CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1Although they have long been viewed with suspicion as expatriates of dubious patriotism, French citizens living abroad now represent an expatriate community endowed with a great number of political rights, granted to them by their country of origin. Henceforth regularly hailed as an “essential element of France’s cultural and economic influence”, [1] this group has steadily seen its conditions for participation and representation improve during recent years. Already represented by an Assembly of French Citizens Abroad (Assemblée des français de l’étranger – AFE), twelve senators and, since June 2011, a Ministry of State within the French government, French residents abroad were in turn granted representation in the National Assembly, thanks to the 23 July 2008 constitutional reform. [2] For the 2012 legislative election, more than a million French citizens, registered on consular electoral rolls, were thus called to vote for the first time in eleven extra-territorial constituencies, either in person at the ballot box or – for the first time in France – by correspondence, using a sealed envelope or an internet portal.

2Thanks to its unique nature and the new limitations that it imposed on the different players involved, the election of representatives for French residents abroad provides an ideal opportunity to examine the constituent elements of electoral campaigns. Much like the first “postauthoritarian” elections, [3] this contest was unfettered by preconceived notions and habits, thus granting us the possibility of observing close-up mechanisms that are less apparent in environments structured in earlier ways. What are the principles that govern such extraterritorial political competitions? What was the content of the different “political offers” developed by candidates running to represent French residents abroad? [4] What mobilisation techniques did these candidates employ in order to secure the greatest number of supporters? These are the main questions that this article will explore and attempt to answer, based on an analysis of the June 2012 legislative election in the first constituency of French residents abroad, which encompasses both Canada and the United States.

3The reader should note that this article does not seek to evaluate the “effects” of the campaign on voters, nor, a fortiori, to describe the role it played in the victory of a candidate supported by the Socialist Party (PS – Parti socialiste) and the Green Party (EELV – Europe Écologie-Les Verts) in a district initially perceived as largely favourable to the right (even if this article does perhaps suggest some elements that help to explain this apparent surprise). [5] Following in the footsteps of recent studies that have called for an in-depth analysis of electoral competitions, [6] this article attempts instead to contextualise and reconstitute the dynamics of electoral mobilisation implemented by the different candidates competing to represent French citizens residing in North America. It uses data collected by a study conducted between September 2011 and October 2012. So as to vary perspectives on the campaign, I observed demonstrations; conducted ten semi-structured interviews with candidates and their campaign staff; analysed the campaign literature produced by the various candidates; and, finally, addressed the articles dealing with the election that were produced by national and local media.

4The analysis will be divided into three parts. First, I shall examine the contextual specificities amid which the legislative election in North America took place. Second, I shall focus on the candidate selection process and the logic behind it. And third, I shall attempt to retrace the dynamics of electoral mobilisation as implemented by the different candidates in preparation for the race.

An atypical political landscape

5Before studying the dynamics of the 2012 legislative election in North America, it is necessary to describe several unique characteristics of its configuration. In fact, the uncertainty associated with any electoral contest appears to have been magnified here by the electorate’s lack of knowledge and its dispersion, as well as the constituency’s extra-territoriality. All of these elements significantly affected the actions of the different election hopefuls.

The elusive French expatriate voter

6Despite being viewed in an increasingly positive light, French citizens abroad are still poorly understood; we are not even sure how many of them there are. In the spring of 2008, during preliminary discussions about their representation in the National Assembly, estimates at times doubled depending on the source used: 820,000 according to the electoral lists, 1.3 million according to the consular lists, and more than 2 million according to the corrections made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. [7] Quantifying French emigration is especially difficult because it has witnessed rapid growth these past few years. The number of individuals on consular lists – which was ultimately the government’s only reference point when drawing up the new electoral map – increased by 25% since 2006, reaching 1.6 million on 31 December

72011. Of that population, 1.06 million were registered to vote (a 29% increase compared with 2007). These global figures conceal significant disparities across regions, the composition of the eleven extra-territorial electoral constituencies revealing the extent of these disparities. For example, while the second constituency of French voters abroad (Latin America) has only 75,000 voters, the first constituency is almost double in size. With 175,000 registered voters (92,000 in the United States and 65,000 in Canada), and 202,000 individuals on the consular lists, the first is in fact the largest French legislative constituency. [8]

8If determining an accurate number of expatriates is a delicate exercise, describing the structure of this population is a formidable challenge. [9] According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, only the data provided by consular registers with regard to age and sex can be used on an aggregate level. [10] This data allows us to observe that the female/male ratio among the domestic and expatriate populations is comparable (51.5% compared to 50.7%; 50.6% in North America), and that the average age of the first group is markedly higher than that of the second. In 2010, the average age of registered voters abroad was 44 years old, while in France it was 50 years old. [11] However, consular registers are almost completely useless with regard to the socio-economic traits of French voters abroad. They provide no information about income or education levels, and the data concerning occupation is too patchy to be of any use. Additionally, we have very little information regarding the political behaviour of expatriates. It is true that presidential election results in consular centres, since they were established in 1976, have traditionally been favourable to candidates from the parliamentary right. Nevertheless, in addition to the fact that this trend seems to be on the wane and that it obscures important regional differences, [12] two elements hinder any attempt at predicting future results by extrapolating from previous ones. The first is the low voter turnout abroad. Since the beginning of the 2000s, no election has mobilised more than half of all registered voters, whether it was a presidential election (44% in the second round in 2002 and 42% in 2007), the 2005 referendum (33%) or the election of representatives for the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad (20.5% in 2009). And yet we have scarcely any data that would allow us to determine the future characteristics and behaviour of the numerous voters who have previously abstained. The second element is that the composition of consular registers varies significantly from one election to the next, thus making it difficult to glean information from past elections. In fact, under the double impact of a significant increase in the number of registered individuals and the geographical mobility characterising the French expatriate population, consular registers have witnessed a very high rate of turnover, doubtless higher than 50% in North America between 2007 and 2012.

9Combined with an absence of precedent, the lack of information regarding French citizens abroad puts the candidates seeking to represent them in the National Assembly in a rather uncomfortable situation. Especially since these elusive voters, whose traits, preferences and expectations are unknown, are scattered among an indigenous population otherwise unconcerned with the election.

Scattered voters

10Unlike other expatriate groups, French voters abroad do not tend to organise in local communities in their host countries; this is especially true in richer countries such as the United States and Canada. [13] Although associations of French expatriates have existed since after World War I, they are rare and the size of their membership base is entirely relative. The two largest organisations, the Union des Français de l’Étranger (UFE – French Foreign Union) and the Association démocratique des français à l’étranger (ADFE – Democratic Association of French People Abroad) host activities that are essentially designed with an eye to French political parties and institutions. The former is said to be close to the UMP, the latter to the PS. Public establishments or para-governmental organisations such as French schools and institutes cannot be seen as providing a strong sense of community, either. In addition to being limited to a small number of cities, they are directed at a public which is not solely composed of expatriates, and most importantly, they are far from encompassing all expatriates. Moreover, although a large majority of French expatriates reside in cities, there are no homogenous “French neighbourhoods”, properly speaking, in foreign agglomerations. Several studies have in fact observed the preponderance of economic criteria over identity concerns in the decisions of French nationals living abroad concerning geographical location. [14]

11The scattered nature and relative “invisibility” of French expatriates among their host populations, particularly in Western countries – where, additionally, they are the most numerous – make “encounters between political specialists and laypersons”, [15] as well as between candidates and voters during the electoral campaign, a considerably less straightforward matter. Highly unlikely to occur spontaneously, such encounters within the context of extra-territorial constituencies require prior work to identify voters and bring them together. Such work is all the more problematic because it takes place in an atypical environment.

Constituencies unlike any others

12As a result of their extra-territoriality, the eleven constituencies abroad share unique characteristics that clearly differentiate them from constituencies in mainland France. First of all, they are enormous. While the smallest of the extra-territorial constituencies – the sixth, representing Switzerland – is seven times larger than the vastest of the metropolitan districts (La Creuse), the largest extra-territorial constituency (the eleventh, representing Eastern Europe, Asia and Oceania) could hold all of France almost one hundred times over. Combining Canada and the United States, two of the world’s largest countries, the first constituency covers almost 20 million square kilometres and 8 different time zones. More than just physical characteristics, the surface area and transnationality of extra-territorial legislative constituencies act as major elements working to define local voting configurations. They strongly influence both the territorial representations of the various protagonists and, as we shall see, how campaign practices are designed and implemented. Second, the adjusting of legal regulations governing elections grows increasingly complex in the case of extra-territorial constituencies. Naturally, as for all French elections, the election of representatives abroad is subject to the Electoral Code. In order to ensure proper procedures, legislators even took care to adopt specific new measures, for example the flat-rate reimbursement of transportation fees. [16] These exceptional measures were nevertheless revealed to be insufficient, once all the issues with which candidates were confronted during the campaign were taken into account. Moreover, these measures were often adopted very late. Due to a lack of specific arrangements, a number of ostensibly trivial measures in place in metropolitan France became extremely problematic for candidates abroad, notably those with regard to the technical configuration of party literature and the management of campaign finances.


