Everything You Need To Know About Today's French Elections

French Elections

The first round of the French elections is today.

Click here to meet the candidates >
Here’s what you need to know…

The Basics
Held every five years, the President of France is elected by “direct universal suffrage”, which means he or she is elected directly by the people, according to the government’s website. A person can only serve two terms as president (meaning at worst there’s only 4 more years of Sarkozy).

In order to be eligible to stand for the election, candidates have the support (in the form of signatures) of a minimum of 500 elected officials from at least 30 departments, with no more than 10 per cent from the same department — a fact that almost killed Marine Le Pen’s candidacy before it even started.

A number of potential candidates had to drop out of the race because they couldn’t get the required number of signatures in time. What began as a competition between more than 16 candidates has now been officially whittled down to 10, according to France 24.

Remember: There are two rounds
The presidential elections generally take place over two rounds. If a candidate gets an absolute majority of the votes in the first round, the second round becomes redundant and the winner is declared elected.

But if no candidate achieves this in the first round, as is often the case, a second round (May 6) takes place two weeks later: a run-off between the two candidates who won the most votes in the first round.

This is important — if voting goes to the second round, many Le Pen voters might feel compelled to vote for Sarkozy rather than Hollande, for example.

Nicolas Sarkozy (incumbent)

Party: Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) (centre-right)

Sarkozy brash style always seemed out of place to French voters, and he's been behind in most polls since before the race even started -- even taking the title of most unpopular incumbent candidate since WWII. He did see a surge after his statesmanlike conduct during the Toulouse shootings, but at the moment it looks like a case of too little, too late.

Most recent 1st round poll numbers: 24 - 28 per cent

Francois Hollande

Party: Socialist Party (PS) (centre-left)

Despite initial worries that he was a 'marshmallow man', Hollande has managed to craft a fiery campaign that seems to have captured the French public's imagination. His 75% top tax rate and somewhat anti-EU stance might scare the Parisian business elite , but many ordinary French seem to support it.

Most recent 1st round poll numbers: 26 - 30 per cent

Marine Le Pen

Party: National Front (FN) (far-right)

Le Pen has emerged as a serious contender in this election, shedding much of the FN's links to the more unsavory parts of far right culture. However, she seems destined to fail in any second round votes, and may ultimately just have split Sarkozy's core audience.

Most recent 1st round poll numbers: 14 - 17 per cent

Jean-Luc Melenchon

Party: Left Front Coalition (far-left and communist)

For a while it looked like Melenchon would play no role in this election, however in the last few weeks he's shot ahead, effectively likely becoming the third place candidate. His plans -- to cap earnings at €360,000 ($480,000) and impose a 100% tax on anything more -- are more extreme than Hollande's.

Most recent 1st round poll numbers: 24 - 28 per cent


Francois Bayrou

Party: Democratic Movement (MoDem) (centrist)

Bayrou is a veteran, but has struggled to break into the mainstream in this race.

Most recent 1st round poll numbers: 9 - 12 per cent


Eva Joly

Party: Europe Ecology/The Greens (EELV) (environmentalist)

Joly has been overshadowed by the other candidates on the left this year.

Most recent 1st round poll numbers: 1.5 - 3 per cent


Nicolas Dupont-Aignan

Party: Arise the Republic (DLR) (conservative euroskeptic)

Dupont-Aignan seems unlikely to gain anything more than a protest vote.

Most recent 1st round poll numbers: 1 - 2 per cent


Nathalie Arthaud

Party: Workers' Struggle (LO) (Trotskyist)

Not likely to appeal outside the Trotskyist camps.

Most recent 1st round poll numbers: 0 - 1 per cent


Philippe Poutou

Party: New Anti-Capitalist Movement (NPA) (Trotskyist)

Ditto.

Most recent 1st round poll numbers: 0.5 - 2 per cent

Jacques Cheminade

Party: Independent

Cheminade has some fascinating policies -- such as a plan for creating a 'euro-franc', ending all military co-operation with the UK, leaving NATO, and nationalizing all major financial institutions. He seems unlikely to win, however.

Most recent 1st round poll numbers: 0 - 0.5 per cent

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