Election Notes - Part 2: France and the Apathy Factor


The French Presidential and parliamentary elections meanwhile were the latest example of a different form of political dissatisfaction - and outright political apathy - that has afflicted Western politics of late.

A great deal of analysis of the French Presidential election result concentrated on the convincing victory of Macron over Le Pen. However a key aspect of the story, as with the election of Trump in the US last year, was the increasing impact of political apathy and disillusionment on the destiny of Western democracy.

In the second round of voting in France non-votes and spoilt ballots - a record number of which were cast as voters looked for ways to protest vote - together came second in the poll, 'beating' Le Pen into third.

This follows the decisive role that non-voting - reflecting widespread apathy and active disillusionment in mainstream politics - played in the election in the US of Donald Trump.

A fallacy that has become an accepted 'truth' is that Trump managed to mobilise a massive national vote, but in fact it was non-voting that played a far more decisive role in the election.

While there is no doubt that Trump amassed a large national following that allowed him to surprisingly secure the GOP/Republican presidential nomination, his vote in the Presidential election was not extraordinary, or even unusual. What won Trump the election - or rather what lost it for Hillary Clinton - was around 5 million voters who backed Obama in 2012, but stayed home in 2016. If we make the comparison with 2008 the numbers are even more stark - over 9 million of Obama's voters stayed home rather vote for Hillary in 2016.

And this was in a Presidential election when 4 out of 10 Americans did not deem it important enough to vote at all - a voter turnout percentage all too commonplace now in Western democracies.

The French polls also dramatically demonstrated the increasing impact of disillusionment. In addition to the non-voters, for the first time in the history of the French Republic the final two Presidential candidates were not from the two major parties. A majority - of those who actually chose to cast an eligible vote - wanted any option but the 'usual suspects', a reality reinforced by the victory of Macron's brand-new En Marche! party in the parliamentary elections on June 18.

It was thus non-participation - driven by the toxic mix of apathy and disillusionment - not who-voted-for-who, that is the true story in the US and now in France.

Until the established/mainstream parties, or new parties representing liberal democratic norms, address this toxic mix it will continue to play into the hands of populist, unorthodox and indeed extreme political elements.

Expect more Macrons, Trumps and Le Pens... and more Bernie Sanders' and Jeremy Corbyns too.