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Did The French Regional Elections Reshuffle the Cards For April 2022? 

ARTICLES - 25 June 2021

In May we identified three likely scenarios for the French presidential elections of April 2022. In decreasing order of probability according to the polls, we predicted the re-election of Emmanuel Macron, the victory of Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and the election of Xavier Bertrand, from the Conservative party. In the aftermath of the regional elections, which took place on June 20 and 27, the three scenarios still remain possible. Their respective probabilities, however, might have been reshuffled.

Admittedly, local elections differ from national ones, and for 63% of French people, these elections were mainly concerned with local issues, which is logical. Plus, turnout is historically lower in local elections - there has been a steep decline since the 1986 election, which generated a 77% turnout, to 2015, when only 50% of voters showed up. But this time, France reached record-low levels: by comparison, this election only gathered 33% of the French electorate. It would therefore be presumptuous to draw strong and definite conclusions from a ballot for which two out of three registered voters did not show up.

That being said, certain dynamics have clearly evolved, which could be telling for the outcome of the 2022 presidential elections.

Five facts dominated the first round of June 20:

  1. the alarming extent of abstention, which peaked at 67% and was especially high among the youth (87% of the 18-24 year olds did not vote)
  2. the retreat of the Rassemblement National, the Far-right party led by Marine Le Pen,
  3. the weak performance of La République En Marche (LREM), the Macronian movement,
  4. the weight of the serving Socialist presidents of the regions, seeking to get re-elected
  5. the success of Les Républicains, the Conservative party.

The second round did little to turn the tide. However, it is not necessarily a given that any of these facts will still hold true at the presidential election ten months from now. So what should we be looking at instead?

The main change concerns Xavier Bertrand. He now seems to be the more plausible and legitimate candidate among the Conservatives. If so, his chances of being elected just increased.

Why Xavier Bertrand is now the more likely candidate of the Right

Of all the successes of the Right, Mr. Bertrand’s is the most remarkable. Six years ago, he collected 25% of the votes in the first round of the regional elections, while Marine Le Pen got 41%. This time, he got 41% while his Far-right opponent, Sébastien Chenu, only 24%. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron had appointed five serving Ministers as local candidates, to maximize the chances of securing a high score for his party LREM. Zero effect: the LREM didn’t even get the 10% that would have allowed it to pass to the second round. This now leaves a lot of political space for the Center-Right and the Right. 

The LREM didn’t even get the 10% that would have allowed it to pass to the second round. This now leaves a lot of political space for the Center-Right and the Right. 

Another politician of the Right, Laurent Wauquiez, also performed well in his region (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes). With 44% of the votes in the first round, he surpassed Xavier Bertrand and outdid Andrea Kotarac, the Far-right opponent running in the same region, who got 12%. This win is currently granting him a lot of attention as well. But as far as a presidential candidacy is concerned, nothing is obvious, at least not yet. Mr Wauquiez, who runs on an anti-immigration and anti-welfare platform, is further to the Right on the political spectrum, in comparison to Mr. Bertrand. 

Unlike the former, during his speech on June 20, Bertrand was able to claim that he had managed "to loosen the grip and break the advance of the National Front," (in French: nous avons desserré, pour les briser, les mâchoires du Front national) referring to the party’s former, more notorious name on purpose. 

Moreover, Valérie Pécresse, who runs the Ile-de-France region, is another Right-wing politician who is drawing attention at this stage. While she was effectively re-elected in her region (she secured 35.94% on June 20 and 46% on June 27), her score isn’t as high as those of her aforementioned colleagues. 

As a result, Bertrand’s lead in popularity or presidential polls is expected to increase in the coming weeks. He just gained 3 points in the most recent poll revealed by Challenges and according to the latest Opinionway survey, he could secure 20% of votes in the first round of the presidential elections. The procedure for appointing the Right-wing candidate for 2022, was announced on June 9 by Christian Jacob, president of the Les Républicains party. It will be based on two major surveys on the basis of a large sample of over 15,000 people who position themselves on the "the Right and the Center". The fact that "the Center" is included is important. It means Bertrand has every chance of winning, especially now that his success has been highlighted in the regionals. 

Could Xavier Bertrand be the next French President?

It is obviously too early to write the rest of the story. Even the scenario mentioned in the previous paragraph is only hypothetical. 

Still, a large majority of French people do not want a Macron-Le Pen battle in 2022’s presidential run-off, as happened in 2017. Recent polls conducted by IFOP unveiled the extent of the French paradox: although 67% of the French expect a similar outcome as the 2017 election opposing Emmanuel Macron to Marine Le Pen, only 30% hope for it to happen. In fact, 70% would rather have new candidates for the second run of the presidential vote. 

A large majority of French people do not want a Macron-Le Pen battle in 2022’s presidential run-off, as happened in 2017.

Xavier Bertrand could then emerge as a good alternative, at least in the eyes of enough first-round voters for him to get ahead of Le Pen and of enough Left-wing voters to choose him in the second round, by mere "anti-Macronism". 

For now, a majority of French people do not want the re-election of Emmanuel Macron. So in the event of a second round involving both him and Xavier Bertrand, "voting against" the current president could matter more than "voting for" the alternative. It is only a nuance as far as statistics are concerned (blank votes are not accounted for in the French system). But in an era of democratic disenchantment, it is important to understand the real political dynamics at play in France. 

Our conclusion, for now? Of the three scenarios imagined one month ago and listed in our introduction, that of the election of Xavier Bertrand as our new President seemed the least likely. Today - and we insist: for now - the election of Marine Le Pen is becoming ever less probable, while the re-election of Emmanuel Macron just became more complicated.





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