France Elects: A Post Mortem

Macron Won Reelection, But The Race Was Narrower And The Results Showed Some Surprises

All the votes have been counted in the presidential election last Sunday in France and the results brought some surprises, but not much drama.

French President Emmanuel Macron was reelected to a second term on April 24, but the results showed some surprises and some good news for his far right opponent.

Emmanuel Macron won a second term fairly easily, becoming the first French president to be reelected since Jacque Chirac in 2002. He defeated Marine Le Pen, the far right leader of the National Rally, whom he also defeated in 2017. (Le Pen’s father was actually who Chirac defeated in 2002 to win a second term).

But the race this time was much closer than the last.

In 2017, Macron pretty much swept the country, winning all regions and all but two fo the country’s 101 departments. Last weekend. Le Pen flipped three regions in Metropolitan France, and won 23 departments this time, including th two she won in 2017. The most surprising results, however, came thousands of miles from the French mainland.

The Results In The Competitive Regions

Hauts-de-France, the northernmost region and the home region of Le Pen, flipped from Macron +5 in 2017 to Le Pen +4. This was the most likely region to flip, I assumed, as it is Le Pen’s home base and home to the only two departments she won in 2017: Pas-de-Calais, her home department, and Aisne. She won both again, winning Aisne by nearly 20 points, and flipped the departments of Somme (where Macron was born) and Oise. Hauts-de-France is historically a left-leaning area, formerly home to working class labor-types and a bustling manufacturing industry that has slowly died away, similar to the American Rust Belt.

Macron did hold on to the department of Nord in Hauts-de-France, on the Belgian border and home to the longtime Socialist stronghold of Lille, but his margin there was decreased to seven points.

The second of the three Metropolitan regions Le Pen flipped was the island of Corsica. A long-time right wing stronghold, Corsica was expected to flip, but the island went from Macron +3 to Len Pen +16. Le Pen also picked up both departments on the island: Corse-de-Sud and Haute-Corse, winning both by double digits.

Finally, Le Pen flipped Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the southern region that includes Provence and the French Riviera. Macron won it by 10 in 2017, but this time Le Pen won it by a point. Le Pen flipped the regions of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, locate in the foothills of the Alps, Var, which includes the resort town of Saint-Tropez, and Vaucluse a department where Le Pen’s party has had past victories. (Her niece, Marion Maréchal, represented the department in the National Assembly from 2012-2017). Macron held on to win the Alpine department of Haute-Alpes and the departments of Alpes-Maritimes, home to the city of Nice, and Bouches-du-Rhône, home to Marseilles.

Macron won every other region in the country, including several where he lost ground and lost departments. Grand-Est, in the northeast of the country, went from Macron +16 to Macron +4. Le Pen was able to flip the department of Haute-Marne, which was Macron’s closest win in 2017, Aube, Meuse, Marne, Ardennes and Vosges. All are fairly agricultural and historically conservative.

Macron lost several other departments in regions he won by fairly large margins including the rural department of Haute-Saône, which Macron only won by four last time, and also the departments of Yonne and Nièvre, both of which Macron won by double digits in 2017 (Nièvre he won by 20).

2017 election results vs. 2022 election results (maps courtesy Wikipedia)

Other departments Le Pen picked up include the rural department of Eure in Normandy; Tarn-et-Garonne, Aude, Gard and Pyrénées-Orientales in the region of Occitanie in Southern France. The latter of the four departments, located on the border with Spain, has also been the site of recent electoral successes for Le Pen’s party, with the 2020 election of Louis Aliot as mayor of the department’s capital of Perpignan. Le Pen also picked up the department of Lot-et-Garonne, in the left-wing stronghold region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, winning the department by less than a point.

