CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1One of the distinctive features of the way in which the president of the French Republic is appointed is the fact that the country’s elected representatives determine which candidates will stand for election; the electorate must then choose from among them. [1] These elected representatives form an “electoral body” consisting of over 42,000 possible nominators, making France the European country with the highest number of elected representatives. [2] In order to stand for election, aspiring candidates must obtain at least 500 of their signatures.

2Despite their central role, these nominations have been largely neglected by empirical research. The issue of candidate selection in France has been approached through the study of intraparty dynamics, particularly in relation to primaries. [3] However, once the party has made its decision, all candidates are required to collect the number of signatures set by the Electoral Code. It is therefore the nomination stage that decisively determines whether a candidate can stand for office. It is also designed to “filter out” candidates, to ensure the election is credible and is not being used for the purposes of personal promotion. [4] This filter is a particularly powerful one, and regularly weeds out at least half of the potential candidates from the election. Thus, the selection of candidates for election is, in France, more important than the ability of voters to choose from among these selected candidates. [5]

3The decisive role of nominations was confirmed in 2017, when Emmanuel Macron refused to take part in the primaries but was able to stand thanks to nominations from elected representatives. It is not therefore surprising that this process has been challenged from a number of different angles. It is judged to work poorly, or even unfairly in the eyes of some commentators, in particular because it favors candidates from parties that have strong local support and puts others who might have broader support at a disadvantage. [6] Although it eliminates candidates with no support, the nomination system may also eliminate candidates from under-represented parties. [7] And finally, the fact that France does not use citizen nominations-a system that is present in all other semi-presidential systems in Europe-might be seen as a symptom of a political system averse to change.

4So why has the nomination process received so little attention in the political science literature? The Constitutional Council did not use to publish a full list of the signatures received by each candidate, but since 2017, the list of “nominators” has been made available publicly. [8] This procedural change therefore gives the research community an opportunity to better understand the workings of the process for the first time. It should however be noted that publicizing nominations may lead to a change in the behavior of elected representatives. [9] While previously only political parties could take retaliatory measures against elected representatives who refused to nominate their candidates, now voters can also “punish” their elected representatives for their choice. [10]

5This aspect is not however demonstrated in the aggregate results. First, the type of candidate has not changed, with the majority of them succeeding candidates who stood in the previous election, and some having previously stood themselves in 2007 and 2012. Second, the number of candidates achieving the threshold of 500 signatures was comparable to that in the two previous elections (between ten and twelve). Third, the percentage of candidates who did not obtain a sufficient number of nominations was higher (82% in 2017, compared to 55% in 2012), but only twenty candidates secured at least ten nominations. Thus, once very marginal candidacies and nominations for undeclared candidates (particularly numerous in 2017) are removed from the analysis, the percentage (53%) is similar to that observed in 2007 and 2012. As a result, this article takes its departure from the hypothesis that, while behaviors are changing, this is taking place gradually, through a learning process. As such, the rationale underpinning nominations in 2017 should therefore reflect practices that take place before the results are made public.

6This research paper aims to study the choices made by this very particular “electoral body”, which in part holds the result of the presidential election in its hands. It will thus first describe the characteristics of the elected representatives who chose to nominate a candidate, and will then analyze the factors associated with the choice to nominate one candidate rather than another. Three groups of factors are studied in detail: the sociodemographic and geographical characteristics of elected representatives, their party affiliation, and the strategic incentives associated with their choices.

Data and Methodology

7The original element of our empirical analysis consists of the data provided by the Constitutional Council. This database includes the name of the nominator, his/her gender, role, and département (except for members of the European parliament and overseas elected representatives), his/her district, date of the nomination, and the nominee. The breakdown of nominators is shown in table 1. The data are complete, but uncertainties remain due to the fact that approximately 5,000 elected representatives (slightly over 10%) hold multiple offices and, as such, choose which office to record their signature against. They generally declare their status as “mayor” in preference to other offices, and mayors are thus over-represented in the data compared to reality. In addition, these data describe only nominators (elected representatives who did not nominate a candidate are not included) and do not provide their party affiliation, or sociodemographic information other than gender. We therefore collected additional data to gather this information from three types of resources.

Table 1

Breakdown of Nominations by Nominator Office

Département councillor1,72712.1
Lyon metropolitan councillor760.5
Regional councillor1,0787.5
Saint-Barthélemy territorial councillor30
Saint-Martin territorial councillor40
Saint Pierre and Miquelon territorial councillor20
Member of parliament4122.9
Arrondissement mayor240.2
Delegate mayor5303.7
Member of a New Caledonian provincial assembly330.2
Member of the Corsican assembly230.2
Member of the Guianese assembly330.2
Member of the French Polynesian assembly350.2
Member of the Martinique assembly190.1
Member of the territorial assembly of Wallis and Futuna40
Member of the Council of Paris910.6
Elected member of the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad670.5
Conurbation community council leader200.1
Commune community council leader430.3
Urban community council leader10
Metropolitan council leader10
French member of the European Parliament600.4

Breakdown of Nominations by Nominator Office

Source: Official publication from the Constitutional Council. Due to rounding, the total does not equal 100.

