The rightwing leader Nicolas Sarkozy clearly ahead of the socialist candidate Ségolène Royal in the first round of the french presidential election


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


23 April 2007

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Deloy Corinne

Corinne Deloy

Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

The rightwing leader Nicolas Sarkozy clearly ahead of the socialist candidate Sé...

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Nicolas Sarkozy (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) clearly came out ahead in the first round of the French Presidential election on 22nd April. The former Home and Urban Development Minister in the present government led by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin (UMP) achieved an historic result with 31.11% of the vote, 11 points more than the present President of the Republic Jacques Chirac (UMP) achieved during the first round of the previous presidential election on 21st April 2002. He leads by 5.28 points over his main adversary, Ségolène Royal (Socialist Party, PS), who did however achieve the high score of 25.83%, a result comparable to that won by former President François Mitterrand (PS) in the first round of the presidential election in 1981, an election that did bring the left to power for the first time in the Vth Republic's history. UDF (Union for French Democracy) leader, François Bayrou came third, with an exceptional result of 18.55%, improving his 2002 score by 13.31 points. He came ahead of the extreme rightwing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen (National Front, FN) who won 10.51%, recording a clear decline in comparison with 2002 (-6.35 points).

None of the eight other candidates running in the first round managed to rise beyond the 5% mark. Olivier Besancenot (Revolutionary Communist League, LCR) came fifth with 4.11%, slightly worse than the 2002 result in % (- 0.14 point) but better in terms of numbers of votes (+ 283, 884). After him came the leader of the rightwing movement Movement for France (MPF), Philippe de Villiers who took 1.94% of the vote, the Communist Party candidate (PCF), Marie-George Buffet, 1.94%, the Greens candidate, Dominique Voynet, (1.57%), Arlette Laguiller (Lutte ouvrière, LO) 1.34%, anti-globalisation militant José Bové (1.32%), the Hunting, Fishing, Nature and Traditions candidate (CPNT), Frédéric Nihous (1.15%) and finally the candidate supported by the anti-European, extreme leftwing "Workers Party" (PT), Gérard Schivardi (0,34%).

The three main conclusions of the first round

Participation Rate

The participation rate was exceptional: 84.6% of the French turned out to vote; this is a record in the history of the Vth Republic if we compare it to the first round of the presidential election in 1965 (84.75%). This historic participation rate makes up for the first round of the presidential election of 2002 when a great number of voters abstained (28.40%), which was to the advantage of Jean-Marie Le Pen whose electorate has always been greatly motivated thereby enabling the extreme rightwing leader to qualify for the second round at the expense of the Socialist Party candidate, former Prime Minister (1997-2002) Lionel Jospin.

The Political Arena is Bipolar Again

The second conclusion to be drawn: the high results achieved by the two winning candidates, rallying together 56.94% of the vote (versus 36.74% for Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen on 21st April 2002). If we add this figure to François Bayrou's result, the government candidates won three quarters of the French vote (75.94%) in addition to an exceptional participation rate. 22nd April 2007 was therefore a severe riposte to 21st April 2002. The French, who prior to this showed immense interest in the electoral campaign (registration en masse on the electoral rolls, demolition of all audience records for TV political programmes) really did learn the lesson of that terrible 21st April by turning out to vote for the representatives of the government forces. This can only be to the honour of the two main candidates in that they succeeded in motivating so many of the French. Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded in convincing a great number of voters who in previous years allowed themselves to be taken in by the extreme rightwing; Ségolène Royal many of whom said she would not achieve her goal, including those within her own camp, succeeded in providing the left with its true place by qualifying easily for the second round.

The Collapse of Extremes

The third conclusion is a result of the second: the collapse of the extreme parties, both on the right and the left of the political scale; more widely this collapse involves all the small candidates who suffered both from the "useful vote" of the French and the result achieved by François Bayrou who clearly positioned himself as the vote of protest during the electoral campaign. The extreme right has regressed by 8.69 points in five years and the four extreme leftwing candidates achieved 3.33 points less than in 2002. The Communist Party that won less than 2% of the vote again tails the Revolutionary Communist League and its result, the lowest in its history, should herald its disappearance. Likewise the Greens who have declined by 3.68 points in five years will not be able to avoid questioning their future. Lionel Jospin's "multiple left" created by the former Prime Minister and Socialist candidate in the presidential election of 2002 is part of the past.

