Several parties throughout the world are democratizing their internal processes. The most notable tools for achieving this aim are the primary elections through which electoral candidates and party leaders are selected. This article seek to analyze these “selections” by using survey data relating to primary elections held in October 2011 by the French Socialist Party. In particular, we make use of survey data to describe extensively some social and political characteristics of the voters and to connect them with the electoral performances of the candidates.
Why is the Socialist Party (Parti socialiste, PS) the first political party in France to implement a systematic and “scientific” door-to-door canvassing for the 2012 presidential campaign? What internal changes led the PS to adopt this practice? This innovation is not just technical; it is profoundly transforming the roles and activities of party members. As Rémi Lefebvre has pointed out, “rationalized canvassing prioritizes electoral efficiency. In the traditional partisan culture of the PS, campaigns were mostly about conviction and political conflict. Canvassing was a way for members to assert their identity and ‘fight’ together. It was mostly about belonging to a group of party members. Rather, scientific door-to-door canvassing is oriented by an electoral rationality.”
The French Socialist Party has maintained a deeply ambivalent relationship with political radicalism. Throughout its long history, political radicalism has been experienced both as an internal political contest (hence as a form of intra-party struggle for influence) and as a relationship within (and beyond) the broader party system. This article identifies three levels of analysis as heuristics to facilitate a study of the French Socialist Party over the long term. From the perspective of the party as a whole, the party evolves according to its own eco-system, and is shaped by deeply embedded cultural and political traits. A different level of analysis frames the question of political radicalism organizationally, in terms of relations within and beyond the party. Finally, one can also understand the party's relationship with political radicalism instrumentally and strategically, in terms of electoral alliances. Though there is a tension between these three approaches, each contributes to understanding why the French Socialist Party is sometimes considered a European exception.
Irwin M. Wall
The French elections of 2012 resulted in an unprecedented and overwhelming victory by France's Socialist Party, which gained control of the presidency and an absolute majority in the National Assembly to go with the party's existing domination of most of France's regions and municipalities. But the Socialist Party remains a minority party in the French electoral body politic, its victory the result of a skewered two-ballot electoral system. The Socialist government, moreover, remains hampered in its action by its obligations toward the European Union and its participation in the zone of countries using the Euro as it attempts to deal with France's economic crisis. As a consequence of both of these phenomena the government may also be sitting atop a profound political crisis characterized by the alienation of a good part of the electorate from the political system.
The failure of the CPE does not prove the impossibility of reform in France, but rather illustrates political actors' incompetence when it comes to developing and leading reform efforts. The article argues the foregoing thesis by reviewing different moments when competence in these matters would have been able to make a difference. It then examines the collateral damage of this aborted reform with regard to the adminstration's capacity to act and with regard to the French political landscape from now until the 2007 presidential elections.
Explaining the Timing of the French Socialist Party's Gender-Based Quota
Katherine A.R. Opello
One characteristic of French political life is the small number of women holding national elective office. From 1944, when women received the vote, until the 2002 legislative elections, the percentage of female members in France’s lower house, the National Assembly, ranged from a low of 1.5 percent in 1958 to a high of 12.9 percent in 2002. Data reveal that the lowest percentage of women in the Senate, France’s upper house, was 1.4 percent in 1975 while the highest percentage was 16.9 percent in 2004. This absence of women from the highest reaches of politics is particularly striking when France is compared to other member states of the European Union. For example, currently women possess approximately 45 percent of legislative seats in Sweden, 32 percent in Germany, 28 percent in Spain and 18 percent in the United Kingdom. 1 In fact, France is often referred to as la lanterne rouge de l’Europe (Europe’s caboose) because the only other country with so few female parliamentarians is Greece.
The radical component is still alive in French socialism. It finds expression notably in the anti-liberal economic perspective that the international financial crisis has recently reawakened. It is also expressed in the critique of the institutions of the Fifth Republic that Nicolas Sarkozy's "hyper-presidency" has revived. The tendency toward radicalization, however, is also heavily constrained these days for several reasons. The Socialist Party, first of all, has become a party of government. The centrality of the presidential election in the French system and the presidentialist character that the Socialist Party has taken on make a presidential victory a top priority for the party. Too radical a discourse can become, for such a party, counter-productive. The economic environment, moreover, and the situation the country faces makes less and less credible as a political objective the large-scale, state-led redistribution that has traditionally been how French socialism has translated its radicalism into a program of government.
John P. Willerton and Martin Carrier
The April 21st defeat of Socialist party candidate Lionel Jospin in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections shockingly ended the five-year reign of arguably the most productive government in Fifth Republic France.1 The Jospin government of the Gauche Plurielle departed as surprisingly as it had come to power five years earlier, its legacy of unprecedented success in Left coalition building and far-ranging policy construction seemingly voided by Jospin’s embarrassing loss to Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Far Right.
Nicolas Sarkozy's victory in the 2007 French presidential elections represents a true rupture: rupture with years of political apathy, rupture with what was an escalating rise of political protest, rupture with a "law" that since 1981 seemed to require that every outgoing majority be beaten. Sarkozy's electoral victory was substantial. It was built on a notion that what the French were looking for was a strong sense of direction, and it gave rise to a dynamic of striking change right after the election (a political opening to the left, a shift in presidential style, disarray in the Socialist Party, and the marginalization of the National Front).
Gianfranco Pasquino and Marco Valbruzzi
This chapter analyzes the processes of candidate selection in Italy for the main political parties facing the 2013 general election. In particular, the authors investigate and evaluate the primary elections organized, in November–December 2012, by the center-left coalition (composed of the Democratic Party, Left Ecology and Freedom, and the Italian Socialist Party) for the selection of the candidate to the office of president of the Council of Ministers. The chapter explores in detail the main issues at the center of the electoral campaign, the candidates involved in the process of selection, the socio-demographic profile of the “selectorate,” the electoral results of the primary elections, and their consequences for the consolidation of the Italian party system.