World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

French presidential election, 1981

Article Id: WHEBN0001229204
Reproduction Date:

Title: French presidential election, 1981  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: François Mitterrand, List of Presidents of France, Unified Socialist Party (France), Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Jacques Chirac
Collection: 1981 Elections in France, Presidential Elections in France
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Publication
Date:
 

French presidential election, 1981

French presidential election, 1981

26 April and 10 May 1981

 
Candidate François Mitterrand Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Party PS UDF
Popular vote 15,708,262 14,642,306
Percentage 51.8% 48.2%

Results of the second round: the candidate with the plurality of votes in each administrative division. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing: blue; François Mitterrand: pink

President before election

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
UDF

Elected President

François Mitterrand
PS

The French presidential election of 1981 took place on 10 May 1981, giving the presidency of France to François Mitterrand, the first Socialist president of the Fifth Republic.[1]

In the first round of voting on 26 April 1981, a political spectrum of ten candidates stood for election, and the leading two candidates – Mitterrand and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing – advanced to a second round. Mitterrand and his Socialist Party received 51.76% of the vote, while Giscard and his Union for French Democracy trailed with about 48.24%, a margin of 1,065,956 votes.

The Socialist Party's electoral program was called 110 Propositions for France. Mitterrand served as President of France for the full seven-year term (1981–1988) and won re-election in 1988.

Contents

  • Giscard d'Estaing's government 1
    • Centralisation 1.1
    • Policies 1.2
  • Electoral system 2
    • Division Tactics 2.1
  • Results 3
  • Notes 4
  • Sources 5
  • External links 6

Giscard d'Estaing's government

The most important set of circumstances that gave François Mitterrand the advantage over President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was Giscard’s incumbency itself. Usually, being an incumbent is an advantage. This was not the case, however, during the 1981 French elections. The incumbent seemed to have been cursed with many financial and political misfortunes during his presidential term; these crippling situations included internal matters that he could have controlled (and chose to ignore), and external forces that were beyond the incumbent’s control.

Centralisation

Internal political shortcomings seem to have been at least as responsible as the external factors in causing Giscard's electoral loss. Though a pragmatic leader, Giscard had a haughty and disparaging personality. This made him appear inaccessible not only to the French people themselves but also to other cabinet members whose support he needed to reinforce his political legitimacy.

Moreover, Giscard himself felt that others involved in the political machine were inept and ill-suited to correctly implement his important policy decisions; he therefore took over the most minute details in his policy-making, leaving Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, his ministers, and several layers of civil servants without duties, dissatisfied and ultimately without any power. Frustrated, Chirac resigned in 1976, built his own party and proceeded to lambast Giscard's policies, starting with the December 1978 Call of Cochin. The scene was set for the 1981 election when Chirac, having lost the "primary", failed to fully support Giscard in the second round, clearing the path for Mitterrand to take power.

Policies

Besides Giscard’s almost obsessive control over policy implementation, another internal political shortcoming of the incumbent appeared to be his ineffective tactics for deciding policy strategy. To the public at least, Giscard’s policies seemed to be sporadic, hasty, and ill-timed. His reforms proved unpopular with both the left and the right. In addition, Giscard abandoned other platforms that he had campaigned on in 1974. These policies were often couched as conspicuous (if not overly ambitious) pledges that ended up never quite being undertaken.

(As an indication of Giscard's failing popularity, a poll taken in June 1980 showed that even some people on the Left (15% of Socialists and 13% of Communists) had liked and endorsed Giscard previously because of his reformist attitude. By April 1981, however, his support on the left had dropped dramatically (7% and 1% of Socialists and Communists respectively). And there was no offsetting rise in his support on the Right.

As the election wore on and Chirac joined the race, Giscard had to appeal to his rightist constituency and drop most of these radical views. As a result, his popularity fell and he was thought of as an opportunist.

Finally, Giscard had promised to be open to the opposition in Parliament, but his behaviour in office did not match the expectations he had made for himself. Because of his personality and his control over policy implementation, the executive powers had become highly centralized; control was concentrated in the hands of Giscard and his cabinet composed of a few trusted friends—namely, Michel Poniatowski, a "faithful friend and advisor".

Electoral system

If Giscard’s internal political handicaps had effectively "crippled" him in the initial race, the external factors that decided the 1981 election were a deadly blow. Neatly summarized in an article by Hugh Dauncey: "It was Giscard's double misfortune that his presidency should be blighted both by unprecedented economic difficulties, and by a political system which was stubbornly unreceptive to the ouverture and centralist compromise that he required for his reforms to fully succeed". The electoral and party system (political system) in France had, indeed, undergone many critical changes during the previous years. In particular the introduction of the two-round, majority vote requirement played a large role in the election of 1981. The new electoral system divided the various right and left factions within themselves during the first round, but led to right and left polarization during the second round. This forced the right and left to strategize for both the first and second parts of the election.

