On Sunday evening, the Front National’s marine blue wave crashed early on the breakers. Despite holding a first round lead in six regions, the party failed to win any contests in the second round run-off.
Instead, the Republicans, formerly the UMP but still led by Nicolas Sarkozy, won in seven regions and the Socialist Party of current president Francois Hollande took control of the remaining five.
Although Marine le Pen has toiled to ‘de-demonise’ the party, the French electorate sent out a firm message that the Front being in power is insupportable.
After le Pen and her niece Marion Marechal-le Pen received over 40% of the vote in the first round, the Socialist Party withdrew their candidates in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur.
The pact and the mobilisation of voters against the party killed the le Pen’s hope of victory and control of a region.
As the graphic below shows, the abstention rate is significantly higher in the west where the Front National was not in contention.
However, even if the party did not make a breakthrough in the run-off, that 28% of the electorate voted for the party founded by the controversial Jean-Marie le Pen has shocked France.
— FRANCE 24 English (@France24_en) December 7, 2015
The land of liberté, egalité, fraternité has become a hotbed for a party that is anti-immigration, anti-Europe and often verging on openly xenophobic.
The Front’s main policy platform for the regionals was immigration and the threat from ISIS, despite the fact that the regional administrations have no control over such matters.
Yet 6.8 million people gave their vote to the Front and with it their trust.
A response to November 13th?
So how can the Front National’s current rise be explained? Wrongly, it has been attributed to the Paris attacks.
The party was already doing well in the polls and in Paris the vote for the Front National is much weaker than in the north and south.
Disenfranchised voters have bought into the party’s rhetoric of competition. For example, that for each immigrant in France, one ‘French’ job is lost.
The perceived threat, the reality does not match the narrative, is a powerful driver for those who feel the elite Parisian politicians have failed them.
By failing to win any regions, the Front remain free to play the blame game and criticise from the sidelines.
The graphics below show the first round vote with the Front National in navy and the rate of unemployment at the end of last year.
President Le Pen?
In May 2017, France will have a new president but Marine le Pen will not be taking residence in the Elysée. Voters proved as much on Sunday.
But the results this week left the Socialists and Republicans with a very real warning that now is the time to get their act together.
Both parties completed the familiar routine of recent electoral cycles by rushing to say that they will listen to the message they were sent by voters.
The socialists received just 23% of the vote in the first round and Hollande has been a hugely unpopular president, although his ratings improved after the Paris attacks.
However, the result was not so poor that the party is without hope, particularly if the economic reform being driven by premier Manuel Valls succeeds.
Since Sunday, Nicolas Sarkozy has sacked the Republican’s vice-president and announced a party conference in February to discuss future strategy.
Along with Alain Juppé and Francois Fillon, Sarkozy will enter a tough battle for the Republican primary.
Already there are fears that the former president will move the party further to the right and confront the Front National head on.
The party that convinces the electorate that they will reduce the 10.6% unemployment rate will be the best placed to hold the Front at bay and take charge of the presidential race.
If both parties fail, you can be sure that the wave will keep on coming.