How do the French produce such accurate early election results?

If you're used to British or American elections you might be expecting an all-night count, but in France a provisional result is released at 8pm that is virtually always right - so how do the French manage this?

How do the French produce such accurate early election results?
Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

It’s a key part of the election for politics junkies in the UK and USA – staying up all night watching the results come in. But while France also has an overnight count, the overall result is pretty much known at 8pm on polling day.

Polls in France close at 7pm in most places and 8pm in the larger cities, and then at 8pm a provisional result is released. This comes with caveats that most of the votes are yet to be counted, but while the final percentages usually vary slightly the overall result is almost always correct.

So how does France manage this?

Well firstly the presidential elections are a straightforward affair – unlike in the UK or US voters are not picking their local MP or deciding on the composition of parliament. Parliamentary elections are separate, in 2022 they will be held in June.

The presidential election is a direct vote for the president, and the winning candidate just needs a simple majority of votes, rather than having to win certain districts or constituencies.

Voting takes place over two rounds, on April 10th and April 24th, and after the first round the key result is which two candidates have scored the highest number of votes and will therefore be going through to the second round.

In the second round it’s a simple question of who has the highest number of votes.


The provisional result comes from counting initial votes at a number of selected polling stations around the country.

Polling stations are carefully selected to ensure they provide a representative sample – rural and urban, north and south, elderly and young demographics etc.

Once polls close at 7pm (or 8pm in some of the bigger cities), the votes start to be counted.

At the selected polling stations, once the first 100, 200 or 400 votes (depending on the size of the commune) are counted, they are phoned through to the polling organisations.

These results are then combined to produce the percentage score of each candidate.

Counting continues throughout the night and then on Monday morning once all votes are counted the Interior Ministry publishes the final, definite result.


This method is used for all election types in France – presidential, parliamentary, local and European – and it has (so far) never been wrong about who has won.

Each candidate gets a provisional percentage of the vote and this is usually revised by a few percent in the final results, so that what can initially seem like a very narrow victory is actually quite comfortable, or vice versa.

If the result is very close, the pollsters have several options – if two candidates are neck-and-neck they can release the names of the two candidates with the highest number of votes, but not their vote percentage.

If three candidates are neck-and-neck – and are therefore potential candidates for the second round – they can simply not release an early result and wait for the official count.

Member comments

  1. This encourages abstention: why bother, your polling station may not be sampled, and certainly not your individual vote counted by 8pm. No one in the decision to call the poll based on a sample is going to read this and change their mind, but it made me feel better. Count all the votes, then declare the result. Simples.

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French police clear Channel migrant camps after violence leaves one dead

Police dismantled a camp housing hundreds of migrants near Dunkirk in northern France on Wednesday after one person was killed and three wounded in suspected score-settling between smugglers, authorities said.

French police clear Channel migrant camps after violence leaves one dead

Around 500 people, mainly Iraqi Kurds, had been living at the wooded site in Loon-Plage, near a canal that often serves as a key launching point for boats hoping to cross the English Channel for Britain.

Buses stood by to bring the migrants to shelters, but most left instead on foot, carrying what belongings they could.

On Monday night, one migrant was shot and killed and another wounded by what volunteer aid workers described as machine gun fire, the day after two others were also shot and wounded, one seriously.

Ammunition from “weapons of war” were found, Dunkirk’s state prosecutor Sebastian Pieve had told AFP on Tuesday, and a clash between rival smuggling groups was “a theory, but it’s not easy to establish”.

“But it’s certain that human trafficking is the backdrop to this,” he said.

Dawan, a 32-year-old Kurd, would say only “mafia, mafia” when asked by AFP about the shootings.

He said he had recently paid €1,600 to a smuggler who said he would get him to England after spending five months in France, but the man disappeared the next day.

Claire Millot of the Salam migrant aid group said most volunteer associations had quit operating at Loon-Plage out of security fears, adding that Africans and other nationalities had recently been seen in an area usually occupied mainly by Kurds.

More than 7,000 migrants have managed to cross the busy shipping lane and reach the British coast since January, after the number of arrivals tripled to over 28,000 last year — which saw at least 30 migrants die while trying.