mead berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
Turn Out For What?
Apathy and Abstentions Could Decide the French Race

In ten days, the French will go to the polls in a closely watched election that could decide France’s commitment to NATO and its future in the European Union. Despite the high stakes, however, many undecided French voters can barely muster the enthusiasm to show up. Reuters:

Opinion polls show around a third of France’s 45.7 million voters might abstain, an unprecedented number in a country with a long tradition of high turnouts. Even among those who intend to vote, about one third have yet to make up their mind on how to cast their ballot. […]

Across France, voters of all political stripes have been telling Reuters they’re not sure what to make of it all.

“I don’t even know if I will vote at all this time,” said Lungeri, the 38-year-old carer from Nice who was traditionally a mainstream right voter. “They’re all corrupt.” […]

“This election is just unbelievable,” a minister in the Socialist government said on condition of anonymity. “What strikes me, even beyond the high abstention, is how impossible it is to make forecasts: people waver between Fillon and Melenchon, between Le Pen and Macron, based on the most bizarre reasoning.”

Turnout in the second round has long been considered a decisive factor in this election, the wild card that could propel Marine Le Pen to an improbable victory. But the picture painted here is even more worrying, suggesting that apathy, voter abstention and protest votes could eliminate her mainstream opponents in the first round.  The current scenario spooking markets is that soft support for Macron and Fillon would lead to a runoff between Le Pen and Mélenchon: a showdown between two Euroskeptic populists on opposite fringes of the political spectrum.

That is still not the most likely scenario, but a decade ago it would have been considered unthinkable; France’s two-tiered electoral system, after all, was designed to prevent the rise of extremist candidates. Whether or not such safeguards hold this time, the French electorate is in a decidedly pessimistic mood—and it will take more than a narrow win by Macron or Fillon to convince disillusioned citizens that elites have their best interests in mind.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Suzy Dixon

    Terrorist attacks, unchecked Third World migration, and apathy? If someone is apathetic in France/Francistan then they are simply not human. Wow.

    • Pete

      Maybe they are apathetic because they are paralyzed by the monumental problems France has.

  • Beauceron

    I read an interesting article where they interviewed a French pollster who said he felt there were a lot of false answers being given because, as with Trump, people would rather lie to a pollster than admit they are going to vote for someone they believe the questioner might disapprove of. So he said many of those saying they’re undecided or saying they are going to vote Fillon may in fact have already decided to vote Le Pen.

    I suppose that adds another unknowable factor into the equation.

    I also wonder if, like many Americans, the French are coming to the conclusion that it just doesn’t matter who they vote for. The elite will get what they want one way or the other, regardless of what the people want, so why go through the public theater of an election and voting for a candidate who will just bend to the establishment when they’re in office anyway? I think American conservatives discovered that with the Tea Party– and possibly now with Trump.

    Personally, I would love to see Le Pen win. Not that I approve of all her policies. I don’t. But if ever a tree needed a good hard shaking, it’s France.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    This is how many felt about Clinton vs. Trump, but they didn’t show up for Clinton. I think Le Pen is going to do better than last time, but still won’t win, Europe is trailing America and Great Britain in political development. The Nationalist parties of Europe, still have a weak bench that will take time to develop and gain voter support.

    • Isaiah601

      They may not have this time. I believe a political situation to this problem in Europe is possible in the next 6-8 years at best. After that, the probability of significant bloodshed grows by quiet a bit.

  • FriendlyGoat

    A lot of things fit the category of “but a decade ago it would have been considered unthinkable”. Someone might want to tell the French that the less they turn out and participate, the more unthinkable their nation will be come.

    • Isaiah601

      You may end up electing someone Comrade FriendlyGoat disapproves of. They may even want to preserve French culture. Can’t have that now can we?

      • Angel Martin

        What about Melenchon? He favours 100% tax rates. That’s french to the core.

  • Jim__L

    It just goes to show that the “middle” is not as popular a place as most tend to imagine.

  • Angel Martin

    If anyone else wants to try, French law requires all pollsters to file the data collections methods for each public opinion poll they do.

    Only in France would something like this be required. Any only in France would the actual reporting be so opaque that you still can’t really tell what is going on.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service