Jul 9, 2024

The surprise French election results.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon's coalition surprised pollsters and pundits. IMage: Flickr / The Left
Jean-Luc Mélenchon's coalition surprised pollsters and pundits. IMage: Flickr / The Left

Plus, a reader question about our coverage of RFK Jr.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 10 minutes.

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Today, we are taking a look at the election results in France. Plus, a reader question about RFK Jr. and a surprising "under the radar" story.

Project 2025.

In the last few weeks, one of the most popular requests we’ve gotten in Tangle is to report on Project 2025. We have been working on a story, but waiting to finish it until we could interview one of the people involved with the project. That interview finally happened. So, on Friday, we’ll be releasing our story on Project 2025 for Tangle members.


Quick hits.

  1. President Biden will attend a gathering of NATO leaders in Washington today after continuing to insist he will stay in the 2024 race. (The summit) Separately, amid concerns about Biden's health, a Parkinson's expert reportedly visited the White House eight times in eight months, though the White House physician denied the visits had anything to do with Biden’s health. (The visits)
  2. At least 41 civilians were killed and more than 100 were wounded by a barrage of Russian missile strikes in Ukraine, including one on the country's largest children's hospital in the capital of Kyiv. (The strikes)
  3. Columbia University removed three administrators from their positions after text messages surfaced showing them making disparaging remarks about the campus’s Jewish community. (The removals)
  4. The number of people without power in Texas rose to 3 million after Hurricane Beryl made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane. (The storm)
  5. The Republican National Committee removed federal limits on abortion from its party platform, opting instead for a states-led approach championed by former President Donald Trump. (The change)

Today's topic.

The French elections. Over the weekend, a leftist coalition called the New Popular Front (NFP) won a plurality of seats in the 2024 French legislative election in a surprise upset over a right-wing movement that was expected to dominate the election. However, the New Popular Front failed to win a majority, leaving open the possibility of a hung parliament, which would be an unprecedented outcome in French history.

Reminder: France is in the middle of a snap parliamentary election. On June 9th, after French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance Party lost to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally Party (RN) in the European Union elections, Macron dissolved the National Assembly (the lower house in France’s parliament) and called for a snap parliamentary election. France splits its executive branch duties between its elected president and its prime minister, who is selected by its parliament. The current prime minister is Gabriel Attal, who is also from Macron’s party but plans to resign in the near future.

Pollsters and pundits in France widely predicted that these elections would lead to France’s first far-right government since World War II. However, after two rounds of voting, Le Pen’s RN finished third behind the NFP and Macron’s centrist Ensemble coalition. Prior to the second round of the elections, over 200 centrist and left-wing candidates strategically dropped out of their races in a bid to limit the RN’s legislative gains. 

Now what: No single party or alliance won a majority of seats in the National Assembly, meaning the country could be left with a hung Parliament if the fractured political groups are unable to form a governing coalition. Parliamentary coalitions are not common in France, so the government will face a considerable challenge to stabilize by the start of the 2024 Olympic games in Paris on July 26.

In the wake of Sunday’s result, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left leader of the NFP, demanded parliament name him prime minister and called on Macron to allow the NFP to govern. Le Pen, meanwhile, framed the defeat as sowing seeds for the future, noting that RN gained seats and suggested the party’s victory is “merely postponed" — a reference to her aspiration to win the 2027 presidential election at the end of Macron’s term.

The surprise results came just days after Keir Starmer became the United Kingdom’s new prime minister. Starmer’s Labour party won 412 of the parliament’s 650 seats, ending 14 years of Conservative dominance in Britain and resetting the country’s politics.

Today, we’re going to take a look at some reactions to the French elections, with some takes from abroad and here in the U.S. Then, my take.


What the left is saying.

  • The left is heartened by the defeat of Le Pen’s National Rally, but some worry that the far-right remains ascendant. 
  • Others suggest the results show a sudden embrace of progressive policies.

In The Washington Post, Lee Hockstader wrote about “relief and elation at a ‘victory’ that might be Pyrrhic.”

“The elation among center and left French voters arises mainly from pre-election polls that turned out to be massively wrong… But beating flawed polls isn’t the same as winning. On the numbers, National Rally, until recently seen as beyond the pale, remains on a meteoric trajectory,” Hockstader said. “Setting aside that shortfall vs. expectations, National Rally’s rise — a 60 percent increase in legislative seats in just two years — is staggering. Its momentum is clear.”

“Le Pen’s most useful asset might be Macron himself, whose bloc lost one-third of its legislative seats in Sunday’s election, a disastrous result even though it bested polling predictions. The president — highhanded, brimming with self-regard — is the object of every political faction’s disdain,” Hockstader wrote. “Lacking the votes to form a government on its own, the left or some part of it might have no choice but to enter a coalition of convenience with Macron’s bloc if France is to avoid paralysis.”