8First, we used data from the Ministry of the Interior, which provides information on all mayors at the time of their election. Around 1% of the individuals in this database did not correspond to mayors who nominated a candidate, as they left office between 2014 and 2017. This low error rate did not fundamentally affect our analyses. The ministry data indicate the mayor’s profession, age, and the size of his/her commune. This database formed the primary database for 36,629 French mayors. Mayors constitute 85% of the representatives eligible to nominate candidates, and we were able to compare—notably in terms of their sociodemographic profiles—those who nominated a candidate with those who did not. We also used a complete database for the 2014 municipal elections, which provided mayors’ party affiliations. [11] However, this database includes only towns or cities with more than 1,000 inhabitants, i.e. less than a third of French mayors. For non-mayoral elected representatives, we gathered these data ourselves. [12] Finally, we used data from the 2017 post-electoral French Election Study survey in order to compare the nominations of elected representatives with the electoral choices made by citizens. [13] Here we should specify that by comparing the behavior of elected representatives with that of voters we do not seek to explain the rationales underlying these behaviors, which are fundamentally different, but simply to determine to what extent elected representatives “represent” their citizens in the sense that they make similar choices. If they are very similar, then direct election of the president does not lead to a substantially different result from an indirect election in which only elected representatives were to determine the president. Conversely, low similarity means that the direct election is decisive in determining the balance of power.

9In view of our initial observations, we chose to divide the population into two groups: mayors, and other nominators. Mayors constitute the vast majority of nominators and thus have the ability to approve or veto a candidate to stand for election. They are largely amateur politicians, in that they are mayors of small communes and receive no or limited remuneration. Non-mayoral nominators constitute a much more heterogeneous population in terms of roles (all offices combined, they constitute only 32% of the sample), but are more homogeneous in terms of their level of political professionalization.

10Our hypothesis, following the literature cited in the introduction, is that nomination dynamics are essentially dictated by partisan logics. However, given the high number of “unaffiliated” elected representatives, particularly among mayors, we also investigated the role of two other factors. First, sociodemographic data provide us with information on the level of similarity between elected representatives and voters. Is there a correlation between their age, gender, and profession and their choice? And if so, does this correlation resemble a trend observed among voters? Second, we analyzed the strategic dimension of nominations. There are two aspects to this. First, if they know that their party candidate has enough signatures, it would make sense for elected representatives to nominate candidates from the opposing camp in order to dilute the vote. For example, elected representatives from major right-wing parties might choose to nominate minor left-wing candidates, and vice-versa. Second, personal strategies may be involved, with elected representatives nominating a candidate in exchange for the opportunity to stand as a candidate in the legislative elections for their district. In doing so, elected representatives highlight their success, presenting the image of a dynamic representative, someone who makes the “right” decisions. [14] From this point of view, supporting Macron (rather than Benoît Hamon) might be seen as a strategic decision. As we can only observe their behavior, the strategic dimension can only be observed through their party affiliation, their nomination, and their candidacy in the legislative elections.

11To analyze the data presented in this article, we also carried out a multivariate analysis, allowing us to determine whether the differences observed remain significant after controlling for other variables. [15]

12Tables 1 and 2 provide the raw nomination data. Table 1 shows that mayors constituted 68.2% of nominators. Given that mayors constitute 85% of those eligible to provide a nomination, mayors were under-mobilized. The following section will analyze the reasons for this.

Table 2

Nominations by Candidate Based on Nominator Role*,**,***

MayorMember of parliament**Département councillorRegional councillorOther***TotalPercentage of nominationsPercentage of votes
Nathalie Arthaud63401026374.50.6
François Asselineau58303105874.10.9
Jacques Cheminade52602005283.70.2
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan687213237074.94.7
François Fillon2,1293276933291573,63525.420
Benoît Hamon943232527245922,03914.36.4
Jean Lassalle676123447085.01.2
Marine Le Pen2032350335166274.421.3
Emmanuel Macron1,4207717775801,82912.824.1
Jean-Luc Mélenchon6172910034258055.619.6
Philippe Poutou5336141555734.01.1
Other candidates1,31050124452101,61711.3

Nominations by Candidate Based on Nominator Role*,**,***

* Commune, arrondissement, and delegate mayors.
** Members of the National Assembly, Senate, and European Parliament.
*** Members of the Overseas and French Citizens Abroad assemblies, territorial councils of the overseas territories, Paris and Lyon metropolitan councils, and leaders of a conurbation, commune, urban, or metropolitan community council.
Source: Official publication from the Constitutional Council. For the presidential election results, we have used data from the Ministry of the Interior. Interpretation: Nathalie Arthaud received 634 nominations from mayors and 0 from members of parliament. She obtained 637 nominations in total, representing 4.5% of all nominations. Arthaud received 0.6% of the popular vote.

13Table 2 provides information on the breakdown of nominations by candidate, based on the elected role of nominators. It includes only those candidates who obtained 500 signatures. It shows that only two candidates—François Fillon and Benoît Hamon—did not require support from mayors to obtain 500 signatures. Conversely, mayoral nominations were generally enough to support a candidacy. Only Marine Le Pen could not have stood as a candidate by relying solely on mayors. The majority of her nominations came from individuals elected by proportional representation (regional councillors and members of the European Parliament), a system that favors the National Front (FN). Finally, three candidates—Nathalie Arthaud, François Asselineau, and Jacques Cheminade—were nominated almost solely by mayors. In general, candidates who won less than 5% of the popular vote during the presidential election obtained the majority of their nominations from mayors.

