The Debate

There is little evidence in previous French Presidential elections of the single debate between the two finalists having much effect on the result.  The debate in 2012 between François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy seemed to confirm the result several days later – Sarkozy seemed already to have accepted that his defeat was inevitable.  In 2007, Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal never seemed to be a fair match, as Sarkozy rode high in the polls and in steering around Royal’s scattergun approach to the issues.

Wednesday night’s debate was very different.  Whilst in 2012 the debate was often dull and plodding, this debate offered some shocking moments.  It was sometimes difficult to hear the candidates over their shouting at each other.  The two moderators were largely ignored (and looked thoroughly miserable throughout.  This was not a great debate on the issues that we might have hoped for.  But, if the final polls released today are to be believed, it might have changed quite a few minds. Continue reading


Strategies: Part Two

The French electoral process is designed to whittle down a field of candidates to two finalists in a second round.  It is therefore odd that the second round campaign is full of speculation about the tactics of unlucky candidates who found themselves knocked out on the night of 23 April.

But speculation about the strategy of various political groupings who fall by the wayside has been rife.  Partly, this is because even rolling news channels can get sick of a diet of just Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, but fundamentally the race for the Legislative elections, where the French will choose new members of the National Assembly on 11 and 18 June (yes, two rounds again), is hoving into view.  Whilst the President presides, his government needs to secure a majority in the National Assembly.  Who wins on 7 May is therefore only one piece of the constitutional puzzle. Continue reading

Strategies: Part One

The campaign for the second round is different to the first round, encapsulated by the expression: in the first round voters choose, in the second round voters eliminate. The first round often sees candidates pitch to their respective bases, hoping to get over 20% (at which point qualification to the second round becomes more likely); the second round, where 50.1% is needed to win, is often a campaign for national unity.  No electoral college nor first past the post constituency votes get in the way of the need to score a majority of the popular vote.

As a result, the second round can seem oddly disconnected from the first, an example being Nicolas Sarkozy’s unsuccessful second round campaign in 2012, where he lurched wildly to the right with speeches and policies that would not have been out of place in Marine Le Pen’s manifesto.  His rightward shift may have turned off a sufficient number of centrists and independents to hand victory to François Hollande.  Hollande’s job in 2012, once he had rallied the majority of the left to his cause (a job he did by March), was not to be Sarkozy.  Thus he was hobbled early on by a chunk of his support consisting of anti-Sarkozy protest votes.

This year, despite the top two finalists having been long predicted by the polls, there was an eerie sense of surprise and relief on the night of 23 April.  Macron’s stilted and overly confident speech and Le Pen’s brazen nationalism left many feeling unsettled.  The prospects for a real substantive debate during the two weeks allowed for the second round campaign seemed slim. Continue reading