[Politics] French Presidential Election in 2012

With a semi-presidential system, the President in France is not only the head of the state but also head of the government, who has extended power compared with other presidents of most of the other European countries. He or she appoints the prime minister and serves as the commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces. This paper will look at the French Presidential Election in 2012 and thus give a basic understanding of the dynamics of the election and politics in current French society.

French presidential elections take place every five years in May. Since 1962, the election system employed is a majority Two-round system. All candidates could run as long as they gain 500 endorsements from the elected representatives during the first round of the election. If no candidate’s votes exceed 50%, the two candidates who have the most number of votes would then enter the second-round of the election and the president would be the candidate who has more votes in the second round.

Over ten political parties were involved in the presidential election in 2012. The main two parties are the Republican Party and the Socialist Party. The Republican Party, formally UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), is similar to The Republicans in the United States. Merging several parties together, UMP was formed in 2002 to reunite French Centre-right. Its leader Nicolas Sarkozy is currently the president of the nation. Another major contemporary political party in France is the centre-left Socialist Party. It believes in state control and intervention in industry and economy and stands for nationalization, planned economy, and public housing. Although it is the second largest political party in France, it has only occupied the presidential offices once from 1981 to 1995 with Mitterand as the president. Other political parties include National Front, which is a far-right “xenophobic” political party that holds strong opposition to immigration and EU.

There are totally ten candidates represented their own parties. This includes Nicolas Sarkozy from UMP Party, Marine Le Pen from the National Front, and Francois Bayrou from the Democratic movement. Two most popular candidates are Nicolas Sarkozy, who was running for the second term presidency from UMP and his main opponent — Francois Hollande from the Socialist Party. Hollande was the president of the local government council of Correze for four years, which is a small province in South-western France.

Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy

In their proposal, both of the two strongest candidates addressed numerous challenges faced the current French society, including unemployment and income inequality. As the current French president, Nicolas Sarkozy proposed a structural reform that will boost France’s internal growth as well as its competitiveness around the globe. In order to fight against unemployment, the incumbent president at the same time aimed to reform the generous welfare system through reducing benefits for the jobless claimants and set a requirement to work for those who have minimum benefits. On the other hand, the Socialist Francois Hollande rather proposed to increase the number of state-aided jobs up to 150,000, including more than 60,000 educators and over 1,000 police a year. Both candidates also touched on the enormous budget deficit faced by the French government. Mr. president Sarkozy suggested levying more tax on French corporations. Hollande focused on individual income tax for those who have considerable wealth. He aimed to eliminate the budget deficit by 2017 with a progressive tax reform: for those who earn over one million euros per year, their income tax will be up to 75%. For those who earn over 150 thousand euros, the income tax rate will also increase to 45%(Merle, 2014). Financially, both Sarkozy and Hollande decided to apply a financial transaction tax. Hollande will separate retail and investment banking and reduce bonuses, stock options, and toxic financial products to secure French’s money and capital market while Sarkozy will toughen up banking regulations to reduce the danger of European Banking system. The incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy will also cut the number of legal immigrants at least 40% and increase deportation of those who came to France illegally.

On April 22nd, 2012, the first round of the presidential election was held. To ensure a fair election, other than one returning officer and two polling officers in each polling station, all the candidate could to appoint one delegate to oversee all the aspect of the electoral process. There are also strict guidelines to count ballot and declare the result after counting the votes. Hollande, with 28.63% of the vote, came in first. Because his vote did not exceed the majority, he and the incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy (27.18%) entered the second round as the two top vote getters. On May 10, 2012, the constitutional council presented the results of the second-round ballot of the French presidential election which was held on May 6th, 2012. Evident in the polls during the election campaign, with 51.6% of the vote, Hollande is the new French president from 2012 to 2017 He is the second Socialist president since the fifth Republican and this first in 24 years. Ironically, this is also the second time for a French president to lose the re-election and ejected from the Elysée Palace. This is not surprising as “for several months Hollande had consistently been the clear leader in the opinion polls to win the decisive second round run-off” (Kuhn, 2013). 
According to the Nick Hewlett, a researcher who focused on French politics, the result of the 2012 election should be treated primarily as a rejection to the former president Sarkozy. And his failure was due to mainly two reasons. First, his unpopularity in term of personal characteristic — manic personal behavior, flashy style and “deeply controversial, autocratic and quasi-Bonapartist rule” commented by Hewlett. On the other hand, many citizens have pointed against that his policies was in favor of the rich and “at the expense of the poor” and his pursuit of friendships with the richest and most powerful businessman (Hewlett, 2012). On the opposite side, Hollande successfully targeted on the majority of poorer individual and the imbalance of wealth in the society with his strong progressive income tax reform against the rich.

