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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EXPLAINED: Does France really have a hijab ban?

As Iranian women burn their hijabs in protest at the country's repressive laws you might have heard people contrasting this to the French 'hijab ban' - but is the Muslim headscarf actually banned in France?

EXPLAINED: Does France really have a hijab ban?

What are the rules? Does France have a hijab ban?

No, France does not have a ban on hijabs in public spaces. However, the rules differ when it comes to headscarves and full-face coverings and this can be confusing because both the full-face veil and the Muslim headscarf are often referred to a voile in French.

In 2010, the country brought in a complete ban on clothing that includes full-face coverings – including the burka and niqab. These cannot be worn in any public space in France, at risk of a €150 fine.

The hijab or headscarf, however, is completely legal in public spaces including shops, cafés and the streets and it’s common to see women wearing them, especially in certain areas of the big cities like Paris.

However, that doesn’t mean there is no restriction on women’s freedom to wear the Muslim headscarf.

In line with France’s laws on laïcité (secularism) it is forbidden to wear overt symbols of religion – including the Muslim headscarf – in government buildings, including schools and universities (with the exception of visitors).

Public officials such as teachers, firefighters or police officers are also barred from wearing any overt symbol of their religion while they are at work.

In 2004, President Jacques Chirac’s government banned all religious signs from state schools. While the law also banned crucifixes and kippas, “it was mostly aimed at girls wearing Muslim headscarves,” explained The Local’s columnist, John Lichfield.

Burkinis are also subject to certain rules. They are not allowed in public swimming pools in France where there are strict regulations regarding dress (Speedos only for men and compulsory swimming caps), but they are allowed on beaches and in other public spaces.

READ MORE: Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

This became a source of controversy during the summer of 2022, when Grenoble challenged the ban on the full-body swimsuit by relaxing its rules on the swimwear permitted in public pools.

In response to the challenge, France’s highest administrative court voted to uphold the countrywide ban in June. 

What about in athletics?

Some federations, such as the French Football Federation, have banned players from wearing the hijab, along with other “ostentatious” religious symbols such as the Jewish kippa.

A women’s collective known as “les Hijabeuses” launched a legal challenge to the rules in November last year.

Other sports, such as handball and rugby, have a more open position.

Are there plans to change these rules? 

Currently, there are no government plans to reverse the ban on full-face coverings including the burka and niqab or to allow the symbols of religion in public buildings, like schools.

There have been attempts to change the current legal framework on the headscarf, however.

In 2021, Senators proposed an to the government’s “anti-separatism bill” that would ban girls under 18 wearing a hijab in public. Several other amendments also targeted Muslim women – such as banning mums from wearing the hijab when accompanying school trips – however these were all defeated in the Assemblée nationale and therefore did not become law.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What does laïcité (secularism) really mean in France?

Are the rules followed?

The rules around the niqab are generally followed and it has become quite rare in France.

However sociologist Agnès De Féo, believes that in the years following its ban, the full-face covering became more popular, rather than less.

She wrote that “the law had an incentive effect: it incited women to transgress the ban by embracing the prohibited object. Prohibition made the niqab more desirable and created a craze among some young women to defy the law.”

As of 2020, however, fewer women wore the niqab and burka in France than they did in 2009.

The rules around the wearing the headscarf in public buildings are generally respected, but it’s not uncommon for rules around any form of Muslim dress to be over-zealously interpreted – sometimes by accident, sometimes with a cynical political intent.

One key example was in 2019, when Julien Odoul, a member of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, caused widespread outrage after posting a video of himself confronting a headscarf-wearing woman who accompanied students on a field trip.

He cited “secular principles” – arguing that the headscarf’s ban in schools should also extend into school trips.

In response, the country’s Education Minister at the time, Jean-Michel Blanquer, clarified that that “the law does not prohibit women wearing headscarves to accompany children.”

There was also controversy at election time over candidates who appeared on posters wearing the hijab, although again this is perfectly legal and doe snot contravene secular principles.