14The two final columns of table 2 compare, in percentage points, nominations with the citizen vote from the first round of the presidential elections. Three candidates were more popular among citizens than among the elected representatives: Macron, Le Pen, and Mélenchon, who all represented political movements with more votes than seats. It should also be noted that, if the first round had been based on nominations, neither of the two candidates who proceeded to the second round would have done so. The elected representatives would have chosen Hamon and Fillon. While elected representatives play a major role in determining the choice of candidates for election, here they did not entirely represent the preferences of citizens, although the Pearson correlation coefficient between nominations and votes was 0.51.

15These figures offer an initial glimpse into the key role played by mayors in establishing which candidates will run in an election. For any candidate who cannot count upon sufficient support from elected representatives in the legislative and decision-making bodies—access to which is primarily controlled by political parties—the support of local leaders is crucial. In the next section, we will focus on analyzing the choices made by mayors.

Mayors: The Elected Representatives Most Representative of Citizens

Who Nominates?

16Mayors represent a very broad population. The label “elected mayor” covers elected, delegate, and arrondissement mayors, who participate in the nomination process in very unequal proportions. The following analysis considers only elected mayors, as the others do not have the same powers and are not elected in a comparable manner. It also uses data from the primary database, which provides information on the characteristics of the mayors who most often chose to nominate a candidate.

17Table 3 shows whether or not mayors nominated a candidate, based on their sociodemographic and geographic profile. It thus includes all mayors, whether or not they provided a nomination. Among the key variables, the gender of mayors was highly influential. Within the electorate, the gap between men and women has reduced—and even inverted in 2017—but it remains significant among elected representatives. Not only are 84% of mayors male, but men were also more likely to nominate candidates, by nearly 8 percentage points.

Table 3

Characteristics of French Mayors and Percentages Nominating by Category, Compared to the Percentage of Electoral Participation in the First Round of the Presidential Election*

Mayors (N)Nominators (%)Voters (%)
Candidate chosen36,65726.685
25-34 years1943777.5
35-49 years3,96929.386.5
50-59 years10,40426.287
60-69 years17,69426.190.1
70 and over7,42226.988.5
Senior managers2,41331.279
Middle-ranking profession1,68625.278
Non-manual worker3,90126.671
Manual worker52829.971
Private sector employee5,72926.173
Public sector employee89127.375
Liberal profession5,10329.376
No profession77824.373
Party affiliation*
Left-wing parties1,69337.682.1
Right-wing parties72248.287.4
Conurbation size
Fewer than 500 inhabitants19,85125.980
Fewer than 20,000 inhabitants16,30626.576
Between 20,000 and 100,000 inhabitants40855.673
More than 100,000 inhabitants7082.978

Characteristics of French Mayors and Percentages Nominating by Category, Compared to the Percentage of Electoral Participation in the First Round of the Presidential Election*

Data on voters taken from the French Election Study 2017 post-electoral survey, with the exception of information on profession and conurbation size, which is taken from the Ipsos/Sopra Steria post-electoral survey. Interpretation: for the line “Female”, there are 5,877 female mayors in France and 20.2% of them nominated a candidate, compared to 86.5% of female voters who declared having voted.
* Party affiliation data are only available for communes with more than 1,000 inhabitants

18Age also plays a major role, with young people nominating more frequently. It should also however be acknowledged that nominators constitute an older population (63% of them are over 60), as the mayors of small communes are often retired. The age of nominators remained significantly younger than those who did not nominate, but has a weak impact after controlling for the size of the town or city. Young mayors have more incentive to provide a nomination if they want to be appointed to other posts. In this sense, their nomination is a way of showing their commitment to a party.

19There are differences in the percentages of nominations based on the profession of the elected representative, but these do not reflect those observed within the electorate. While senior managers and the liberal professions accounted for slightly more nominators than the average, this was also true for manual laborers. Conversely, retirees are usually associated with a higher level of electoral participation, but this is not seen among nominators. These differences are however rather small. The regression analysis confirms these results by showing that only a few professions—notaries and doctors—were more likely to nominate a candidate.

20Finally, the size of the commune has the greatest explanatory power. Conversely to the pattern observed within the electorate, it is city mayors who most often take part, with 83% of them providing a nomination, compared to 55% in smaller towns. Below this the percentage of nominations decreases rapidly, and falls below 26% in communes of fewer than 500 inhabitants, which constitute the majority of communes in France. This finding is unsurprising, as in large urban areas the role of mayor is highly professionalized and parties control access to elected positions. In addition, mayors often hold multiple offices. They therefore constitute a pool of nominators who are easily accessible to candidates due to the existence of a structured party network. As small communes are beyond party control, their mayors do not feel this pressure to such an extent.

21The impact of geography is also seen at the département level, with more nominators located within large urban areas. In the départements within the Paris region, mayors were three to five times more likely to nominate a candidate than those elsewhere. Conversely, in the rural départements participation was lower. Thus, while several sociodemographic differences can be identified, the geographic dimension is the strongest single predictive factor for nomination. The size of the commune strongly influences the likelihood of nomination. In addition, nomination is a primarily male act—to a much greater extent than voting across the population as a whole—that is associated with younger individuals and fairly evenly distributed across professions.

