The French Socialist Party held the first round a presidential primary to select a candidate for the 2017 presidential election on 22 January 2017, and will hold a runoff on 29 January between Benoît Hamon and Manuel Valls. It will be the second open primary (primaires citoyennes) held by the center-left coalition, after the primary in 2011 in which François Hollande defeated Martine Aubry to become the Socialist nominee. Hollande went on to defeat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election. However, because of his low approval rating, he announced that he would not seek re-election, becoming the first president of the Fifth Republic to decide not to run for a second term. The primary is contested by seven candidates, four from the Socialist Party and three representing other parties part of the left-wing electoral alliance (la Belle Alliance populaire).
The three frontrunners in the primary are Manuel Valls, who served as Hollande’s Prime Minister from 2014 to 2016 and interior minister from 2012 to 2014; Benoît Hamon, Minister of National Education in 2014; and Arnaud Montebourg, Minister of the Economy, Production Recovery and the Digital Sector from 2012 to 2014. On 22 January, Hamon received 36.35% and Valls 31.11% of the vote in the first round and advanced to the runoff, far ahead of all other candidates and well ahead of Montebourg, who was eliminated and immediately endorsed Hamon.
The selection of the candidate of the French Socialist Party (PS) by activists was planned since the adoption of statutes at the Epinay Congress in 1971, and the PS ran closed primaries, among party members only, before the 1995 and 2007 presidential elections. In June 2010, prior to the 2012 election, the party decided to open the primary to all citizens, and not only members of the PS, and in October 2011, it held its first open primary which led to the selection of François Hollande as its nominee in the subsequent election, won by the PS. In the party’s Toulouse Congress following the 2011 primary, the principle of open primaries for future presidential elections with the involvement and support of other left-wing political parties was adopted. Given the unpopularity of incumbent president Hollande, discussions were held regarding the possibility of a primary before the 2017 election and its parameters.
In February 2016, the First Secretary of the French Socialist Party, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, publicly indicated his support for a primary election within the party. The primary was announced on 19 June 2016. It is the first time a party with an incumbent president has held a primary election for over 50 years. Europe Ecology – The Greens, the Communist Party and the Left Party, as well as smaller left-wing parties, will not participate in the primary. However, the Radical Party of the Left and the Union of Democrats and Ecologists will participate. On 17 December 2016, after the close of nominations two days earlier, the High Authority for the French Left Primary declared that the nominations for seven candidates had been validated: four candidates from the Socialist Party, the leaders of the Union of Democrats and Ecologists, the leader of the Democratic Front, and a member of the Radical Party of the Left.
The primary was held against the backdrop of the unpopularity of the ruling Socialists and the fragmentation of the left between three major candidates, with polls indicating that the party’s candidate would come in fifth, behind the National Front‘s Marine Le Pen, François Fillon of the centre-right Republicans, Emmanuel Macron, former economy minister under Hollande who founded his the centrist political movement, En Marche!, and far-left ex-Socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon under the banner of Unsubmissive France. With left-wing votes split between Macron, Mélenchon, and the Socialist candidate, none is likely to advance to the second round. Macron, the “third man” in the French presidential election and a protegé cultivated by Hollande, founded En Marche! in April 2016, seeking to bridge a “left-right divide” and positioning himself as a liberal economic reformer left-wing on social issues. Like Macron, Mélenchon has become a stalwart critic of Hollande and his Socialist government, and his bid presents a further threat to the electoral success of the Socialists in the election. Despite the Socialists facing the prospect of a humiliating defeat, both Macron and Mélenchon refused to drop their presidential bids, and the Socialists remain insistent on fielding a presidential candidate.
Former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg, who also ran for the nomination of the Socialists in 2011, was one of the first to declare interest in a speech at Mont Beuvray on 16 May 2016, widely viewed as indicating his interest in running for the presidency, in which he issued a “call” to “build” a “great alternative project for France” to an audience of 200 Socialist Party militants. Among those in attendance were former minister Aurélie Filippetti, as well as MPs Christian Paul, chief among the party’s rebels, having had a part in the foundation of the New Socialist Party caucus along with Montebourg, Laurent Baumel and Patrice Prat. Montebourg officially declared his candidacy on 16 August, decrying Hollande’s betrayal of the “ideals of the left” in Frangy-en-Bresse in his home département of Saône-et-Loire, and laid out an anti-globalization campaign platform based on protectionism for French businesses, threats to nationalize predatory banks, and tax breaks for the middle class, themes which became central to his campaign. These themes were reflective of his combative tenure as economy minister, in which he threatened to nationalize divisions of ArcelorMittal and attempted but ultimately failed to to prevent General Electric‘s partial acquisition of French multinational Alstom.
