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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Right’s Dominance of France

By: inoljt,

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%.

More below.

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, 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.