Strategy debates of French parties for the legislative election 2017

How are political movements positioned? How do they react to changes in the society and with which topics do they position themselves where in the political debate?
In this overview of political strategy debates of political parties in selected European and non-European countries, the authors strive to present political analyses not in text form, but graphically and pointedly. We hope this product contributes to a constructive discussion.

High stakes for the 2017 French legislative elections

On June 11 and 18, French voters will elect the members of the 15th National Assembly of the 5th Republic. In the first round, the newly founded party "République En Marche" of President Emanuel Macron reached 32.32 per cent of the votes. Followed by "Les Républicains" (21.56 per cent),the "Front National" (13.2 percent) and "La France Insoumise" (11.02 percent. The Socialist Party scored 9.51 percent.

The turnout was with 48.7 per cent lower that at the last parliamentary election five years ago. The second round, which takes place on June 18, will be open to all candidates who have won at least 12.5 per cent of registered voters in the first round.

Since 2002, the legislative elections are held six weeks after the Presidential elections, both taking place every five years. This electoral calendar was designed to re-affirm the centrality of the Presidential election in the French political system and to subordinate the legislative elections to the Presidential election. The aim was to avoid the lack of a Presidential majority in the National Assembly, as French Presidents have experienced three “cohabitations” with National Assemblies that did not support them in the 1980s and 1990s.

The 2017 Presidential election has been characterized by three major results: the record-low level scores for the candidates of traditional parties (the socialist Benoît Hamon and the republican François Fillon), a record-high level scores for radical candidates (Marine Le Pen on the extreme-right and Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the extreme-left), and the victory of the candidate of a newly established political party: Emmanuel Macron and his party En Marche! Will this reshuffling of the political competition provide the newly elected President with a stable parliamentary majority or will he have to deal with a coalition government? After the first round it looks like Macron can count on a large majority in the National Assembly.

Under the 5th Republic never a centrist party such as “En Marche!”, which for the legislative elections has been relabeled “La République En Marche”, has obtained a majority in the National Assembly. However, nowadays two factors play in its favor: the lower turnout of legislative elections and the high fragmentation of the partisan system.

As in 2012, the turnout for the legislative elections is expected to be 20 points lower than in the Presidential election (77.7 per cent in the first round). This electoral demobilization will most likely have two consequences. On the one hand it will strengthen Macron’s party, the President’s party usually enjoys a popularity wave in the aftermath of the Presidential election, his voters remaining mobilized from one election to the other. On the other hand, participation will heavily drop among the youth and will be detrimental to La France Insoumise of Mélenchon and to a lesser extend to the Front National of Le Pen. Both candidates successfully reached out to voters who did not belong to their core group of supporters during the Presidential election, which is a heavily personalized, mediatized and nationalized election, but will probably fail to do so during the legislative elections due to the lower level of interest displayed by voters.

Then with an average of 13.6 candidates per constituency (+2 compared to 2012), the fragmentation of the political offer is on the rise, both on the left and on the right. Challenger parties (La République en Marche!, La France Insoumise and the Front National) are trying to capitalize on their good Presidential results while traditional parties (Parti Socialiste, Les Républicains, Parti Communiste and the Greens) are trying to defend their share of MPs. As a result of these dynamics there are fewer electoral alliances than in previous elections, and we may have fewer candidates’ withdrawing from the first to the second round. Contrary to the Presidential election where only the top two contenders move to the second round, in the legislative elections all candidates that obtain a score equal to 12.5 per cent of registered voters are allowed to move to the second round. Therefore the withdrawing of some candidates in support of another candidate best ranked in the first round is a key component of French legislative elections. Hence, the lack of willingness to make electoral alliances between the parties of the left or between the parties of the right, and the winner take-all logic of the electoral system is most likely going to favor the candidates of La République en Marche!

Thus, if polling trends and the result of the first round are confirmed Macron and his party may achieved the largest parliamentary majority since 1919 and will continue their disruptive effect on the French partisan system.

