France’s far-right National Front party made significant headway in the first round of regional elections yesterday. The party received the most votes in six out of 13 regions, the far-right party’s best ever electoral performance. Nationally, the National Front, under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, received 28 percent of the vote. The center-right party, Les Republicains, got 27 percent of the vote nationally, while the Socialists only won around 23 percent. In Nord-Pas-de-Calais, in northern France, where Le Pen herself was the candidate, the National Front received 40 percent of the vote.
While the party’s electoral success on the regional level will depend on next week’s second round of elections, the results of yesterday’s polls indicate that anti-establishment sentiments are growing in France. The National Front did well both in regions that were formally heavily Socialist and in regions were the center-right has traditionally been popular, indicating that a segment of voters formerly identifying with a diverse set of political ideologies are attracted to the National Front’s message.
In an attempt to block the National Front from making gains during the second round of elections, the Socialist party announced that it will pull out its candidates from two regional elections and urge its supporters to vote for the mainstream center-right. Nevertheless, there is no formal electoral cooperation between the center-right party and the Socialists, making it difficult for establishment groups to overcome the National Front’s growing popularity.
The National Front’s popularity is significant not primarily because the party will now likely control several regional governments, but rather because the party may have an impact on French politics. The far-right has made gains in part due to fatigue with the country’s long-standing establishment parties, and in part due to the fears of some citizens regarding Europe’s crises. With mainstream parties seeing some of their traditional voters moving toward the National Front and with presidential elections coming up in 2017, some politicians may begin adopting stances closer to those of the far-right party, in particular when it comes to refugee policies and France’s relationship with the European Union. This movement may begin over the coming year, but the big test for the National Front – and for mainstream French parties – will ultimately come in the 2017 presidential election.