The legal framework is kind of Kafkaesque, and the Electoral Code is more or less equivalent to the one applied in France for MP elections. I understand that there are restrictions, but OK, here, the candidates are bearing the brunt of it, like whenever it’s the first time for anything. We have to work with this, of course, but it’s not easy. […] The issue of campaign finance management is particularly delicate because it has to be open and in euros […] and I think that a certain number of candidates, if they decide to go through with it, will end up seeing their campaign accounts invalidated or rejected by the electoral audits court. [17]

14As a consequence, no fewer than four candidates in the first French constituency abroad were ruled ineligible to run due to irregularities in the financing of their electoral campaigns: this even included the newly elected representative, whose victory had to be annulled. [18] Adjusting fiscal practices to regulations that remained in part unsuited for the specific context proved even more difficult for candidates in the 2012 extra-territorial legislative elections, as they often had to comply with both French legal constraints and those of the host country. [19]

15Third, the extra-territoriality of French constituencies abroad also has a major impact on the visibility of electoral activity, consequently forcing us to reassess the central role traditionally played by journalists in electoral campaigns. While the host country media tends to address extra-territorial elections which concern only a miniscule fraction of its population in a peripheral manner, the French media, ostensibly more interested in the election, has only a limited expatriate audience. [20] Moreover, French community media abroad, despite seeming the best suited to pay attention to the local dynamics of an election – much like regional media in mainland France – have very limited means and audiences. Though not entirely insignificant, the distribution of the major “community” press titles in North America – France-Amérique, French Morning and Le Petit Journal – remains concentrated in major US cities. [21]

16Finally, extra-territorial constituencies appear to be quite loosely structured political spaces. In fact, it was not until the beginning of the 1980s, when the direct election of representatives to the Conseil supérieur des Français de l’étranger (CSFE, renamed AFE in 2004 – High Council of French Citizens Abroad) was introduced, [22] that a number of political parties began to form French federations abroad and stimulate the creation of extra-territorial divisions. However, the fact that expatriates were widely scattered and only loosely connected by communities significantly checked the development and implantation of these political offshoots. For example, in North America, only the UMP and the PS had significant, albeit limited, local structures in place when the new electoral map became official in the summer of 2009. While the UMP had three branches (West Coast, East Coast and Canada), the PS had six (Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, New York, Washington and San Francisco). In addition, the organisation behind these local groups was significantly different between the two parties. The UMP’s three sections cover an extremely wide area and formally brought together all party members living in the constituency (some several hundred people). The sections are managed by a representative assisted by several deputies assigned to the different geographical areas. For the PS, the six North American branches are established at the city level and generally have 15 or so party members. As in France, each branch is governed by a branch secretary elected by activists during each national congress. The few “isolated” members – those who live outside of the urban agglomerations with a branch – are directly affiliated to the Socialist federation of French citizens abroad. This same principle of direct, federal connection with the party was employed by the Green Party, the Front National (FN) and the Modem, three more parties which, although they do not have (or no longer have) extra-territorial sections in North America, nonetheless boasted a few dozen activists in 2009. Beyond the fact that parties have shallow local roots, French political spaces abroad are also characterised by the absence of professional political staff. On the one hand, the number of available elective mandates is much more limited than in France and do not allow for a full-time position in politics, apart from the 12 senators elected at international level. On the other hand, the local branch leaders of French organisations abroad tend to be held back from positions of responsibility or influence within the central bodies of their party. In North America, the billionaire Guy Wildenstein, representative of the East Coast branch of the UMP and a member of the inner donors circle, is certainly the only local political leader who can boast having access to the national leaders of his organisation.

17Although it may seem impossible to reconstruct, in detail, the context in which the first election for a member of parliament representing French citizens in North America took place, given that the available data is so patchy, concentrating for a moment on the particularities of the constituency as we have just done does allow us to underscore the great uncertainty impacting the electoral contest’s different protagonists. Now we shall see how this uncertainty decisively influenced the definition and promotion of the various candidates’ political offers.

Selecting the candidates

18When the new electoral map became official, the competition for office in extraterritorial constituencies seemed particularly open for most political parties; no “obvious” candidate stood out in this election with no incumbent. In this context, political parties implemented widely different selection processes for their extra-territorial candidates. These processes respected the general rules already in place, of course, but also the specific circumstances in which they had established themselves abroad, and the representation of what their party leaders perceived to be at stake in the election. Coupled with the self-selection of independent candidates, in North America the logic of party nominations produced an abundant choice of candidates, who did not closely match the constituency’s sociological reality.

Candidate dynamics in a new election

19Broadly, we can distinguish two periods in candidate dynamics in the election to represent French citizens in North America. The first period lasted from the beginning of 2010 to the end of 2011 and concerned only three of the few parties that had made an effort to expand their structures in Canada and the United States. The second period covered the first few months of 2012 and was characterised by the extraordinary proliferation of nomination papers from both party and independent candidates.

20As early as the first months of 2010, the leadership of the UMP, the PS and the EELV opted to implement advance selection procedures for their candidates outside of France. By doing so, party leaders acquiesced to the demands of their expanding foreign branches and took into account the specific constraints of extra-territorial constituencies, which require candidates to be selected as early as possible in order to have sufficient time to campaign. These early procedures took a variety of different forms and led to contrasting results, however, depending on the perception that central bodies and contenders had of the election’s outcome. As a consequence, despite being founded on projections based on previous results and expatriate profiling (the understanding of which, as we have seen, was extremely shaky), the first constituency rapidly became seen as highly favourable to the right; a perception which decisively impacted the internal logic behind the final nominations and the allocation of resources. [23]

21Within the ranks of the UMP, whose victory seemed all but assured, possible candidates abounded. In addition to a handful of local party leaders, several national personalities lacking a specific voting base began to eye the mandate. The latter type of figure was ultimately preferred by the national investiture committee. In North America as in the majority of other extra-territorial constituencies, the centralised process for selecting extra-territorial candidates implemented by the UMP resulted in the allocation of national party resources for local investment. Since Wilderstein, the only hopeful who could attempt to play both angles, was quickly forced to withdraw from the race due to his involvement in a tax evasion scandal, the Minister of the Economy, Christine Lagarde, was nominated as the UMP candidate in April 2011. When Lagarde also had to withdraw from the race just a month later, due to her nomination as the head of the IMF, another government player in search of an electoral stronghold was chosen to replace her in November: this was Frédéric Lefebvre, at the time Secretary of State for Trade and SMEs.

22In the EELV and the PS camps, however, the perception of the first constituency’s right-wing tendencies limited the number of candidates. Neither of the two party’s leaderships took the reins and local activists retained a high level of autonomy, both in the early selection of candidates and in later alliance negotiations. Following a primary held in the six local branches at the beginning of December 2010 – one year earlier than in France – the branch Secretary Corinne Narassiguin won the socialist nomination, beating her counterpart in the San Francisco branch. In a similar fashion, Rémi Piet, EELV member based in Miami, became the Green candidate a few months later. Both activists within the ADFE, Narassiguin and Piet however quickly envisioned the possibility of running on a combined ticket, given their shared perception that the constituency would be difficult to win. The ticket created in November 2011 that united the socialist candidate with Montreal’s EELV representative, Cyrille Giraud, as her deputy was thus the product of negotiations conducted locally, starting at the beginning of the year and finalised after an agreement was signed between both parties at the national level. [24]

23While the parties with the strongest roots outside of France were naturally the first to publicly announce their candidates for the new seats, in the weeks leading up to the election there was a sudden upsurge in nomination papers throughout the extra-territorial constituencies. In North America, the number of candidacies announced rose dramatically to about twenty. Three main elements can explain this spectacular, albeit delayed, phenomenon.

24The first element is the entry into the race of a dozen previously anonymous figures touting their independence vis-à-vis political parties. These outsiders all pushed an apolitical view of the election and attempted to use their personal expatriate stories to legitimise their candidacy to represent French citizens in North America. In the end, only four of these figures officially announced their candidacies in May 2012: Louis Le Guyader, Christophe Navel, Mike Remondeau and Rob Tememe.

25Second, divisions on the right played an important role. The conditions under which Lefebvre was nominated by the UMP in fact led to widespread frustration at the local level, fuelling the increasing dissidence of several North American branch leaders. [25] Contrasting their “field experience” with the Secretary of State’s recent arrival on the scene, four hopefuls who had not made the party’s cut announced that they were going to run as independents. These were Julien Balkany, the half-brother of the mayor of Levallois-Perret and a resident of the United States for several years; Gérard Michon, a deputy representative of the UMP in San Francisco; Antoine Treuille, uncle to Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and an influential member of the “East Coast” branch; and Franck Bondrille, a deputy representative in Miami. Although Bondrille would ultimately step down in favour of Balkany, the list of candidates belonging to the “moderate right” but separate from the UMP continued to grow until spring 2012. In February, Philippe Manteau, representative of the Nouveau Centre (NC-New Centre) in the United States, announced his candidacy, and in April, Émile Servan-Schreiber, the youngest son of the co-founder of L’Express, announced his.