In Newsweek, Aron Solomon said “France's lurch to the left is seismic.”

“For those looking for an American analogy for Sunday in France, there simply isn't one. The best I've got is that while Lucy was about to pull away the football as Charlie Brown kicked it, a jaguar ate them both and the ball rolled to Snoopy, who realized it was made of solid gold,” Solomon wrote. “Where we are today is witnessing a seismic shift in the French political landscape and a shocking triumph of a far-left governing coalition has practically defied comprehension throughout the nation and beyond. This unprecedented outcome, defying predictions and historical patterns, signifies not merely a political victory but a profound transformation in the country's ideological terrain.”

The NFP “built its campaign on promises of sweeping reforms… These policies resonated profoundly with a population increasingly disillusioned by the status quo and the perceived inadequacies of centrist and right-wing governance,” Solomon said. “Sunday's election did more than just put a new set of leaders into power; it exposed deep-seated frustrations and aspirations among the French people. The traditional parties, particularly those on the center-right and center-left, found themselves badly outflanked by a surprisingly slick coalition that promised not just change, but actual societal transformation.”


What the right is saying.

  • The right says the elections produced surprising results but few true winners. 
  • Others frame the outcome as a temporary setback for the French conservative movement.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote “Macron loses as the left rises in France.”

“So much for the right-wing takeover of the French Republic. French voters on Sunday appear to have handed a narrow plurality to the political left while producing a divided National Assembly. None of this will make life easier for French President Emmanuel Macron, who was the main architect of this political muddle,” the board said. “Everyone but the left is a loser here… But the RN still has increased its seat count in the newly elected National Assembly from 87 in the last one, and everyone will remember that RN and its allies led last weekend’s first round with 33% of the vote.”

“Mr. Macron’s party’s likely drop to second place in the new assembly shows that for many voters this became an anyone-but-Macron strategy. French voters are as worried as ever about immigration, assimilation, crime and an aloof political class,” the board wrote. “Macron bet that voters remain uncertain enough about Ms. Le Pen that they’d think twice before electing her party. But his informal partners may prove as off-putting to voters the more the French see them in action. Mr. Macron and his unlikely allies have three years until the next presidential election to prove they’re better than Ms. Le Pen would be at solving the problems that matter to voters.”

In The Washington Examiner, Jeremiah Poff argued the victory “will be short-lived” for France’s left flank.

“The results of Sunday’s second-round parliamentary elections were far from the rebuke of Marine Le Pen’s right-wing National Rally party that it was portrayed as. To begin with, no party received as many votes as the National Rally party did… But due to the electoral system of the nation, both the far-left New Popular Front and Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Ensemble party secured more seats in the nation’s Parliament,” Poff said. “Nevertheless, the National Rally won 53 more seats in Parliament than it won in the previous election. The only reason that the result was seen as a disappointment for the Right was due to pre-election projections that the party would be the largest in Parliament.

“The French Parliament will now be so bitterly divided that gridlock will rule in the short term, and new elections will loom as a possibility as long as the current partisan makeup of the legislature endures. No party secured even close to the number of seats necessary to form a working majority, and a coalition between bitterly divided rivals seems unlikely. Should new elections be called before 2029, the National Rally’s rise is likely to continue, and the revival of the Left in France will prove to be nothing more than a mirage.”


What writers in Europe are saying.

  • Some French commentators are relieved by the result but worry that stable governance will prove elusive in the years ahead.
  • Other writers in Europe criticize Macron for leading France to this chaotic moment.

In Le Monde, Jérôme Fenoglio wrote about “putting an end to the worst of politics.”

“On Sunday, a clear majority of French people rejected the worst of politics, casting their votes against the more than 9 million fellow citizens who voted for the RN. But this number alone prevents us from feeling more than a brief sense of relief,” Fenoglio said. “The far-right party continues to have strong support across large swathes of the country. By gaining several dozen seats, it will bolster its finances and send its largest-ever representation in the new Assemblée Nationale. It will also take advantage of the opportunity to further develop its grassroots network, which is a key aspect of its strategy to gain recognition.”

“With this new Assemblée, and a majority yet to be built, there is an opportunity to implement a different policy, one that is calmer but no less resolute. This entails preventing the far right from monopolizing the support of those who feel abandoned, by addressing issues such as access to healthcare, education and public services, the quest for fairness in the climate transition, the reduction of inequalities, the dismantling of urban ghettos and the fight against drug trafficking, which are driving the RN vote.”

In The Telegraph, John Keiger said “Macron has made France ungovernable.”

