Thursday 27 April 2017
“I cannot prevent the French from being French.” - Charles de Gaulle
Forecast of FN municipal seats
By Jocelyn Evans, Gilles Ivaldi
21 March 2014 | Polls & Forecasts | 1898 words
Forecasting the FN vote at an election has become a cottage industry. After our own efforts in 2007 and 2012, with varying degrees of success, focus has shifted to Sunday’s municipal elections, where Marine Le Pen’s leadership of a revitalised FN in a period of economic and social instability for France suggests the party may perform at hitherto unprecedented levels.

A few days ago, Sylvain Brouard and Martial Foucault’s analysis on 500 Signatures of the FN in a number of larger conurbations forecast an average of over 22%, and elsewhere provided city forecasts putting the FN into the second round in many towns and cities. These predictions correspond to media analysis of the council seats the FN will walk away with at the end of March. Having analysed the three multi-district cities in previous blogs, and forecast the European performance, we haven’t yet nailed our own colours to the mast regarding seat share for the FN in the municipals. With the final polls now coming in, we correct this omission below.

The FN is running a record number of lists this year – 597 lists, compared to 490 in 1995, for example, most of them under the new ‘Bleu Marine’ label. Looking at the total of 587 lists registered as FN (LFN) by the Ministry of Interior, all the candidacies are found in cities with more than 1,000 inhabitants, the vast majority (92 per cent) in cities with more than 3,500 inhabitants, and almost half (46%) with more than 20,000. In addition, the FN is fielding lists in all sectors / arrondissements of the Big Three - Paris (20), Lyon (9) and Marseille (8). The FN lists will therefore all compete under a PR system with a 50% bonus seat allocation to the list topping the second round. A total of 20,363 seats will be contested across the 587 cities and/or PLM districts with FN candidates. Together, Paris, Lyon and Marseille provide just over a thousand city councillor seats.

Territorially, about half (48 per cent) of the FN lists are clustered in the party’s strongholds in the South and the North-East. Another half are situated in some of its mission priorities – Brittany, Aquitaine, Pays-de-la-Loire, Poitou-Charentes – as well as in the larger cities where support for the far right is lower, such as Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse and Nantes. This is indicative of the nationalization of the party’s presence in these municipal elections. Leaving aside the Big Three, the average 2012 first round legislative score for the FN across all contested municipalities was 17.5 per cent, well above its 2012 national figure of 13.6 per cent, showing that the party is targeting those areas with apparent electoral potential for 2014.

For our forecast, we use 56 local polls conducted since December 2013, which cover a sample of large and medium-size municipalities, including some of the ‘hot spots’ for the FN such as Hénin-Beaumont, Fréjus, Forbach and Carpentras. While by definition not a random sample – polling organisations will of course be biased in their selection of towns to poll – the variety of geographical, sociological and political conditions across these 56 cases should ensure some degree of generalisability for municipal politics in France.

Legislative 2012 – Poll 2014 differentials

First of all, what do the polls suggest in terms of shifts in support for the FN since the 2012 legislative elections ? There is no consistent trend across the towns we’re looking at – as many manifest drops as rises. In detail, five extreme cases stand out – Béziers (+16.8), Brignolles (+9.7), Forbach (+9.7) and, at the other extreme, Carpentras (-9.9) and Cannes (-10.2). Particularly within the FN’s Midi heartland, the variation is substantial. Elsewhere, the variation is +/- 5 points. This relative stabilization of the party vote since 2012 gives some indication of implantation of the party at a local level hostile until now to the FN, but they do not suggest a Marine Blue wave on Sunday evening. Within that there are two distinct dynamics: on the one hand, localized growth in support for the far right, in particular in those cities where Marine Le Pen’s party features the rising stars of the ‘de-demonization’ strategy such as Robert Ménard (Béziers), Florian Philippot (Forbach) and, to a lesser extent, Louis Aliot (Perpignan); elsewhere, an ‘old guard’ flatlining at best, if not waning – -2.7 for Bruno Gollnisch in Hyères, +.7 for Marie-Christine Arnautu in Nice, +.2 for France Jamet in Montpellier or .5 for Mireille d’Ornano in Grenoble.