Former French education minister Benoît Hamon, another founder of the New Socialist Party caucus, declared his candidacy on the same day, arguing that Hollande could “no longer earn the French people’s trust” and proposed to raise the minimum wage, to further reduce the 35-hour workweek instituted by the Socialists in 2000 to 32 hours, a €35 billion stimulus for the French economy, and legalizing marijuana. His signature campaign plan, however, was his intention to introduce a €300–400 billion universal basic income program funded by a tax on robots, equivalent to a monthly income of approximately €750 per person. Like Montebourg, he was ejected from the Socialist government by prime minister Manuel Valls in a wider purge of left-wing dissenters after the fall of the First Valls Government in August 2014. On 1 December 2016, incumbent President François Hollande announced in a televised address from the Élysée Palace that he would not seek a second term in office, clearing the way for Valls to enter the race, who subsequently announced his candidacy on 5 December.
Valls, Montebourg, and Hamon ultimately became the main three contenders for the Socialist nomination, but several other candidates ultimately participated in the primary. Former Minister of National Education Vincent Peillon made a late bid to become the Socialist nominee, announcing his candidacy on 11 December, returning from a two-and-a-half-year residency in Switzerland in which he taught philosophy at the University of Neuchâtel and wrote novels; his bid contrasts with those of Montebourg and Hamon, representing the mainstream Socialist Party as opposed to its left-wing rebels. Three other candidates, not of the Socialist Party, also ran in the primary as members of the parties of la Belle Alliance Populaire, a left-wing grouping. Among these were MP François de Rugy, representing the Ecologist Party which he founded along with Senator Jean-Vincent Placé after leaving the EELV in August 2015 over concerns about the party pandering to its left wing; Sylvia Pinel of the Radical Party of the Left (PRG), and Jean-Luc Bennahmias, who left the Democratic Movement to found his own centre-left party, the Democratic Front.
Several other candidates also filed petitions to run in the primary, including Senator Marie-Noëlle Lienemann, Gérard Filoche, Fabien Verdier, and Pierre Larrouturou. Despite initially contemplating running, Lienemann decided not to run in the primary on 9 December, worried about the splitting of votes between candidates of the party’s left wing – Montebourg and Hamon – and urging them to unite forces. Although she stated that she faced pressure to withdraw her candidacy, these pressures were not a factor in her recusal from the primary. Filoche, a trade unionist, failed to secure the necessary number of sponsors to enter the primary (though he attempted to lodge a challenge against the decision of the High Authority), as did Verdier. Both men claimed that, because they represented other left-wing parties (Parti politique Filoche2017 and Convictions, respectively), they were not bound by the requirement to seek sufficient support, as with Pinel, de Rugy, and Bennahmias; nevertheless, the decision to exclude both was reaffirmed. Larrouturou’s application was rejected because his New Deal party was not a member of the left-wing alliance for the primary, as were those of Bastien Faudot of the Citizen and Republican Movement and Sébastien Nadot of the Movement of Progressives.
|Polling: Who was the most convincing candidate during this debate?|
|Debate||Poll source||Among all respondents||Among left-wing sympathizers|
|* conducted among viewers of the debate
** among those aware of the debate
excluding “none of these candidates”
among those intending to vote in the primary as opposed to left-wing sympathizers
The unpopularity of incumbent president Hollande led to widespread speculation as to whether he would choose to run for re-election, facing fierce competition within his own party in the Socialist primary; when he ultimately renounced his candidacy on 1 December 2016, he cleared the way for prime minister Manuel Valls to enter the field on 5 December.Valls, considered the “natural successor” to Hollande and whose attempts to modernize the Socialist Party have been characterized as similar to those of Tony Blair with the British Labour Party, earned a reputation for his law-and-order approach as prime minister, instituting business-friendly supply-side reforms and taking a tough position on migration, at one point even questioning whether Islam was compatible with the French Republic; all these views placed him well to the right wing of his party. Valls’ important role in Hollande’s government resulted in him becoming similarly unpopular, even within his own party and on the left.
