For members


MAP: How geography affects how French people vote

There are of course lots of divides between different sectors of the French electorate, but a quick glance at a map shows that there are definitely geographical factors affecting how people vote.

MAP: How geography affects how French people vote
Image: AFP/Interior Ministry

In French presidential elections, people vote directly for the president. There are no constituencies – the parliamentary vote comes later in the year – but data is collected on a département level showing how people voted in the first round.

The below map from the Interior Ministry breaks down the vote by département showing which candidate garnered the most votes in the first round of elections.

The two candidates who got through to the second round in 2017 were Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, so as you would expect, the map is heavily dominated by pink (Macron’s La République en Marche) and dark blue (Le Pen’s Rassemblement National).

Map: Interior Ministry

But is also shows a vertical divide of the country, with the west leaning heavily to Macron and the east inclined to Le Pen.

There are of course obvious exceptions, with Paris and its suburbs providing a Macron outpost while Le Pen performed strongly all along the south coast.

And even within these départements there are areas that buck the trend, but the east-west divide remains.

Here are some of the factors that help explain this:

Rust-belt – North-east France is a heartland for Marine Le Pen – it’s the country’s ‘rust belt’ – the former industrial and coal-mining areas that are now blighted with high unemployment levels.

It’s actually Emmanuel Macron’s home territory – he grew up in Amiens near the Belgian border – but in recent years Le Pen has consistently drawn votes from there, overtaking the Communist party in local sympathies.

Conflicted area – the Alsace-Lorraine area of France has a complicated history that includes being swapped back and forth between France and Germany several times, mostly during times of violent conflict.

This has left the region with its own distinct identity and local laws (Good Friday is a public holiday in this area, for example) but some suggest that its troubled history and general distrust of foreigners is also what makes the far right strong in this area.

Paris effect – Paris and the surrounding area were strongly for Macron as his pro-European, globalist and commercial message tends to resonance more strongly with young people who live in cities.

Of the eight départements that make up the greater Paris region of Île-de-France only one resisted Macron. That was Seine-Saint-Denis, one of the poorest areas of France, which went for the far left- Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

London effect – the map doesn’t show votes coming from French people abroad. French citizens retain the right to vote however long they live outside of France and even have their own MPs to represent their interests.

The French Consulate estimates that 270,000 French people live in London, making the French population there larger than cities including Bordeaux, Rennes and Le Havre. Anecdotal evidence suggests that French expats were strongly in favour of Macron, and indeed much of the financing for his campaign bid came from donors living in London.

South coast – Le Pen’s party has long done well on both a local and national level along France’s south coast, with one explanation being anxiety over the arrival of North African migrants from across the Mediterranean.

On a historic level, after the Algerian war of independent the south of France became home to many of the French settlers who left once Algeria gained its independence, and who were the first recruits to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s new political party.

Although the south coast counts some of the glitziest areas of France – such as Cannes and Saint-Tropez – it also has quite a lot of poverty and many areas feel resentments towards the ‘elites’ of Paris. Le Pen herself grew up in one of the wealthiest suburbs of Paris, but her party appeals to some of the people who feel left behind.

Western values – the whole of the left side of France is strongly pink on this map, especially Brittany, which has a long history or rejecting the far right (even thought the Le Pen family originate from Brittany).

This phenomenon has sparked plenty of cultural comment, since Brittany is a low-immigration area, and it is often areas with low level of immigration which are more receptive to an anti-immigrant message.

However Brittany also has its own strong regional identity, and some have suggested that the area’s seafaring past has made an outward-looking place, keen to develop trade links with the rest of the world.

Cities – there are of course exceptions, but in general cities lean towards Macron.

Presidential elections are not done on a constituency basis, the candidate just needs to get the largest total number of votes, so it’s clearly an advantage to appeal in packed cities rather than sparsely populated rural areas.

Macron’s message – cosmopolitan, relaxed about wealth-creation, keen to invest in business and technology – is well received in cities, with their generally younger population.

You can hear more discussion on this and other political issues on The Local’s podcast, Talking France.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers – French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

From coffee runs to rugby tickets and professional photos - France's election financing body has revealed some of the items it has refused to reimburse from the 2022 presidential race.

Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers - French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

Spending on the election trail is tightly regulated in France, with maximum campaign spends per candidate as well as a list of acceptable expenses that can be reimbursed.

In France the State pays at least some of the election campaign costs, with the budget calculated according to how many votes the candidate ends up getting. 

READ MORE: 5 things to know about French election campaign financing

On Friday, the government body (la Commission nationale des comptes de campagne et des financements politiques – or CNCCFP) released its findings for the 12 candidates who ran in the April 2022 presidential campaign. 

All of the candidates had their accounts approved, but 11 out of the 12 were refused reimbursement on certain items. Here are some of the items that did not get CNCCFP approval;

Rugby tickets 

Jean Lassalle – the wildcard ‘pro farmer’ candidate who received about three percent of votes cast in the first round of the 2022 election – bought “19 tickets to attend a rugby match” according to the CNCCFP’s findings. The organisation said it would not be reimbursing the tickets and questioned “the electoral nature of the event”. 

The total cost of the tickets was €465 (or €24.50 each).

Too many coffees

Socialist candidate, and current mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo reportedly spent at least €1,600 on coffee for her team during the campaign.

According to the CNCCFP, however, the caffeine needed to keep a presidential campaign running did not qualify under the country’s strict campaign financing rules.

Too many stickers

Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s was told that the 1.2 million stickers that were bought – to the tune of €28,875 – to advertise the campaign would not be reimbursed. Mélenchon justified the purchasing of the stickers – saying that in the vast majority of cases they were used to build up visibility for campaign events, but CNCCFP ruled that “such a large number” was not justified. 

Mélenchon was not the only one to get in trouble for his signage. Extreme-right candidate Éric Zemmour was accused of having put up over 10,000 posters outside official places reserved for signage. The same went for the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, who decided to appeal the CNCCFP’s decision not to reimburse €300,000 spent on putting posters of her face with the phrase “M la France” on 12 campaign buses.

Poster pictures

Emmanuel Macron – who won re-election in 2022 – will not be reimbursed for the €30,000 spent on a professional photographer Soazig de la Moissonière, who works as his official photographer and took the picture for his campaign poster. 

The CNCCFP said that Macron’s team had “not sufficiently justified” the expenditure.

Expensive Airbnbs

Green party member Yannick Jadot reportedly spent €6,048 on Airbnbs in the city of Paris for some of his campaign employees – an expense that the CNCCFP said that public funds would not cover.

Translating posters

The campaign finance body also refused to reimburse the Mélenchon campaign’s decision to translate its programme into several foreign languages at a cost of €5,398.

The CNCCFP said that they did not consider the translations to be “an expense specifically intended to obtain votes” in a French election.

Best and worst in class

The extreme-right pundit Zemmour had the largest amount of money not reimbursed. Zemmour created a campaign video that used film clips and historic news footage without permission and also appeared on CNews without declaring his candidacy – because of these two offences, CNCCFP has reduced his reimbursement by €200,000. He has been hit with a separate bill of €70,000 after he was found guilty of copyright infringement over the campaign video. 

The star pupil was Nathalie Arthaud, high-school teacher and candidate for the far-left Lutte Ouvriere party, who apparently had “completely clean accounts”. A CNCCFP spokesperson told Le Parisien that if all candidate accounts were like Arthauds’, then “we would be unemployed”.