A Hot Take on a Very Cool Electorate
The headline that emerges from the first round of this year’s regional elections is that, once again, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National did not achieve the gains anticipated by many commentators. On the other hand, abstainers outnumbered voters by 2-1, so one can’t really say what this implies for next year’s presidential election. What is clear is that two potential contenders, Xavier Bertrand and Valérie Pécresse, received a small boost, while a third less-discussed candidate, Laurent Wauquiez, has come back from the embarrassing defeat he suffered in the European elections to a point where he, too, might credibly join the race to choose a center-right contender for the honor of challenging the center-right president Emmanuel Macron.
True, Thierry Mariani, the ex-LR RN candidate in Paca, did barely edge out the LR candidate Renaud Muselier, but the result is virtually a dead heat. Mariani got only 35% of the vote, less than the 40% that Marion Maréchal ex-Le Pen scored in 2015. This region remains Le Pen’s best, indeed only, shot at taking over a regional government for the first time. Sébastien Chenu got only 24% as head-of-list in Hauts-de-France compared to 40% for Marine Le Pen herself in 2015. Pécresse improved by 4% over her performance in 2015. What will happen in round 2 depends entirely on Le Pen’s ability to mobilize her electorate, to which she issued an impassioned call to “se déplacer” in the wake of this evening’s disappointment.
What explains the high rate of abstention? No doubt the lingering effects of Covid played a part. The disintegration of the former mainstream parties surely left many voters confused about the significance of their vote. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a sore loser, as always, is calling for the election to be invalidated because so few people voted. In Paca, it seems likely that anti-Le Pen voters were motivated to express their resistance, while RN voters may have taken the predictions of an easy Mariani victory as an alibi to stay home.
As for the left, early returns suggest that its vote was as fragmented as predicted. Unlike in Germany, the Greens have not surged as the Socialists decline. But the pollsters’ predictions were in general not terribly accurate–a phenomenon observed with increasing frequency in many countries.
Photo credit: Jacques Paquier via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0