The Right’s Dominance of France

The story of the 2012 French presidential election is quite interesting. Right-wing incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy entered the election deeply unpopular. Opinion polls consistently showed him losing by around 20%.

France’s presidential system has two rounds. In the first round, everybody can be a candidate. The top two winners of the first round move to a second round run-off.

As election day approached, Sarkozy’s deficit continually shrunk.  Opinion polls just before the first round showed Sarkozy losing by low double-digits. As the campaign for the second round began, they showed him behind by high single-digits.

Sarkozy ended up losing by 3.2%. That’s a pretty steep drop-off from the polls that showed him behind by 20%.

To be fair, Sarkozy’s opponent François Hollande isn’t the best politician. But the fact that Hollande barely defeated one of the most unpopular presidents in the history of France’s Fifth Republic says something about France.

Indeed, the right has dominated the left throughout the history of French presidential elections:

As this chart shows, the French right has won seven presidential elections; the French left has won just three. The right’s greatest election victory occurred in 1958, when French war hero Charles de Gaulle defeated hapless Communist candidate Georges Marrane with 79% of the vote.

The left’s greatest victory occurred in 1988, when incumbent François Mitterrand took 54% of the vote over Jacques Chirac. A French left-wing presidential candidate has yet to win by double-digits; the right has done this multiple times.

In addition, there are two instances when the French left failed to make it into the second round. This happened in 1969 and 2002, which are colored darker blue above (the margin in these years indicates the first round). In both instances the second round ended up being between two right-wing candidates. So far a French presidential election has never featured two left-wing candidates in the second round.

Here’s a table of the elections:

French Presidential Elections Results: Second Round
 Year Left Right Margin of Victory for the Left
1958 13.0% 78.5% -65.5%
1965 44.8% 55.2% -10.4%
1969 0.0% 100.0% -100.0%
1974 49.2% 50.8% -1.6%
1981 51.8% 48.2% 3.6%
1988 54.0% 46.0% 8.0%
1995 47.4% 52.6% -5.2%
2002 0.0% 100.0% -100.0%
2007 46.9% 53.1% -6.2%
2012 51.6% 48.4% 3.2%

France has generally had a reputation of being a very liberal place, and this analysis might seem surprising from that perspective.

To be fair, the French right is very different from the American right. France’s right-wing is probably to the left of America’s Democratic Party (at least on economic issues). France’s left used to be the Communist Party; today it is the Socialist Party. Both parties would never win a presidential election in the United States.

Finally, and ironically, as I write these words the French socialists have just won an absolute majority in Parliament. France’s socialists today hold more of the levers of power than they have ever held in the history of the French Fifth Republic. But historically, it has been the right and not the left in power in France.

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5 Responses to The Right’s Dominance of France

  1. Durand says:

    Ps :
    For exemple in France, extreme left party (parti communiste, LCR, EELV, parti socialiste etc.) are muslims party, they want establish muslim law in all the country and they want socialism or communism economy, but the extreme right party don’t want muslim law, they want secularism (laicité), but they want socialism or communism economy too (FN, Debout la République etc.) !
    Mid-right party want secularism like extrem right, but they want mix socialism and freedom economy.
    Mid-center party want secularism like extrem right and they want maximum economic freedom, but they supports illegal European Union (because we say no with 55% about european referendum), when all the country hate European institutions…

    If I summurize, in France and in Europe, at a glance for abroad you really can’t understand politic chessboard.
    For exemple, if french peoples don’t vote for economic freedom party, you can think it’s because they prefer socialism economic, but it’s mainly because they hate Bruxelles.
    For exemple, if French peoples vote for extreme right, you can think it’s because they want establish christian country, but it’s mainly because they want protect liberty against islam fascim for left and extreme left.
    Etc.

  2. Durand says:

    I’m French and I read this article about french election because I want know if globaly your articles are reliable.
    Actually I notice a lot of mistakes inside this article about french election, so we can’t trust you about all the others articles on your website.
    It’s not really unbiased and not without a lot of mistakes.
    1° – French’s political exchequer is absolutly unrivaled with USA’s political exchequer. It’s not just about economy. We think by ourself, we don’t think binary like in USA with right or left. In France our political exchequer is about at least 5 political directions or ways, not just right or left.
    2° – France is absolutly not liberal, but you can’t understand if for you the opposite of liberal is KKK…
    3° – Socialist Party win the election in 2012 just because of muslims votes and we are just falling in civil war with censorship of the regime.
    Etc.

    • inoljt says:

      What is a political exchequer?

      • Durand says:

        @inoljt :
        I’m sorry I’m not fluent in english, but it’s metaphor.
        Exchequer is the ancestor’s game of chessboard.
        Replace the word exchequer by chessboard.
        This metaphor about exchequer/chessboard don’t exist in USA ?
        When we speak about “political chessboard” it’s metaphor about each goal and each position of each political party.
        It’s not just right or left like in USA, it’s right, or left, or up, or down, or diagonal etc. like with chessboard.
        In USA when you visualise politics in your brain you see right with red elephant or left with blue donkey, but in France and in Europe commonly, inside each of our country, we visualise chessboard.
        We don’t think binary, right or left, we can think in diagonal… lol
        And the best is in Switzerland with full direct democraty. No president, no government, and each quarter citizens inside each county vote for at least 10 referendums from people decisions, in the same time, with no vote machine (fraud in USA)… :
        For exemple we can again vote with our hand in some countys in Switzerland :

        http://www.google.com/search?q=landsgemeinde&hl=en&lr=lang_fr&safe=off&tbo=u&tbs=lr:lang_1fr&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=hB6sUMSKG-ma0QX__YG4CA&ved=0CDoQsAQ&biw=1920&bih=1064

        So you can’t understand french or Switzerland or political chessboards in each country of Europe, if you compare with USA and if you don’t think chessboard.

        For exemple in France, the party who is for the maximum economic freedom is the center party and the party who is for minimum economic freedom or communism is the extreme left AND extreme right parties.
        For exemple in Switzerland, the party who want close nuclear power plant and fight for protect hearth en environment and who want maximum economic freedom in the same time, is the right party, like the extreme left party !

        You can’t compare if you don’t think in many dimension.
        Think chessboard, not binary.

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