Voters in France took part in the second round of their presidential election Sunday, choosing François Hollande over Nicolas Sarkozy after the two had topped the list in the country’s first round of voting. But what if Canada adopted a similar electoral system?
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The French were choosing a president, but if Canada adopted this sort of system for our federal elections (and, yes, the French do use a run-off system for their legislative elections) things would be quite different.
The election in France was quite historic, as the Socialists haven't been in power since Mitterand and it has been a while since there was a one-term president. But what the election shows us here on this side of the Atlantic is that the power of incumbency is nevertheless strong, even when that incumbent is as disliked as a Nicolas Sarkozy.
François Hollande won the second round yesterday with 51.6% of the vote against 48.4% for Sarkozy. That is relatively close. The polls were good: Ifop released the final poll and called it at 52% to 48%.
But that represents a significant drop for Hollande. Immediately after Apr. 22's first round, Holland was leading with anything between 53% and 56% of the vote, most of the polls putting his support at 54%. In a one-on-one election, that is a pretty strong result. If we go back to mid-April, Hollande was ahead with between 55% and 58% of the vote (he was also in the 60s further back).
But Sarkozy closed the gap. Hollande represented change, which many French people wanted, but change comes with risk. Many voters appear to have flirted with the idea of that change and risk before reverting back to the devil they knew.
Though it wasn't enough to win him the election, the kind of incumbent-advantage Sarkozy had in the closing days has played a role in Canada's last seven provincial and federal elections. Incumbents are on a roll: the Conservatives federally, the Liberals in P.E.I. and Ontario, the New Democrats in Manitoba, the PCs in Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta, and the Sask. Party in Saskatchewan. That incumbency advantage even helped turn elections around for Dalton McGuinty and Alison Redford.
The incumbents could be on the rocks in Quebec and British Columbia, however, the next two provinces likely to go to the polls. But if the last year is any indication, Jean Charest and Christy Clark can't be written off just yet.