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France - Presidential Election

2002: Electoral democratic crisis. Lessons of the presidential election.

2002: Electoral democratic crisis. Lessons of the presidential election.

05/05/2002 - Results - 2nd round

I. The results of the first round (21st April 2002).

1. The election that beat all records.

It is widely known that the first round of the presidential election was remarkable due to the record number of candidates. With 16 contenders the French could not grumble about the lack of choice: three Trotskyists, three extreme rightwingers, two Green candidates, one representative for the hunters and rurality, one for the family, one sovereignist and four women. So it was not surprising that a mass abstention occurred during this ballot, marking a new record for this type of election (28.4% of those registered). Simultaneously this was also a record in terms of the number of blank and void votes in the first round of a presidential election (3.37% of the voters).

Presidential Election 2002

First Round Results (21st April)
In % of votes cast

Blank and void votes, abstentions

(*) in % of votes cast

(*) in % of of those registered

2. The disquieting weakness of the government candidates.

In comparison with the "protest" candidates the "government" candidates are typified by their spectacular decline. If the results are calculated in terms of those registered on the electoral roll the two candidates who were supposed to go through to the second round managed to muster less than a quarter of the electorate (24.7%), ie 13.6 % voters for Jacques Chirac and 11.1% for Lionel Jospin.

The two tables below show the collapse of the government parties since 1965. The government rightwing have lost ground but have continued to follow a relatively erratic development, some phases of decline (1988) have been followed by restoration (1995) and whose temporary nature was revealed during the vote on 21st April (32.48%).

Government rightwing since 1965: The whole of France, in % of votes cast

(Source : Inter-regional Political Observatory (Sciences Po)

However since 1981 each first round of the presidential election is marked by an additional decline of the government leftwing. In 20 years the electoral base has decreased from 47.18% to 24.78%.

The government leftwing since 1965: The whole of France, in % of votes cast

(Source : Inter-regional Political Observatory (Sciences Po)

3. The three electorates

In the left/right split the French maintain the same relationship as they do with Catholicism: they continue to believe but the number of those practising is decreasing. In spite of the enormous changes that have marked the last decade one idea is still dominant: the national elections bring France's rightwing and leftwing into conflict. However no one denies that the doctrinal differences which typify these two worlds would be insufficient to create a religious war. Likewise it is generally admitted that a greater distance separates Arlette Laguiller from Lionel Jospin than the one separating him from Jacques Chirac, or Jean-Marie Le Pen and Jacques Chirac, than the latter and Lionel Jospin, etc.. During the campaign for the first round of the presidential election 2002, the ideological and programmatic stakes revealed less difference between the right from the leftwing than between the right and the left amongst themselves. Although both camps were unable to admit it or even say so, there was a rightwing and a leftwing party both in favour of Europe, of decentralisation, of a modernisation of the State, of pension funds and privatisation. Within this vast consensus a liberal-social universe emerges, corresponding to a type of centre-right, likewise there is a social-liberal universe corresponding to a type of centre-left. Hence there are two families, two electorates who are closer in their resemblance rather than in opposition, generally evoked by the idea of a two side left/right split. The phenomenon of a "hyper-centre" is the result of a change in the political offer, which itself is being defined by the pacification of the political debate, the deployment of European construction and a wider integration of our country into the world economy.

This is why it is possible to view as an initial coherent whole the candidatures of Jacques Chirac, Alain Madelin and François Bayrou. We attain a liberal-social electorate equal to 30.6% of the votes cast. If we then consider the second coherent group of Lionel Jospin, Noël Mamère and Christiane Taubira we attain a social-liberal electorate corresponding to 23.71 % of the votes cast. In all, on the eve of the first round, these two electorate represented 54.31% of the vote. Therefore there is a wide electoral margin around the hyper-centre. This was the true ground of the renowned "third man". The third man was the one to succeed in uniting under his banner the vanquished electorate, all of those who had been defeated over the last 15 years in all the great public debates by the powerful dual movement of trans-national integration, both European and global.

The third electorate, which is vast in quantitative terms but politically marginalized, is a kind of transferable political market. This electorate is more attached to the nation than to Europe. They voted "No" to Maastricht (49%). They are more Jacobin than Girondist, closer to the administrative rather than the entrepreneurial State, more authoritarian than liberal, more protectionist than "free-traders", more egalitarian than democratic, more conservative than reformist, more traditional than modern, more pessimist, worried, sometimes convinced that we have entered a period of decadence. These are the people who voted for Arlette Laguiller (5.72%), Olivier Besancenot (4.24%), Daniel Glückstein (0.46%), Jean-Pierre Chevènement (5,32%), Robert Hue (3.37%), Jean-Marie Le Pen (16.86%), Bruno Mégret (2.34%) and Jean Saint-Josse (4.22%). If we consider these different candidatures as a whole its weight corresponds to 39.15% of the intention to vote. The third electorate is therefore more powerful than each of the two centrist electorates together.

