French Election for Dummies

July 6, 2024

I suppose, since tomorrow is a rather important day in recent French history, I should write a little something about the French election.

On Thursday the UK unravelled years of conservative governance and swept in a new era of the Labour Party in a landslide. That seems to be the opposite of what is happening in so many other countries around the world. It was reassuring. And, maybe naively, it gave me a sense of optimism about the upcoming – tomorrow – election in my recently adopted country.

First I have to admit to a large amount of ignorance about the goings on in the French political system. Just yesterday I was asked a question about the Prime Minister – who appoints the PM? – and I honestly didn’t know the answer. So I googled it.

The President appoints the PM.

So take whatever I am about to say with a large grain of salt.

In our first year of living in Paris I came to realize something about this country as a whole: the government seems to do a much better job at serving the people of France than my own country. That is, however flawed and imperfect the French government may be, it does attempt to do the most good for the most people. This may be hard to believe America, but the French actually spend more on education than on their military[1]. There is a robust public service sector, amazing public transportation, and as renters we are quite protected from the vulture capitalism US renters face all the time. Oh, and the cost of daycare was recently lowered again.

BUT… I still don’t really know much about how their legislature works, what powers the president does or does not have, and before the last month I had no idea how the elections here even work. All I knew was that Macron is President and Marine Le Pen is a far right politician who inherited her father’s political party, the National Rally (formerly The National Front).

When President Macron called for snap elections I was somewhere off the West African coast on a cruise ship with terrible internet service so I barely paid it any attention. I have no vote anyway. Then I started getting messages asking me my thoughts and realized, well, I guess I better start giving a shit.

The EU had elections last month and the right won a lot of EU seats. This caused Macron to dissolve the National Assembly (the French legislature) and call for snap elections. They have two rounds of elections in France – unless a candidate gets 50% + 1 of the vote where at least 25% of registered voters turnout in the first round. As there are multiple parties and therefore multiple candidates that rarely happens. All candidates who receive at least 12.5% of the vote of all registered voters moves onto the next round.

– quick aside: I specifically said ‘all registered voters’ for a reason. If a constituency has 1000 people and only 250 vote, the percentage to move on is still apportioned based on those 1000 registered voters unless a candidate wins 126 votes (50% +1 when a 25% of the registered voters turnout).[2]

My brain hurts.

In a lot of cases this leads to three or more candidates making it to the next round. That happened a lot – something like over 300 seats have three or more candidates in the second round.

This is where it gets interesting. Because so many are afraid of a far right government, a lot of the other parties have agreed to drop out as third candidates and ceding to the remaining candidate on the ballot best suited to beat the NR candidate. IE, far left candidates may bow out if the center left candidate has a realistic shot at winning. Make sense so far?

While all of this has been happening I have come to learn the the National Rally has offices on my block. That means protestors. Don’t worry, they’ve been harmless, but entertaining.

Unfortunately, in other areas around the country the protests have been somewhat violent. Politicians have been attacked[3] in some places. It’s to the point where the US Embassy has put out a travel alert. Good times.

Now that you have your head wrapped around it all (don’t worry, I don’t either) I will tell you what I think will happen.

I think the NR will win a lot of seats tomorrow, but not a majority. I think the far left and left will also win a lot of seats. I think the moderates will be massively outnumbered and the legislature will have to come up with a coalition to govern with any level of effectiveness.

Most of all, I truly believe that if the newly elected government proves ineffective they do so at their own peril. The French have a history of making known their displeasure of those ruling them and, mock all you want, protesting gets shit done. They will keep their government in check.

Personally I am excited for tomorrow.I love a living, breathing democracy. I love an informed, educated, and involved electorate.

Mostly, I have faith in the French people.

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/467398/public-budget-breakdown-france/

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/articles/cnkkng554w8o

[3] https://apnews.com/article/france-election-violence-attack-campaign-ce0f6283fb648565d587c2f38f82ac45

©2024 Rudy Martinez