Individual Overview

The strategic situation of the Parti Socialiste (PS)

Due to the very poor result of the Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon (6.3% of the votes in the first round), the Socialist Party (PS) moved away from the left-wing political line it followed during the Presidential election. Hamon had built his manifesto around the issues of the universal income, labor protection, the ecological transition and a political reorientation of the UE from within. In the manifesto for the legislative elections, the universal income proposal has been replaced by a 10,000€ capital granted to each young adult, with regards to labor protection the robot tax and the acknowledgment of a burn-out as a professional sickness have been dropped, there is no plan anymore to exit from nuclear energy and the UE reform is now limited to an European investment plan. As a result, the legislative manifesto of the PS as been labeled as “Macron compatible” by commentators.

These shifts in policy proposal are symptomatic of the ideological challenges the PS is facing since several years. During the Presidential campaign, Hamon ran on a left-wing agenda but was challenged by Mélenchon, now the PS has recentered his political line like under the Hollande presidency and is being challenged by La République En Marche.

From a strategic perspective, the PS hopes for Macron’s party to fail to have a majority or to only have a short majority in the National Assembly so that the PS could become an essential parliamentary partner in order to pass bills. However, this ideal scenario for the Socialists is unlikely to take place as polls show that Macron’s party should achieve a comfortable majority.

The strategic situation of République En Marche (LREM)

La République En Marche (LREM) runs for the legislative elections with Macron’s presidential manifesto. Two specific areas of Macron’s manifesto have received a lot of attention since the new government took office: the “moralization of politics” and the labor market reform.

Following the Fillon corruption scandals during the presidential campaign, Macron had promise that the first bill of his newly appointed government would tackle the issue of transparency, funding and conflict of interest in politics. This issue has received a lot of media attention recently as Richard Ferrand, Minister of Territorial Cohesion and Macron’s advisor since the launch of En Marche! in April 2016, has been put under investigation for conflict of interest on June 1. The other issue that has received a lot of political and media attention is the labor market reform. Wishing to deregulate it, Macron supports negotiations between employers and workers at the company level rather than at the branch or national level, as it is the case in current legislation. The most discussed part of this reform is the fact that the government wants to push the Bill through a presidential order (“ordonnance”). The goal of a presidential order is to speed up the passing and the implementation of the bill, as the Parliament discusses and amends the Bill after its promulgation and implementation, and not before. Both the Socialist Party and La France Insoumise oppose the use of presidential order, but it is the latter which is more vocal on the issue.

Macron has partly been elected President on the idea of renewal of the political class. Among the 461 candidates of LREM, 50% comes from civil society and 214 of them have never been elected before. Among these new figures, we find a high number of entrepreneurs, lawyers, and high ranked civil servants. We also find 24 former socialist members of parliament among LREM candidates.

The strategic situation of Les Républicains (LR)

Since the elimination of their candidate in the first round of the Presidential election, political and ideological divisions have reappeared within Les Républicains (LR). Three positions can be identified. First, there are a certain number of personalities who have rapidly expressed their willingness to work with Macron’s presidency. Some of the tenants of this political line have ended up in the government, such as Bruno Le Maire Minister of Economy, or are running in the legislative elections unopposed by LREM candidates. Second, established LR figures hold that they are willing to collaborate with Macron’s presidency after the legislative elections. The logic here being let first assess the strength of each political party in the National Assembly and then decide what political strategy adopt. François Baroin, campaign leader of LR during the current legislative election, defends this political line. And thirdly, some hardliners, such as Laurent Wauquiez vice-chair of LR, are rejecting any collaboration with Macron and his government and are rather glancing at right-wing parties, such as the FN, for local alliances.

 From a programmatic perspective, LR has softened some of the most radical proposal of Fillon during the Presidential campaign. For instance, while Fillon claimed the centrality of nations rather than European institutions in the integration process, the legislative manifesto of LR speaks of a political Europe and of the necessity of further integration among the countries of the Eurozone. Also several of the very ambitious goals in decrease of public spending have been reassessed, such as the decrease of public jobs from 500.000 to 300.000 in five years.

Without altering the philosophy of their political project that remain the most economically liberal among French parties and culturally conservative, they have tempered it to be somewhat “Macron compatible”.

The strategic situation of the Front National (FN)

The Front National (FN) has yet to recover from the disappointing performance of its leader, Marine Le Pen, during the debate between her and Macron on May 3. While prior to the debate she had performed well in the campaign with several well-organized communication stunts, her strategy felt short during the debate. She aggressively attacked her opponent trying to tie him with the elites, the Hollande presidency, economic globalization, the EU and so on. She never attempted to present her political vision for the country, while Macron took the time to present his project for France and challenged Le Pen on issues. Unable to properly address content related questions that were raised during the debate, Le Pen came across as unprepared and as not fit to be President. Watching the debate was for many viewers a rather awkward moment as she broke all basic rules of conversation: she interrupted her opponent constantly, she failed at producing a coherent discourse fitting the context of a Presidential debate (see the mimics and body language that she adopted during the debate), and she didn’t produce quality arguments as she lied many times (fact-checkers had a lot of work on debate night) and slandered Macron.

Her very poor performance and the clean sheet of Macron during the debate cut short to her campaign dynamic and lead to the rise of dissent within the FN. A few days after her defeat in the second round of the Presidential election, Marion Maréchal Le Pen, member of Parliament and rising star of the FN, announced that she will retired from politics at age 27, Florian Philippot right-hand of Le Pen announced the creation of his own movement within the FN called The Patriots, and many activists expressed their disappointment over the party leadership.

In the upcoming legislative elections, the FN will most likely increase its share of members of the National Assembly as it only has 2 at the moment; but while party leaders thought that they could reach up to 60 members in February, they have re-evaluate their ambition to around 20 instead. Despite the expected electoral improvement compared to the 2012 legislative election, the FN performance may be perceived as disappointing and therefore as a party leadership’s defeat.

The strategic situation of La France Insoumise (FI)

With 19.5% of the vote in the first round of the Presidential election, the leader of La France Insoumise (FI) achieved a remarkable result. However, his post-first round strategy has been heavily criticized by commentators and by politicians and may have broken the positive dynamic that he successfully created during the Presidential campaign. While the main candidates that were defeated in the first round of the Presidential election called to vote for Macron in the second round against Le Pen, Mélenchon did not make such a call. Instead he argued that his voters should decide in their own conscience and he organized a vote on his online platform to decide of the party position on this issue (out of 243,000 votes casted, 36% supported a blank vote, 35% supported a vote for Macron, and 29% supported to abstain; voting for Le Pen was not an option).

Nevertheless, the ambition of FI is to become a party to be reckoned with at the national level and for this they need to obtained enough members of parliament to form a parliamentary group (15). In addition, the aim of the party is to become the main left opposition party to Macron’s presidency, thus challenging communist and socialist candidates in their strongholds. The candidacy of Mélenchon in Marseille against Patrick Mennucci, a well-established socialist politician, is a good example of this strategy. Mélenchon arrived first in this constituency in the first round of the Presidential election and is now trying to capitalize on it.

Methodology and Authors

How were the graphs created?

The graph above displays the positions of French parties on a two-dimensional spatial map, constructed on the basis of 30 salient issue statements related to strongly relevant policy issues in the current political debate. The most salient issues were selected by a team of academics and experts, based on a close examination of the parties' platforms and political (media) discourse. Each of the statements pertains to a policy proposal that can be framed as either “left-“ or “right-wing”, “libertarian” or “authoritarian”. The statement answers are 5-point scales with answer categories ranging from “completely disagree”, to “disagree” to “neutral” to “agree” to “completely agree”. The positions of parties on these statements are coded in accordance with their official stances on the issues, as expressed by their published policies, campaign documents and media appearances. All major parties were also asked to position themselves and provide excerpts from their party manifesto or other formal documentation. These self-placements of parties were subsequently compared with the expert coding. Discrepancies were communicated to parties over several rounds until there was full clarity and authorisation of their final issue positions.

The spatial map is constructed on the basis of the aggregate positions of the parties on the two dimensions (the left-right dimension and the libertarian-authoritarian dimension). The precise party position is located in the centres of the ellipses. The ellipses represent the standard deviations of the party answers to all statements used to construct each axis. Thus, parties in favour of both left- and right-wing policy proposals have a wider ellipse on the left-right axis; parties in favour of both libertarian and authoritarian policy proposals have a lengthier ellipse on the libertarian-libertarian axis.

Who realised the Strategy debates France 2017?


Thomas Vitiello - Sciences Po Paris, ISCOM Paris and IES Abroad Nice


André Krouwel - VU University Amsterdam / Founder of Kieskompas BV

Oscar Moreda Laguna - General operations manager - Kieskompas BV

Yordan Kutiyski - Analyst - Kieskompas BV

Project coordination:

Oliver Philipp - Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

Arne Schildberg - Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

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