26And third, the significant increase in the number of hopefuls for the position of member of parliament for the French in North America during the first few months of 2012 was also linked to the nomination of candidates from several national parties who, until then, had had little or no political presence outside of France. Two complementary factors can be used to explain these apparently paradoxical candidacies. The first, highlighted by the representative from the Front de Gauche, but expressing a sentiment shared by the Modem and the Front National, was a desire to take advantage of the election to develop their existing structures abroad, which were judged insufficient.


The Front de Gauche, until now, has not established networks abroad, in any case what we have is much less structured than what the UMP and the PS have. […] That is, there’s not, or there wasn’t until recently, records of activists and supporters other than on national soil. […] My deputy and I were asked to run for office rather late in the game, in truth at the beginning of 2012. Now we’re trying to piece things together to identify the people who support us in North America, and we’re going to take advantage of the campaign to try to give our overseas organisation a better structure. [26]

28The second factor that could be used to explain the profusion of candidacies in North America, and more generally in all French constituencies abroad, is the financial aspect. Extra-territorial constituencies seem in effect to have been used as ideal adjustment variables by certain organisations that were struggling to otherwise respect the criteria necessary for receiving public funds. Likewise, it would not be out of line to presume that the fines for non-compliance with gender parity regulations played a decisive role in the nomination of candidates abroad for those parties who tended to infringe such regulations (even when said parties scarcely had any infrastructure on foreign soil). Consequently, it is notable that the large majority of candidates nominated by the PRG (Parti radical de gauche) (10/11), the Front de Gauche (9/11) and the Front National (7/11) for positions abroad were women; moreover, these nominees often only possessed a tenuous link at best to the constituency or even the party. [27] In addition, it seems that, given that expatriates tend to have very low electoral participation rates, extra-territorial constituencies were viewed by certain organisations as especially favourable sites for garnering more than 1% of the vote, a threshold required by law to receive public funds for political activities. This was, for example, the strategy adopted by Solidarité & Progrès (Solidarity and Progress), Rassemblement initiative citoyenne (RIC – Rally for the Citizen Initiative), and, albeit to a much lesser extent, the Parti Pirate (Pirate Party).

A specific context: distorted dynamics between candidates and voters

29Published on 14 May 2012 in the Journal officiel, the definitive list of candidates for the first constituency’s seat in the first round of the election comprised eighteen names – seven more than the national average. Among the hopefuls, six already had the benefit of a parliamentary past, and four had extra-parliamentary political experience, while eight presented themselves as independents.

30The first constituency of French citizens abroad is no exception to the well-known social and gender-based distortion that occurs between candidates and voters in France. [28] On the one hand, as in other constituencies, the candidates come from the higher professional classes, since 85% of them had occupations requiring advanced degrees and/or a high level of responsibility. On the other hand, the North American candidates were overwhelmingly – and this even more so than in France – male: 72% compared with 60% nationally. The five female candidates moreover had all been nominated by national political parties that were subject to the gender parity law. In the case of the first extra-territorial constituency, however, this well-known mismatch between candidates and voters deserves to be nuanced, taking into account local peculiarities.

31First of all, the North American candidates were on average younger than their mainland counterparts (45 years old compared with 50 years old), two-thirds of them being younger than 50 (compared with only 44% in France). Rather than illustrating the relative youth of the expatriate population, this phenomenon is indicative of the fact that a high percentage of the candidates were novices. In fact, only three of them could boast a prior elective mandate. Due to the limited scope of the local elective market and the lack of partisan structures outside of France, candidacies for a legislative post in North America – and in extra-territorial constituencies on the whole – are much less often than in mainland France the outcome of a long-term cursus honorum including the accumulation of prior local mandates and positions of partisan responsibility. [29]

32Second, although the vast majority of candidates in the first constituency abroad come from the higher professional classes, it is more significant that they are markedly more likely to come from the private sector than their mainland counterparts. Despite the fact that public service has come to be one of the main sources of political recruitment at the national level, only one out of the eighteen North American candidates came from that background. [30] Although the still fragmentary nature of the data available requires us to proceed with caution, we can hypothesise that this over-representation of high-level executives from the private sector is due to two complementary factors. First of all, the relatively more limited numbers of expatriates in the public service workforce in North America, compared with mainland France; but also notable was the influence of certain “native” representations of politics on the (self-) selection process for candidates. The high level of socio-professional homogeneity among the independent candidates – no less than five of whom were self-professed businessmen or company directors – is reminiscent of the plutocratic nature of political recruitment in the United States, and to a lesser extent Canada. [31] Access to significant economic resources and being viewed as someone “important” seem in fact to have been the decisive factor in entering the political race for most of the independent candidates, especially the UMP dissidents.

33Third, let us remark that in North America there exists a significant gap between the geographical distribution of candidates and that of voters. On the one hand, thanks to the practice of several party organisations of parachuting candidates in, no fewer than seven candidates declared that they lived outside of their constituency (39% in total). On the other hand, among the eleven remaining candidates, nine claimed to live in the United States (or 50% of the total for 59% of registered voters), five of whom resided in New York (28% for 15%), three in Florida (17% for 5%) and only two in Canada (11% for 41%). Once again, without engaging in a more in-depth analysis, we may only surmise that the relatively looser structures of French community-based and partisan associations in the United States compared to Canada, as well as the geographical logic behind concentrations of economic capital among expatriates were the primary factors explaining this distortion.

34Analysing the selection process and profiles of the candidates for the first French legislative election in North America clearly reveals the lack of social fit between candidates and voters, even if the reasons for such distortions are partly different from those generally observed in mainland France. Nevertheless, the candidates were far from all being able to count on access to the same resources (either personally or collectively), which consequently had a major impact on the shape their respective campaigns took. [32]

Campaigning in an atypical landscape

35In a legal sense, electoral campaigns are considered to be “extra-ordinary” political events, subject to specific codes and clearly bounded in time. In accordance with the Electoral Code, the campaign for the first round of legislative elections in North America lasted barely two weeks: from when the nominations were made official by the Ministry of the Interior, on 14 May 2012, to the eve of the vote, on 2 June 2012. In reality, however, election hopefuls were far from limiting their efforts at mobilisation to this “official” campaign window. They effectively tried to develop strategies seeking to “disseminate a ‘political offer’ and persuade voters to rally around it, bringing their support and their votes” [33] well ahead of the election: sometimes even before they were officially nominated as candidates. [34] Political studies have shown convincingly that election campaigns can best be understood as moments where political practices intensify, and which can occur outside of official electoral periods and are fully integrated into unique, local configurations. [35] Consequently, just as for municipal elections, [36] legislative elections appear to be largely determined by the particularities of the socio-political context in which they unfold. Despite having an undeniably national dimension, they are also likely to take different forms and follow different dynamics depending on the constituency. What we are trying to understand here is precisely to what extent the unique characteristics of the first constituency in North America influenced the various candidates’ efforts at electoral mobilisation for this new mandate of parliamentary representative for the French of North America. In the interests of clarity, three “sequences” have been broadly delimited in our analysis: the initial definition of the means and modes of electoral action; the effective implementation of operations aiming to gain voter support for the first round of the election; and the period in between the two rounds.

Table 1

Candidates in the 1st constituency of French residents abroad, May 2012

Table 1
Name Age Sex Affiliation Residence Occupation Prior elective experience Date candidacy announced Julien Balkany 32 M Independent New York Company director None Nov. 2011 Stéphanie Bowring 36 F PRG Paris Parliamentary asst./singer-songwriter None Apr. 2011 Raphael Clayette 32 M Parti Pirate Montreal Orthotist None May 2012 Céline Clément 38 F Front de Gauche Strasbourg Professor None March 2012 Carole Granade 42 F Modem Lyon Consultant None Jan. 2012 Louis Le Guyader n.a ~ 55 M Independent New York Economist/consultant None May 2012 Frédéric Lefebvre 48 M UMP Île-de-France Lawyer, politician Regional councillor (2004-), MP (2007–2009) and Secretary of State (2010–) Nov. 2011 Philippe Manteau 40 M Nouveau Centre New York Lawyer None Jan. 2012 Gérard Michon 56 M Independent California Engineer/consultant AFE MP (1994-) Oct. 2011 Corinne Narassiguin 37 F PS-EELV New York Engineer/consultant AFE MP (2009-) Dec. 2010 Christophe Navel 36 M Independent Québec Company director None March 2012 Mike Remondeau 31 M Independent TampaStudent None Dec. 2011 Claire Savreux 41 F FN Ft. Lauderdale Admin. secretary None Apr. 2012 Émile Servan-Schreiber 49 M Independent Paris Company director None Apr. 2012 Robert Tememe n.a. ~ 60 M Independent Miami Company director/consultant None May 2012 Antoine Treuille 63 M Independent New York Businessman None Feb. 2012 Karel Vereycken 54 M Independent New York Company director None Nov. 2011 Jean-Michel Vernochet 64 F PRG Paris Parliamentary asst./singer-songwriter None Apr. 2011

Candidates in the 1st constituency of French residents abroad, May 2012

Source: Ministry of the Interior; Campaign documents.

