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French far right faces unexpected defeat after turnout soars

Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

France's far-right National Front performed unexpectedly poorly in Sunday's regional elections, securing control of exactly zero regions. In the first round just one week ago, it finished in first place in six out of 12 regions and was expected to prevail in second-round voting in at least two, and perhaps as many as four, regions.

The unexpected defeat came in the context of soaring turnout. Just 48 percent of eligible voters cast ballots last week, but, faced with predictions of National Front victory, that surged to 59 percent today.

Part of the context for the growth of the far right is, obviously, the terrorist attacks in Paris in November and the earlier attacks onCharlie Hebdo. But another issue is France's struggle with unemployment. French joblessness has essentially never recovered from the Great Recession of 2008:

Back in 2012, discontent with that performance led voters to vote out President Nicholas Sarkozy in favor of socialist François Hollande. But Hollande has not done anything to revise the basic macroeconomic framework of the eurozone, and while the situation has stopped getting worse on his watch, it isn't getting any better, either. The mainstream right is now led once again by Sarkozy, who is preparing to challenge Hollande for the presidency next year.

Given this circle of back-and-forth economic failure, it's not surprising that some voters would turn to the far right, which — unlike the two mainstream parties — offers an alternative to the endless stagnation of the eurozone. What we see this weekend, however, is that the National Front simply remains toxic to most French voters. Demoralization with the mainstream parties can put it in first place, but when the Front threatens to actually win, people show up and vote.