On 15 December, he declared that if elected president, he would abolish article 49-3, an executive degree enshrined within the Constitution of France. He controversially used it as prime minister to force laws through the National Assembly, bypassing legislative approval, to send them directly to the Senate, and his repudiation of the 49-3 was met with derision, Valls having used it to force through controversial labour reforms in the El Khomri law and the reformist Macron law, moves often described as indicative of his authoritarian tendencies. Valls further attempted to portray himself as a candidate “profoundly of the left” by backing down on his earlier tough tone towards labour, promising not to institute any further reforms to France’s 35-hour workweek – beloved by the French left – nor its labour laws, instead taking an anti-austerity tone; despite this, his campaign was overshadowed by past policies such as the abolition of the wealth tax.
Unveiling his platform on 3 January 2017, he proposed a 2.5% increase in public spending contingent on annual economic growth of 1.9% while keeping the deficit below the 3% of GDP requirement mandated by the Stability and Growth Pact, the creation a “decent income” of €800 for all adult French nationals, halving the gender pay gap in France, a “pause” in the enlargement of the European Union, the addition of a charter of secularism to the Constitution, and the consolidation of the nuclear industry. Valls was physically attacked twice during the campaign; the first incident occurred on 22 December 2016, in which he was flour-bombed by a protester screaming “We do not forget the 49-3. We don’t forgive it,” a reference to his claim that he would abolish the constitutional provision he twice used to bypass legislative approval, during a visit to a Christmas market in Strasbourg. The second incident, on 17 January 2017, involved an apparent Breton nationalist who slapped him during a campaign stop in Lamballe; although Valls initially brushed the episode off, saying “it’s nothing,” he later made to press charges, saying “Democracy cannot be about violence.”
Valls’ most prominent opponent was initially considered to be former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg, who formally unveiled his platform in Paris on 3 January. The left-wing firebrand proclaimed that French employees should receive wage rises equivalent to executives’ in order to constrain corporate pay and called for a “supertax” on banks to raise €5 billion a year. Challenged by former education minister Benoît Hamon, who argued that the focus on economic growth and employment is misplaced, Montebourg argued that the prior was a “necessity” and claimed that he “challenged the theory of the end of work.” He also criticized a perceived European obsession with austerity, condemning it as the cause of the country’s persistently high rates of unemployment and dismal economic growth, promising to “liberate the French from European-imposed austerity.” He also pledged during the campaign that he would not comply with EU deficit rules, in contrast to Valls, embark upon an “economic patriotism” (described as protectionism by some observers), reserve 80 percent of government contracts for French small businesses, reinstate border controls, repeal the El Khomri jobs bill, defend small domestic businesses, warn that he might engage in a trade war against China, and support a €30 billion infrastructure plan.
Montebourg’s months-long position in second place, however, was challenged by a surge of support for Benoît Hamon, with the primary becoming a three-man race between Valls, Hamon, and Montebourg by mid-January. Hamon’s strongly left-wing program of legalizing cannabis, taxing robots to fund a universal basic income, and to reducing the 35-hour workweek to 32 hours, attracted many left-wing voters disillusioned by the Socialists’ turn toward business-friendly policies, championed under Hollande’s presidency by the likes of Valls and Macron. The former education minister’s late rise was likened to that of François Fillon in the primary of the centre-right Republicans party, his rise propelled by his championing of left-wing values and vision of a society that spends less time working, enjoys higher pay, and emphasizes the importance GDP growth less. Hamon has also decried “neoconservatives” and “even those on the left” who wished to restrict the rights of French Muslims, a less-than-subtle denunciation of Valls’s hardline stance on immigration. His proposal for a universal income has been his signature policy; in the final primary debate, he insisted that it “creates work” and “allows employees to reduce their workdays, and it can further contract and eradicate poverty,” and post-debate polls indicated left-wing voters consistently viewed Hamon as being the most convincing candidate.
Three debates were held before the first round of the primary. The first, syndicated by TF1, Public Sénat, LCI, RTL, and co-organized by L’Observateur, aired at 21:00 CET on 12 January, moderated by Gilles Bouleau, Élizabeth Martichoux, and Matthieu Croissandeau; the second, by BFM TV, RMC, and I-TV, aired at 18:00 CET on 15 January, moderated by Ruth Elkrief, Laurence Ferrari, and Laurent Neumann; the third, by France 2, Europe 1, LCP, TV5Monde, and regional daily newspapers, aired at 21:00 CET on 19 January, moderated by David Pujadas, Léa Salamé, and Fabien Namias. Should no candidate secure a majority in the first round of the primary, an additional debate will be held before the second round, syndicated between France Inter, TF1, and France 2 at 21:00 CET on 25 January, moderated by Gilles Bouleau, David Pujadas, and Alexandra Bensaid. The first debate attracted 3.83 million viewers, representing an audience share of 18.3%; the second 1.75 million, representing a share of 7.9%; and the third 3.07 million, a share of 15%.