Entering the race

36Although they were far from sharing the same characteristics, the many candidates entering the North American race in the months leading up to the legislative election were initially united by their shared lack of experience with this kind of election campaign. It is true that a handful of the candidates had already participated in an election. But by definition, none of the candidates had done so in a context comparable to that of the first extra-territorial French constituency. This lack of precedent was a vector of significant uncertainty as, according to Frédéric G. Bailey, this made it difficult for the protagonists to “connect their current situation with a similar situation in the past which could be used as a precedent to develop a plan of action”. [37] In this context, entering the race can be seen as a learning experience, during which the different candidates attempted to define rhetoric and practices that were specifically adapted to the context’s largely unpredictable demands, in order to mobilise voters. This initial struggle to define campaign practices took a variety of forms depending on the resources available to each candidate, but also depending on the perception of the value of said resources in the North American context and with regard to voters’ expectations.

37Thus, even though the candidates nominated by both the PS-EELV and the UMP enjoyed the support of parties with local branches in North America, these two began their campaigns on completely different footings. The first candidate to be announced, Corinne Narassiguin, started campaigning on the ground very early on. From July 2011 to January 2012, she conducted a series of “preparatory visits” to a dozen or so American states and Canadian provinces, often accompanied by one of the four socialist senators who represented French citizens abroad. These trips – which mainly took the form of visits to French schools and meetings with representatives from the consular administration, and, where possible, with local community organisations – fulfilled three complementary purposes. First, they were designed “to meet the French citizens living abroad in these different regions, in order to ascertain their concerns” so as to better develop an electoral programme. [38] Second, these visits attempted to address the socialist candidate’s lack of profile. Finally, the visits were also an opportunity for Narassiguin to establish contacts with local supporters of the PS and the EELV, but also the ADFE, in order to create a campaign team, form support committees throughout the constituency, and raise funds. [39] The “friendly” dinners and other events routinely organised for supporters during these visits helped to identify and consolidate a support base capable of swaying voters.


Right off the bat, we said that we were going to try to run a physical campaign, despite the difficulty of covering such a huge territory with such a scattered population. […] Thanks to the already existing PS and EELV branches, and also because I’ve been on the ground for a while already, we were able to attract supporters, campaign volunteers who showed up and wanted to lend a hand, without necessarily being party members. Depending on their availability, perhaps they’ll participate very actively in the campaign or maybe they’ll just function as a sort of local link. […] I think it’s important to have these people as local contacts. [40]

39Conversely, despite having been selected by the UMP as early as February 2011, Frédéric Lefebvre initially refused to publicly accept the role of candidate. At first, he tried to maintain the image of an influential national politician, fully engaged in his government role in France and at a distance from local political battles. Consequently, when he visited Canada for three days in January 2012 and spent almost a week in the United States in February, he did so officially as Secretary of State. Nevertheless, he took advantage of these official trips to meet, however briefly, with certain local UMP leaders. However, he systematically refused to take a public position on issues regarding the legislative election and gave the impression that he felt it was useless to campaign before the end of the presidential election. A member of Lefebvre’s staff summarises this position quite well in a statement from February:


[Lefebvre] still has a lot to do as minister before becoming a candidate for the legislative election, and he will do his duty as minister until the end […]. It is too early […] for now, the legislative election only interests a tiny microcosm of people making a lot of noise […]. [He’s] not a candidate like the others – he’s a minister. [41]

41Similarly, the other election candidates, whether they were independents or supported by a party lacking a presence in North America, did not at all approach the race from a similar perspective. For many of them, the creation of a website and/or a Facebook page was for several weeks the only visible sign of their intention of running. On the other hand, others, like the socialist candidate, started campaigning early on, seeking to identify and amass support in order to disseminate their political message to voters. Being unable to rely on pre-existing organisational structures, it was essentially by mobilising personal resources that these candidates strove to lend a collective dimension to their candidacies. The political newcomer Julien Balkany, for example, dipped into his personal fortune to make fifteen “field visits” across the constituency, starting in November 2011. Relying on his family’s reputation and his self-proclaimed ties with the head of state, during his trips Balkany tried to meet privately with a maximum number of local branch leaders on the right, especially those affiliated with the UMP and the UFE, in order to convince them to support him rather than Lefebvre. [42] The other UMP dissidents, as well as the Modem and Nouveau Centre candidates, mobilised personal resources of another kind to try to develop a network of supporters throughout the constituency. Long entrenched in the French upper-class circles of their respective cities, these candidates relied mainly on the social capital that they had amassed during their political, associative and also professional careers in order to establish support groups in different cities throughout the constituency. They did so, at least at first, without engaging in costly personal field visits. Treuille clearly explains this kind of preelectoral campaigning when he says:


Having lived here for 37 years, I’ve been a member of many different organisations, I’m the president of the French American Foundation, I’ve done lots of things, in short everyone knows me in America […]. I relied on my professional and personal networks to establish support groups everywhere […]. The way in which I started, is that I established an electoral committee in New York, there are about 25 people on it […]. This committee brings together people who are often well-established, not all of them, but most, and they in turn pointed others out to me, a lot that I already knew and some that I didn’t, in different cities… I’ve been working on this for two months now, it didn’t happen overnight, so these people pledged “allegiance” to me, and began to work for me. [43]

Table 2

Candidates’ observable electoral actions before the 1 st round of the North American legislative election, and their campaign funds[44]

Table 2
Name Party “Field” actions “Virtual” actions Campaign funds (in euros)1 Start of “on the ground” campaign Public meetings (# of cities visited) Canvassing/ Door-to-door Emails sent* Date first email sent* Website Social networks Total spent Personal contributions Party gifts and donations Balkany Independent 12/14 48 (40) 0 14 03/02 X X 88,425 88,700 0 Bowring PRG 05/20 4 (4) 0 4 05/07 X X 12,579 0 10,000 Clayette Parti Pirate / 0 0 1 05/24 X X undeclared Clément Front de Gauche / 0 0 3 05/21 X X 217 0 217 Granade Modem 01/19 11 (9) 0 6 03/16 X X 19,723 6,259 14,810 Le Guyader Independent / 0 0 0 / X / undeclared Lefebvre UMP 03/30 15 (12) 0 19 04/03 X X 58,099@ 13,674@ 44,260@ Manteau NC 03/06 16 (8) 0 1 05/31 X X 12,903 1,541 7,600 Michon Independent 03/27 10 (9) 0 9 05/16 X X 17,560 17,560 0 Narassiguin PS-EELV 01/30 52 (42) 1 15 04/04 X X 51,421@ 40,998@ 12,172@ Navel Independent / 0 0 3 05/22 X X 5,244 34 5,210 Remondeau Independent / 0 0 0 / / X undeclared Savreux FN / 0 0 2 04/13 X / 1,200 0 0 Servan-Schreiber Independent 05/17 13 (9) 0 6 05/11 X X 20,692 4,850 16,333 Tememe Independent / 0 0 0 / / / undeclared Treuille Independent 03/15 20 (11) 0 12 04/10 X X 69,883 55,207 5,238 Vereycken Solidarité & Progrès / 0 0 3 05/23 X X undeclared Vernochet RIC / 0 0 1 06/01 / X undeclared TOTAL 99 15/18 15/18 357,956 178,854 165,809

Candidates’ observable electoral actions before the 1 st round of the North American legislative election, and their campaign funds[44]

Notes: *. Case of a voter registered in Montreal. @. Total for both election rounds.
Sources: For electoral activities: campaign sites, personal observations and the archives of French Morning, France-Amérique and Le Petit Journal. For campaign funds: Journal officiel de la République française. Éditions des documents administratifs, 3, 12 July 2013, 489.

43In the absence of precedent, we can clearly see that the different candidates initially reacted to the uncertainty of the legislative election in a variety of ways. In a bid to sound like a “local candidate” and in advance of their official entry into the race, some candidates attempted to establish or consolidate support networks in different parts of this enormous constituency. Conversely, others dispensed with such preparatory work, either because it seemed excessively complex or even superfluous in the context – such candidates instead relied on the internet to promote their candidacy – or, as in the case of Lefebvre, because they intended to draw on essentially national resources (past governmental experience for Lefebvre) to attest to their capacity to represent the constituency.

Mobilising voters

44Although the repeating pattern of elections in metropolitan France has gone hand in hand with a gradual standardisation of the way candidates define and promote their political offer, how to conduct a “good” campaign – one which was both effective and legitimate – was initially the subject of much uncertainty in these new extra-territorial constituencies. How should candidates reach voters? What should a candidate’s talking points be? How could voters be mobilised? How could a candidate win greater support than his or her rivals? These were the main challenges that candidates tried to overcome by using the resources at their disposal, despite being uncertain of the latter’s value in such an unprecedented context. To clearly account for the dynamics of electoral mobilisation efforts implemented in the weeks leading up to the first round of the North American legislative election, I have chosen to analyse separately two processes which are in fact indivisible: the definition of electoral activities and the definition of campaign themes.

