Second round of the regional elections in France: takeaways

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The second round of the French regional elections went ahead yesterday, June 27th. In France, regional councils are elected every six years under a proportional voting list system, where the first list of the second round gets an absolute majority of councilors. In all, 1,758 regional councilor positions are up for grabs. This second round confirms the lack of interest among voters for these intermediary elections, recording a slightly lower abstention rate (65,7%) than in the first round (66,7%), but which remains among the lowest turnouts since 1945.

These elections were expected to give some indications regarding the presidential elections of April 2022. The latter plays in two rounds but only the two front runners are racing in the second round. The outcome of the regional elections may reopen the race in this regard.  

 Key outcomes:

  • Yesterday’s results signal a sharp and relatively unprecedented decorrelation between voter behavior in local elections and their views on whether the President is doing a good job or not. The presidential party La République en Marche (LaREM) suffered a not so surprising, yet important setback as it failed from putting down local roots. However, President Emmanuel Macron does not come out damaged from this defeat, his approval ratings climbing. This week, hiw approval rating reached up to 50% this week, the highest approval rating of any President in office a year before the elections. He is consequently still a favorite for next year presidential elections.

 

  • But the party of his currently main contender in the 2022 presidential elections, Marine Le Pen, fared exceptionally poorly. Contrary to all expectations, the usually highly mobilized voters of the far-right part Rassemblement National (RN) did not turn out this time, which might mean that voting for the far right could change from being a reflex for anti-establishment voters of all stripes. The RN has even failed in attempt to gain control of the south-east region of PACA, the only region left with chances to win after the second round (as a reminder, the RN was seen as a front-runner in one to five regions before the first round):
    • The victory of the centre right was due to the withdrawal of the  left leaning candidate and his call to vote for the incumbent center-right president of the PACA region in order to block the far right from winning the region, in what is called the “republican front”  (with candidates likely to stay on in the second round pulling out of the race to throw their weight behind whatever candidate is better placed – regardless of party affiliation – to prevent a far right or populist candidate from winning the election or a majority).
  • Without making abstraction of the high rate of abstentionism, incumbents from both the right and left leaning traditional parties came out strengthened from these elections. With the presidential elections in the firing line, at least two developments could be looming in the coming months
    • A battle for leadership within the traditional conservative party Les Républicains (LR), which should oppose at least two contenders for the presidential elections that were re-elected with very good scores as presidents of their regions, Xavier Bertrand (in the north-east Haut-de-France region) and Valérie Pécresse (in the Ile-de-France region including Paris). After having voluntarily taken a step back from national politics following a few scandals, Laurent Wauquiez is likely to join the race due to his good performance in being re-elected president of the center-east Auvergne Rhône Alpes region;
    • For the left leaning parties – the Socialist Party, La France insoumise party and the Greens/EELV party - the months ahead are likely to turn into a battleground as well. The regional elections results show that the left leaning parties can win at least 30% of votes when coming together. The main stake for the left leaning will be to find unity in order to grow the chances of reaching the second round of the upcoming presidential election.

 

Results in key regions (according to tonight’s polls):

  • South-east region of Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur (PACA): Renaud Muselier (LR candidate backed by the “republican front”) wins 57.3% of votes against Thierry Mariani (RN) who wins 42.7% of votes
  • Region of Ile-de-France (including Paris): Valérie Pécresse (LR) wins 45.5% of votes, followed by the left-leaning list led by Greens’ candidate Julien Bayou with 32.5%, the far-right RN candidate Jordan Bardella at 11.5%, and the presidential party’s candidate Laurent de Saint Martin at 10%
  • North-east region of Haut de France: Xavier Bertrand (LR) wins 52% of votes, followed by Sébastien Chenu (RN) with 25% of votes, and the left-leaning list headed by the Greens’ candidate Karima Delli at 21%
  • Center-east region of Auvergne Rhône Alpes: Laurent Wauquiez (LR) wins 54.6% of votes, followed by the Greens candidate Fabienne Grébert with 33.1%, as well as the far right RN candidate Andréa Kotorac at 11.9%
  • South region of Occitanie: Carole Delga (Socialist Party) wins 57.8% of votes, followed by the far-right RN candidate Jean Paul Garraud at 23.9%, as well as the LR candidate Aurélien Pradié at 18.3%