Hamon came on top in the first round of the primary, followed by Valls; as neither of the two secured more than 50% of the vote, a second round will be held on 29 January. Montebourg, relegated to third place, conceded defeat and pledged to vote for Hamon in the second round. Peillon came fourth, de Rugy fifth, Pinel sixth, and Bennahmias last. Of these four candidates, Pinel backed Valls in the second round; Peillon did did not endorse but encouraged voters to mobilize; and de Rugy also chose not to endorse immediately afterwards, hoping to meet the top two contenders on 23 January to decide. Only 7,350 polling stations were open during the primary, compared to 9,425 in the 2011 primary and 10,228 in the primary of the right. Meanwhile, Bennahmias, with just over 1% of the primary vote, did not endorse any candidate and expressed his intent to announce a decision on 25 January.
An overnight update of the official primary results published 10:00 CET on 23 January added approximately three hundred thousand votes, without any change in the vote share of any candidate, arousing suspicions among observers and the French press. Two hours later, an update to the total of votes obtained by Sylvia Pinel was published, increasing her vote share by 0.01% (i.e., 160 additional votes). However, the total number of votes for Pinel increased by 161, more than the total number of overall votes, with changes to no other candidates. The results were believed to have been manipulated into inflate the apparent turnout, which was low compared to past primaries. The PS initially attributed the results to a “bug”, but later conceded that it had been a result of “human error.” However, the French press remained skeptical, noting the improbability of a nearly-identical 28% increase in votes for all seven candidates. There was also additional confusion, even prior to reports about the potential manipulation of vote totals, surrounding the number of polling stations open (which, according to PS, is fewer than 7,350 because many were merged with others) and the vagueness of PS officials on primary turnout, compounded by the fact that no comprehensive public record of primary results was published.
- Marie-Noëlle Lienemann, Senator
- Marc Jutier, PS member; joined Jean-Luc Mélenchon‘s Unsubmissive France
- Martine Aubry, mayor of Lille, former Minister of Social Affairs, Minister of Labour, Employment and Vocational Training, Socialist leader, and 2012 presidential candidate
- Matthias Fekl, Trade Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development
- Annick Girardin, PRG member and Minister of the Civil Service; endorsed the candidacy of Sylvia Pinel
- Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris; endorsed the candidacy of Vincent Peillon
- François Hollande, incumbent President of France
- Ségolène Royal, 2007 Socialist Party presidential candidate, incumbent Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy
- Christiane Taubira, former Minister of Justice
- Marisol Touraine, Minister of Social Affairs and Health
- Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister of Education, Higher Education and Research; endorsed the candidacy of Manuel Valls
Refused to participate
- Emmanuel Macron, former Minister of the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, and founder of En Marche!, standing as an independent in the presidential election
- Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Left Front MEP, former Minister of Vocational Education and Senator, standing as a far-left candidate in the presidential election
|Arnaud Montebourg||Benoît Hamon||Vincent Peillon||Sylvia
|François de Rugy||Jean-Luc Bennahmias||Non-candidates|