22The data available to us also demonstrate that party members nominated more frequently, with 48% of members of right-wing parties, 38% of members of left-wing parties, and 25% of unaffiliated individuals providing a nomination. Members of right-wing parties were twice as likely to nominate a candidate compared to unaffiliated representatives, and members of left-wing parties one and a half times more likely.

Who Nominates Which Candidate?

23In this section, we will first analyze the determinants of candidate choice for mayors, as shown in tables 4, 5, and 6.

Table 4

Mayoral Nominations per Candidate by Commune Size and by Nominator Gender and Age

MacronLe PenFillonMélenchonHamonDupont-AignanAll
Commune < 50042.876.439.44531.267.952.8
Commune between 500 and 1,00019.99.316.215.319.619.917.7
Commune > 1,00037.314.344.439.849.312.329.5
% Women98.31212.616.21012.2
Age (average)60.559.663.462.160.362.761.5
Commune < 50066.168.6767274.852.752.8
Commune between 500 and 1,00018.815.615.215.815.920.717.7
Commune > 1,00015.215.88.812.29.326.629.5
Age (average)61.360.960.861.360.560.961.5

Mayoral Nominations per Candidate by Commune Size and by Nominator Gender and Age

Source: Nominations: official communication from the Constitutional Council. Sociodemographic data: Ministry of the Interior. Interpretation: of the mayors who nominated Macron, 42.8% were from small communes, 9% were women, and their average age was 60.5 years.
Table 5

Mayoral Nominations per Candidate by Nominator Profession*

MacronLe PenFillonMélenchonHamonDupont-AignanAll
Private sector employee29.525.326.924.825.826.727.6
Public sector employee6.14.42.611.
Civil servant15.415.41120.823.312.915.6
Liberal profession6.94.410.
N1,3621822 0315969056609,756
Private sector employee26.52425.237.632.826.327.6
Public sector employee584.
Civil servant14.618.213.118.414.116.615.6
Liberal profession4.
N6605124885835031 2749,756

Mayoral Nominations per Candidate by Nominator Profession*

* Artisans, retailers, entrepreneurs.
Source: Nominations: official communication from the Constitutional Council. Sociodemographic data: Ministry of the Interior. Interpretation: 11.4% of those who nominated Macron were farmers. The percentages exceed 100%, as we have included professions practiced before retirement. The retired thus hold both retired status and a profession.
Table 6

Mayoral Nominations per Candidate by Nominator Party Affiliation

MacronLe PenFillonMélenchonHamonDupont-AignanAll
PCF (French Communist Party)
FG (Left Front)
PRG (Radical Party of the Left)000.20000.1
PS (Socialist Party)8.302.62.52457.1
MoDem(Democratic Movement)0.8000000.3
UDI (Union of Democrats and Independents)2.801.
LR (The Republicans)2.6013.
FN (National Front)021.10.300.700.4
Far left000.10000.04
Far right05.300000.04
Left coalition5.502.817.719.157.0
Centrist coalition0.400.
Right coalition3.25.311.70.80.955.3
Assorted left-wing parties32.210.510.332.125.6521.9
Assorted right-wing parties2631.643.418.115.354.332.6
Far left0000000.04
Far right0000000.04
Left coalition3.13.801.401.87.0
Centrist coalition11.300000.3
Right coalition5.11.301.403.35.3
Assorted left-wing parties20.436.335.739.131.824.321.9
Assorted right-wing parties34.727.526.28.727.342.932.6

Mayoral Nominations per Candidate by Nominator Party Affiliation

Nominations: official communication from the Constitutional Council. Party data (Gougou and Foucault, “Le bilan des élections municipales”). Interpretation: 8.3% of those nominating Macron belonged to the Socialist Party.

24In table 4, we have made a distinction between communes of fewer than 500 inhabitants (52%), those with between 500 and 1,000 inhabitants (17.7%), and those with more than 1,000 inhabitants (29.5%). The mayors in this last group were more likely to nominate Fillon (905), Macron (508), and Hamon (446), but also, to a lesser extent, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (237). For four of the five candidates who received the most votes during the first round of the presidential election, over one third of their nominations came from mayors of towns with over 1,000 inhabitants. Conversely, the other candidates obtained at least two-thirds of their nominations from mayors of communes with 500 inhabitants. The majority of them obtained almost all of their nominations from mayors, and then won little support during the presidential election. The exception was Le Pen, who obtained the majority of her nominations from regional councillors (among whom the FN is strongly represented), and sought her remaining 165 nominations primarily from rural communes.

25Mayors of small communes had much more marked preferences. Despite making up a significant proportion of Le Pen’s nominations, they were overall unlikely to nominate her, with only 139 of them doing so. Two other candidates received relatively little support in these communes: Mélenchon (268) and Hamon (282). The “minor candidates”, on the other hand, obtained more support, with 351 signatures for Philippe Poutou and 448 for Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. Fillon (801) and Macron (583) remained the most popular in this group, and the disparity between this pairing and the Mélenchon/Hamon pairing is quite astonishing. It might be seen as indicating true preferences, revealing a rejection of the main left-wing candidates by the mayors of small communes, but could also be seen as a political strategy, with some candidates not seeking support from small communes as they had enough signatures from the major cities and legislative bodies.