Municipal swings for the FN in 2014 by legislative scores

N=56 polls

Contrast this with a much more consistent pattern in the trends in mainstream voting – a decrease in first-round support for the left of -4.8 on average, and simultaneously showing a rise in support for the centre and the mainstream right at +6.3. These results would support the hypothesis of a penalisation of a highly unpopular socialist incumbent, benefiting mostly the mainstream right-wing opposition. Current polls confirm that there could be such a reversal of the balance of power in favour of the UMP/UDI in cities with more than 3,500 inhabitants: the latest CSA polls has for instance the right and the left at 49 and 41 per cent, respectively. If one digs deeper into the location of support, those areas performing well for either bloc in 2012 continue to do so in 2014.

In the FN case, then, we estimate the 2014 vote from previous 2012 scores, based on the average swing in our polling data. We apply the same method to the total of the left and right blocs to approximate the balance of forces in second round run-offs. We then adjust the scores for each to sum to 100 per cent to allow for ‘other’ candidates in both the 2014 polls and the 2012 legislatives. In the 56 cases where individual polls are available, we use those polling figures instead. Finally, for Paris, Lyon and Marseille, we employ the multi-district forecasts we used in the previous city-specific blogs. For individual cities, this method of course produces substantial standard errors. Our main interest however is with predicting the total number of councillor seats that the FN is likely to win based on current polls. We make quite a heroic assumption that local biases should cancel each other when looking at the ‘bigger’ national picture across all 550 municipalities, plus the Big Three.

In the straight competitive allocation (i.e. before factoring in winning any 50% bonuses), we estimate a total of 1,472 FN municipal councillors across the country, excluding 90 cities where the FN is unlikely to win the 10 per cent of the first-round vote needed to win seats.

In addition to this, where is the FN likely to top the ballot in the second round, and win bonuses? Our model identifies a total of nine such cases, unsurprisingly all municipalities in the two regional strongholds in the Midi and industrial North-East (see table below). There are also a handful of locations where the mainstream right (UMP/UDI) would not be in a position to progress to the second round and where the total right+FN would represent at least 50 per cent of the first-round vote. This potentially gives Marine Le Pen’s party another three cities in the Pas-de-Calais, including the most wanted municipality of Hénin-Beaumont where polls predict another very tight race. Lastly, there are three additional cases where the left is electorally weaker and the FN a potentially stronger challenger to the local UMP/UDI alliances: the towns of Sorgues, Vedène and Monteux, all situated in the FN’s bastion in Vaucluse.

Cities with best chances of FN wins

Department City % Left % Right % FN Front Répub.** FN win
BOUCHES-DU-RHONE Tarascon 33.95 24.94 41.11 No Yes
GARD Saint-Gilles 28.84 19.85 51.30 No Yes
GARD Uchaud 31.14 26.53 42.33 No Yes
HERAULT Béziers* 28.00 34.00 38.00 Yes No
MOSELLE Forbach* 33.00 32.00 35.00 No Yes
MOSELLE L'Hôpital 28.33 32.84 38.83 Yes No
PAS-DE-CALAIS Dourges 37.21 16.16 46.63 No Yes
VAR Brignoles* 30.00 33.00 37.00 Yes No
GARD Milhaud 27.65 35.93 36.42 Yes No
PAS-DE-CALAIS Hénin-Beaumont* 49.00 6.00 45.00 No Yes
PAS-DE-CALAIS Montigny-en-Gohelle 49.09 3.91 47.00 No Yes
PAS-DE-CALAIS Oignies 48.00 6.07 45.92 No Yes
VAUCLUSE Monteux 20.77 40.36 38.87 Yes No
VAUCLUSE Sorgues 23.33 38.64 38.04 Yes No
VAUCLUSE Vedène 30.38 34.70 34.92 Yes