Defining electoral activities and campaign dynamics

45The electoral activities carried out by the different candidates in the weeks leading up to the first round of the election can broadly be assigned to two distinct mobilisation repertoires, or limited “catalogues” of ways to solicit support and link together various scattered interests. [45] The first of these repertoires – which we might term the “traditional” one – relies on direct and on-the-ground interactions between voters and the political vision imparted by a given candidate. The second, “new generation” repertoire is instead based on establishing a “virtual” dialogue between voters and candidates via new communication technologies, especially the internet. [46]

46First of all, let us note that with the exception of the unknown Tememe, all of the candidates engaged in at least one activity designed to promote their candidacy in the weeks leading up to the election. Nonetheless, this general statement needs to be further nuanced by taking into account the important differences in the form that electoral mobilisation took for the various candidates, the resources at their disposal, and the campaign models on which they drew.

47First, it’s clear that barely half of all the candidates organised “traditional” activities on the ground, of the sort usually seen during legislative elections in mainland France. We should also note that those who relied most heavily on such traditional electoral practices (in this case, almost exclusively public meetings), [47] had in common the fact that they could all rely on ample economic resources, whether personal or collective, and enjoyed structured support networks throughout the constituency, especially during the pre-campaign period. Conducting a campaign tour on the ground proved to be especially difficult in a constituency that stretches over close to 20 million square kilometres. Due to the number of lengthy trips needed, such an endeavour meant a full-time commitment for candidates, thus also requiring them to be in a position to advance significant sums of money and be assured of organisational support in each city visited.

48Second, although almost all of the candidates employed technology in their campaigns, “new generation” campaign practices were used in very different ways depending on the candidate. In fact, contrary to the initial widespread belief among candidates, conducting an internet campaign like Obama’s [48] turned out to be hardly less demanding, and discriminating, than organising campaign activities on the ground. In addition, before the official start of the campaign and due to the stipulations of the Electoral Code, access to consular lists (and thus the email addresses of registered voters) remained limited to those candidates who had managed to obtain the lists either from a senator representing French citizens abroad, or from electors registered in each of the constituency’s nine consular districts. [49] Under these conditions, only those candidates with prior parliamentary experience or those who had managed to establish a network of supporters across the constituency were able to send email messages to voters more than 15 days before the first round of the election. Moreover, it proved impossible for those candidates lacking a campaign staff to send frequent email messages, create and update an attractive website, write a blog, or interact on social networks. In addition to a certain level of technical skill, electronically communicating with voters and building an internet presence required time, tools and money. [50]

49It is difficult to evaluate the effects on voters of these various electoral activities prior to the first round, all the more so because accounts largely concur with our observations to show that most of these activities, regardless of the form they took, affected only a very small number of citizens. [51] Nevertheless, these actions did have a decisive impact on how campaign dynamics were defined. In fact, in the highly uncertain context mentioned above, the intensity of electoral mobilisation efforts rapidly became the main criterion used to evaluate the seriousness of a candidate’s bid and his or her chances of success. First, the attention paid to the different hopefuls by local French media outlets was essentially a function of the candidates’ electoral efforts. For example, French Morning only took into account “the number of public meetings organised in the constituency, and internet presence” when selecting the candidates invited to participate in its internet programme “Promenade de campagne”, then in the “Grand débat” that took place on 10 May at New York’s French Institute. [52] Second, most of the candidates and their supporters appeared to be particularly attentive to the actions of their rivals and their audience. Several candidates confessed to us that they had regularly monitored the activity of their rivals on the internet and attempted to send “spies” into their public meetings in order to find out, as Balkany put it, “if their campaign was working, if they had a chance of winning, if they were beating us”. [53] More than just allowing the different protagonists in the electoral configuration to banish the substantial uncertainty surrounding this unprecedented election, increasingly the belief in a link between a dynamic campaign and electoral potential significantly increased the cost of inaction. Consequently, with regard to the UMP, Lefebvre’s initial strategy of distancing himself from an on-the-ground campaign began to seem less and less acceptable to voters. Although Lefebvre ultimately agreed to launch his campaign at the end of May, or a month and a half earlier than originally planned, his relatively late entry into the game cost him the support of many activists and local party leaders. In May, the UMP representative from Québec, François Lubrina, explained his support for the dissident candidate Balkany by blaming Lefebvre’s inaction:


It was a non-campaign. Mr. Lefebvre is not the right candidate for North America, he’s someone who has no ties here, he didn’t do any on-the-ground work as a candidate. There comes a point when my goal is that the right and the centre don’t lose this election, which was supposedly already won. [54]

51Although almost half of the candidates in the North American legislative election started their campaigns at the beginning of the spring, and a few even at the beginning of the year, electoral activity really began to pick up steam after the second round of the presidential election back in France. In addition to the legislative campaign being officially open, this phenomenon was in large part linked to the growing activism of the different candidates who associated themselves with the parliamentary right. In fact, while the socialist candidate appeared to be guaranteed a place in the second round, [55] the right-wing candidates did not lose any opportunity to close the gap with their rivals and earn the right to pit their political “family” against her. Moreover, the presidential election seemed to confirm the first constituency’s right-wing bent, as Nicolas Sarkozy garnered almost 54% of the vote there on 5 May. Nevertheless, although the results of the presidential election greatly influenced the perception of the power struggles at play in North America, and were thus not without an effect on electoral mobilisation, the legislative election maintained a certain level of distance from metropolitan politics until the first round. No national political representatives came to participate in any local candidate’s campaign activities and, as we shall see below, important national themes had only a slight impact on local campaign issues.

Selecting campaign themes

52With little experience and with only a few tangible elements at their disposal to approach potential voters, the candidates were initially forced to outline their political platforms “in the dark”, according to their past experiences, impressions or convictions. In these circumstances, the ability to better “understand” expatriates and their expectations (and to publicly display this knowledge) rapidly became a decisive factor in the race. An integral part of the process of electoral mobilisation, the identification and objectivisation of voter concerns gradually contributed to the emergence of certain questions as predominant.

53Analysing the subjects and arguments developed by the candidates allows us to highlight the dominance of local problems over general political issues within the campaign. [56] The vast majority of candidates effectively shared the opinion that the primary expectations of voters were related to their daily lives as expatriates. Despite the temporal proximity of these two elections, the North American legislative election demonstrated a great deal of autonomy with regard to the French presidential election. While the independent candidates strove to frame the American election as “apolitical”, and thus indifferent to traditional mainland oppositions, candidates who were supported by a national party consistently tried to translate their party line into the local context. [57] Although the themes addressed by the different candidates were numerous and varied, ranging from dual citizenship to diploma recognition issues, via support for businesses, three themes gradually began to stand out and structure the debate in the run-up to election day.

54The first was the question of access to French-language education for the children of expatriates. Three complementary factors should be noted to explain the emergence of this issue, which only concerns a portion of the electorate and does not have the same importance in both of the constituent countries, since Canada is a bilingual nation. First of all, the candidates that invested efforts in an early campaign were all residents of the United States and thus already familiar – whether in a personal or professional capacity – with the problem of the limited number, and expensive cost, of French programmes in that country. Second, representatives from French schools, since they were easily identifiable in any given community, were the members of the local French population that were the most likely to be consulted by candidates engaging in canvassing. And third, the issue’s “success” was also tied to its divisive potential. While a number of topics generally produced a broad consensus, the issue of access to French-language education had the advantage of allowing candidates to try to stand out by offering a new solution and, for those who wished to, to assert their loyalty to a certain political “camp”. The question of the state unconditionally “assuming responsibility” for any expenses linked to French-language school attendance became the nodal point of exchanges between left-wing and right-wing candidates. Although this measure, introduced during the first few months of Sarkozy’s presidency, was unanimously denounced by the former group for being costly and unfair, the latter group managed to surmount their rivalries to defend the principle, while simultaneously trying to differentiate themselves by offering propositions to perfect the measure.

55The campaign’s second central theme was the taxation of French citizens living abroad. That this question, which had first appeared during the French presidential election in the context of tax evasion scandals, should emerge in the North American context seems at first glance paradoxical. In reality, with the exception of the Front de Gauche, all of the candidates rapidly announced their opposition to a specific new tax regime for French residents abroad and argued for maintaining the tax treaties in effect. The importance of the tax issue can be better understood as an attempted “coup” plotted by the candidates aligned with the outgoing presidential majority, as well as certain independents, in order to discredit Narassiguin. By attributing tax-heavy tendencies to the PS, right-wing candidates led French citizens living in North America to believe that voting for Narassiguin would mean voting against their own interests. Confronted with these repeated attacks, the socialist candidate was ultimately forced to address the issue and consistently reiterate that she was opposed to any reform of the expatriate tax regime.

