On 6 May, one nameless candidate managed to sneak into the news, scoring 2.1 million votes in the run-off election between Messrs Sarkozy and Hollande. The spoilt ballot – or voting “blank” (blanc) in French surged from 4.2% to 5.8% in 2012 compared to 2007
Surged? Well, yes, it is fair in this case to describe a jumps of 1.6% as a surge given the nature of the election, and in particular due to the position of the Third Man of this election, Marine Le Pen.
Perhaps it is a little odd that the French spoil their ballots at all in the second round of the Presidential Election. After all, there is only a possible choice between two candidates and those who can’t find their man (or woman) might simply prefer to stay at home. However the spoilt ballot has become a weapon for those who narrowly missed out on second round and wish to stay in the game. In 2007 the Front National failed to make much of an impact on the campaign, and the candidate pipped to the second round was the centrist Francois Bayrou. He declined to confirm who he would vote for in the second round, however much of his support was on the centre right and he himself had always been associated with the right (he had been a minister in a conservative government and allied with the conservative right until 2005). Others who might have been persuaded by his views would naturally have assumed that he was voting for Nicolas Sarkozy. As such the spoilt ballots remained at their average of around 4%, in an election with record turnout.
This year, turnout was slightly down and yet the spoilt ballots rose. This indicated that voters were responding to the call of Marine Le Pen, who as candidate of the Front National, stated in a May Day speech that she would be spoiling her ballot and there was a strong invitation to her supporters to do the same. Almost 6 million may have done just that.
That matters for what’s to come next month: the legislative elections whose results will shape the government with which the new President Hollande must govern. Le Pen is highly optimistic, about her own chances of a seat in Henin-Beaumont in the north of the country and that she will scrape together enough MPs to form a small group in the National Assembly. That will bring public money to fund her party, momentum and publicity. And perhaps more trouble for the conservatives that the socialists in the short term.