26In terms of gender, the proportion of female mayors was higher among those nominating Arthaud, and lower for Le Pen. In relation to the two female candidates we can therefore conclude that being a woman does not necessarily attract more nominations from women. It should however be noted that the predominantly male voter base of the FN was reflected among its nominators. [16] The most surprising finding is that Macron, along with Cheminade, was the candidate with the lowest proportion of nominations from female mayors. Multinomial regressions confirm that this discrepancy was significant. This finding is difficult to explain, given that Macron’s campaign made political parity one of his objectives, although the post-electoral survey shows that his voters were primarily male.

27In terms of age, differences are not significant and are comparable to those observed within the voter base of these candidates. Fillon, whose voters were among the oldest, also had significantly older nominators than the others. Conversely, Le Pen had a relatively young voter base and also attracted support from the youngest mayors. The other percentages did not stand up to statistical testing.

28There are marked differences in the professional profiles of nominators (table 5), with leftwing candidates primarily nominated by civil servants, teachers, and public sector employees. Arthaud was partly an exception to this rule, as her nominations primarily came from private sector employees. Right-wing candidates, on the other hand, were predominantly nominated by farmers, artisans, retailers, and entrepreneurs. Fillon was the most popular candidate among the liberal professions. These variations are all confirmed by the multivariate analysis and remain significant after controlling for the other factors considered in this article. The similarity of this result with the voter base of these candidates was particularly marked. To a certain extent, mayoral nominations reflect the popular vote.

29Finally, geographic differences are strongly associated with candidate choice. The candidates who would go on to win the majority of votes in the election obtained many nominations in relatively large communes. Conversely, the candidates who won few votes in the election obtained the majority of their nominations from mayors of communes with fewer than 500 inhabitants. Le Pen remained the exception, with the profile of her nominating mayors tending to resemble that of the minor candidates. This result can be explained by rejection of the FN beyond its core supporters.

30Ultimately, sociodemographic variables predict candidate choice relatively accurately, and in many ways closely reflect the voter profile for the different candidates in terms of age, gender, and profession. This leads us to surmise that introducing citizen nomination would not necessarily lead to a change in candidates selected to stand for election, as elected mayors represent their voters relatively well.

31We now turn to the issue of party and strategic nominations (table 6). Unfortunately, as we only had access to data for communes with more than 1,000 inhabitants this includes limited numbers, from 897 signatures for Fillon to just 19 for Le Pen.

32Party-driven logics are clear. The French Communist Party, the Left Front, and members of the Left Coalition were strongly over-represented among those nominating Mélenchon. Socialist mayors and left-wing coalitions primarily supported Hamon. Republicans and rightwing coalitions were over-represented among those supporting Fillon. Among Macron’s supporters, centrist and center-left mayors (MoDem, UDI, Centrist Coalition, and the PS) were slightly over-represented. Finally, the few nominations obtained by Le Pen were concentrated among far-right and unaffiliated individuals. If we cluster these results on a leftright spectrum, the left is over-represented among those nominating Macron, Hamon, Mélenchon, Poutou, and Arthaud, while the right is more strongly represented among those nominating Fillon, Dupont-Aignan, and Lassalle.

33Conversely, there is little evidence to support the idea of strategic nomination. Among mayors belonging to the main political parties, there was no clear desire to dilute the vote in the opposing camp. However, two conservative candidates—Asselineau and Cheminade—were strongly supported by left-wing elected representatives who might have seen this as a way to deprive Fillon and Le Pen of some votes. However, there is no additional data to support this interpretation: for example, none of these individuals were rewarded with nomination for a left-wing candidacy in the legislative elections. As a result, we remain skeptical about the widespread presence of strategic behaviors.

Other Elected Representatives: Clearer Party Discipline

34While mayors represent the majority of nominators, they share this role with other elected representatives. Given the variation within this population, it is difficult to replicate the analyses conducted above for mayors. For example, it would be meaningless to study the impact of “district” size for an analysis including both members of the European Parliament and département councillors.

Varying Rates of Participation

35Due to the heterogeneity of profiles, participation rates greatly vary from one type of elected representative to another (table 7). The mean participation rate was 41%, but this included a significant level of variation. National and European elected representatives had the highest levels of participation. This confirms our observation in regard to mayors, with the elected representatives closest to centers of decision-making and the most professionalized posts being those with the highest participation rates. It should also be highlighted that the very low number of nominations from inter-community council leaders can be explained by the fact that the vast majority of nominators holding this office are also mayors, and registered their nomination as such.

Table 7

Level of Participation in Nominations by Elected Office

Département councillor1,72742%
Lyon metropolitan councillor7646%
Regional councillor1,07861.4%
Saint-Barthélemy / Saint-Martin / Saint Pierre and Miquelon territorial councillor1316%
Member of parliament41271.4%
Member of a New Caledonian provincial assembly3361.1%
Member of the Corsican assembly2345.1%
Member of the Guianese assembly3364.7%
Member of the French Polynesian assembly3561.4%
Member of the Martinique assembly1937.2%
Member of the Council of Paris9155.8%
Elected member of the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad6774.4%
Inter-community council leader653.1%
French member of the European Parliament6081.1%

Level of Participation in Nominations by Elected Office

Source: official communication from the Constitutional Council. The total does not include mayors. Interpretation: 23 members of the Corsican assembly nominated a candidate, representing 45.1% of the members of this assembly.