56Finally, the third topic which became prominent during the pre-electoral period was the definition of what constituted a “good” representative for French citizens residing in North America. Since no precedent or outgoing candidate existed, the question of which attributes were necessary to best represent this constituency was initially wide open. In the context of their campaigns, the various candidates strove to highlight the characteristics and experience that could legitimate their representativeness, and at the same time, discredit that of their opponents. Through these attempts at presentation and self-promotion, candidates gradually caused certain elements to emerge as crucial. While simultaneously trying to promote their own unique qualities, the majority of the candidates also all touted their personal experience as expatriates as an indispensable attribute for understanding and representing French citizens in North America. The UMP dissidents were the first to capitalise on this element. During the first months of 2012, it was on the basis of their local roots that the dissident candidates tried to discredit Frédéric Lefebvre. Expatriate experience was then in turn claimed by the socialist candidate and, somewhat paradoxically, by a number of candidates living in France but who had previously lived in North America: the independent Servan-Schreiber and the Front de Gauche and Modem candidates thus pre-emptively worked to thwart any attempts at discrediting them due to a lack of expatriate experience. In the end, even Lefebvre accepted that this element carried a certain weight, despite the fact that it was unfavourable to him. Although his national experience as a politician remained the main argument he used to legitimise his campaign – mentioning in every email that he was a former minister – he nonetheless spent the weeks leading up to the election showcasing his personal ties with the constituency, primarily by emphasising the fact that several of his relatives lived in the United States. Despite these efforts, however, Lefebvre’s lack of experience with the constituency remained a sticking point until the end of the race, exploited in particular by his right-wing competitors.

57Ultimately, outlining the dynamics of the mobilisation efforts implemented before the first round of voting by the various candidates running in the North American legislative election highlights their wide variety. In a highly uncertain context, each candidate strove to “tinker” with his or her campaign, to “make do with what s/he had at hand” to develop and promote a convincing political offer. [58] Having unequal access to resources, the candidates’ campaigns did not initially assume the same form or level of intensity, nor did they employ the same reference points to try to promote and differentiate themselves. Nevertheless, through their electoral activities as well as their interactions with their competitors, candidates gradually laid down the principles that would structure the local election configuration – the topics and issues that were seen as the most “effective” and legitimate. The influence of these cognitive bearings remained rather uncertain until the first round, however. Only the votes cast and how voters interpreted their choices could ultimately reveal the real effectiveness of these efforts.

The verdict from the polling booth

58Close to 157,000 individuals registered on Canadian and US consular lists were called to elect their first representative on 2 June 2012, eight days before their mainland counterparts. In reality, barely one out of every five of these individuals cast a ballot. The first element to note with regard to the first round of the North American legislative election was the very low rate of voter turnout (20.4%), which was in fact two times lower than turnout for the second round of the presidential election the previous month (38%). The second item of note was the result of the PS-EELV candidate, which was much higher than expected. Clearly surpassing her rivals and garnering almost 40% of the vote, Narassiguin obtained a significantly better percentage score than Hollande and Joly combined in the presidential election (34.9%). Third, there seemed to be a certain correlation between campaign intensity level and performance at the polls. The six candidates who obtained the highest scores were those who had organised the greatest number of electoral activities – especially on-the-ground activities – leading up to the election. However, this conclusion should immediately be qualified by observing the boost received by those candidates who were supported by a national political party, the UMP in particular. Despite his rivals’ incessant challenges to his campaign style and his legitimacy as a North American representative, Lefebvre ultimately distanced himself fairly clearly from all the independent candidates from the parliamentary right who had tried to discredit him. Finally, the results from the first round of the legislative election in North America revealed a clear territorial political cleavage between Canada and the United States. In addition to having a slightly higher turnout rate, French citizens living in Canada, and especially those residing in Montreal, were much more likely to vote for left-wing candidates than their US-based counterparts. Conversely, with the exception of Balkany, independent candidates and those from the parliamentary right – almost all a product of the French upper class in the United States – struggled to mobilise voters outside their country of residence.

Table 3

Results of the 1st round of the 2012 legislative election in the 1st constituency of French residents outside France

Table 3
Candidate Party Canada United States Constituency Total Votes % Votes % Votes % Narassiguin Lefebvre Servan-Schreiber Balkany Treuille Granade Savreux Clément Michon Manteau Clayette Navel Bowring Vereycken Tememe Vernochet Le Guyader Remondeau PS-EELV UMP Indep. Indep. Indep. Modem FN FdG Indep. NC P. Pirate Indep. PRG S&P Indep. RIC Indep. Indep. 6,747 2,613 597 955 402 663 804 569 254 128 248 270 189 65 1 9 5 3 46.5 18 4.1 6.6 2.8 4.6 5.5 3.9 1.7 0.9 1.7 1.8 1.3 0.4 0.007 0.06 0.03 0.02 5,782 4,365 1,518 1,134 1,209 898 551 332 451 319 161 133 139 54 16 8 5 3 33.9 25.6 8.9 6.6 7.1 5.3 3.2 1.9 2.6 1.9 0.9 0.8 0.8 0.3 0.1 0.04 0.03 0.02 12,529 6,977 2,115 2,089 1,611 1,561 1,355 901 705 447 409 403 328 119 17 17 10 6 39.6 22.1 6.7 6.6 5.1 4.9 4.3 2.9 2.2 1.4 1.3 1.3 1 0.4 0.05 0.05 0.03 0.02 Blank and invalid 166 / 192 / 358 / Total voters Total registered 14,688 65,142 100 22.5% 17,269 91,541 100 18.9% 31,957 156,683 100 20.4%

Results of the 1st round of the 2012 legislative election in the 1st constituency of French residents outside France

Source: Ministry of the Interior.

59Compared to the onslaught of electoral activity witnessed during the last days of May, the inter-round campaigns seemed rather quiet. Both Lefebvre and Narassiguin markedly slowed down their campaign efforts, organising only two public meetings each and favouring the use of email instead. In addition to highlighting the new support his candidacy had obtained from the dissident UMP candidates, Lefebvre also emphasised his condemnation of the alleged socialist plan to reform expatriate taxation, much as he had prior to the first round of voting. Meanwhile, Narassiguin primarily insisted on her personal experience as an expatriate, which she contrasted with her opponent’s parachuting in from mainland France. Since the second round was predicted as close, the two candidates appeared to use “tactical caution”, avoiding any new “coups” with uncertain consequences, both in terms of topics broached and actions taken. [59] Based on my observations, this article also ventures the hypothesis that the significant expenses incurred before the first round, as well as campaign fatigue, influenced the decision to reduce the number of inter-round electoral activities, particularly for the socialist candidate; especially since their real impact on voter mobilisation remained rather uncertain, given the very low voter turnout and the results of the first round…

60However, the perceptible dip in the rhythm of the campaign in between rounds had only a limited effect on voter turnout for the second round on 17 June. Participation continued to hover around 20%. In the end, and despite all pre-electoral expectations, the PS-EELV candidate clearly outstripped her UMP rival. Although it is difficult to estimate to what extent this unexpected victory could be explained by her campaign’s early start on the ground, her political message, or the recent election of the socialist Hollande to the presidency, it is evident that Narassiguin’s victory owed a lot to French voters living in Canada. In fact, the second round confirmed the existence of a clear territorial cleavage between the constituency’s two countries, one whose roots appear to be found – at least until more in-depth studies are conducted – in the different reasons for French emigration to Canada, and especially Quebec, than to the United States.

Table 4

Results of the 2nd round of the 2012 legislative election in the 1st constituency of French residents abroad

Table 4
Candidate Party Canada United States Constituency Total Votes % Votes % Votes % Narassiguin Lefebvre PS-EELV UMP 8,171 4,791 63 37 7,611 8,650 46.8 53.2 15,782 13,441 54 46 Blank and invalid 322 / 324 / 646 / Total voters 13,284 100 16,585 100 29,869 100 Total registered 65,139 20.4 91,506 18.1 156,645 19.3

Results of the 2nd round of the 2012 legislative election in the 1st constituency of French residents abroad

Source: Ministry of the Interior.

61Narassiguin’s emphatic victory over a former minister allowed her, in the weeks following her election, to gain access to positions of influence within her party. After having been nominated National Secretary for French citizens abroad, she was also entrusted with the responsibility for a highly publicised draft bill to the Assembly regarding “marriage for everyone”. However, by annulling her election for non-compliance with campaign finance regulations on 15 February 2013, the Constitutional Council put a brutal end to Narassiguin’s mandate as the first French representative for North American French citizens. This turn of events gave Lefebvre a chance for a rematch. Once again supported by the UMP, despite lingering reticence from some local leaders, Lefebvre ultimately won the by-election organised in the spring of 2013, which was characterised by a very high rate of abstention (less than 14% of voters turned out in the second round). [60]

62* * *

63The exploratory study of the 2012 legislative elections in the first French extra-territorial constituency described in this article demonstrates that this election presented notable differences with regard to parallel elections in mainland France. A poor understanding of voter profiles, a lack of precedent, and the constituency’s atypical nature all influenced the candidates’ efforts at electoral mobilisation for this new position. In other words, the candidates ran their campaigns in a markedly more uncertain landscape than their mainland counterparts, and this was reflected in the shape, intensity and content of their political platforms. Although this uncertainty limited candidates’ actions, in particular by affecting their ability to anticipate the impact of their “coups”, it also presented a new opportunity for the different challengers. The perception of an unusually open field of competition thus played a decisive role in multiplying the number of “independent” candidates and in the emergence of new political issues in North America.