A Surprise Overseas

The most shocking result of the election came from thousands of miles from the European continent. Several of France’s Overseas departments, which are often some of the most left-leaning parts of the country, were won by Le Pen. There was a clue in the first round results that something was brewing overseas when Le Pen won 43 percent of the vote on Mayotte, an island of mostly ethnic African Muslims off the east coast of Africa. The result was considered odd considering Le Pen’s historically anti-Islam views. In 2017, Macron swept the overseas territories, including Mayotte. Some, such as Martinique in the Caribbean, he won by huge margins. Last weekend, however, Le Pen carried many of the overseas departments, include Mayotte and Réunion in the Indian Ocean, and swept France’s Caribbean regions, including Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy. All of the Caribbean departments except Saint Barthélemy gave a plurality of their vote to leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round. In fact, the leftist candidate got over 50 percent of the vote in French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Saint Martin was a fairly big surprise because I was actually there on March 9, in Marigot on the French side of the island, and there was a notable amount of anti-Le Pen propaganda around the town. I also spoke to a friend in Martinique, whom I met while vacationing there in 2018, who was unsurprised by Le Pen’s 20-point win there. He said COVIlD lockdowns (the island has had four since March 2020) and the ensuing economic problems caused by them caused a lot of resentment toward Macron’s government, which led to a large number of abstentions in the second round from left-wing voters on that island and in other regions, though some 2017 Macron voters did flip sides. One of the two locations on Martinique that Macron did hold on to was Schœlcher, a commune that is considered a wealthy suburb of the island’s “capital,” Fort-de-France. It is home to many rich, native French residents, as is the other commune on the island that voted for Macron – Les Trois-Îlets – which also happens to be the birthplace of Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoleon. Even in the Indian Ocean and Caribbean, there are signs that wealthy, highly-educated communities are sticking with the centre and left-wing parties, while poor voters, even those voters of color, are flirting with the far right, or abstaining from electoral politics completely.

That was also true in the small island department of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, located in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence off the southern coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The territory, where only about 2500 people voted, voted for Le Pen by a mere 35 votes. The result was shocking since Saint Pierre and Miquelon typically votes far left. Mélenchon won the island with 41 percent in the first round. Le Pen gained over 400 votes from her 2017 total, while Macron lost about 200 in the territory, so her win there can’t just be explained through abstentions alone.

Macron managed to hold onto some of France’s regions in the Pacific Ocean, including New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna. In French Polynesia, Le Pen won most of the remote sparsely-populated islands with large ethnic Polynesian populations, but Macron was able to win the region thanks to a narrow win on the island of Tahiti.

Macron’s Urban Strength

It was clear in the results that what kept the race from being closer and what helped Macron hold onto power was his strength in the major cities.

Macron won in Paris, taking every arrondissement in the capital and getting 80 percent or more in all but one. He got 85 percent of the vote citywide, though that it down from 90 percent in 2017. Macron also swept the suburbs of Paris, winning the departments of Hauts-de-Seine: Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne with 80 percent, 74 percent and 74 percent of the vote respectively. The three departments that make up the Paris suburbs rarely voted so close to each other before. Hauts-de-Seine is historically a conservative area, known for being fairly wealthy. In 2007 it voted differently than the other two departments, giving center-right candidate Nicholas Sarkozy 56 percent of the vote, and then gave Sarkozy 51 percent in 2012. The other two departments, more poor-to-working class and with a big immigrant population, gave Socialist candidate Segolene Royale the win in 2007. She won 56 percent in Seine-Saint-Denis and 50 percent in Val-de-Marne. In 2012, Socialist Francois Hollande won the two departments with 65 percent and 56 percent respectively in his winning bid for the presidency.

The politics of the Paris suburbs moving in a similar direction despite past voting habits mimics the type of political realignment that has been going on in other democracies, including the United States and the United Kingdom, where left-leaning parties are winning suburbs, whether they were historically liberal or conservative, while rural areas move right.

CITYMACRONLE PEN
PARIS85%15%
MARSEILLES60%40%
LYON80%20%
TOULOUSE83%17%
NICE55%45%
NANTES81%19%
MONTPELIER 72%23%
STRASBOURG78%22%
BORDEAUX80%20%
LILLE77%23%
2022 Presidential Election results in France’s 10 largest cities. Macron swept all ten, ranging from a ten point win in Nice to an over 70-point margin in Paris.

This trend was true elsewhere in the country as well. Macron swept other French cities as well, winning 55 percent and 60 percent of the vote in Nice and Marseilles respectively, both in more-conservative Provence, though Le Pen did do well in the historically-conservative suburbs of each city. Her margins however were much lower than the right historically received in Provence’s major suburbs.

Besides Lille, Macron also topped 70 percent of the vote in Montpelier in the Occitanie region and Strasbourg on the border with Germany, home to the European Parliament. Macron got 80 percent or higher in France’s third largest city, Lyon, as well as in Toulouse in Occitanie, and Nantes and Bordeaux in western France.

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