Record abstention, high score from Xavier Bertrand, a declining RN and LREM eliminated, the first round of the regional in Hauts-de-France was not stingy in surprises. To analyze this election, 20 minutes asked the Lille political scientist
Remi Lefebvre, professor of political science at the University of Lille.
Abstention reached 67% in Hauts-de-France on Sunday. How do you explain this low participation?
I think Hauts-de-France is like the country. It is really a general phenomenon in all regions. It is both cyclical and structural. In the region, there is a massive abstention from popular categories. There is also a general misunderstanding of the rules of the game of these regional and departmental elections with a lack of knowledge of the skills.
I also had a lot of feedback from people who discovered on Sunday that we were voting for two elections. People no longer understand anything, including the people who vote. There is a real lack of interest in politics, a misunderstanding of the rules of the game but also an extreme nationalization of the regions which has reinforced the distrust of the voters. It all creates the feeling of something very political. There is disgust but also a lot of indifference. Voters think these elections don’t make sense and it won’t change anything for them so they won’t vote.
Does that pose a problem of democratic legitimacy for elected officials?
Totally and it is catastrophic. When you have such a turnout, elections don’t mean much. We have yet crossed a new threshold. We are well beyond the 50% abstention and it is really starting to get annoying. Where are we going to stop? This electoral game no longer makes sense. We have elected officials who are not legitimate. There are hardly any more than elderly, politicized or educated voters who vote. It makes the electoral exercise totally artificial.
Is it becoming worrying for democracy?
So we can always be reassured in two ways. By first saying that it is linked to the health context. Even if I think, that it only plays at the margin. And also telling themselves that people are only interested in one election: the presidential election. So much for the optimistic version of it. But for me, we can’t stop at that. It is catastrophic because it gives too much importance to the presidential election. And there are issues in regional and departmental elections. So yes, it is very disturbing.
Despite everything, what analysis do you make of the results of the first round in Hauts-de-France?
There is especially the huge score of Xavier Bertrand (41.39%). I think the people who went to vote did so for the most identified person. They cling to the benchmarks that remain. That is to say Xavier Bertrand who enjoys a significant notoriety. And in his case, we can say that the nationalization of the ballot was profitable to him. We could find it odd that he was running for the regional elections to be a presidential candidate. But in fact, it made him visible and gave him an aura that he might not have had had he not been a presidential candidate. It clearly mobilized his camp.
Conversely, with 24.37% of the vote, the RN is below its scores achieved in recent years in the region …
The abstention did not help the RN. In previous elections like the regional ones of 2015, the electorate of the RN, as it was protesting, mobilized in this type of election. But there, he did not mobilize and from a certain point of view, it is the mark of a trivialization of the RN. As it becomes commonplace, voters who used to protest this vote no longer use it much. And then, Sébastien Chenu is less mobilizing than Marine Le Pen in 2015 (who had reached more than 40% in the first round).
Has the RN hit its glass ceiling in the region?
No because I do not think at all that these elections are predictive of many things for the presidential election of 2022. It is an election distorted by abstention. To say that the chances of the far right are in jeopardy is not true. In the same way that we cannot say that LREM and Macron are badly embarked after the slap received at the regional. It is not sure at all.
What do you think of the score of the united left which came in third place with 18.99% of the vote?
It’s a very bad score. That’s as much as the PS list alone in 2015. It’s really problematic. Karima Delli had a good campaign but is fishing for her lack of notoriety. And then, I also think that part of the traditional and popular electorate of the PS and the PC did not want to vote for a green candidate. It undoubtedly demobilized socialist voters resistant to ecology. There are still people on the left who think that it is not for the Greens to lead a list.
For its part, the LREM list (9.14%) will not even be in the second round. How do you explain it?
They have an even weaker territorial presence than in the other regions. LREM is an off-ground party and you cannot win regional if you do not have local roots with elected officials on the ground. And then the minister’s visit to the region was counterproductive. It really gave the impression of a Parisian party, disconnected from reality. This is a huge mistake and it has reinforced the Parisian side of En Marche completely absent from the territories.
Do you understand LREM’s call to vote for Xavier Bertrand in the second round when there is no Republican front?
I have a hypothesis. I think it’s a way of saying in anticipation that they will have contributed to Xavier Bertrand’s victory if he wins the second round by a large margin. There is the idea of playing the Republican front but also of taking part of his victory in order to weaken it. It is a pure political calculation in view of the presidential election of 2020.
What will be at stake in a second round where Xavier Bertrand will leave largely favorite?
This will be Xavier Bertrand’s score. It is in his interest to mark the second round of his mark because he wants to kill the match on the right against Pécresse and Wauquiez. A very good score in the second round with a triumphant election with more than 50% of the vote can really help him towards 2022.