64Nevertheless, our study has also shown that it would be mistaken to consider that extraterritorial political competition is completely autonomous from the national political landscape and mainland concerns. In fact, analysing the processes of selecting candidates, defining electoral activities and choosing campaign issues highlights the fact that these elements all functioned, at least in part, according to the same logic that governs the national context. In addition to the fact that the legal framework in effect in metropolitan and extra-territorial constituencies is globally the same, the influence of national dynamics in this case was primarily due to two complementary factors. The first was the presence of almost all national parties in the North American race, albeit for different reasons. Regardless of whether these parties had pre-existing networks in North America, they generally imported into the new context their “traditional” ways of doing things. Second, candidates sought to imitate mainland practices in order to reduce the amount of uncertainty involved in the race. Lacking any real precedent, the candidates essentially used their prior experience and perceptions regarding electoral campaigns in France to structure their political programmes and rally supporters in North America.

65In short, what the legislative election in the first French extra-territorial constituency has shown us is neither a radically unique electoral configuration, nor the mere transposition of national political competitions, but the birth of a new local political space which combined both local and national issues and practices. [61] Although the meaning and effectiveness of national or local resources, reference points and practices in the extra-territorial context initially appeared highly uncertain, the different challengers helped to determine their nature through their campaign activities. Analysed in light of the election’s results, the practices and positions developed in the months leading up to the election have become precedents which can now be used as reference points. The example of 2012 was hence widely exploited by the candidates participating in 2013’s by-election, in order to define their political platforms and electoral activities, but also to ensure compliance with legal regulations, in particular those regarding campaign finances. [62]


  • [1]
    Cited in L’expatriation, les Français établis hors de France, statement by the Economic and Social Council, 27 April 1999, I-5.
  • [2]
    Cf. Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, “Un pays pionner. La représentation politique des expatriés en France”, in Stéphane Dufoix et al. (eds), Loin des yeux, près du cœur. Les États et leurs expatriés (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2010), 108-14.
  • [3]
    On the process of defining new political rules in the context of a democratic “transition”, see Magdalena Hadjiisky, “La démocratie par le marché. Le cas des pays tchèques (1989-1996)”, Politix, 47, 1999, 63-88; and Myriam Aït-Aoudia, “L’apprentissage de la compétition pluripartisane en Algérie (1988-1992). Sociologie d’un changement de régime”, doctoral thesis in political science, Paris, Université Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne, 2008. The reader is likewise invited to refer to the author’s own dissertation: Pellen, “Sociologie d’un groupement politique illégitime. Le mouvement Samoobrona (autodéfense) en Pologne (1991-2010)”, doctoral thesis in political science, Bordeaux, Université de Bordeaux, 2010.
  • [4]
    Drawing on the work of D. Gaxie and P. Lehingue, by “political offer”, I mean the totality of “goods”, whether symbolic or material (speeches, programs, positions, services rendered, etc.) introduced to the political market by a candidate competing against others to be elected to a position of political power by a group of citizens whose support s/he attempts to secure. Cf. Daniel Gaxie, Patrick Lehingue, Enjeux municipaux. La constitution des enjeux politiques dans une élection municipale (Paris: PUF, 1984), 9-63. See also Pierre Bourdieu, “La représentation politique”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 36-37, 1981, 3-24.
  • [5]
    On 17 June 2012, the PS/EELV candidate Corinne Narassiguin was elected as the representative of North American French Residents Abroad, winning the second round with 54% of the votes, against the UMP-supported (Union pour un mouvement populaire) candidate, Frédéric Lefebvre. However, her election was annulled in February 2013 for non-compliance with campaign finance regulations. The by-election organised in the spring of 2013 was won by Frédéric Lefebvre who, with 53.7% of the vote, beat the socialist candidate Frank Scemama in the second round.
  • [6]
    Cf. Éric Agrikoliansky, Jérôme Heurtaux, Brigitte Le Grignou (eds), Paris en campagne (Bellecombe-en-Bauges: Éditions du Croquant, 2011), 13-30; see also Jacques Lagroye, Patrick Lehingue, Frédéric Sawicki (eds) Mobilisations électorales. Le cas des élections municipales de 2001 (Paris: PUF, 2005), 5-11.
  • [7]
    Consular authorities estimate that more than one-third of all expatriates do not register to vote.
  • [8]
    The important disparities between the number of registered voters across the different constituencies are presented by the government as the inevitable consequence of respecting the constituencies’ geographical coherence. Despite the opposition’s efforts, the Constitutional Council agreed with this and confirmed a redrafting of electoral districts in February 2010.
  • [9]
    Cf. Béatrice Verquin, “Les Français de l’étranger. Une population difficile à délimiter”, Revue européenne de migrations internationales, 11(3), 1995, 193-203; Cédric Duchêne-Lacroix, “Les Français établis hors de France”, in Christophe Bergouignan et al. (eds), La population de la France. Évolutions démographiques depuis 1946 (Paris: CUDEP/INED, 2005), 847-58.Online
  • [10]
    Cf. Magali Decrossas, “Évolution de la population française inscrite au Registre mondial des Français établis hors de France”, in “Rapport du directeur des Français de l’étranger”, September 2012, 35.
  • [11]
    Christelle Prieg, “43 millions d’électeurs en France”, Insee Première, 1369, September 2011, 3.
  • [12]
    Although in 1981, in the second round of the presidential election, the socialist candidate only won 31.5% of the foreign vote, Ségolène Royal garnered 46% in 2007. And, despite hitting a ceiling of 38% in the eighth constituency (Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel), she managed to obtain 44% of the vote in North America and 58% in North-western Africa (ninth constituency).
  • [13]
    Cf. Béatrice Verquin, “Français à l’étranger. Des itinéraires de plus en plus complexes”, Espace, populations et sociétés, 20(1-2), 2002, 99-108.
  • [14]
    Cf., for North America, Nicolas Valadeau, “L’immigration des élites professionnelles françaises à New York”, Norois, 188, 2001, 1-10; Jean-Louis Grosmaire, “Les Français à Montréal”, Cahiers de géographie du Québec, 27(71), 1983, 341-8.
  • [15]
    D. Gaxie, P. Lehingue, Enjeux municipaux, 68.
  • [16]
    For the first constituency, the limit to this refund was fixed at 33,100 euros per candidate.
  • [17]
    Interview with J. Balkany (independent), New York (by telephone), 3 February 2012.
  • [18]
    Cf. Decisions no. 2012-4702 AN, no. 2012-4703 AN and no. 2012-4551 AN dated 15 February 2013 and no. 2012-4698 AN dated 22 February 2013.
  • [19]
    For example, in Canada, the Harper government’s initial refusal to recognise the legality of a foreign election on its territory was accompanied by the banning of visible electoral activity in public.
  • [20]
    Distribution of French national newspapers and audiovisual material outside of France in fact remains very limited, in absolute terms, and the public concerned is largely comprised of Francophone foreigners. Cf. “Books 2012-13. Presse payante”, OJD, September 2013; “L’AEF. Une réforme chaotique et coûteuse. Rapport de la cour des comptes”, February 2013.
  • [21]
    The monthly France-Amérique has a circulation of 20,000 print copies, and boasts 3,000 daily visits to its website. The French Morning website sees 2,300 hits a day, while the Petit Journal, available worldwide, has 19,000 hits.
  • [22]
    Before 1982, appointing delegates to the CSFE was the prerogative of members of government-approved “representative” associations, chief among which was the UFE.
  • [23]
    The supposed right-wing character of the first constituency of French voters abroad was largely disseminated in the media following the publication of the new official electoral map. On the influence of perceptions of the election’s outcome on the selection of candidates, see Clément Desrumeaux, “Quand les investitures font les partis politiques”, communication to the 11th Congress of the French Association of Political Science (AFSP), Strasbourg, September 2011.
  • [24]
    Interview with C. Narassiguin (PS) and C. Giraud (EELV), Montreal, 31 January 2012. Piet stepped down in favour of Giraud so that both countries covered by the constituency could be represented on the ticket.
  • [25]
    On the logic behind these competing voices, see Jérôme Heurtaux, Aude Soubiron, “Faire de la subversion une règle. L’UMP et ses dissidences dans le 16e arrondissement”, in É. Agrikoliansky et al. (eds), Paris en campagne, 149-79.
  • [26]
    Interview with Céline Clément (candidate for the Front de Gauche), Strasbourg (by telephone), 19 April 2012.
  • [27]
    On the instrumental use of the gender parity law with regard to political parties, see Mariette Sineau, “La parité législative en France, 2002-07”, Revue suisse de science politique, 14(4), 2008, 741-65.
  • [28]
    Cf. Mariette Sineau, Vincent Tiberj, “Candidats et députés français en 2002. Une approche sociale de la représentation”, Revue française de science politique, 57(2), 2007, 163-85.
  • [29]
    Cf. Nicolas Hubé, “Le recrutement social des professionnels de la politique”, in Antonin Cohen, Bernard Lacroix, Philippe Riutort (eds), Nouveau manuel de science politique (Paris: La Découverte, 2009), 335-54.
  • [30]
    Cf. Mariette Sineau, Nicolas Catzaras, “La politique se fonctionnarise”, Libération, 11 June 2012.
  • [31]
    Cf. Olivier Ihl, “Deep Pockets. Sur le recrutement ploutocratique du personnel politique aux États-Unis”, in Michel Offerlé (ed.), La profession politique 19-20e siècles (Paris: Belin, 1999), 333-56.
  • [32]
    Cf. Michel Offerlé, Les partis politiques (Paris: PUF, 2006), 35-48; see also Brigitte Gaïti, “Des ressources politiques à valeur relative. Le difficile retour de VGE”, Revue française de science politique, 40(6), 1990, 902-17.
  • [33]
    Cf. Rémy Lefebvre, “Le travail de mobilisation électorale”, in A. Cohen et al. (eds), Nouveau manuel de science politique, 406-21 (407).
  • [34]
    For example: Antoine Vion, “Retour sur le terrain. La préparation des élections municipales de 1995 par l’équipe d’Edmond Hervé”, Sociétés contemporaines, 24, 1995, 95-122.
  • [35]
    Cf. Jean-Louis Briquet, “Communiquer en actes. Prescriptions de rôle et exercice quotidien du métier politique”, Politix, 28, 1994, 16-26; Frédéric Sawicki, “L’homme politique en campagne. L’élection municipale de Dunkerque en mars 1989”, Politix, 28, 1994, 127-39 (138).
  • [36]
    Cf. É. Agrikoliansky et al. (eds), Paris en campagne; and J. Lagroye et al. (eds), Mobilisations électorales.
  • [37]
    Frédéric G. Bailey, Les règles du jeu politique (Paris: PUF, 1971), 74-5.
  • [38]
    “Corinne en visite au Texas et dans le Midwest”, 22 November 2011, <>.
  • [39]
    The expenses and funds collected during this pre-campaign period were in fact behind the later annulation of Narassiguin’s election. They were effectively managed from an account opened in the United States, whereas the Electoral Code requires that all campaign accounts be managed from a single source in France.
  • [40]
    Interview with C. Narassiguin (PS), Montreal, 31 January 2012.
  • [41]
    Cited in “Frédéric Lefebvre ‘en tournée ministérielle’”, France-Amérique, 4 February 2012.
  • [42]
    Interview with J. Balkany, New York (by telephone), 3 February 2012.
  • [43]
    Interview with A. Treuille (independent), New York (by telephone), 30 March 2012.
  • [44]
    As the accounts could be payable at the end of the campaign, the sums contributed can sometimes exceed expenses.
  • [45]
    The concept of a mobilisation repertoire comes from Sylvain Lefèvre: “Mobiliser les gens, mobiliser l’argent: les ONG au prisme du modèle entrepreneurial”, doctoral thesis in political science, Lille, Université Lille II, 2008, 33-4. It is obviously taken from the notion of a repertoire of collective action as developed by Charles Tilly, and must be understand as an “ideal-type” allowing for emphasis to be placed on historicity and the relative scarcity of the forms of mobilisation that are technically and cognitively available at any given moment. Cf. Érik Neveu, “Répertoire d’action des mobilisations”, in A. Cohen et al. (eds), Nouveau manuel de science politique, 495-509.
  • [46]
    On this “new generation” repertoire, cf. Pippa Norris, Digital Divide? Civic Engagement, Information Poverty and the Internet Worldwide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 148-70.
  • [47]
    The canvassing and door-to-door efforts led by the socialist team in Montreal was an isolated case in the campaign, and moreover was ultimately considered to be a failure by its initiators as it only reached a very limited number of voters. In addition, uncertainty about the local authorities’ attitude towards public campaigning persisted throughout the race.
  • [48]
    Obama’s campaigns were the reference point most frequently used by candidates seeking to justify their “virtual” actions.
  • [49]
    Cf. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Mémento à l’usage des candidats”, 9 May 2012, 7-8.
  • [50]
    On the American case, see Daniel Sturgeon, “Obama, le champion de l’organisation”, Sens public, 9, 2009, 39-50.
  • [51]
    Public meetings on average had an audience of less than a dozen voters. Moreover, a very small number of individuals visited the blogs and personal profiles of the various candidates. With regard to campaign emails, their readership remains uncertain, in part because they could only be sent to those voters who had already given their email address to consular services.
  • [52]
    The six candidates selected by French Morning to participate in the debate were: Balkany, Granade, Manteau, Michon, Narassiguin, Servan-Schreiber, and Treuille. Although he was invited, Lefebvre declined the invitation. Cf. “Le grand débat FIAF-French Morning”, French Morning, 10 May 2012.
  • [53]
    Interview with Balkany, New York (by telephone), 3 February 2012.
  • [54]
    Cited in “Législatives françaises en Amérique du Nord: dissensions à droite, optimisme à gauche”, La Presse, 17 May 2012.
  • [55]
    In addition to her dynamic presence on the campaign trail, this perception was in large part based on François Hollande’s victory in the presidential election, and his respectable score in North America (46.4% of the vote in the second round). At the end of May, Narassiguin was bolstered by the publication of a French Morning poll, which placed her at the top of the first round with 35% of the vote.
  • [56]
    I undertook my research from the beginning of January 2012 until the first round of the election took place on 2 June 2012, and my analysis is based on a rigorous classification of the themes addressed by the different candidates in their emails or party literature (based on the case of an elector in Montreal). For those candidates who engaged in a campaign on the ground, this survey was supplemented by a close examination of their participation in local media and the positions they adopted during public meetings (in Montreal and Quebec City).
  • [57]
    Cf. Frédéric Sawicki, “La marge de manœuvre des candidats par rapport aux partis dans les campagnes électorales”, Pouvoirs, 63, 1992, 5-16.
  • [58]
    Cf. Christian Le Bart, “Le savoir-faire politique comme bricolage”, in Pierre Mazet, Yves Poirmeur (eds), Le métier politique en représentations (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1999), 293-317 (296). See also M. Aït-Aoudia, “L’apprentissage de la compétition pluripartisane en Algérie”, 34.
  • [59]
    Cf. F. Sawicki, “L’homme politique en campagne”, 138.
  • [60]
    “Frédéric Lefebvre élu député des Français d’Amérique du Nord”, Le Monde, 9 June 2013.
  • [61]
    Cf. Jean-Louis Briquet, Frédéric Sawicki, “L’analyse localisée du politique”, Politix, 7-8, 1989, 6-16.
  • [62]
    For example, during his 2013 campaign, Lefebvre strove to glean “lessons” from his 2012 loss. In addition to securing the support of local UMP branch leaders ahead of the election, he also began campaigning much earlier on the ground and emphasised his connections with the constituency.

