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France's Popular Vote Yields an Unpopular Result
In an article written in 2000, I stated that the Electoral College discourages "candidates from being too extreme... A candidate with extreme views might win a few states but couldn't carry the election.... The last proposed amendment to start direct elections said that if any candidate didn't get 40% the top 2 candidates would have a run-off. Now imagine if one of those top 2 candidates included one of the extremist factions". Well, imagine no more!

In France's recent presidential election, incumbent president Jacques Chirac faced off against Jean-Marie Le Pen, an extremist candidate who had the support of very few in the country. The unsurprising result was an 82% to 18% landslide victory for Chirac.

Did anyone really think a neo-fascist (who once said that the Holocaust was a detail of history and who had several convictions and fines against him from French courts) had any chance against the moderate incumbent? Was this a setup by the government to ensure a win for the incumbent? Did no one else want to run against Chirac? No, the real story here is France's popular vote based two-phase election system. And behind the story may be a lesson for those who want to change our electoral system after the results of the 2000 election.

In France, the electorate usually expects to head to the polls twice to elect their president. In the first round of voting, if no candidate gets 50% of the vote then the top two finishers face off in the second phase.

In 2002, 16 candidates competed in phase one, including conservative President Chirac and leftist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who were expected to move on to round two. Instead, Chirac ended up with 20% of the vote, with Le Pen receiving 17% and Jospin 16%.

While other factors (such as some voters staying home or others trying to send a message) probably contributed to Le Pen making it to the run-off, France's election system made it possible - indeed, likely - that this kind of situation would happen.

The bottom line is that popular vote systems encourage more candidates to run, and when more candidates are running, fewer votes are needed to win (or make it to a run-off). When fewer votes needed to win, fringe candidates can take advantage of the situation by consolidating their constituency and making sure they go to the polls.

Let's break that down and look at each point.

POPULAR VOTE SYSTEMS ENCOURAGE MORE CANDIDATES TO RUN

In a popular vote system, by definition, every vote cast for a candidate counts in that candidates total. Parties are irrelevant. In fact, parties as we know them in the United States would cease to exist in a popular vote system. One of two things would happen. One: a party would run numerous candidates in the hopes that two would make it to the run-off, locking the other parties out. Or two - and more likely: each of the two major parties would splinter into many parties, as factions realize they don't need to compromise their beliefs to win elections.

For example, let's say the Democrats have five candidates trying to win the presidential nomination:

  • Candidate A is known for their strong support of women's issues
  • Candidate B is known for their strong support of enviornmental issues
  • Candidate C is known for their strong support of African-American issues
  • Candidate D one is known for their strong support of pro-choice isssues
  • Candidate E is a more moderate candidate who supports these causes to varing degrees.

Let's assume Candidate E wins the nomination. There would be no reason for Candidates A, B, C, and D not to withdraw their support from the Democratic party and run by themselves. In fact, a lot of Democratic voters would probably prefer a split over a compromise candidate, since every vote cast for their candidate will count the same as every vote cast for the actual Democratic nominee.

WHEN MORE CANDIDATES ARE RUNNING, FEWER VOTES ARE NEEDED TO WIN (OR MAKE IT TO A RUN-OFF)

This is just simple math! Using the example above of 5 Democratic candidates running, and assuming the Republicans also split and run 5 candidates, we have 10 candidates. The bare minumum number of votes needed to win is just over 10%! You could theoretically make it to a runoff election with even less support.

The rest of this article is missing. I'll search through my files to find the rest or maybe rewrite it at a later date!

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