What future is there for the Republican Party and the Socialist Party?


By Chloé Morin

The presidential election was the ultimate reward for Emmanuel Macron – the President of the Republic. He campaigned for this opportunity, an opportunity to preside over a reshaping of the political landscape. From this day forward, the political spectrum and the debate which surrounds it will be focused on one question; can the Socialist Party (PS) and the Republican Party (LR) maintain their respective positions and arguably retain an intrinsic political value whilst becoming a party for the future? To fully consider this issue we must turn our attention to the upcoming general election in June. Commentary provided by Chloé Morin, Director at the Research Centre for public opinion in partnership with the Huffington Post.

The first round of the presidential campaign was the catalyst for the reshaping of the political landscape within France. The President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron has been granted his wish and now has an unprecedented opportunity to reshape modern politics. For the first time in recent history both candidates put forward by the principal government parties achieved less than 30% of the votes in the first round (by comparison Lionel Jospin and Jacques Chirac achieved 36.06% in 2002). To understand the controversy that has gripped members of both “former government” parties since the conclusion of the second round one must consider the central issue: can the Socialist Party (PS) and the Republican Party (LR) maintain their respective positions and arguably retain an intrinsic political value whilst becoming a party for the future? As a result, one cannot overlook how crucial the upcoming general election in June will be.

The question relating to the future of the Socialist Party (PS) arose as the reverberations of the first round of the presidential election were felt within the party. Three-quarters of those who declared that they were supporters of the Socialist Party (PS), and more than 80% of those who had previously voted for François Hollande in 2012 had voted for an alternative socialist candidate. Even though 12% of the French public consider themselves to be “socialist” (as measured daily by the Ifop-fiducial poll conducted on behalf of Paris Match, Cnews and Sud Radio in recent months), the public remained ultimately reluctant to show their support for the Socialist Party as they felt they would be unlikely to carry those ideals through to the Elysée. The discord and dissonance observed in recent days amongst the members and the Socialist Party leadership is a true reflection of the disparate nature of their electorate.

But one should note that the present crisis within the Socialist Party (PS) is much deeper than it appears despite only peaking at this time. This is not a mere “accident” that would have occurred at any point during this presidential campaign. The party did not stumble into this crisis. Whilst some commentators consider that Emmanuel Macron induced the internal collapse of the party he cannot be blamed as the source of the problem or indeed the reason for the recent discord. The Socialist Party (PS) has spent the last five years positioned over a crack that divides the left. Unable to move for fear the ground beneath them would shift they are no longer positioned over a superficial crack but an ever-deepening chasm. Recent studies have demonstrated that there has been an ideological fragmentation on the left during the last five years and a study conducted by the Viavoice Institute has furthered this position by confirming that prior to the 2012 presidential election the left-wing ideologies had converged – this may explain how the Socialist Party (PS) supporters were able to “change candidates” so quickly without hesitation and re-position themselves in support of candidates such as Emmanuel Macron or Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

The question does not arise in the same terms for the Socialist Party (PS) as it does for the Republican Party (LR): The Republican Party (LR) presidential base is approximately 20%. This is despite the personal difficulties and controversy encountered by their candidate François Fillon during his campaign. The Republican Party (LR) can still hope for relative success in June, despite their own tactical and ideological divisions.

Therefore, it is quite surprising that Emmanuel Macron has chosen to devote as much time and energy as he has already in his attempts to “break” the Republican party (LR) effectively “in two”. The latter, whilst they remain united, can indeed hope to achieve relative success in terms of numbers (more than 200 members (seats in parliament)) but this is only true if they remain united. United they would be the largest political party in the Assembly in June (for more detail please see the simulation carried out by Opinionway). It is difficult to see how the individual controversy that marred the presidential campaign of François Fillon will result in a massive haemorrhage amongst the elected representatives (members of the party) towards the presidential majority – at least not before the general election. Moreover, it is not certain whether Emmanuel Macron has any interest in devoting further time and energy to seduce voters on the right given the general composition of his electoral base. The discussions which have taken place regarding the political processes and structures are seen by many commentators to be attempts to mask the “real issues” and divert public attention away from key elements. It is important to note that the public were not swayed by such tactics just as the tactics failed to win over voters for his predecessor or even his competitors (c.f Benoît Hamon following the Socialist Party (PS) primary).

Will the socialist voter-base who turned away from Benoît Hamon after 23 April reach the logical conclusion that it is better to vote for the Unsubmissive France party if they want to oppose Emmanuel Macron or the En Marche! (Forward!) party but remain supportive of the broader action being undertaken by the President? Or will the question of which socialist “family” one supports re-emerge once more during the general election? Thanks to the efforts of Ifop we are able to take steps towards better understanding this particular issue as their recent survey reflects on the changes taking place amongst those who declare themselves to be partisan supporters – although this does not in itself answer the issue completely:

– the number of Republican Party (LR) supporters is, to date, much higher than the number of Socialist Party (PS) supporters (18% for LR when compared to 12% for PS; this taken from poll data produced by Ifop on the evening of the second round of the presidential election). It is also noted that during the presidential campaign François Fillon was marred by public controversy and this did show in the polls with the number of LR supporters decreasing by 2 to 3 points. Yet on the evening that the second round of the presidential election took place, and despite the absence of a right-wing candidate, the so-called “declared supporters” numbers fell to the same level as they had been prior to the revelations published by Canard enchaîné.

The number of Socialist Party (PS) supporters has now reached historically low levels with a notable collapse in support over the last six months: whilst in December they enjoyed relative support at approximately 17% this figure fell to only 12% on the evening of the second round of the presidential election.

One may conclude from this recent collapse that the En Marche! (Forward!) party is continuing to replace the Socialist Party (PS) and accommodate the shifting voters on an increasing scale. This is quite an achievement for a party that has only existed for such a short time. Support was at 5% last February but they now unite 8% of the French public (or more than 10% if you refer to poll data from other survey institutions). It is wrong however to consider that the only party to suffer at the expense of the En Marche! (Forward!) party is the Socialist Party (PS). The recent upheaval and reshaping of the political landscape has seen the UDI (Union of Democrats and Independents) party achieve only 3% (-1 point) and MODEM (Democratic Movement) fall to 4% (-2 points compared to last September).

The problem which faces the Socialist Party (PS) at this time is indeed a question of political positioning and space; the party must strive to establish their own identity before they can truly campaign for the upcoming election. Does the political landscape require a party that would not openly oppose the new policies implemented by the President of the Republic (PR) and would just be another “follower”? The Socialist Party (PS) does appear to have lost the monopoly they once held in terms of conventional tactical voting: at the same time one must remember that the tactical voter is historically one who positions themselves on the left-wing in any event (this would appear to be the case since Mitterrand) – and they are arguably the voters that ensured the left-wing supporters could avoid a Fillon / Le Pen second round. This concept is also reflected in the broader sense in the general election as the tactical voter is influenced by two different elements; how best to vote to ensure the President is successful in office and how best to vote to ensure his policies are challenged effectively.

There are two competing viewpoints on the Socialist Party (PS): some commentators believe that the weight of party affiliations, local roots and perhaps even the first disappointment in Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term will combine to encourage socialist voters to “return home” once more. Those who propose this advocate that a “socialist” offering is then the natural choice to capitalise on the political landscape. Others, however, believe that there can only be true salvation for the party if they decide to openly support or oppose the elected President: whether this is achieved by joining a majority, or seeking to form an alliance on the left. The risk of course is self evident; either of the former solutions could ultimately mark the end of the Socialist Party (PS).

Read the original in French here