The election of eleven deputies representing the French nationals living outside France was one of the main novelties of the 2012 French legislative elections. By analysing the electoral campaign in the first constituency for French residents abroad (Canada and the United States) this article highlights the specific constraints which overseas candidates had to face. It shows that the ways in which candidates in North America tried to mobilise voters were profoundly affected by factors such as the size of the constituency, the weakness of French political parties’ organisation outside France, or their poor knowledge of the expatriates’ characteristics and expectations. The article also demonstrates that, through their campaign activities, the different candidates contributed to defining principles that would henceforth shape the realm of French politics in North America.

Cédric Pellen
Cédric Pellen is an FRS-FNRS research fellow at CEVIPOL (Université Libre de Bruxelles), and an associated researcher with the Centre Émile-Durkheim (Sciences Po Bordeaux-Université de Bordeaux). Through an analysis of the “Samoobrona” movement, his doctoral research focused on the structuring and codifying of the “post-communist” Polish political landscape. He has published a number of works, including: “Des difficultés d’entrer en politique: le mouvement Samoobrona dans la Pologne postcommuniste”, Critique internationale, 58, 2013, 133-52; “Jeux avec les formes organisationnelles et définition des règles politiques: l’exemple de Samoobrona dans la Pologne postcommuniste”, in Stéphanie Dechezelles, Simon Luck (eds), Voix de la rue ou voie des urnes? Mouvements sociaux et partis politiques (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2011), 131-46; “Les manifestations paysannes polonaises de 1998–1999. Politisation, médiatisation et personnalisation d’une mobilisation contestataire”, Politix, 86(2), 2009, 167-88. With Jérôme Heurtaux, he also co-edited 1989 à l’Est de l’Europe: une mémoire controversée (La Tour-d’Aigues: L’Aube, 2009). In addition to the political representation of French citizens abroad, his current research looks at the effects of the eastwards “enlargement” of the European Union with regard to the definition of a European political landscape. (CEVIPOL, ULB, avenue Jeanne 44, CP 124, 1050 Brussels, Belgium).
Translated from French by
Sarah-Louise Raillard
Uploaded on on 09/10/2014
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