36Party affiliation constitutes the primary explanatory factor (table 8), with party membership resulting in a nomination for the candidate endorsed (or supported) by this party or, to a lesser extent, for ideologically related candidates. This homogeneity can be seen on the right, among the Republicans, and among the FN there was also a high number of nominations for Le Pen. MoDem-elected representatives responded to the call from Bayrou and Macron. However, party affiliation is a less reliable factor on the left. In both the Socialist Party and among the Greens, we see a significant number of nominations for a candidate other than the one endorsed by these parties, Benoît Hamon. There was not only a high level of support for Macron, but also for Mélenchon. The proliferation of left-wing candidates resulted in a scattering of support, unlike on the right which was solidly committed to the Fillon and Le Pen candidacies. As such, the behavior of elected representatives reflects that observed among voters who are, in a way, “victims” of the multiplicity of candidacies. [17] However, very few left-wing elected representatives supported a right-wing candidate.

Table 8

Nomination and Party Affiliation (Percentages)

PCF (French Communist Party)0000000
Various right-wing00.706.245.502.1
Various left-wing1.3000.
Far right00033.311.100
Far left000005.30
FG (Left Front)0000000
FN (National Front)0000.2000
MoDem (Democratic Movement)00000012.5
PRG (Radical Party of the Left)000006.70
PS (Socialist Party)0000086.20
Centrist coalition00000050
Right coalition06.30018.8018
UDI (Union of Democrats and Independents)001134.406.3
Left coalition0000033.30
LR (The Republicans)0000.2930.00.3
EELV (Europe Ecology –The Greens)0000044.60
Le PenMacronMélenchonPoutouOthersAllN
Various right-wing8.312.40.70.723.299.8145
Various left-wing055.311.11.32399.9226
Far right33.311.10011.199.99
Far left0047.410.536.699.818
Centrist coalition0000501004
Right coalition018.80037.299.916
Left coalition033.32508.399.912

Nomination and Party Affiliation (Percentages)

Source: official publication from the Constitutional Council. Party data: electoral register archives of the Ministry of the Interior and local institutions. Due to rounding, the total percentage for each line may not equal 100. Interpretation: 91.7% of PCF-elected representatives nominated Mélenchon (excluding mayors).

37On the right, nomination therefore remains strongly linked to party affiliation. The UDI was an exception to this rule, with a considerable number of its members supporting Macron (26%). On the left, different intraparty movements and different ambitions resulted in different choices within a single party, particularly within the PS.

38While the rationales of party affiliation dominate among non-mayoral elected representatives, strategic behaviors are the exception. Although some candidates are guaranteed to obtain a sufficient number of nominations, the party faithful continue to support them. This is particularly true among members of the Republicans (LR), who supported Fillon in large numbers. Given he was certain to receive enough nominations to stand, we might have expected some Republicans to decide to help dilute the vote on the left, or even the far right, by nominating candidates who might compete with Le Pen, Hamon, or Mélenchon. The predominance of party affiliation demonstrates a kind of automation in the nomination process, at least among those elected representatives affiliated to a party. In this sense, for the large parties, nomination is akin to peer validation of the selection. For the smallest parties, it resembles a search for republican spirit among unaffiliated elected representatives. As a whole, the results confirm our findings among mayors.

39The fact that a significant number of elected representatives (particularly on the left) chose a candidate other than the one supported by their party does however demonstrate that party discipline is not an adequate explanation. The fact that many socialist elected representatives nominated Macron supports the hypothesis of strategic behavior, since at the time nominations were being collected he was ahead in the polls.

40This interpretation appears to be refuted however by the weak link between nomination and party endorsement for the legislative elections. Table 9 shows that nomination followed by candidacy in the legislative elections can be observed primarily among those who supported Le Pen, and to a lesser extent among those who nominated candidates from traditional parties, namely the PS and LR. However, as these latter were often already members of parliament, it is difficult to interpret their nominations in strategic terms. In regard to those nominating Le Pen, all such individuals were strongly attached to the FN prior to the nomination process (few non-FN nominators). This was less true for those nominating Macron, who all came from a party other than La République En Marche! (LREM). [18] In addition, even the members of parliament hoping to be endorsed by LREM had to go through the official process with no guarantee of success. Some members of parliament thus failed to obtain it. Nevertheless, many of them stood for election without LREM endorsement while still declaring their support for the elected president. It is of course difficult to know with certainty whether these nominations were offered with a view to endorsement or simply as a result of shared beliefs. However, the fact that more nominators were endorsed (excluding the LR, PS, and FN) within LREM than elsewhere indicates that this option cannot be discounted.

