Six things we learnt comparing elections in France and the UK

Six things we learnt comparing elections in France and the UK
By Chris Harris
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It’s rare that France and their neighbours over the English Channel both have elections in the same month.

France’s planned parliamentary poll coincided with Britain’s snap general election – the first time in two decades they have happened in the same year.

To mark the occasion, we’ve looked at how both polls to see how both countries compare.

France more fragmented than UK

More than a dozen parties, ranging from the far-right National Front to the French Communist Party, won seats in France’s parliamentary election.

Put another way, 40 of 577 seats went to fringe parties, at the extremes of the political spectrum.

There are no such extremes in the UK – the four biggest parties won 96.3 percent of votes, with the rest of the votes picked up by regionalists or the greens.

UK voting system appears less equitable

On the face of it, the French system appears fairer than the English one.

If we look at how much each percentage of vote share wins you in seats, there is much greater variation in the UK.

One percent of votes wins you between five and seven seats, if you’re one of the four most popular French parties.

But in the UK, it ranges from one to 11 seats.

For instance the Liberal Democrats’ share of the vote was double that of the Scottish National Party.

Yet the LDs got a third of the SNP’s seats haul.

It is also worth noting the French system is slightly different. In the UK, whoever wins the most votes is elected. In France, there is a first round of voting, where a vote share of 50 percent or more normally gets you elected. Otherwise, the most popular candidates go to a second round of voting, therefore concentrating the voting a bit.

Political duopoly smashed in France, strengthened in UK

France’s election saw the crushing of the two parties that have dominated French politics for decades.

Francois Hollande’s ousted Socialist Party hemorrhaged votes, going from winning 48.53 percent of the vote in 2012, to just 5.20 percent this time around.

The Republicans, formerly UMP, also lost votes, winning a 19.41 percent share, down from 33.62 five years ago.

It was very different in the United Kingdom.

The two traditional parties, Labour and the Conservatives, tightened their grip on British politics after fragmentation two years earlier.


The Conservatives’ vote share went up to 42.3 percent, compared with 36.8 percent two years ago, despite winning 13 less seats. Similarly, Labour won 40 percent of the vote, up from 30.4 percent in 2015.

Both profited from the collapse of the UK Independence Party, who have lost support since the Brexit referendum.

The smashing of France’s political duopoly meant 75 percent of MPs elected in 2017 were not sat in previous parliament.

The UK had 93 newly-elected MPs, or 14 percent of the 2017 intake.

Voters in France more likely to rebel

Stay-at-home voters are at an all-time high in France. For the second round of the parliamentary elections, 57 percent abstained.


Even if you argue the second round alienates voters of excluded candidates, the abstention rate was still 51.3 percent first time around.

In the UK, perhaps more politically-active in light of Brexit, abstention rates are at their lowest level for a decade.

Youth turnout better in UK

One of the key factors in the UK election was the impact of the youth vote – it helped Labour put in a better-than-expected performance.

Turnout for the 18-24 age group was 54 percent in 2017, up 16 percent compared with 2015, according to pollsters Ipsos Mori.

In France youth engagement is a lot lower. Ipsos France said just 37 percent of the 18-24 age group voted in the first round of this year’s parliamentary elections.


Political fortunes have shifted quickly in both countries

One of the key difference, of course, is the extent to which each ruling party has the power to govern and pass the laws promised in their manifestos.

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May called a snap general election, hoping to strengthen her majority and get a stronger mandate for Brexit.

But she ended up weakening the Conservatives’ position, who, despite being the biggest party, don’t have a majority of MPs in parliament.

In contrast France’s Emmanuel Macron began his campaign to be president trailing far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the polls.

But after being elected to the Elysee, Macron’s nascent party, En Marche!, secured a large majority in subsequent parliamentary elections.

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