Center for Electoral Forensics

French election --- Why does it matter so much ?

[French Flag]The recently French election were drawing lots of attention around the world and people were focusing on the result. Emmanuel Macron vs. Marine Le Pen was very alike to the America election last year where that is also competent vs. populists. This article will give a brief introduction about French political system and also detect if unfairness exists in this election.

This election is far more important than previous French elections. What is new about this election? Will the result change the situation for Europe?

[president macron]

President Emmanuel Macron. Photograph courtesy the Ecole Polytechnique Université Paris.

The political system in French contains three main parts: the president, the council of ministers, and the parliament.

The President

First of all, the President, the head of state and head of the executive, is elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term. The president may serve a maximum of two terms. The President of France is more "outward looking" than the Prime Minister. As such, he is the supreme commander of the military and sets foreign policy with the aid of his Council of Ministers. While the Prime Minister is the head of the government, the President officially outranks the PM and has important powers in national defense and foreign relations.

The Prime Minister

The President appoints the Prime Minister, who forms the government. Occasionally, the President is forced to choose a Prime Minister from a different party than his or her own. This is called "cohabitation." In theory, ministers are chosen by the Prime Minister; in practice the PM and President work together to form a government. The President must approve the appointment of government ministers.

Ministers determine policy and put new legislation before parliament in the form of bills. The Prime Minister sets out Ministers' duties and responsibilities, and manages the daily affairs of government.

The Parliament

The French parliament is composed of two chambers. The lower house of Parliament is the National Assembly; the upper chamber is the Senate.

Members of the National Assembly are elected by universal suffrage in general elections that take place (at most) every five years. The President of the Republic may dissolve the Assembly (thereby calling for new elections) unless it has been dissolved in the preceding twelve months. Members of the National Assembly are directly elected in a two-stage voting system. A candidate who receives more than 50% of the vote in the first round (provided at least 25% of the voters registered in that constituency turn out) is elected. However, if no candidate receives 50%, there is a second round which is a run-off between all those first round candidates who secured more than 12.5% of the votes in that first round.

Senators are elected by "grand electors", who are mostly other local elected representatives. They are elected for six years, with half of the seats coming up for election every three years. New bills, proposed by government, and new private members bills (propositions de loi) must be approved by both chambers, before becoming law.

Issues of 2017

There were a number of issues that French voters focused on. Below are four of the biggest:

  • Economy: France is still feeling the aftereffects of the 2008 financial crisis. Unemployment hovers around 10 percent — higher than in most E.U. countries — and there is considerable anger at the inefficiency of the French state.
  • Europe: Polls have shown that fewer than half of the French people have a positive view of the E.U. Even if France doesn't decide to leave the E.U., a Le Pen presidency could mean that the country pulls out of the euro — a move that could trigger a major financial crisis on the continent.
  • Immigration: Some voters, supporters of Le Pen, are motivated by the levels of immigration to France and want to impose some limits on legal immigration
  • Security: many terrorist attack. Many in France hope new leadership may help deal with this problem.

Macron had been adamant that closer integration between the countries that share the euro will benefit the European Union as a whole. He has advocated reform of the currency union, and has said the eurozone should create its own budget. For immigration, Macron has promised to deal with asylum requests in the first six months and says France should be a place where refugees are welcome. He is against closing borders but says there does need to be stricter controls on immigration.

On the other hand, Le Pen wants to pull the country out of the eurozone, although she favored that this decision would be made in a referendum. She also wanted to do away with a border-free area and dispense with EU law. In terms of immigration, Le Pen has been quite outspoken in her promise to limit immigration and would restore the country's borders by withdrawing from the Schengen agreement that allows passport-free travel between 26 European countries.

Election Results

Emmanuel Macron won with about 66.1% of votes, while Le Pen received only 33.9% of votes. Macron swept the board geographically, with Le Pen winning just two of France's 107 departments.

[support map for Emmanuel Macron]

Support map for Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 French presidential election. Le Pen won only two departments, Aisne and Calais. Both are in the Hauts-de-France region.

Macron's best performance was in Paris, where approximately nine out of ten votes were cast for him. Even in areas that heavily backed the far-right candidate in the first round, such as the north-east of the country and along the Mediterranean coast, voters heavily turned to Macron in the second round.

Le Pen won in just two north eastern departments out of the whole of France — Calais and Aisne. There is a geographic indicator says that areas with high levels of low education were far more likely to plump for the Front National compared to other parties. Calais is in the bottom third for education and has an economic activity rate of just 68.8 per cent. It was one of just two areas where Le Pen won.

Testing the Results

The Benford test is usually used in elections to detect fraud. Bedford's Law suggests that the frequency distribution of leading digits in many real-life sets of numerical data arise from a logit-uniform distribution. We can use the first and second digit test to see if there were evidence of unfairness.

The Benford Tests

After obtaining the leading digit of the votes for Macron for total 107 departments, we make a frequency distribution of the leading digit. Next, we use the chi-square goodness-of-fit test. For this data, the p-value for the first-digit Benford test is p=0.2303. Since this is bigger than α, we cannot reject the null hypothesis that the vote counts are consistent with the logit-uniform distribution. If the first-digit Benford test is appropriate for testing for fraud, then we have found no evidence of unfairness, yet.

For the distribution of the second digits, we use the same approach. The chi-square goodness-of-fit test produces a p-value of 0.2544. Again, we did not find evidence of unfairness.

Null Ballots

In order to have a more comprehensive study about this election and by going through all the available data, let us examine the relationship between the null votes and the support for Macron. In no way is this a test of unfairness. It looks to see if there is any evidence of a difference in candidate excitement.

The closest distribution for the null votes in an election would be Binomial distribution. If there is no excitement difference, the parameter π in Binomial distribution would be a constant. The results of performing maximum quasi-likelihood estimation on the described generalized linear model suggest such an excitement gap. The effect estimate is statistically significant (p<<0.0001) and negative. This suggests Macron's supporters were more likely to vote than were Le Pen's supporters.


What can we conclude from the result of all the study regarding the 2017 French election?

Neither version of the Benford test found evidence of fraud/unfairness. Of course, this raises the question of whether the Benford test is an appropriate test for fraud in election.

Secondly, there is interesting evidence that Macron supporters were much more excited about voting than were Le Pen voters. Again, this is not an evidence of unfairness. It is just an interesting side note for this election.

This passage argued why the 2017 French election are much more important that the previous French elections. Since France is one of the biggest countries in the European Union, its moves regarding the union draws lots of attention around the world. With the winning of Macron, this big show has finally came to an end.

Official electoral body Ministère de l'Intérieur
Election May 7, 2017
Results Official

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