So it turns out my earlier predictions were correct — instead of running the table, the left actually incurred the net loss of a region. The higher turnout ensured the rightist slant dominated in Alsace, and the Presidential Majority won by ±40,000 votes. The incumbent party in Guyane dragged down Taubira's list and left her ±39,200 votes in the hole, and in La Réunion, the PS and the bizarre PCR-led unity coalition split the leftist bounce and left blue in the lead by ±21,000 votes. Three regional presidencies for the right, as opposed to 2004's two.

Late last night, over on Daily Kos, Jerome a Paris was trying to spin this into a victory for the left, which seems harder to do now. I suppose you could be arguing that nobody cares about overseas departments and that the métropole is what matters. You could argue that there's no significant backswing, and that the lack of one is evidence enough.

Even if you go the obvious route and point out that Guyane and La Réunion were lost because of idiosyncratic anti-incumbent sentiment, and that little microcosms like that shouldn't be held as indicative — well, Corsica is the left's only gain, and its politics are hardly less peculiar. I guess it doesn't count either, then?
The most recent poll for Le Figaro has the PS-led left unity list and the Presidential Majority list both at 43.5% of the vote. The left might end up with a full sweep after all.
Though in this case, 'fort' doesn't refer to the the French adjective so much as it's about 'holding down the'. If anything, the right's options are less limited than they were in 2004, but also more unlikely, with some chance to come out on top in a few different régions. A low first-round turnout is usually followed by a large second round, so it can be hard to really gauge the results. On the other hand, I do want to make a few predictions.

Alsace — likely keep.
Alsace hasn't been immune to the leftist strength of the last two cycles, but that doesn't mean the left will get there. By and far the crustiest of the French regions, it's been under a rightist presidency since the founding of the Fifth Republic. Then again, so had Haute-Normandie in 2004, so anything's possible.

In fact, the left start out ±46,000 votes ahead of their first round position, the main right ±44,000 behind, and indeed, if you count the PS and EÉ together, they're only 1,960 votes in the hole. Considering that they usually receive the bigger second round bounce (and indeed did so in 2004), it looks comparatively better for them at first blush. On the other hand, those ±44,000 rightist votes didn't swing left — they're in the minor extreme right party Alsace d'Abord, and are highly likely to come home in round 2. And the leftist coalition can't count on the crossover votes of Antoine Waechter's Independent Ecologist Movement this time, since they're already in the EÉ, or on many of the extreme left's votes. Only 43.36% of Alsatians turned up to vote in the first round, too, and in a place as conservative as the Alsace, you have to assume the silent majority tilts towards the blue. With the PS breathing down their beloved UMP's neck, they might be inspired to show up on Sunday.

On the other hand, this is the best result of the left here in a generation, and being within striking distance could draw weaker leftist and centrist supporters just to give the right a bloody nose. This would depend largely on the response of those ±23,000 centrist MoDem voters who stranded short of the 5% mark.

Guyane — lean gain.
Guyane, home of the European space program, oodles and oodles of rainforest and the lowest population of any of the regions, unexpectedly veered right in the first round results, with the PSG list of current president Gabriel Serville coming in a distant third. The Presidential Majority has ±12,200 votes to the second-place Walwari-MDES with ±6,900. Christiane Taubira is quite busy marshalling the PSG and EÉ lists (and even a dissent leftist list) under a single banner. The biggest factors here are turnout — 44.44% in a region where your vote has a lot of comparative weight — against the collapse of the regionalist PSG, which can't be expected to repeat its vote-doubling leap in 2004's second round. Even though Taubira's math is good, its sudden popularity loss might drag down her entire left unity list.

La Réunion — tossup.
Another Outremer, but a much more populous one, where the sitting president's Communist Party of Réunion has suffered some decline as well. It's tried to stave this off by means of an alliance with the EÉ and MoDem, but the Presidential Majority is only ±9,000 votes behind, and there are a metric ton of dissident rightist lists that will close the gap in round two. I actually had this listed as 'likely gain' until I came across the news item that dissident conservative and ex-convict André Thien-Ah-Koon will be forming a unity list with that Communist-led alliance. He has a very strong local power base that's based more on personal popularity than on ideology, so he'll probably deliver most of those ±13,000 votes. Still, there's a lot of dissident right.

Corsica — lean loss.
Shamed by their utter disarray in the 2004 regionals, the Corsican left resolved to present a single bloc in the future. So it stands to reason that four different leftist lists showed up for round one. Thankfully, they all made the 5% cut, and are finalizing a predictably fractious unity list process that should leave them in the driver's seat. Still, the right's vote loss went almost integrally to regionalist parties, who could outperform the left if they could set aside their ideological differences. They won't, so there might be a significant blue bump there. Still, when conservative newspaper Le Figaro describes the Corsican left as 'menacing', it's wise to take them seriously. And like Alsace, la Corse has been solidly in conservative hands since the start of the Fifth Republic.

