Center for Electoral Forensics

French Cohabitation?

[Flag of France]In the May 6, 2012, run-off Presidential election, François Hollande beat Nikolas Sarkozy with a vote of 52 to 48%. With this, Hollande became the first Socialist president of France since François Mitterrand left in 1995. The next important question centers on the French Parliament:

Will the people give Hollande a friendly Parliament, or will they condemn him to cohabitation with the center-right Union for a Popular Movement?

[Place de la République]

Place de la République in Rennes, Brittany

We term the governing system in France "semi-presidential." This means that both the president and the prime minister have separate sources of power. In France, the President is directly elected by the people in a two-round, majoritarian process. The Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party (or coalition) in the National Assembly. Usually, the same party holds both offices as the two elections are near each other. When different parties hold the two offices, the two people must still work together. Whenever the President and the Prime Minister are of different parties, we say that the two leaders are "cohabitating."

Cohabitation is usually a sign that the next few years in French politics will be filled with fighting between the two branches. At the very least, neither the President nor the Prime Minister will be able to implement a coherent agenda.

When the people elect a cohabitation government, it is usually because the Prime Minister's party is popular, but the President is not. In the 2012 Presidential election, President Sarkozy was not particularly popular. Thus, there is some lingering apprehension that the people voted against Sarkozy more than they voted for Hollande. This would lead to the people voting in Sarkozy's center-right Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire; UMP), creating a cohabitation government for Hollande.

Obviously Hollande does not want this.

Opinion polls suggest a very close race between Hollande's Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste; PS) and Sarkozy's UMP, with the UMP coming out on top.

However, remember that the National Assembly seats are district seats. Thus, national support does not necessarily translate into more parliamentary seats. PS now holds 186 seats; UMP 313 (out of 577 seats).

I predict that neither party will gain a majority of the seats, but that PS will gain enough seats to form a coalition government with assorted left-leaning parties.

I am sure that Hollande will be happy with that result.