Although the left/right polarisation in the first round of this election is quite real it is nothing less than that which formed the political arena twenty or thirty years ago. Indeed during the 70's and 80's the Socialist Party, the left-wing majority party joined with the Communist Party which won 15.35% of the vote in 1981. In the 1990's the PS also opened up to the Greens. The Communists and the Ecologists were decimated during the first round in this presidential election. Likewise the main rightwing party – the Assembly for the Republic (RPR) then the UMP was supported until now by the UDF, a centre-right party, to form a majority. In choosing to make the right and left face each other during this campaign, is François Bayrou heralding the end of the UDF-UMP alliance? How far will the UDF MPs, who were elected thanks to rightwing votes, taking advantage of a UMP withdrawal from their constituencies and who can see general elections in June on the horizon, follow their leader in his strategy for independence and emancipation on the right?

The electorate of François Bayrou, a vital element in the second round

The 6, 750, 006 votes carried by François Bayrou comprise the real key to the second round of this presidential election. It is extremely difficult to estimate the share of the rightwing voters either frightened off by or hostile to Nicolas Sarkozy, those close to the left believing Ségolène Royal unable to reach the supreme office and finally the centrists who hope to see the emergence of a third axis. Although François Bayrou achieved an historic result he did however fail to win his wager to stand in the second round. "I am not here to achieve a good score, I'm here to win," he repeated continuously during the campaign. The French did however clearly show that far from having been led to the centre – the programme of which they struggled to discern – that a majority of them hoped however to be able to choose between the left and right in the second round.

François Bayrou is not likely to call for a vote in favour of either one or the other candidate in the second round. He has no choice but to continue his strategy of independence; he must however question his future. To continue to have influence he needs strength and to assert himself as a political leader he must absolutely maintain the leadership of his parliamentary group. UDF MPs have already been approached by the UMP – the Socialist Party might do the same. The PS might also try to draw closer to François Bayrou. The former Prime Minister (1988-1991) Michel Rocard (PS), along with former Healthcare Minister Bernard Kouchner (PS) and MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Greens) have been recommending an alliance between the Socialists and the UDF leader for several months now. François Bayrou will rally his troops on 24th April and will decide with them about the choices to be made for the future. It is said that he would like to create a new, more open political party which would be prepared to put candidates forward in all 577 French constituencies on 10th and 17th June next. We shall have to wait a few more days yet before we can glimpse any possible developments.

The second round on 6th May will therefore be played out in the centre of the political arena. Nicolas Sarkozy undertook an extremely rightwing campaign before the first round with the determined aim of rallying a maximum number of Jean-Marie Le Pen's electorate on 22nd April; with this wager won he set the tone on Sunday evening in a speech made after the announcement of the first results. The UMP leader wanted to appear reassuring and protective and stressed the values of fraternity and solidarity in a way he has never done before. However his first round wager might weigh heavy during the second. Indeed the candidate of the outgoing majority who should witness the majority of Jean-Marie Le Pen supporters voting for him on 6th May must now achieve the impossible if he wants to win and come through as a man of consensus.

Matters might seem easier for Ségolène Royal but it is still difficult to perceive the campaign strategy that the Socialist candidate will adopt in order to win on 6th May. She should take advantage of the votes on the part of the Greens, the Communist Party and the extreme leftwing parties (Arlette Laguiller called for a vote in favour of Ségolène Royal in the second round, the first time since 1974 on the part of the Lutte Ouvrière candidate). These votes will however be totally inadequate to win against Nicolas Sarkozy, since the left wing vote was particularly low (36.45% in all, the lowest score since the presidential election in 1969). Beyond the strategy "Anybody but Sarkozy" put forward by some, Ségolène Royal absolutely has to find the means to win a majority of the votes which were given to the UDF leader in order to have any chance of becoming the first woman to take the supreme office in France.

The French will choose between two projects for society on 6th May next, a choice they were deprived of in 2002. After the first round, Nicolas Sarkozy is still the main favourite in the Presidential race. The first polls to be made after the first round all say that he will win against Ségolène Royal, with 52% or 54% of the vote depending on the institutes. Although the "exit polls" reveal a slight preference of François Bayrou's voters for Ségolène Royal the UMP candidate still has a clear advantage of five points over his rival, since his victory in the first round has set the rhythm which might finally prove to be decisive. In this extremely personal campaign during which both candidates are set to break with the traditions of their own political parties the televised debate that will bring the two politicians face to face on 2nd May will also be of vital importance.

First Round Results of the French Presidential Election 22nd April 2007

Participation rate: 84.6%

Source Home Office

The rightwing leader Nicolas Sarkozy clearly ahead of the socialist candidate Sé...

PDF | 317 koIn English

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