Our Blog - Election Blog Part 1

We moved to France just before the French Presidential elections, and so we have had a front-row seat to it. While there isn't as much here in Toulouse as was in Paris, we have had several of the candidates here lately, being the 4th largest city in France.

First, let me start with a little bit of information about the process and system, since it is different than in the US. There are several differences:

Spending - it seems that in the US, you have to be a billionaire to run for president nowadays. In France, campaign expenses are limited and exceeding this is illegal. As an example, in 2007, the final 2 candidates, Sarkozy and Royal, spent a combined total of 41 million euros. In addition, candidates are also subsidized by the government based on the percentage of votes they get in the first round (between 800,000 and 8 million euros). This means that French politicians are not enslaved to special interests or Super-PACs as they are in the US.

Air Time - within France, there is a le temps de parole law dealing with presidential campaigns that guarantees equal time on television and radio to all presidential candidates during the final five weeks of the campaign. Some people hate this, since it means that a candidate that is polling at 0.0000001% gets the same coverage as a candidate that is polling at 40%. However, it also means that all candidates are able to get our their information and views in the national media, not just the ones that are polling the highest. Televised political ads are banned. Each candidate is allowed a small number of "statements", following strict rules on time and editing. These can be broadcast on television, and only during the five-week period of the "official" campaign.

Voting and polls - voting is done on Sundays and campaigns end at midnight the Friday before and candidates can not do any campaigning or broadcasts of any kind after that until after the voting ends. In addition, there can be no early results or polls published on Sunday, which gets you out of the situation that we sometimes see in the US where people may not vote on the west coast due to seeing the election results coming in from the east coast.

Number of Candidates - this is a big difference for me. In the US, we normally have 2 candidates .. maybe 3. In France this year, they had 11 candidates in the first round. There are lots and lots of parties in France, unlike the 3 or 4 in the US (Democratic, Republican, Green, Libertarian). And remember, each of these 11 candidates get equal TV time during the final 5 weeks of the campaign.

You've heard me use the term "first round" a couple of times, so let me get to the system. In France, there is a two-round system of voting, and the population directly elects the President (unlike the US that has the Electoral College system). Voting is always on a Sunday and the "first round" was held Sunday, April 23rd. If no candidate receives the majority, then the two highest vote-getters move into the second round of voting to determine the President. Theoretically, someone could win the Presidency in the first round by getting a clear majority of the votes, but it has never happened in the history of the French presidential elections since the two-round system was put in place.

Now … this brings in some interesting situations when you have 11 candidates. It doesn't really matter what percentage you have in the first round as long as you are one of the top 2. You could get a situation where in the first round, a candidate gets 45% and the 2nd place finisher gets 5%, with the other 50% of the votes spread over the other 9 candidates. Then in the 2nd round, that top-vote-getter could actually LOSE the election to the 5%-vote-getter if the other 50% of the votes also go their way in the 2nd round. You also get the opposite case where in the second round, one candidate ends with a commanding margin of victory. This was the case in the 2002 election with 16 candidates in the first round. Chirac (center-right), Jospin (center-left) and Le Pen (far-right) all got about the same percentage (19.88 down to 16.18 percent). Most of the supporters of the other parties that didn't get through to the second round (and Chirac's supporters) preferred voting for Chirac rather than Le Pen, and Chirac won a commanding victory, 82.21% to 17.79%.

So let's get to this year's election. There were 11 candidates that received the required number of "sponsorships" (support of people like mayors), although it was really a 3 or 4-way race (if you believed the polls). I won't bore you with all 11 candidates … just the top ones (if you really want to learn about all of them, the wikipedia page has them: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_presidential_election,_2017).

The winner in the first round was Emmanuel Macron, who is basically a centrist. He was previously within Hollande's administration but then split off and created a new party named En Marche! in September. I find it really amazing that you can start a party and win the first round 7 or 8 months later. He is very much a pro-Europe candidate and wants to see reforms to modernize the French economy. He received 23.8% of the votes in the first round.

He will go up against Marine Le Pen, who leads the Front National, and got 21.7% of the vote. Marine took over the FN party in 2011 after battling her father for control. The Front National is similar to the alt-right in the US and her stances align much with Trump's. She is anti-immigration and has stated she wants to stop even legal immigration into France. She also wants to remove from from the EU, the eurozone, and the Schengen zone.

Coming in 3rd and 4th were Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Melenchon, getting 19.8 and 19.2 percent respectively. Fillon is from the Republican party here in France and was a front-runner until the Penelope-gate scandal, where his wife and kids held jobs and got paid for jobs they actually didn't do. He has a liberal economic policy (from a French point of view … Americans would consider it conservative) including ending the 35-hour workweek, getting rid of 500K civil servants, removing of the wealth tax, and reforming the health insurance system. Melenchon leads the "La France Insoumise" party, which is translated to anywhere between France Unbowed to Rebellious France. He has the backing of the French Communist party and is considered left-wing. He has made statements about wanting to bring about the "Sixth Republic" and has policies around redistribution of wealth (like a 90% tax on income above 450K). An interesting trivia fact: he has used holograms to appear in meetings in multiple cities at the same time.

Lastly is Benoit Hamon, who came in a distant 5th place with 6.5%. He is the candidate from the Socialist Party, which is the current party in power. However, President Hollande decided not to run for re-election. Hamon supports a "universal basic income" which from what I can determine means that everybody would get a monthly check from the government to live on. I haven't been able to find enough to determine if that is literally everybody (including those who make 50 euros a month and those that make 500,000 euros a month) or if there is a cap. He also wants to legalize pot in France. I don't think that Hamon is a bad candidate, but the Socialist Party and Hollande are just SO unpopular right now in France, I don't really think Hamon had much of a chance.

The second round of voting is May 7th (another Sunday) and it is a winner-take-all :-). Once the president is elected, there are additional elections in June to elect members of national assembly.

Now that the first round is over, we can look forward to the final voting between Macron and Le Pen. We listened to a few of the speeches from those that didn't make it into the second round. I found it good that a couple of them, specifically Fillon and Hamon, included in their speech a call to their supporters to do whatever it takes to NOT allow Le Pen and the Front National to win.