Municipal Elections 2014 1st Round: Heavy Socialist Defeat Leads to Strong FN Results

The Parti Socialiste (PS) in government experienced a harsh night Sunday as the results of the first round of the municipal elections were revealed. As expected, the PS stands behind the right-wing Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP) in the polls and the Front national (FN) has gotten one of its best results ever. But the results were even stronger than the trends had lead to expect.

Political disappointment leads to abstention and extreme voting

While France has not yet recovered from the economic crisis of 2008, and François Hollande has failed to come through on his promise of inversing unemployment trends by the end of 2013, the French people sent him a clear message: his probation period is over. Disappointed by Sarkozy’s policies and now by Hollande’s, many probably felt uncertain without traditional options.

This can explain a rising abstention (38.5 %), stronger than the previous municipal elections of 2001. Even if the municipal elections are often considered by the French to be one of the most important, this tendency is fading. Generally, abstention is weaker in the second round, because of the greater stakes, so we can hope for a slight amelioration next Sunday.

Another refuge for the discontent of Sarkozy and Hollande policies is the Front National. The FN, which had only had mayors from 1995 to 2001 in four cities in the southeast, has managed to gather its best results ever in a municipal election. They have conquered the northern city of Hénin-Beaumont where Marine Le Pen almost won a representative seat in 2012. And they qualified for the second round in many southern and eastern cities: Perpignan, Fréjus, Avignon, Forbach… In many of those, the FN will run as the favorite and is likely to win some more cities next Sunday.

This success of the FN in middle-sized cities in regions of heavy unemployment (north and east) or strong immigration (south-east) was expected. It translates the growing misapprehension of national policies that are perceived to favor big cities and the elites, sacrificing the poor, the suburban and the rural electorate.

Tense second round perspectives for the PS

Sunday night’s surprise was the bad results for the PS in major cities. The educated elites living in those cities traditionally favor the left-wing party. Even though results are not dramatic, the PS is paying for the divisions of the left: Europe écologie – Les verts (EELV, or the Greens) has presented separate candidates in most cities and the Front de gauche (FDG) has leaded a harsh campaign against its former ally.

But this does not explain the mediocre results in many cities: incumbents Roland Ries in Strasbourg and Pierre Cohen in Toulouse face great risks of losing their re-elections. The PS’s chances of dissimulating disappointing numbers with a few big conquests (Marseille, Nancy) seems to have almost vanished tonight.

All is not lost for the PS, which has still strong chances to conserve both Paris and Lyon, despite average results in the former. They will engage in negotiations to rally the Greens and the FDG electors to their cause. Also, they can play on fears of the initial poor results to mobilize their electors for the second round.

One week until the second round

The second round is next Sunday, March 30. Until then, several rules apply. All lists of councillors that have failed to gather 10% of the votes in the first round are eliminated. For the remaining candidates, another election begins. They had until Tuesday to present their lists for the second round. These can be the same as in the first round, but they can also be mergers with any list that has gathered more than 5% of the vote in the first round. Therefore, you can expect the early part of the week to be intense negotiations, followed by intense campaigning.

Several configurations are possible. The most classical is a duel between the PS and the UMP. In this case, both lists attempt to gather the most solid alliance of their camp. This year, because of the strong FN results, many cities will see what is called a triangular between the PS, the UMP and the FN. This configuration favors the PS, as the FN splits the right-wing vote. But in cities with high risk of a success for the FN, the PS has announced that they will gather behind the UMP in the case of the UMP being ahead of the PS in the first round. The opposite does not apply as the UMP refuses to ally with the PS in any case.

In the second round, the leading list wins 50% of the seats in the municipal council and other lists share the remaining seats proportionally to their results. Then, once all results are confirmed, the municipal councils will gather to elect the mayor, almost always the leader of the winning list.

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