeated because damn it’s a great reminder of how non-representative or government is. What makes that even worse is the cap on the House is one of the few key opportunities for significant reform (along with the filibuster) that didn’t require amending the Constitution.

    ReplyReply
    4
  2. @mattbernius: And, moreover, something that was considered routine maintenance during our first century-plus of existence, until it stopped in 1913.

    ReplyReply
    2
  3. DK says:

    In the past days, more than 200 third-placed candidates have withdrawn their candidacy in an attempt to block the far right from holding power.

    A temporary, tactical two-party system then?

    ReplyReply
    1
  4. CSK says:

    Just in: Le Monde is predicting that the left alliance will win most seats.

    ReplyReply
    2
  5. @DK: Well, not necessarily two-party, as the pairs will not all be the same two parties.

    ReplyReply
  6. DK says:

    @CSK: And looks like the French far-right will underperform and finish third, behind the leftist parties in first and Macron’s centrists in second.

    If these results hold, I’m guessing they won’t prompt a bunch of breathless clickbait about a ‘leftwing surge’ or ‘center-left surge.’ Instead, these “surprise results” will be memory-holed and caveated by our media overlords — like the implosion of Red Wave 2022, continued Democratic electoral wins, and the collapse of the British right.

    ReplyReply
    4
  7. James Joyner says:

    @DK: Coalition building worked. Left and center left candidates exited the field so their votes wouldn’t be split. Otherwise, the far right would have done far better—as evidenced by the first round.

    ReplyReply
    5
  8. Gustopher says:

    @DK:

    the collapse of the British right.

    We cannot underestimate the effect of Rishi Sundak starting a twitter fight with beloved Doctor Who star David Tennant. His character brought down two PMs, so that seems like a very foolish thing to do.

    (Literally, there is no way to underestimate this effect. However low you assume the effect was, the actual effect will be lower or equal. Trivial to overestimate the effect though.)

    ReplyReply
    3
  9. DK says:

    @James Joyner: Shades of folks with views as varied as Liz Cheney, Joe Manchin, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Adam Schiff, Krysten Sinema, and AOC all joinibg a Democratic coalition to oppose Trumpism.

    I pray it works as well.

    ReplyReply
    3
  10. dazedandconfused says:

    @DK: It seems Macron made a risky “double or nothing” bet and won it.

    ReplyReply
    1
  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    Macron knows how to play the game. I wish our pols did.

    ReplyReply
    1
  12. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I wonder of that might be an unintended benefit of the three-dimensional chess game that goes on in the parliamentary system. Yeah, it’s a total mess, but it forces the players to think -and hard. Work well with others, and compromise.

    ReplyReply
    1

Speak Your Mind

*