We can also compare its weight, on the eve of 21st April, to that of the last European elections, but remembering that there is a great difference from the presidential election due to the voting methods and the stakes at play. The total vote won by the candidates Charles Pasqua (13.15%), Jean Saint-Josse (6.89 %), Robert Hue (6.84%), Jean-Marie Le Pen (5.74%), Arlette Laguiller (5.23%) and Bruno Mégret (3.30%) corresponded to 41.15 % of the votes cast. The social-liberal electorate mustered 31.64% of the vote against 23.34% for the liberal-social electorate (that is a total of 55% of the votes cast). Again the third electorate was greater.

The weight of the three electorates during the European elections of 1999

(calculated using the electoral results)

By breaking the bounds of the traditional split the third electorate borrows from both the Left and the Right. It begs the question of how the left and the right are contributing to its expansion. This is one of the key factors in the first round and the elections to come. It is also a decisive stake for the Europeans. According to the European elections of 1999 the right contributed more widely than the left resulting in a considerable weakening of the centre-right (UDF-RPR).

The left/right relationship within the third electorate

I.- calculated according to the results of the European elections 1999

If we consider the votes cast at of the first round of the presidential election the contribution made by the Right remains the highest. If this is confirmed by the ballot boxes in June such a difference might make the task of the centre right a complicated one (UMP).

The left/right relationship within the third electorate

II.- calculated according to the results of the vote on 21st April

Liberal-socialism together with social-liberalism comprises a whole that places a hyper-centre at the heart of political life. Finally French centrism was not defeated, it vanquished. It is triumphant at present but it is deprived of all perspective. It is easy to foresee the problems facing the candidates of official centrism. Given the present situation the centrist project would not be able to take on the hyper-centre with the two main parties, the PS and the UMP. The ground between is non-existent or too narrow. What is to be done? What is to be said? What is to be offered or promised? How to distinguish oneself from the other? How to exist, like among like, amidst this centrist universe where, to a greater or lesser degree, all the candidates are decentralizers, European,, "privatisers" and modernist? In the face of the centrist empire, the inevitable base of the victor, only the third electorate was able to maintain a disruptive candidature.

The weight of the three electorate on the eve of the first round

(calculated using the electoral results)

If we look back at the two previous presidential elections we see the impressive progress made by the third electorate, increasing from 18.8% to 39.15% of the votes cast over the last 20 years. The extreme point was certainly reached in 2002. If a trend like this were to continue our democracy would be faced with a major political problem and our country would find itself in an awkward position vis-à-vis its European partners. France's role in the European Union could not be upheld in the long term.

Weight of the three electorates in 1995 (1st round)

(calculated using the electoral results)[/b]

Weight of the three electorates in 1988 (1st round)

(calculated using the electoral results)

4. The weight of the protest vote (29.62%).

Within the third electorate there is a real protest vote whose significance needs to be stressed in 2002. By "protest vote" we mean all the votes given to candidates from the extreme right or extreme left. Jean-Marie Le Pen and Bruno Mégret attracted 19,20 % of the votes cast, whilst Arlette Laguiller, Olivier Besancenot and Daniel Glückstein mustered 10,42 %, ie a total of 29.62% of the votes cast. The fact that the Right is more heavily influenced than the left by the weight of the protest vote might augur problems during the next general elections. But we must not forget that the Extreme Right are also competing against the leftwing candidates, notably amongst the popular classes who have transferred from the PC and the PS to the Front National. The geographical advance of the Le Pen vote in 2002 leads us to believe that the Left is the subject of strong competition from the Extreme Right.

5. Electoral dissidence

I call "electoral dissidence" a movement of disparate behaviour but that can be grouped under one banner because they reveal a troubled relationship with the representative democracy. Therefore I suggest to group together the categories: abstentions, blank and void votes, the vote in favour of the Extreme Right or Extreme Left (excluding the Communist Party considered here as a government force) and the votes for the extra-system candidates such as Jean Saint-Josse and Jean-Pierre Chevènement in 2002.