One can also explain the final results based on the type of system used in French presidential election. As the only advanced nation to use the two-round electoral system, France has generated numerous debates regarding its effects, evident in Cox’s writing in 1997 Blais and Loewen’s article in 2009. The majority two-round system ensures that the president is elected directly and obtained a majority of votes. In the first round, the ongoing rivalry is more focused on the competition between the left and the right parties whereas the second round is more focus on individual and their proposals. Moreover, the results of the second round of the election would strongly depend on the standpoints of the endorsement of the candidates who lost in the first round. For instance, Francois Bayrou, the center, and traditional closer right wing, Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Left Front both announced that they would prefer Hollande over Sarkozy and urged their followers to vote for Hollande. This greatly affected their performance in the second round. For the second round of voting, there were 5.8% blank ballots, which could be seen as the result of Marine Le Pen, the main competitor in the First round from National Front, who stated that she would cast a blank vote. This would not have happened f it was one stage of voting. As a matter of fact, in the history of the Fifth Republic, the leading candidate of the first ballot was actual been defeated in the second round for four times.

In a boarder sense, the second round of the two-round majority system is still considered as a Plurality, which illustrated the effect of Duverger’s law discussed in class: small parties have a limited chance of winning. Looking back at the electoral history, we could see that indeed most of the presidents were from the two main political parties: UMP and Socialist Party. And that although numerous small extreme parties exist such as National Front, due to the Median voter theorem, it is difficult for them to win and it is supported by the French electoral history. In addition, some scholar also believed that strategic voting rather than sincere voting is also more severe in the two-round system compared with a single Plurality system (Blais and Loewen, 2009).

Controversies and scandals of this election did not appear until years later. According to NY Times on Feb 16, 2016, Nicolas Sarkozy was under investigation on charges of illegal overspending in this 2012 presidential election. Exceeding the legal limit for electoral spending, which is 22.5 million euros. According to The New York Times, this is not the first time a charge was made against Sarkozy. For example, in 2007, he was accused of manipulating a rich heiress to finance his first presidential campaign. 
President candidates now are preparing for the new 2017 presidential election. Although the socialist government of President Francois Hollande defeated the former president due to Sarkozy’s unpopularity, Hollande now faces the exact same problem. Thus, usually French president with representing his party in the next election without contest, this may not be the case for Hollande — he might not even have the chance to compete with his poor ratings. On the contrary, Sarkozy, despite his countless scandals, is planning to return to the 2017 election. Therefore, once could observe that history repeats itself and present could also be in comparison with the past. However, politic critics are predicting that National Front’s far right leader Marine Le Pen with her strong anti-immigration policies might win this time after the Islamic State militant attack in Paris on November 13, 2016 (Bremner, 2016). This would be a violation of the Median voter theorem and may raise more debates about the two-round election system from different sides.


1. Hewlett, Nick. “Voting In The Shadow Of The Crisis. The French Presidential And Parliamentary Elections Of 2012.” Modern & Contemporary France 20.4 (2012): 403–420. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.

2. Kuhn, Raymond. “The French Presidential And Parliamentary Elections, 2012.” Representation 49.1 (2013): 97–114.Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.

3. Merle, Patrick, and Dennis Patterson. “The French Parliamentary And Presidential Elections Of 2012.” Electoral Studies 34.(2014): 303–309.Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.

4. Blais, Andre, and Peter John Loewen. “The French Electoral System And Its Effects.” West European Politics 32.2 (2009): 345–359. Academic Search Complete. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

5. Sarkozy Placed Under Formal Investigation.” Telegraph.co.uk Mar 21, 2013.ProQuest. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

6. Bremner, Charles. “Why Marine Le Pen’S Surge Is No Surprise.” New Statesman 144.5292 (2015): 13–14. Academic Search Complete. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

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