Table 9

Percentage of Nominators Standing in the Legislative Elections

Candidate namePercentage of nominators standingOf which outgoing members of parliamentOf which endorsed by the nominated candidate
Nathalie Arthaud000
François Asselineau000
Jacques Cheminade000
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan150100
François Fillon16.130.1100
Benoît Hamon14.946100
Jean Lassalle6.350100
Marine Le Pen33.70.7100
Emmanuel Macron16.422.389.7
Jean-Luc Mélenchon18.18.897.1
Philippe Poutou7.50100

Percentage of Nominators Standing in the Legislative Elections

Source: official publication from the Constitutional Council and the Ministry of the Interior. Calculated by the authors. Only candidates who obtained at least 500 signatures are included. Interpretation: 16.1% of those nominating Fillon stood as a candidate in the legislative elections. 30.1% of them were outgoing members of parliament, and 100% stood as Republican candidates.

41* * *

42Four main conclusions can be drawn from our analysis of nominations.

43First, the party affiliation of elected representatives plays a crucial role in their behavior. Party members are more likely to participate in the nomination process, and this factor also largely determines their choice of candidate. The nomination system thus results in a form of inertia and homogeneity in the candidates on offer during elections, at least in the mediumterm. We can see this between 2012 and 2017, with the candidates standing in 2017 the successors of those in 2012, or even the same.

44Second, this effect is compounded by the fact that “professional politicians” provide the majority of nominations, particularly for the major candidates. European and national members of parliament and senators all had a participation rate above 70%. Other categories of elected representatives fluctuated between 40% (département councillors) and 60% (regional councillors). Conversely, mayors of communities with fewer than 500 inhabitants—despite representing almost half the potential nominations—had a participation rate of 26%.

45Third, we did not observe systematic behaviors consistent with strategic nominations, at least as we have defined them. Few nominations for minor candidates from the opposing camp were observed, and elected representatives remained partisan long after the threshold of 500 signatures had been surpassed. Furthermore, the act of nomination did not increase the chance of an individual standing as a candidate at the next legislative election. We cannot however discount the existence of more refined strategic behaviors that cannot be observed from our data. Identifying such behaviors would require studying data over time, by analyzing the links between parties and candidates. The public nature of our data may also discourage elected representatives from pursuing overtly visible strategies.

46Finally, in some ways the choices made by mayors resemble those of citizens. Profession, age, and gender predispose elected representatives to choose their candidate in the same way they shape the choice of voters. This is particularly the case for the mayors of rural communes. These “amateur” mayors are the primary individuals responsible for the existence of a large number of candidacies. Without them, only four candidates would have stood: Macron, Fillon, Mélenchon, and Hamon. And while the other candidates played a minor role in the presidential election, this would most notably have meant the absence of Le Pen, despite her qualifying for the second round. In total, the candidates who owed their presence in the presidential election to “amateur mayors” obtained the support of nearly a third of the electorate in the first round.

47We can therefore posit that the absence of a citizen nomination process, which is present in all other European semi-presidential democracies, is in fact offset by the typically French existence of a very large number of rural communes, whose mayors are often retired volunteers and elected unopposed. Their nominations resemble those of citizens, with left-leaning and right-leaning professions, and a relative weight of age and gender in their voting choices. These variables have a similar impact on both nominators and voters. As such, there is no definitive evidence that the introduction of citizen nominations would have a significant impact on which candidates were nominated to stand for election.

48However, the consolidation of communes raises the question of the population size that will be represented by nominators in future elections. If, as at present, commune mergers and the development of inter-community councils do not reduce numbers of elected representatives, or even increase them, the nomination system will likely retain its legitimacy, despite numerous criticisms from experts. If, on the other hand, the number of elected representatives is decreased, rural commune mayors will be the first to go. Under such circumstances we would anticipate increased criticism of the inaccessibility of the French system, and increased calls to introduce citizen nomination. [19]