* Scores based on latest polls; elsewhere scores were estimated using uniform swings from our analysis of polls
** Based on the hypothesis of unilateral enforcement by parties of the left

Bear in mind these are based on scenarios where the mainstream left and right choose not to rehabilitate the now defunct front républicain to block the far right from winning. Recently, the socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has unambiguously called for a united front against the FN, a position immediately rejected by the UMP leader Jean-François Copé who has indicated that his party will continue the ‘neither, nor’ line initiated in 2011. The FN should therefore find its best chances of a municipal win in duels against the left (e.g. Hénin-Beaumont) as well as in cities where the mainstream right is likely to come in third place, but still making the second round (e.g. Tarascon, Saint-Gilles or Uchaud). In other cases, such as Béziers, Brignolles or Sorgues, where the left is in the minority, the socialists could step down, making a FN win less likely.

The new faces of the FN?

Top from left: Valérie Laupies (Tarascon), Gilbert Collard (Saint-Gilles), Muriel Mourgue (Uchaud), Florian Philippot (Forbach)
Bottom from left: Jérôme Vandesavel (Dourges), Steeve Briois (Hénin-Beaumont), Emmanuel Rignaux (Montigny-en-Gohelle), François Vial (Oignies)

We estimate the total number of ‘bonus’ seats that such victories would bring to the party and add those to the existing 1,472 seats allocated under the ‘normal’ procedure. Based on the above hypothesis that the FN would top the ballot in the eight municipalities where there should be no front républicain in the run-off, the electoral system gives an additional 131 seats, and a total of 1,603 municipal councillors.

Finally, we add the councillors that the FN is likely to win in the Big Three multi-district races. Our readjusted forecast for Marseille, based on the latest CSA poll, shows that the FN could win 24 councillors. Lyon would bring an additional 10 seats. In Paris, polls show the FN at 7 per cent of the vote at city-level, with virtually no chances of winning any seats at all.

All together, then, the FN could then win a total of 1,637 local councillors. This represents a massive increase on the current figure of 63, but it does not represent any sort of seismic shift – 7% of the seats available, and to put it into context, 200 seats short of the 2008 Communist Party total won with only 2.6% of the first-round vote.

If the FN is looking to build a local powerbase through overall control of existing bastions, and a notable presence across a range of other councils, then Sunday’s poll shows every sign of satisfying that objective. From the position of 2008, and even the previous ’height’ of 1995, where a highly concentrated set of lists provided over 1,300 seats, it looks inconceivable that this year’s municipals will be anything other than a personal best for the party. But, in the massive strides that our model suggests the party will make, the limits to the party’s capacity to make its mark on the multiplicity of town and city councils is every bit as evident as its improvement. Whilst the European elections which follow in June require only a handful of lists headed by big names to register significant results, local elections require a power-base orders of magnitude larger. Until the FN can convince many more supporters at the local level to stand under the ’Bleu Marine’ label, its territorial scope will remain limited.


Welcome to '500Signatures', for analysis and commentary on French politics and elections

This blog is produced by Jocelyn Evans (University of Leeds) and Gilles Ivaldi (University of Nice)

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posts have been published
since 10 January 2012

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Jocelyn Evans [@JocelynAJEvans] is Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds

Gilles Ivaldi is a CNRS researcher in political science based at the University of Nice



- Forecasting the FN vote in Second-Order elections (updated 12 May 2014)

- Forecasting the FN vote in Second-Order elections (Jan. 2014)

- Polling scores by polling type (CATI v CAWI) (updated 20 April 2012)

- Estimating Marine Le Pen's vote in the 2012 presidentials: an experiment (November 2011)

- Data for the 2011 expert forecast survey (in CSV file)



Last modified on Monday 25 April 2016
Copyright Gilles Ivaldi - @2012-2014