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Is Macron heading for another election victory in the upcoming French parliamentary elections?

The first round of the French national parliamentary elections will take place on June 12, followed by a second round of run-offs on June 19. Three major electoral clusters (blocs) are competing against each other: the right-wing populists under Le Pen, a left-wing alliance under Mélenchon, and the liberal center under Macron. Polls indicate that the Liberals will again be the strongest political force in the newly elected parliament. The crucial question of whether the Liberals will achieve an absolute parliamentary majority, however, remains open.

Picture: Le Palais Bourbon, French National Assembly via Wikimedia Commons.

In the run-off for the French presidential election on April 24, liberal Emanuel Macron won 58.5% against his right-wing populist rival Marine Le Pen, who only received 41.5% of the votes cast. Macron thus won by a narrower margin than in the 2017 “dé jà vu” election, when he mobilized a remarkable 66.1% of the votes against Le Pen. Seen in this way, his lead over the right-wing populists has narrowed. In the German-language media, this was sometimes abbreviated in the sense of a worrying trend, as if Macron were not a “real” winner. 

A specter was breathed into life: If the right-wing populist Marine Le Pen ran often enough, would she, almost automatically, break the 50 percent mark one election day? However, such a biased, almost hysterically exaggerated media hype overlooks the fact that Le Pen has already lost for the second time: So how often does she still want to run for presidency? In addition, Macron’s election victory with 58.5% of the votes (in a runoff election) is not a small gain, but clear in its statement. The logic of development in modern democracies often associates with the trend of majorities becoming smaller, electoral processes and voter dynamics are tending to progress more and more competitively.

Weakened starting position for Macron’s Liberals

After the election is before the election. Just after the presidential election, France is heading towards its June general elections, also called “élections législatives”, with a first round on June 12, and a run-off between the top-ranked candidates per constituency (electoral district) on June 19. France applies here a two-tier majority system with all its complexities. The real sensation in the first round of the French presidential election was that the left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon came in third with 21.95% of the votes behind the right-wing populist Marine Le Pen (with 23.15%), and thus almost made it into the runoff election against Macron. Macron’s victory in the runoff had several weaknesses. Many left-wing voters did not want to vote right-wing populist, but they were equally reluctant to vote for Macron, whom they saw as representing “neoliberalism”. Left-wing voters were faced with the dilemma of either not voting at all or voting for Macron, so to prevent right-wing populism. Mélenchon himself also danced around this dilemma: he advocated not voting for Le Pen, but refused to endorse Macron. 

Macron thus also won because voters chose him for reasons, in order to ultimately keep right-wing populism away from presidential power. But it was not an election victory with great enthusiasm. Macron even referred to this explicitly in his victory speech on election night. He may also have feared that his liberal electoral movement would be voted out of office in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

Three major electoral blocs: the left, the liberal center, and the right-wing populists

Polls indicate that three major electoral blocs are beginning to form competitively. Leading the way (with around 27% approval) is the left electoral alliance NUPES (Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale), supported by La France Insoumise, Greens, Socialists and Communists, and with Mélenchon as the main actor here. The liberal center positions itself almost at the same level (with around 26% approval), with Macron as its leading figure. Far behind in third place (with around 21% approval) are the right-wing populists with Marine Le Pen. Individual socio-demographic breakdowns in the polls are interesting. In terms of gender composition, the sympathizers of the various blocs do not seem to differ that much. On the other hand, there are clear differences with regard to age. The Left Alliance enjoys in particular the greatest support among younger voters, while the Liberals are clearly in the lead among the older voters. Among the right-wing populists, the middle age categories are more dominate by tendency. 

The magic number of “289”

In total, the French Parliament has 577 seats, and 289 is the magic number for the absolute parliamentary majorityHowever, the complexity of the French electoral system implies that approval ratings can be reflected quite differently in the distribution of seats. A current Ifop survey projects the following seat holdings: left-wing bloc 195-230 seats, liberal center 250-290 seats and right-wing populist bloc 20-47 seats. It also depends on how the concrete electoral alliances for the runoff elections in the second round will turn out. Here, the right-wing populists traditionally run out of allies. Seen in this light, the right-wing populists have “dreamed-out” their dreams.

Will Macron’s Liberals win the general election, but ultimately miss out on an absolute parliamentary majority?

The good news for Macron’s Liberals is that they will likely be the strongest political force in the new French parliament. The bad news, however, is that it must still be considered open and undecided, as to whether an absolute parliamentary majority will go to the Liberals. The seat forecasts for the Liberals this year are also lower than the actual success after the first round of elections back in 2017.  If the Liberals miss the absolute parliamentary majority, then it actually seems to be impossible for the left and the right-wing populists to form a joint coalition. But left-wing and right-wing populists could block and overturn legislation proposed by a liberal minority government. The parliamentary run-off election, on June 19, can still make the one or the other difference.

About the Author:
David F.J. Campbell
Founder & Director
David is an Associate Professor for Comparative Political Science at the University of Vienna. His thematic core focuses are quality of democracy in a global perspective, knowledge and innovation in a knowledge economy and knowledge democracy, where David co-created (together with Elias G. Caraynnis) the concept and theory of the Quadruple and Quintuple Helix Innovation Systems. Additional themes of his are interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research in the sciences and arts.