  • [1]
    This candidate selection procedure does not feature in other presidential elections around the world, which instead require nominations from citizens or political parties. In Finland, Slovakia, Austria, and Ukraine, candidates must have the support of a party with elected representatives in the lower chamber and obtain their official nomination (from one in Ukraine and Finland to fifteen in Slovakia). This requirement may be replaced by citizen nominations (from 6,000 in Austria to 20,000 in Ukraine and Finland). As the former condition is easier to meet, the majority of candidates seek party support. In other countries, citizen nomination is the only way in which to stand as a presidential candidate. The threshold varies from 1,500 in Iceland to 200,000 in Romania. In these countries, party affiliation is crucial, with nominations being gathered, in most cases, from party members. Only candidates with a sufficiently broad support base can hope to stand in the election. See Sandrine Pina, “Parrainages et élection présidentielle: le statu quo”, Revue française de droit constitutionnel, 96(4), 2013, 941-50.
  • [2]
    This body includes mayors, département and regional councillors, members of the Corsican and Overseas regional assemblies, inter-community council leaders, senators, members of parliament, French members of the European Parliament, and members of the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad. This amounts to a total of approximately 47,000 offices, which can be consolidated to around 42,000 elected representatives after accounting for the fact that some individuals hold multiple offices.
  • [3]
    Julien Audemard and David Gouard, “Les primaires citoyennes d’octobre 2011: entre logique censitaire et influences partisanes locales”, Revue française de science politique, 64(5), 2014, 955-72; Rémi Lefebvre, Les primaires socialistes: La fin du parti militant, Paris, Raisons d’agir, 2011.
  • [4]
    Sophie Lamouroux, “De la présentation à la présélection des candidats à l’élection présidentielle: Le filtrage comme fil d’Ariane”, Revue française de droit constitutionnel, 2(5), 2008, 157-67; Jean-Claude Colliard, “Les parrainages à l’élection présidentielle”, Les Nouveaux Cahiers du Conseil constitutionnel, 34(1), 2012, 13-21.
  • [5]
    Raul Magni-Berton, Démocraties Libérales: Le pouvoir des citoyens dans les pays européens, Paris, Economica, 2012.
  • [6]
    Colliard, “Les parrainages à l’élection présidentielle”; Pina, “Parrainages et élection présidentielle”; Vincent Tiberj, interview by Olivier Saint-Faustin, “Présidentielle: la course aux parrainages, un système injuste?”,,, last accessed 13 August 2018.
  • [7]
    Luc Rouban, interview by Marion Roucheux, “Présidentielle 2012: principes et enjeux du parrainage politique”, 2011,, last accessed 13 August 2018.
  • [8]
    The publication of nominator names has been the subject of debate since 1974. Until 2012, the Constitutional Council published the name of 500 nominators (selected randomly) for each candidate reaching the required threshold. The names of their other nominators were not published. In 1988, 1995, and 2002, the names of nominators were displayed in the offices of the Constitutional Council for consultation only.
  • [9]
    Colliard, “Les parrainages”; Rouban, “Présidentielle 2012”.
  • [10]
    Rouban, “Présidentielle 2012”.
  • [11]
    Florent Gougou and Martial Foucault, “Le bilan des élections municipales de 2014: une déroute historique de la gauche dans la France urbaine”, Revue politique et parlementaire, 1071-2, 2014, 23-8.
  • [12]
    Party affiliation at the time of the election was identified based on the listed affiliation and party endorsement (documents from the Ministry of the Interior or local institutions). The categories are the same as those used in Gougou and Foucault, “Le bilan des élections municipales”. Where there were no clear links in party statutes or electoral lists (formal support), overseas parties were considered as “various left-wing or various right-wing” based on the declared support of the governing bodies for a particular presidential candidate. This identification method was not without its faults, and led to us restricting our analysis of the behavior of nominators belonging to these groups.
  • [13]
    Florent Gougou and Nicolas Sauger, “The 2017 French Election Study (FES 2017): a post-electoral crosssectional survey”, French Politics, 15(3), 2017, 360-70.
  • [14]
    Olivier Costa and Éric Kerrouche, Qui sont les députés français? Enquête sur les élites inconnues, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2007.
  • [15]
    We carried out logistic regressions in which the predicted variable was binary (1 if mayors nominated and 0 if they did not). The results are available from the authors upon request. The independent variables are the same as those shown in the tables.
  • [16]
    Terri Givens, “The Radical Right Gender Gap”, Comparative Political Studies, 37(1), 2004, 30-54. More recent studies, however, tend to see a decline in this trend. See Silvia Erzeel and Ekaterina R. Rashkova, “Still men’s parties? gender and the radical right in comparative perspective”, West European Politics, 40(4), 2017, 812-20.Online
  • [17]
    Jean-Jacques Becker and Gilles Candar (eds), Histoire des gauches en France, Paris, La Découverte, 2007; Pascal Perrineau and Luc Rouban, La démocratie de l’entre-soi, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2017.
  • [18]
    We should note that several elected representatives had already joined LREM but continued to hold office under their former affiliation.
  • [19]
    We would like to thank Clara Egger, Florent Gougou, and Simon Varaine for reviewing and providing guidance on this article.
Raul Magni-Berton
Raul Magni-Berton is a professor of political science at Sciences Po Grenoble and a member of the PACTE research group. His publications include: (co-authored with Abel François) Que pensent les penseurs? Les opinions des universitaires et scientifiques français, Grenoble, Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 2015 and (co-edited with Jacques Gerstlé) 2012: La campagne présidentielle. Observer les médias, les électeurs, les candidats, Paris, Éditions Pepper/L’Harmattan, 2014. His teaching focuses on methodology and comparative politics. His research looks at comparative politics, public opinion, and political philosophy (PACTE, Sciences Po Grenoble, BP 48, 38040 Grenoble cedex 9.
Corentin Poyet
Corentin Poyet is a post-doctoral researcher in the Faculty of Management at the University of Tampere (Finland). He is also an associate researcher at the Centre Émile Durkheim (Sciences Po Bordeaux) and the PACTE research group (Sciences Po Grenoble). His publications include (with Olivier Costa) “Back to Their Roots: French MPs in their District”, French Politics, 14(4), 2016, 406-38. His research focuses on political representation and legislative studies (Faculty of Management (JKK), FI-33014 University of Tampere.
Latest publication on cairn or another partner portal
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
Uploaded on on 25/07/2019
Distribution électronique pour Presses de Sciences Po © Presses de Sciences Po. Tous droits réservés pour tous pays. Il est interdit, sauf accord préalable et écrit de l’éditeur, de reproduire (notamment par photocopie) partiellement ou totalement le présent article, de le stocker dans une banque de données ou de le communiquer au public sous quelque forme et de quelque manière que ce soit.
Loading... Please wait