Thus in the first round each candidate must present him or herself as the better candidate while being careful not to remove all credibility of his/her fellow right or left candidates, as their opponents may have to run again in the next round against the opposing right or left candidate. (Much as is the case with the primaries in the USA).

In the second round, however, total unity must be achieved. This leads to the movement of both groups toward the center, with coalitions between center groups and extremists within the right and left.

Division Tactics

The new electoral "rules of the game," was one of the most notable factors that decided the 1981 election. The division within the right between the two main rightist factions, Giscard’s Union pour la démocratie française (UDF), and Chirac’s neo-Gaullist Rassemblement pour la République (RPR) proved to be the final blow to Giscard (Painton, par. 12). When Chirac lost the "primary," he refused to advise his supporters to back Giscard in the runoff, though he himself stated he would vote for Giscard. In effect, Chirac refused to endorse Giscard as the sole candidate of the centre-right.

There was also the tactical ingenuity on the part of the Left that brought about Mitterrand’s victory. As author Penniman points out, in a shrewd move, the left gained "strength through disunity." The right’s disunity between the UDF and RPR factions brought about the downfall of their major candidate. The split between the left’s Socialist and Communist Parties, however, allowed the electorate to be more comfortable voting for the Socialists while gaining the Communist Party votes, which retains roughly 20% of the electorate votes.

Results

 Summary of the 26 April and 10 May 1981 French presidential election result
Candidates Parties 1st round 2nd round
Votes % Votes %
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing Union for French Democracy (Union pour la démocratie française) UDF 8,222,432 28.32% 14,642,306 48.24%
François Mitterrand Socialist Party (Parti socialiste) PS 7,505,960 25.85% 15,708,262 51.76%
Jacques Chirac Rally for the Republic (Rassemblement pour la République) RPR 5,225,848 18.00%
Georges Marchais French Communist Party (Parti communiste français) PCF 4,456,922 15.35%
Brice Lalonde Mouvement of Political Ecology (Mouvement d'écologie politique) MEP 1,126,254 3.88%
Arlette Laguiller Workers' Struggle (Lutte Ouvrière) LO 668,057 2.30%
Michel Crépeau Radical Party of the Left (Parti radical de gauche) PRG 642,847 2.21%
Michel Debré Gaullist Miscellaneous Right (Divers droite gaulliste) DVD 481,821 1.66%
Marie-France Garaud Gaullist Miscellaneous Right (Divers droite gaulliste) DVD 386,623 1.33%
Huguette Bouchardeau Unified Socialist Party (Parti socialiste unifié) PSU 321,353 1.11%
Total 29,038,117 100% 30,350,568 100%
Valid votes 29,038,117 98.38% 30,350,568 97.12%
Spoilt and null votes 477,965 1.62% 898,984 2.88%
Turnout 29,516,082 81.09% 31,249,552 85.85%
Abstentions 6,882,777 18.91% 5,149,210 14.15%
Registered voters 36,398,859 36,398,762
Table of results ordered by number of votes received in first round. Official results by Constitutional Council of France.

Source: List of candidates · First round result · Second round result

Notes

  1. ^ Eder, Richard (11 May 1981). "Mitterrand Beats Giscard; Socialist Victory Reverses Trend of 23 Years In France". New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 

Sources

  • Bonfante, Jordan. "Holding Most of the Cards." TIME Europe 23 May 1988. 12 Nov. 2004 [1].
  • Dauncey, Hugh. "The Giscard Presidency 1974–1981: Towards a New France." Contemporary France Online. 12 Nov. 2004 [2].
  • Girardet, Edward. "France Plunges into Socialist Era." Christian Science Monitor. 22 May 1981. LexisNexis. Stetson University Library, DeLand, FL. 22 Nov. 2004 [3].
  • MacCulloch, Nancy and Anita McCarthy, ed. France: History and Culture. Irwindale, CA: Barr Films, 1988. Watched 1 Nov. 2004.
  • Mosby, Aline. "Presidential Hopefuls Wage 'Campaign à la Américaine.'" United Press International. 25 Apr. 1981. LexisNexis. Stetson University Library, DeLand, FL. 22 Nov. 2004 [4].
  • Painton, Frederick. "France Chooses Change." TIME Europe 18 May 1981. 12 Nov. 2004 [5].
  • Penniman, Howard, ed. France at the Polls, 1981 and 1986: Three National Elections. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1988.
  • Safran, William. The French Polity. New York: Longman, 1998.

External links

  • [6] Radio-TV debate Valéry Giscard d'Estaing/François Mitterrand
  • [7] Announcement of the result of the second round on TV
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
 
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
 
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.
 


Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.