“France’s shock election result giving the radical Left-wing New Popular Front coalition the largest grouping in the National Assembly signals a u-turn for French politics. But the overall result implies something far more grave for the Fifth Republic,” Keiger wrote. “For a political system which for 66 years has had no culture of compromise, forming a durable European style rainbow coalition will be painful, and may test the regime to destruction.”

“The Fifth Republic is an astute blend of British parliamentarianism and American presidentialism. It produced stable governing majorities until Emmanuel Macron dynamited the major parties in 2017 by creating his extreme centre. Convinced that France had attained centrist nirvana he paid little heed to the radical fringes. Now they have engulfed his world,” Keiger said. “For the last seven years Emmanuel Macron boasted of his hyper-presidentialism, Jupiter, maître des horloges. The National Assembly became a mere rubber stamp for presidential policies. When the Chamber dared contest them, like pension age reform, a constitutional device railroaded bills through without a vote. That hubris got its comeuppance yesterday.”


My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • You should go read the writers above if you haven’t yet. 
  • While it can’t really be compared to U.S. elections, there are some analogies we can make.
  • Ultimately, the starkest reminder here is that polls don’t always tell the full story. 

If you are one of those people who skips what the left and right are saying and heads straight down to "my take," you should scroll back up and read what the writers above have said about this election. Every one of them has a deeper and more meaningful understanding of French politics and the implications of this outcome than I do, and you should probably weigh their opinions more than the one I'm about to give.

This race caught my interest mostly through my own self-centered lens. As a Jew, I was very interested in stories about how Jews in France were struggling with their decision in the election. National Rally has taken a strong pro-Israel stance, but its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen is widely (and rightly) described as an antisemite. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the leftist bloc that prevailed, is ardently pro-Palestine, but has also been accused of veering into antisemitism with his rhetoric. President Macron has described the leftist bloc as "guilty of antisemitism," and many French Jews agree — feeling stuck between two blocs that don’t represent them.

I’m also fascinated by how aspects of this election mirror issues facing the U.S. Based on everything I've read, Aron Solomon (under "What the left is saying") is correct: There simply isn't a U.S. analogy appropriate to explain this election outcome. But I think it can be framed in a way to make it easier for our mostly American audience to comprehend. Imagine our most progressive politicians — think Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or a more experienced Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) — becoming Senate majority leader or Speaker of the House and suddenly having the largest coalition in Congress. Now imagine that happening in an election Donald Trump was expected to win, bringing a governing majority with him.

It is, simply put, left-wing populism ascendant — with a focus on fighting economic inequality, aggressively addressing climate change, and expanding welfare programs. It's hard to overstate exactly how big the changes could be if Mélenchon gets what he wants. He has promised to freeze prices on food, energy, and fuel; to tax the rich to the tune of $162 billion; to undo Macron’s increase in pension age from 62 to 64, instead lowering it to 60; and to raise the monthly minimum wage to 1,600 euros, or about $1,700. Of course, Mélenchon isn’t going to get everything he wants. He is going to need to find a way to form a coalition, which will require compromise uncommon in French politics, so it’s not entirely clear yet how this will all play out.

Also, it's worth noting Mélenchon also has a reputation for loathing the U.S. and Americans, telling Le Monde in 2011 that the "Yankees represent everything I detest... A pretentious and arrogant empire, made up of ignoramuses, of pitiful leaders." It will be interesting to see if outright resentment of the U.S. becomes prominent enough in France’s parliament to impact foreign policy (though that typically falls under the president’s purview, not the prime minister’s). 

Perhaps most interesting is that Mélenchon and his coalition pulled this off despite 73% of the French having negative opinions of him — a larger negativity share than Le Pen has. His victory isn't just being credited to a divided opposition, but also a masterful campaign that focused on reaching young voters through social media and large in-person rallies. American politicians could take note, though neither major-party candidate in our upcoming election seems particularly interested in prioritizing younger voters.

More broadly, this outcome paired with the United Kingdom's recent elections undercuts the narrative of a far-right on the rise across Europe. Headline after headline has been written about that trend as a statement of fact, but the truth seems to be more nuanced — that the center is dissolving, while more fringe elements on the right and left are gaining popularity. It’s true that Le Pen’s National Rally party continues to gain seats every year, but the right-wing movement presumably coalescing in Europe seems to be deeply divided, which leaves a lot of questions about just how influential or powerful it will be.

As our election season ramps up, my final takeaway would be this: Polls are indicators, but votes still matter most. When people ask me why I think Democrats still have an advantage in the 2024 election despite so many polls showing Trump and Republicans ahead, my answer is always the same — look at the election results. In France, a smart campaign and a fractured opposition proved how little polls matter. In the U.S., Democrats have continued to outperform polls and win competitive elections since 2016. 

Until that pattern changes, I think polling is just one piece of a much larger puzzle — it can guide us, show us trends, and give clues about what lies ahead;, but voters will write the final chapter. 

