Monday 11 December 2017
“I cannot prevent the French from being French.” - Charles de Gaulle
Can the FN beat the UMP into second place in the European vote?
By Jocelyn Evans, Gilles Ivaldi
12 May 2014 | Polls & Forecasts | 1455 words
In the wake of its success in March’s municipal elections, the spotlight is now on the FN’s performance in the European elections later this month. The municipals had been seen as an acid test of the party’s level of implantation at the local level. As a race which had normally proved difficult for a party without the infrastructure or resources of the PS and UMP at the local level, a combination of a high-profile leader in Marine Le Pen, an auspicious socio-economic context for an anti-establishment party, and a successful strategy of focusing resources on winnable seats turned the party’s municipal fortunes around, to secure 1,546 council seats and 11 mayors in larger towns. This was certainly not unexpected, but neither did it correspond to some earthquake victory. What it did indicate was a level of FN support witnessed in a legislative race (2012) extending to the sub-national level for the first time.

The European race provides a more straightforward election to forecast, unlike the municipals with two rounds and a varyingly involved seat allocation algorithm dependent on size of municipality. The highly proportional system looks set to reward parties normally penalised by plurality electoral rules, and in France as elsewhere – for example, UKIP in the UK – there are indicators that the far Right party may top the polls. The most recent poll has placed the FN just ahead of the UMP.

In January of this year, in light of polls predicting up to 24 per cent support for Marine Le Pen’s party, we provided a longer range forecast of the FN’s vote in May, at 19.7 per cent. Simultaneously, we ran a mini-survey of Far Right experts to ask their predicted vote for the party. On average, they estimated a point higher, at 20.7 per cent. So, in the light of the municipal success, does the FN look set to perform even better than it did four months ago? A look at the current polling figures suggests a regression to the ranking of four months earlier. Since March, there has been trendless variation in the FN’s fortunes, with some peaks in March and April now tailing off, whereas both the PS and UMP have dropped fairly consistently. We should be careful to note that these polls are provided by six different polling institutions and their inherent house effects. Consequently the evidence for any sustained dynamic across the last four months is slim to none. The distance between FN and UMP is margin of error stuff. The Socialists in third place is not.

European voting intention polls

Our own forecast method deliberately avoids polls of vote intention because of the validity problems associated with these. The baseline model developed as part of our analysis of the 2012 race, but looking at second-order elections, includes a party popularity measure and the electoral cycle time to estimate the FN vote. Since party popularity is only estimated quarterly – the next measure will be in June – we estimate this using Marine Le Pen’s own popularity score, which is measured monthly. As the fiche technique shows, there is an apparently close relationship between the party and leader popularity scores, so this seems the best way of proxying for the actual party popularity.

Source: TNS-SOFRES popularity data

As the above time series shows, Marine Le Pen’s personal popularity score is at the second lowest point of the past two years – the lowest point being the date at which we last estimated the European vote. Almost paradoxically given the apparent current wave of enthusiasm about the FN, a recent BVA poll suggests that more than two-thirds of the French have a negative view of Marine Le Pen, while another 80 per cent reject the party’s Euro-exit platform.

Consequently, on our previous estimate of 19.7 per cent, the European score is up to 21.2 per cent. There are a variety of models which could estimate the FN’s vote. An alternative we have been considering is the Prime Ministerial popularity model, which self-evidently includes the popularity of the PM, rather than an electoral cycle measure (see the fiche technique. We expect that a popular Prime Minister – and by extension government – may act as a check on protest support for the anti-system FN. This model too is endogenous, including previous European vote, plus the FN popularity estimate. Given the parlous scores recorded by Jean-Marc Ayrault as Prime Minister prior to his departure post-municipals, this credited the FN with almost 25 per cent of the vote in May. With the much more popular (for the moment) Manuel Valls in the saddle, the renewed confidence in the premier has eaten into the FN’s score, dropping it to just under 20.5 per cent. Perversely, of course, his much higher support has not translated into any increase in support for his party.

