Last Sunday, June 17, the French—well, some of them (voter abstention was unusually high)—went to the polls for the fourth time in 2012, bringing the year’s election season (two rounds for president and another two for the parliament’s lower house) to a close. As a result, France has a new president, a new government, and a new National Assembly. Now that the campaigning is over, are there any general conclusions to be drawn about the 2012 cycle? Americans like to glean election results for signs of “realignments.” Do France’s elections over the past two months show evidence of shifting political tides?
In many ways, the French political landscape looks remarkably stable: this year’s elections were, for the most part, classic left-right contests. If anything, it could be argued that France’s famously fragmented political spectrum has become streamlined, evolving towards an almost “Anglo-Saxon” system of bipolarization. Yet this is, I think, somewhat misleading. The 2012 elections have occurred in the midst of a major international crisis (the Eurozone meltdown and the prospect of a new recessionary dip) that has weakened the French economy, shaken its political class, and unsettled the country’s already tenuous sense of national identity. The left-right confrontation that prevailed in this year’s elections may look conventional, but in light of the circumstances, this familiarity is misleading: this traditional cleavage has played itself out in a context of considerable ideological uncertainty and partisan reconfiguration. Continue reading