Rhône-Alpes — likely loss.
What gives? The Presidential Majority is only ±17,000 votes ahead of the PS, and both Philippe Meirieu of the surging EÉ and Élisa Martin of the Left Front have signaled their desire for a unity list. This should be a done deal.

The issue here is Jean-Jack Queyranne, current PS regional president and probably the weakest in France today. When polled, only 20% of the region know who he is, and 28% surmises the regional council is currently being run by the Presidential Majority. When faced with Meirieu's results just after the first round, there were reports of Queyranne physically avoiding the rest of the leftists, and it's hard to negotiate unity if one of the partners doesn't show up. I haven't heard anything more, though, so I'm hoping Queyranne has come to his senses. Otherwise, it's possible that bleed away from the PS to the LF or EÉ combined with National Front's Bruno Gollnisch hemorrhaging support (like he always does in the second round) will result in an upset Presidential Majority victory.

I'd qualify the rest of the regions as 'safe PS', but you never know, of course. (I definitely don't know in Languedoc-Roussillon, but I suspect dissident Georges Frêche and his ramshackle collection of minor parties will carry the day for the left.) If you'd like to take a look at the numbers for yourself, you can find them on Wikipedia, but be aware that the labels and attributions aren't correct.

And then, we're just awaiting the results of round two, which happens tomorrow.
Lists, blocs and rounds.

When the French go to the polls, they vote not for parties but for lists, which are made up of candidates from several parties and are agreed upon by all of them on a regional basis. There is, however, something called a dissident candidacy, where a candidate who feels shortchanged in the list-making process starts some parallel negotiations or simply goes it alone, trying to prove his value by drawing votes away from the main list. Now, as if this weren't confusing enough, many parties are part of an ideological bloc, which often does the list negotiations. Two big leftist blocs, buoyed by their success in the recent European elections, have stayed together to great effect.

Voting takes place in two rounds, with every list with over 10% of the vote in the first going on to the second round. Any party that score's over 5% is allowed to open negotiations to merge their first round list with one of the ten-percenters, and many of them do. This system allows and encourages a lot of inter-party cooperation. This very rarely crosses the left-right divide, though, and virtually ensures that the resulting government will be conducted under the auspices of one of the big dogs.

Dogs of all shapes and sizes.

You could divide the political blocs in France into roughly four tiers, with the classic liberal-socialist divide dominating the top tier. The Presidential Majority is the traditional name for the bloc around the French President's party, in this case the Union for a Popular Movement or UMP. The parties around it are minor things, agrarianists, Blairists, christian democrats and chauvinists. Even though they came first in 10 out of 26 constituencies in the first round, often barely, they have serious issues going into the second round, because they've already hit their ceiling — there are no more moderate right parties they could hit up for extra votes.

The Socialist Party has trended to the right over the decennia, and is best compared with the British Labour Party, though it's a little truer to its roots. They're a ponderous, establishment party of the left or center-left, and their track record's considered an asset. The leftist blocs piling in after the second round strengthen its credentials, as the resulting government tends more to the left than it would otherwise have. In the 2004 elections, they outright won 21 of the 26 constituencies, and some of its minor allies won 3 more. It's stated goal for the 2010 regionals is to run the table, and they're really not that far off.

The next tier is occupied by two very different parties, the largest of which is the National Front under the auspices of Jean-Marie Le Pen. They themselves claim to be mainstream right, but observers point out the virulent rhetoric against everything that's not a straight white male and stuff like trivializing the Holocaust marks them as extreme. Its numbers skyrocketed in 2002, but they've lost ground in every election since then.

So much so, in fact, that they've been overtaken by Europe Écologie, a smattering of Green parties whose long bloc formation paid off in the last European elections, when they outperformed the Socialists in some places. Their main goal now was to match that performance, which sadly didn't work out. They're committed to forming governments and playing matchmaker for anyone who looks vaguely leftist, and they've opened negotiations with the Socialist Party in every region they can.

The third tier blocs are either a bit unstable or in an unfortunate position, but they often hit the 5% threshold. The Left Front, an uneasy and variable alliance of leftist and socialist parties, is at least on an upswing. It usually consists of the French Communist Party and the Left Party, with a few less robust leftist parties thrown in. This arrangement has paid off massively, because there are quite a few regions where they can simply play kingmaker, and it's bound to have drawn its lessons. (The New Anti-Capitalist Party, though, refuses to work together with the SP, so the LF finds itself sidelined in regions where their list includes them.)

