March 28, 2017
To vote or not to vote
The outcome of the French presidential elections is still quite unpredictable. And this is not due to the candidates’ relative performance. The main factor is the undecided voters.
A new poll shows that 40% of the French do not know who to vote for. With just one month to go, this is an absolute record: in 2012 there were 26% at this stage. Undecided, angry, and disgusted, these voters do not even know whether they should bother and go to vote. And of those, 86% would prefer if their lack of preference could be expressed as an explicit blank vote.
With such high numbers the question, then, is whether their blank vote should be a valid one that counts, writes l’Opinion in its lead story. This vote would then be an expression of their preferences, political disengagement, and rejection of all candidates. At the moment these blank votes are counted but do not play a role later when the candidates' support percentages are calculated. If they were accounted for, certain candidates would drop out in the first round as they would fail to qualify under the threshold, and the winners’ percentage would look much less impressive. It would also have meant that neither Jacques Chirac nor François Hollande would have had a majority of over 50% in the second round. The advantage of such a blank vote is that it might get people to bother to vote, and reduce the number of those who abstain or protest. It also might reduce protest votes which often turn to extremist parties to find expression.
This blank vote idea has been taken up by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Benoît Hamon, who both advocate a recognition of the blank vote in the counting. But there are considerable hurdles for this. It would require a rewrite of Article 7 in the constitution. This is not about to happen any time soon. It would also imply that the winner of the second wound could win with only a relative majority. Imagine what the duel between Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002 would have looked like. Maybe the second round would have been different altogether? Who knows. But with a rising number of politically disengaged people, the blank vote discussion is here to stay. And there are also clear differences among the current candidates on this.
The latest poll shows that, if the blank vote were effective, it would be employed most strongly by the electorate of Jean-Luc Mélenchon or Marine Le Pen, with 44% and 35% respectively. This is followed by Benoit Hamon (33%) and Emmanuel Macron (30%). It would be least used among the voters of Francçis Fillon (22%). The most enthusiastic about a blank vote are the supporters for Mélenchon, Hamon and Macron.
For the last five months of primaries and polling French voters defied predictable outcomes. And now they ponder the question whether to vote i the first round, and for whom. Don’t think you know already who the next president will be.
One further caveat is that if you allow the blank vote to count, you will eventually have to allow it to win. And, in this case, you could end up with a second round run-off between Le Pen and a blank, leaving the electorate with a choice between fascism and anarchy. Have they thought this through?