A Historic But Unsurprising Election In France

Why It Was a Long Time in Coming

Supporters of Marine Le Pen react after early results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Lyon, France, April 23, 2017. Emmanuel Foudrot / Reuters

The first round of the French presidential elections on Sunday has been considered a rejection of the mainstream parties, and a surprising victory for the two political “outsiders” who will move onto a second round in May: the centrist Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! (Onward!) and Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front. The New York Times, for example, called it “a full-throated rebuke of the mainstream parties” and The Economist warned that the “first-round result could also presage the break-up of the French party system.” Although the results certainly indicate a historical ousting of the Socialist and Republican Parties, which have been governing France for most of the past 50 years, the results were hardly unexpected, and the two leading candidates are not political outsiders. 

For starters, the results fell in line with poll predictions. Macron received his 24 percent share of the vote and Le Pen took home 21.5 percent, which is consistent with the National Front’s performance since 2012, although six points lower than the party’s score in the regional elections in 2015. The collapse of both established governing parties, mostly by self-inflicted wounds, is also nothing new. What appears to have happened is that declining voter confidence was fueled by the astonishing incompetence of two successive presidents and party leaders: Nicolas Sarkozy on the right and François Hollande on the left. The presidential primaries mobilized a predictably small number of activists and voters, and produced candidates that were so weak or wounded that they undermined, rather than built the confidence of the larger electorates in each case. The Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon secured only 6.4 percent of the vote, and François Fillon, who came in third place and was originally the Republican front-runner, spent his campaign embroiled in a scandal.

The dominant political parties were certainly the big losers, but the winning candidates in the first round are not political outsiders, at least not of the kind seen in the United States. Both Macron and Le

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