From 1981 to 2002, electoral dissidence during the first round of the presidential election increased quite dramatically bearing witness to worsening of the political crisis, as the table below demonstrates:

Development of electoral dissidence from 1981 to 2002
First round of the presidential election

Calculated in % of those registered (Inter-regional Political Observatory)

6. The problematic strength of the candidates against Europe (42.53%).

The presidential election 2002 provides us with an interesting discovery about Europhobia in France. Amongst the 16 candidates in the first round eight are famous for developing a highly hostile discourse against the European Union. The movements they represent did not support the "Yes" vote to the Maastricht Treaty: Jean-Marie Le Pen, Arlette Laguiller, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, Olivier Besancenot, Jean Saint-Josse, Robert Hue, Bruno Mégret and Daniel Glückstein. On 21st April all of these candidates represented 42.53% of the votes cast. Ten years after Maastricht not only does the French "No" still exist but in terms of the electorate it appears to be growing.


1. Despite the appearance of a resounding victory, the crisis continues

After the shock of the first round, where for the very first time a candidate from an extremist party went through to the second round, it begs the question of knowing whether 21st April was really an accident or on the contrary, an additional demonstration of a political crisis of historical magnitude. In the face of Jean-Marie Le Pen, Jacques Chirac's re-election was imprudently taken for granted. The results on 5th May proved the optimistic estimations right.

Presidential Election 2002: Results of the second round (5th May)

In % of votes cast

However the triumphant victory of the out-going President, as all the available data shows, is not sufficient to hide the immutability of a serious crisis of our democracy.

(*) in % of the voters

(*) in % of those registered

Indeed, given the seriousness of the question we might have expected a major mobilisation of the voters. Similarly we might have supposed a great number of voters, who chose Jean-Marie Le Pen on 21st April, were simply trying to express their voice of protest. Similarly they were convinced that, once more, the extreme right candidate had no chance of going through to the second round, especially since the opinion polls preceding the first round continued to announce a final between Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin. It was not impossible, therefore, to imagine that some of the voters would choose to change their vote in the second round, not wanting to take the risk of plunging for an outsider. Finally, if normally the blank vote is used to express a certain amount of discontent in the face of a disappointing political offer, the configuration of the 5th May ballot sufficed to change the order of things bringing a momentary halt to the blank vote. The leader of the Blank Party recognised this and called people to block the Extreme Right. However of these three choices and in spite of the stakes at play the results showed a very different type of behaviour on the part of the electorate. Firstly, although abstentions were significantly lower than in the first round the level remained very high nonetheless. The levels were similar to those of 1995 when all records since 1965 were beaten, excluding the infamous election of 1969. Secondly although Jean-Marie Le Pen failed in his plan to achieve major steps forward during the second round it remains that to a greater or lesser degree his first round voters decided to confirm their vote on 5th May. Finally the level of blank and void votes is equal to the 1965 record, notably because of the call to vote "blank" launched by one of the leaders of an extreme leftwing party. Calculated in relation to those registered, the total number of abstentions (20,29%), the Le Pen vote (13,42%) and the blank and void votes (4,28%) equals 38% of the electorate registered.

2. The June 2002 elections: political crisis or presidential regime?

Since 1986, the coalition has imposed itself at the dominant regime. Over this 16-year period the coalition lasted 9 years. This is not an anomaly if we recall that popular will was the cause of the coalitions between 1986 and 1993. However the 1997 coalition distinguishes itself from the previous experiences. This is because of its origins - it was the result of a failed dissolution and not at the usual end of a term of office and its duration, five years and not two as was the case in the previous cases (1986-1988 and 1993-1995); it was also especially because of its electoral foundations. Indeed in 1997 the parliamentary majority of the plural Left was unable to disguise its electoral minority, (41,8% of the votes cast and 44,3% for all the leftwing parties), whilst the total for the rightwing represented 51,6% of the vote. The three cornered contest had provided a useful contribution to Lionel Jospin's success.

When a coalition is born of the refusal of the right to make an alliance with the Front National it brings an electoral minority to power that is then transformed into a parliamentary majority by the play on the three cornered contest. Such situations contribute undoubtedly to the disquiet in our democracy. On 21st April 2002 the total number of votes given to the candidates from the plural majority reached 27,18 % of the votes cast, against 33,67% for the government rightwing. Mathematically the Left will not be in a position to win the next general elections. However it might find itself both electorally in the minority and yet in the majority at the Assemblée National once more, with the help of the National Front which is determined to provoke the fall of the Right. If a new coalition should be the result of the June elections the regime of the 5th Republic will have passed on conceding its place to a new type of regime that is parliamentary. The French will only be able to stand by and observe the accession of a new republic that they did not really desire, whilst the power will be handed over to a force that today represents less than 20% of the voters registered.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN