• Among the cluster of elections taking place in continental Europe this year, those in France are currently taking centre stage. In short, the first round of the Presidential elections takes place on 23 April, while the second round or ‘run off’ is scheduled a fortnight later, on 7 May. In addition, elections to the National Assembly are also due. Again, these are staged across two rounds. The first is set for 11 June and the second a week later on 18 June. Also, half of France’s upper chamber, the Senate, is due to be reappointed in September.
  • In practice the Presidential elections are the most critical, since the executive carries a significant degree of power. But policymaking is considerably easier when the President’s party has a majority in the National Assembly. When this is not the case, an agreed period of ‘cohabitation’ becomes necessary, such as 1997-2002, when centre-right President Jacques Chirac was faced with a centre-left majority in the National Assembly.
  • The first round of the Presidential election involves voting (on a national basis) for a candidate nominated by each political party, or strictly speaking, each political grouping. It is only relatively recently that the field has been narrowed by parties having chosen their candidates. Table 1 summarises the likely key candidates from each group.
  • A candidate who receives in excess of 50% of the votes is returned to the Elysée Palace automatically. Since the system has been in operation in the mid-1960s, this has never happened. In practice, the two top candidates from the first round progress to the second round, when the winner is determined by a simple majority.
  • Over recent months opinion polls have tended to swing suddenly, following periods of stability. This has tended to occur as individual candidates have fallen out of favour. Such a shift resulted in centre-right Les Républicains’ (LR) former leading candidate, Alain Juppé, failing to gain his party’s nomination. Similarly one-time centre-left Parti Socialiste (PS) favourite, the moderate Manuel Valls, suffered the same fate.
  • Opinion polls need have to be conducted in two stages, reflecting the structure of the election process. The first step is to assess who is likely to finish first and second in the first round (Chart 1). The second is to evaluate which of the two final candidates has greater appeal. Populist-right wing Front National (FN) leader Marine le Pen has consistently topped the polls for the first round, at between 20-25% with centrist Emmanuel Macron currently in second place. LR candidate François Fillon is now in third, having slipped following stories that he inappropriately employed his wife as a parliamentary aide. Meanwhile M Macron had to deny rumours earlier this week that he was engaged in a (gay) extramarital affair. With 10 weeks left to run to the first round, the running order may well change again.

Investec Economics Team

The opinions and views expressed are for information purposes only and are subject to change without notice. They should not be viewed as independent research, recommendations or advice of any nature.