Is Macron staring down the barrel of a comfortable majority?

Throughout the presidential election campaign and after Emmanuel Macron’s victory on 7 May, one question that foreign journalists kept coming back to was whether he could govern without a majority in parliament nor a party to back him. The simple answer to that question is, of course, no. You cannot govern without a majority.

The question they meant to ask was could Macron’s newly created La République en Marche (LRM) really win a majority in the general elections. The answer to that question is certainly, and the most reliable opinion polls point to LRM and its allies securing anywhere between 320 and 425 seats, whereas they only need 290.

In its edition dated Saturday 3 June, Le Monde published the final set of findings by Cevipof, the electoral studies laboratory based at Sciences-Po, France’s most prestigious institution for political studies. The study has been carried out by in collaboration with Ipsos Sopra-Steria and is based on a series of rolling opinion polls that are also matched up against voting patterns in constituencies. The findings make agreeable reading for Macron and his PM Edouard Philippe, less so for his opponents.

There are nearly 15,000 voters involved in the process, of whom 8,700 replied, online, between 27 and 30 May. Of these, some 61% say they intend to vote on 11 June, though the percentage varies depending on political preference. 75% of those who call themselves LRM supporters say they intend to vote, 69% of Les Républicains (LR) voters, 63% for the Front National (FN) and 62% for Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (FI). So, let’s take 60% as the turnout. That’s a little higher than 2012, but roughly the ballpark we have come to expect for législatives since 2002.

What about voting intentions, I hear you cry?

In the Cevipof/Ipsos study, LRM has 31%, a significant increase on Macron’s first round presidential score of 24%. By comparison, LR are running at 22%, two points better than François Fillon managed. In contrast, the FN has dropped from 21.3% for Le Pen to 18%, while Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise are at just 11.5%, compared to his score of 19.5% on 23 April. The PS, with a score of 8.5% is slightly ahead of Benoît Hamon’s in the presidential.

What does all this mean in terms of seats?

Let’s remember that this is a scrutin uninominal à deux tours. A ‘scrutin’ is a ballot or election. The system is a single-seat constituency with two round of voting. As I have explained elsewhere, a candidate who gets an absolute majority of votes cast in the first round is elected on condition that the number of votes is equal to 25% of the voters in the constituency.

If no-one gets an absolute majority, there is a second round, but only for those who score 12.5% (one eighth) of the total number of votes in the constituency. This is where the abstention rate becomes important, because while a party that is generally getting 30% of the vote will see its candidates get through on a 60% turnout, Le Monde, Cevipof and Ipsos reckon that to qualify for the second round, candidates will need to score closer to 20% in ‘real’ terms.

Let’s take the example of Moche-Les-Grands-Clapiers, a fictitious new town in the Paris region, with 100,000 voters, 40% of whom abstain. Taking the scores of the four parties suggested above (31%-22%-18.5%-11.5%) gives us the following result: LRM 18,600; LR 13,200; FN 11,100; FI 5,700. Take off two zeroes and you have the percentage scores for each party against the total number of electors. Thus, the FN and FI candidates would be eliminated.

Of course, this won’t happen everywhere, because not all constituencies vote the same way and there will be a whole range of duels and triangular match-ups in the second round. But the Macroniste party has the ability to appeal to left and right-wing voters that makes it better equipped for the run-off and should see it home comfortably.

Looking at the way votes fell in the presidential elections, but also taking into account longer term voting patterns in each constituency, Cevipof are predicting a government majority of anywhere between 395 and 425 of the 577 seats. Les Républicains and their allies would have between 95 and 115 seats, La France Insoumise 10-20. The PS, the Ecologists and other left-wing groups likely to join them in forming a parliamentary group would manage 25-35. It is the FN, with a projected figure of 5-15 seats that would be the biggest loser. If they don’t manage 15 seats, they cannot form a parliamentary group. (I’ll explain about this later, when we know the results.)

There is, however, a caveat to be added. Cevipof carried out its survey before the details of the ‘affaire Ferrand’ began to cause the government some embarrassment. In 2007, a gaffe by social affairs minister Jean-Louis Borloo over the introduction of a ‘social VAT’ is reckoned to have cost the government 2% of the vote, which translated into a loss of 50 seats. Sarkozy and Fillon still had their majority, but Sarkozy never forgave Fillon and Borloo for failing to deliver a bigger majority than Chirac had in 2002.  

It should be added that other pollsters have the government winning fewer seats: Kantar-Sofres 320-350 and OpinionWay 335-355.

Vivement dimanche!