|Martine Aubry||Gérard Filoche||Pierre Larrouturou||Marie-Noëlle Lienemann||Emmanuel Macron||Ségolène Royal||Christiane Taubira|
|Elabe||20–21 Jun 2016||955||32%||–||22%||13%||–||–||2%||–||–||–||–||5%||23%||–||–|
|Ipsos||1–4 Jul 2016||6% of
|BVA||8–10 Jul 2016||936||11%||5%||9%||3%||–||–||–||–||18%||3%||–||1%||13%||6%||11%|
|Ifop*||12–15 Jul 2016||2000||31%||–||31%||20%||–||–||3%||–||–||–||–||15%||–||–||–|
|Ifop*||31 Aug — 2 Sep 2016||899||32%||–||30%||18%||–||–||4%||3%||–||–||–||13%||–||–||–|
|Ipsos||9–18 Sep 2016||1017||43%||–||31%||16%||–||–||1%||1%||–||4%||–||4%||–||–||–|
|BVA||13–20 Sep 2016||4% of
|BVA||3–13 Nov 2016||4% of
|François Hollande announces he will not seek a second term (1 December 2016)|
|Ifop*||28 Nov — 1 Dec 2016||678||–||38%||27%||14%||–||–||5%||1%||–||6%||–||9%||–||–||–|
|2–3 Dec 2016||542||–||45%||25%||14%||–||–||2%||1%||–||5%||–||8%||–||–||–|
|Harris||5–7 Dec 2016||541||–||45%||28%||11%||–||–||1%||1%||–||6%||3%||5%||–||–||–|
|Start of the official campaign (17 December 2016)|
|* poll of preferred nominee among left-wing sympathizers, not voting intention|
- Polls conducted after the certification of candidates
|Arnaud Montebourg||Benoît Hamon||Vincent Peillon||Sylvia
|François de Rugy||Jean-Luc Bennahmias|
|Harris||2–4 Jan 2017||478||43%||25%||22%||7%||2%||1%||<0.5%|
|Ifop*||3–5 Jan 2017||705||36%||24%||21%||9%||7%||2%||1%|
|Kantar Sofres – OnePoint||3–6 Jan 2017||488||36%||23%||21%||10%||6%||2%||2%|
|Elabe*||8–11 Jan 2017||1373||31%||24%||24%||9%||5%||2%||1%|
|OpinionWay||9–11 Jan 2017||453||40%||21%||29%||7%||1%||1%||1%|
|Elabe*||11–13 Jan 2017||1542||31%||24%||25%||8%||5%||3%||1%|
|First televised debate (12 January 2017)|
|Odoxa*||12–13 Jan 2017||297||30%||23%||21%||9%||6%||3%||2%|
|Harris**||12–13 Jan 2017||1002||23%||23%||27%||10%||5%||0%||0%|
|BVA||13–16 Jan 2017||543||34%||26%||27%||7%||3%||2%||1%|
|Second televised debate (15 January 2017)|
|Harris**||15–16 Jan 2017||915||26%||22%||24%||7%||3%||0%||1%|
|Elabe*||15–18 Jan 2017||1407||28%||24%||28%||5%||5%||3%||3%|
|OpinionWay||16–18 Jan 2017||536||37%||24%||28%||5%||3%||1%||2%|
|Third televised debate (19 January 2017)|
|Harris**||19–20 Jan 2017||954||26%||29%||33%||6%||1%||0%||0%|
|Results||22 Jan 2017||–||31.11%||17.52%||36.35%||6.85%||1.98%||3.88%||1.01%|
|* poll of preferred nominee among left-wing sympathizers, not voting intention
** poll of preferred nominee among those certain to vote in the primary, not voting intention
|Harris||2–4 Jan 2017||478||43%||57%|
|Kantar Sofres – OnePoint||3–6 Jan 2017||488||50%||50%|
|OpinionWay||9–11 Jan 2017||453||47%||53%|
|BVA||13–16 Jan 2017||543||52%||48%|
|OpinionWay||16–18 Jan 2017||536||49%||51%|
|Candidates||Parties||1st round||2nd round|
|Benoît Hamon||Socialist Party||PS||582,014||36.35|
|Manuel Valls||Socialist Party||PS||498,114||31.11|
|Arnaud Montebourg||Socialist Party||PS||280,519||17.52|
|Vincent Peillon||Socialist Party||PS||109,678||6.85|
|François de Rugy||Ecologist Party||PÉ||62,124||3.88|
|Sylvia Pinel||Radical Party of the Left||PRG||31,703||1.98|
|Jean-Luc Bennahmias||Democratic Front||FD||16,172||1.01|
|Spoilt and null votes||20,815||1.30|
|List of candidates by High Authority.Source: |
Twenty-four applications were filed with the High Authority for the left-wing primary, but not all were made public; of these, several were disqualified for not securing enough sponsors under the rules of the primary.
- Gérard Filoche, former labor inspector, militant communist
- Sidi Hamada-Hamidou, member of the Radical Party of the Left (PRG)
- Maxime Legrand, opposition councillor in Poissy
- Régis Passerieux, candidate of the PS’s Christian faction
- Fabien Verdier, Socialist Party member, advisor to two cabinet ministers and former town councillor