With a record-low turnout of 32%, the first round of the regional and departmental elections on 20 June should not be considered a bellwether of next year’s presidential contest. The poor showing of President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party and the worst-than-expected results of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) will probably not move the needle much at the national level. Meanwhile, the expected victory of key center-right figures will only make the contest to decide the presidential candidate of the center-right more difficult.
As expected, Macron’s party performed quite poorly in the vote, and its ability to influence second-round dynamics will be limited. But the main loser of the night was Le Pen’s RN, which ended up in the first position in only one region. While opinion polls had predicted that RN voters would be particularly motivated to show up at the ballot box, survey data from Election Night showed that RN supporters were those with the highest abstention rate.
Le Pen’s party could still win the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region on 27 June, especially since the leader of the left-wing party list, Jean-Laurent Felizia, has publicly refused to withdraw from the second round to facilitate a victory of the center-right. However, Felizia will be subject to a considerable amount of pressure to change course, and centrist voters might opt anyway for supporting the center-right list in the second round to prevent an RN victory.
In any case, RN’s performance can be considered as a severe defeat. However, the regional elections do not tell much about the presidential election that will take place in the spring of 2022. As explained, this type of vote tends to favor incumbents. Moreover, the low turnout means the elections do not provide any useful information about a presidential contest that generates high mobilization levels (around 75% of eligible voters participated in the 2017 vote).
There can only be one?
The big winners of the night were the “old” established parties, the center- left Socialist Party (PS), and the center-right The Republicans (LR), as they were able to prevent other parties from making significant inroads. Regarding the center-right, three of the key figures with presidential ambitions – Xavier Bertrand, Valerie Pecresse, and Laurent Wauquiez – are in a position to obtain re-election at the helm of their regions.
Bertrand’s expected victory in an RN stronghold will lead him to claim he is best placed to beat Le Pen in 2022 and that the center-right should rally around him. However, the other prospective candidates are unlikely to give up on their presidential aspirations, which means the center-right is still in for a messy process to design a candidate. A potential division of the right into two presidential bids would only benefit Macron, which means the pressure to avoid such an outcome will be strong.