MS Risk Blog

The Alarmingly Low Voter Turnout of the French Regional Elections

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This year’s record low turnout for regional elections produced a heavy blow for Marine Le Pen’s far right party, which failed to win a single regional election in its usual stronghold in the south of France. Depriving her the chance to show her party’s strength ahead of next year’s presidential election. It was also an unsuccessful election night for Marine Le Pen’s rival President Emanuel Macron who severely under preformed in both rounds of the election. The results have raised questions on how successful each will be in the presidential election next year. For some observers, the outcome of the election has raised doubts on whether the 2022 presidential election would come down to the assumed contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Traditionally, the regional elections are not as closely followed as the presidential elections or even the municipal elections. The regional elections are held every six years and their purpose is to elect regional counselors for its 18 regions, including 13 on mainland France and 5 overseas. Regional elections hold importance because the regions do not have legislative autonomy. Instead, they manage sizeable budgets they can invest into healthcare, infrastructure, schools, and economic development. The elections are important in themselves, but many were watching to see how well Marine Le Pen’s and Emmanuel Macron’s parties would do.

The elections are held in two rounds- round one on June 20 and round two of June 27. They were originally set for March but were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The delaying of elections has been seen across western Europe in several countries. Local elections in Austria and Isle of Man were delayed, along with presidential elections in Poland, and municipal elections in Finland- just to name a few. In all of Europe 33.3% of all municipal and subnational elections were postponed between February 2020 and June 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic.

Turnout is usually low for regional elections however this year was a record low voter turnout. Around 68.8% of French voters did not show up to the polls, for either round, compared to the 55.6% in 2015. Much of the blame for the low turnout for round one was placed on the recent lifting on coronavirus restrictions, which has shifted some attention away from the election.

The second round having around the same levels of turnout has been a worrying sign for French politicians and proves the overall weariness French citizens have with politics. The low turnout in the second round can be seen as a reassuring sign for the two big loses, the National Rally Party and La République En Marche, which performed so poorly in the first round. In a brief post-election speech, Le Pen stated that the abstention rate showed “discontentment” among electors that was to be seen as a signal for all political classes and society. Political analysts have blamed the lack of interest in the regional election on France’s heavy focus on the presidential election next year and the legislative elections that follow afterwards. Forty percent of those in the PACA region said they are disillusioned with politics as a whole and no individual candidate represents them.

The results of the election are also receiving lots of attention due to the timing. This year’s regional elections come one year before the presidential elections. Many are viewing it as an important gauge of public opinion and an indication on how people might vote during the presidential election. It is also the last race before the presidential elections, so it is also being seen as a test to determine how popular the politicians are among the public.

It is the prediction of many that next year’s presidential race will come down between Emanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, but currently neither party holds a region. With less than a year until the presidential election the regional results could be seen as an indication of what is to come. However, local elections rarely are an accurate indicator of the outcome in a presidential race. It is hard to identify clear interpretations of what the regional election could mean for the presidential election, where the ones who lost most remain the clear presidental frontrunners.