Substantial convergence, then, amongst the forecast models on the expert prediction of 20.7 per cent, which also corroborates the general trends observed in the municipals. Last March, the absolute size of the FN electorate grew by a marginal 10 per cent on the 2012 legislatives. Assuming that turnout in the European elections will be about the same as 2009 and if we hypothesize stability in FN support at about 3.8 million votes, although that is not a given, then the party could expect to win 21.8 per cent of the valid vote cast.

Table. Summary of forecasts of FN vote in the Europeans


Predicted % FN


Expert survey


As of January 2014

Election cycle model


As of May 2014

PM model


As of May 2014



Average of last five polls since 6th April 2014




Combining the different forecasts gives the FN an average 21.2 per cent of the European vote, identical to our favoured election cycle model.

What about sub-national results? Marine Le Pen has claimed to have carefully selected the regional list leaders, including Bernard Monot in the Centre and Aymeric Chauprade in Paris, based upon their professional expertise, but in reality the nature of the European elections means that the ballot should act simply as a national poll on the party, with regional variations irrespective of list heads. Good performances are to be expected in the North-West, East, and South-East, offsetting weaker support elsewhere. Based on the regional polarization of the FN vote in the 2012 legislatives, a national forecast of 21.2 per cent could give the party up to 19 seats in the next European parliament with the majority in the North-West (4), the East (3) and the South-East (4), as well as potentially three in the Parisian region. This would clearly consolidate Marine Le Pen’s leadership over a possible pan-European populist alliance.

Table. Predicted number of FN seats in the 2014 Europeans

European Constituencies

Total Seats

% FN

Seats FN

North West




















Massif Central-Centre








Overseas Territories








The overall forecast, compared with voting intentions, sounds on the low side for an election being held up by many as a dark watershed in European election history, but we should not forget this still represents easily the highest European score for the FN in its electoral history – almost twice its previous peak of 11.7 per cent back in 1989, and over three times its disastrous performance (6.3 per cent) in 2009. The FN has traditionally underperformed in European elections, securing on average about 70 per cent of its previous legislative vote share and less than 40 per cent of its presidential support. By any standards, a score above 20 per cent would be an excellentEuropean performance, and one entirely in keeping with its results over the past four years. It would also confirm the stabilization of FN support across all arenas of electoral competition, from local to European. At this level, however, it does not put it clearly in first place ahead of the UMP, which would constitute a symbolic victory outweighing the actual vote share. From our model, the FN looks set to beat the incumbent Socialists into third place, but the UMP’s chances of victory are also conditional upon the success of other Right and Centre-Right lists, including MODEM / UDI and Dupont-Aignan’s Debout la République (DlR). A score of 24 per cent, as forecast by some polls, will be sufficient to win the Euros for the UMP; below 22 per cent places them in jeopardy. Unlike minor Left-wing lists such as EELV and the Front de Gauche, which seem to be enjoying a small increase in support in recent polls, MODEM and DlR are fluctuating around 10 per cent and 3 per cent respectively. No fresh challenge to the UMP, then, but equally no collapse.

In a period when Euroscepticism is reportedly on the rise in France and less than 40 per cent of voters are likely to turn out for the elections in a fortnight, momentum appears to be with the FN to pip the UMP to the post.


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)

Politicizing terror: terrorism and the 2017 presidential race
Hollande’s calculation behind the French socialist presidential primary
Is the French 2017 presidential battle already over?
Estimating Marine Le Pen’s 2017 presidential vote share
Walking a fine line? Hollande and the French Left
All roads lead to Rome: French parties on the way to the 2017 presidentials
Ils ne passeront pas – the stemming of the FN tide in the regional run-offs
The FN on the threshold of regional government
Regional elections and the anti-Muslim backlash
Politics in a time of war?
A right-wing landslide but no far-right tsunami: the departmental election run-off
The Front national is not France’s first party
What to expect in next month’s French departmental elections
Departmentals 2015: the new French elections no-one seems to care about
Beta-testing social-liberalism 2.0
France’s new earthquake election? The FN in the European elections

posts have been published
since 10 January 2012

Show all posts

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