Take the survey: What do you think of France’s election results? Let us know!

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Your questions, answered.

Q: Tangle did a pretty good job covering the debate except for one thing - why did you not talk more about RFK Jr. and The Real Debate? So many people don’t like the two choices for candidates and want a third but there is a third option, the media machine just won’t talk about it. Why?

— Rod from Naperville, IL

Tangle: Just speaking for ourselves: It’s not that we’re refusing to talk about Robert F. Kennedy Jr. after the last presidential debate, it’s just that he missed the cut and didn’t make it onto the stage. 

You’re right about a lot of corporate media outlets ignoring Kennedy or downplaying his campaign. And you’re right that partisan outlets either prop up their preferred candidate or tear down their opposing party (that’s something we’re trying to fight at Tangle), and there’s not a lot of room in that model for a third option. So if you’re asking why many media outlets are ignoring Kennedy, it’s simply so they can focus on Biden or Trump. 

I’ll add that I think that’s opportunism, but not necessarily a permanent flaw in our media ecosystem. Extremely partisan media is partially a consequence of our two-party system, where we have low-turnout primaries that advance candidates who don’t represent most Americans, leaving us encouraged to vote more against a candidate in the general election than for one. 

Tangle hasn’t ignored Kennedy, either: We took a deep dive into his campaign a few weeks ago and have dedicated three other editions to his candidacy in the past year. In the most recent piece, we acknowledged the strength of Kennedy’s campaign and the persistence of his support. We also made the point that Kennedy’s team is going to get one big opportunity to make a push this election: getting on enough state ballots to qualify for the second debate.

Every day, we have to decide where to stop writing, and frankly, there was plenty to discuss with the Biden-Trump debate without even getting into Kennedy’s competing event. In that regard, we have to make a subjective judgment, and we simply didn’t think his actions on debate night — running a live stream where he kind of awkwardly answered questions and played along with the debate running in the background — were that elucidating. But we’ll continue to track his campaign as it makes a push for the second debate, will share any major updates as they come, and will give him his share of coverage if he makes it onto the ABC News stage.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


Under the radar.

Some American counties best known for being left behind after manufacturing centers moved overseas are making remarkable comebacks. The counties, largely concentrated in the Southeast and Midwest, are adding jobs and new businesses at the fastest pace since Bill Clinton’s presidency. “This is the kind of thing that we couldn’t have even dreamed about five or six years ago,” said John Lettieri, the president of the Economic Innovation Group, about a report his group released this week. Researchers are struggling to explain the phenomenon, but some believe the pandemic disrupted long-running patterns where Americans live and work, causing many to flee cities for remote jobs or to start companies in smaller areas. Others think pandemic assistance boosted people out of patterns of poverty or allowed them to build up savings to start businesses or look for new jobs. The New York Times has the story.


Numbers.

  • 289. The number of legislative seats needed to control France’s 577-seat National Assembly. 
  • 182. The number of seats won by the New Popular Front in Sunday’s election, the most of any coalition.
  • 168. The number of seats won by French President Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble coalition in Sunday’s election.
  • 245. The number of seats won by Ensemble in France’s 2022 legislative elections.
  • 30%. Macron’s approval rating as of June 27, according to Politico.
  • 37%. The percentage of French voters who said they intended to support National Rally candidates in the legislative elections on June 28, two days before voting began, according to polling averages from The Economist.
  • 37%. The approximate percentage of total votes received by National Rally candidates after the second round of the elections.
  • 29%. The percentage of French voters who said they intended to support New Popular Front candidates in the elections.
  • 26%. The approximate percentage of total votes received by New Popular Front candidates after the second round of the elections.
  • 21%. The percentage of French voters who said they intended to support Ensemble candidates in the elections.
  • 25%. The approximate percentage of total votes received by Ensemble candidates after the second round of the elections.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we had just written about Biden’s student debt plan getting struck down.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter was the explanation for why medieval manuscripts show so many knights fighting snails.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Some hot tips for managing heat strokes.
  • Yesterday’s survey: A record 2,635 readers answered our survey about whether Biden should drop out of the presidential race with 62% strongly supporting the idea. “Everyone is concerned about his performance between now and election day, I am more concerned about his ability 2-3 years from now if he wins,” one respondent said.

Have a nice day.

In Zimbabwe, grandmothers are traditionally seen as a source of wisdom. Inspired by this convention, a form of mental health therapy has emerged that consists of an individual in need speaking to an older woman equipped with basic therapeutic training on a bench in the community. The technique has proven so effective that it has spread to parts of Vietnam, Botswana, Malawi, Kenya, and Tanzania. Both New York City and Washington, D.C., are also piloting initiatives inspired by the Zimbabwean approach. ABC News has the story. 


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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.