The Democratic Movement, a centrist party that tore itself away from its long-standing alliance with the right and has just been hemorrhaging support since then. The regionals held it to just 4.2% of the vote, and it's found itself trapped — the Left Front refuses to work with it and is a more appealing partner for the Socialists, but working with the UMP would just be too bitter a pill to swallow.

Fourth tier are all those that remain, over fifty parties of all stripe, which includes all the regionalists. The New Anti-Capitalist Party is one of them, as is Workers' Struggle, the Trotskyists.

So who comes out on top?

The Socialist Party and the left, obviously. However, the Presidential Majority isn't quite dead yet. Coming soon.

Hm. Oops.

Mar. 17th, 2010 09:07 am
Well, my plan to pay more attention to actual European politics is proceeding apace, I suppose. The real issue is that I've never bothered with them before, so that analysis of the French regionals I wrote yesterday? It's full of bone-headed mistakes and misinterpretations, which swiftly came to light once I bothered looking up some primary sources. Oops? Please, enjoy some random statistics-mongering while you wait for a better post.

Largest victory percentage,
  • Independent extreme left — 4.19%
    Auvergne by Alain Laffont with a New Anti-capitalist Party list allied to two minor Green parties.
  • United extreme left — 14.24%
    Auvergne by André Chassaigne with a Left Party list allied with a minor anti-globalist party.
  • Green parties — 17.83%
    Rhône-Alpes by Philippe Meirieu on the united Europe Écologie list.
  • Socialist party — 40.93%
    Midi-Pyrénées by Martin Malvy with a Socialist Party list with a minor centrist ally.
  • Centrist Party — 10.43%
    Aquitaine by Jean Lassalle on a pure Democratic Movement list.
  • Presidential Majority — 34.94%
    Alsace by Philippe Richert of the united Presidential Majority list.
  • Extreme right — 20.29%
    Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur by Jean-Marie Le Pen on a National Front list.
Most lists going through to the second round, Nord-Pas-de-Calais with five. (Presidential Majority, Socialist Party, Left Front, Europe Écologie and Democratic Movement.)
Largest victory percentage of a coalition, the Socialist Party, Progressive Guadeloupe Party, Greens and Democratic Movement unity list in Guadeloupe gains 56.51% of the vote and thereby obviates the need for a second round.
Fewest absolute number of votes, Euskal Herria Bai, three Basque seperatist parties constituting a single list, with 250 votes.
I thought these might be interesting to look at, especially the first round, to serve as a bellwether for the first round of the presidential elections of 2012, when Sarkozy will be running for a second term. Of course, that's quite early, but the precedent is 2004, where the Parti Socialiste won a massive victory, leaving only two régions under the control of the ruling UMP of Jacques Chirac.1 The régions in question were Corsica and the Alsace, quite peripheral to France as a whole.2

With as big a swing as that, you'd expect a return to the mean for these elections. The UMP is quite unpopular in France, though, especially because of the soaring unemployment. On the other hand, the PS is in no position to capitalize on this, so we're seeing low turnout and a lot of protest votes, away from the traditional big bruisers. On the left, the big winner is Europe Écologie, on the right, the Front National. In mainland France,3 though, this movement results in a lot of second rounds with these four parties still competing.4 In the 2004 election, the second round was usually UMP-PS-FN, and with FN voters sticking to their own party, the Left cruised to some easy victories with the support of Green voters. The big question here is whether they're likely to push for a Left or a specifically Green victory.

In a really rough estimate, splitting the votes of the parties that didn't make the cut evenly between the parties that share some of their ideology,5 the UMP is projected to retain control of the Alsace and gain control of Guyane and Rhône-Alpes. The great unknown factor here is the splintered left. It's become more and more fractious in the last ten years, and with nine of the constituencies, including Corsica, coming down to less than 5% of the vote — five less than 1%! — I'm finding it really hard to draw conclusions.

In Auvergne, for example, the UMP racked up 28% of the vote, the PS 28% as well, the Left Front 14% and the Greens 10%. The FN stranded outside of the second round with 9% — but if the left sticks to its guns, the FN voters will pile in and hand the UMP the victory, even though the three leftist parties just got 52% of the vote!

It seems that these regional elections haven't just confirmed what was already known, they're also turning into a test for the Left electorate, and whether it'll choose being able to set a policy over ideological purity. Since so many of the régions are already in PS hands, though, I assume there'll be relatively little crossover voting. Still, in the worst-case scenario the left hangs on to 14 régions, compared to the UMP's 12.

Footnotes. )

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Julianna Lacroix

July 2010

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