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Do the French care more about politics than the Brits?
Turn-out has been declining in UK parliamentary elections since peaking in 1951 at nearly 84% when Churchill was voted into Downing Street for the second time. Contrast this with the 65% turn-out in 2010 ( itself an increase on the 61% in 2005) and the end result of the election campaign which meant that the new coalition , with a combined 58% of votes cast, gained the keys to Downing Street with the effective support of only 38 % of the electorate. This hardly represents a strong popular mandate.
Although slightly below the 83.8% recorded in the first round of the French presidential elections in 2007 , more than 80 % of the French electorate again turned out to vote in the first round in 2012.
Do the French care more about politics than the Brits ? Is the average French person more politically engaged ?
Commentators highlight a range of possible explanations. It has been suggested, for example, that it is easier for people to vote on a Sunday than the Thursday on which British elections are traditionally held. Others point to the inculcation of republican values through the system of ‘education civique’ at schools, which is credited with creating citizens who are more aware of the importance of their vote. The degree of polarisation of political parties is also often seen as a contributory factor, and the fact that the traditional left v right polemical debate has remained stronger in France than the centrist manoeuvring that counts for party politics in the UK may indeed be part of the explanation. Perhaps the wide-ranging powers of the French president under the Fifth Republic actually lead the French to still believe that a president can deliver real change ? Not many British voters would have similar expectations of a Prime Minister.
The answer for the Brits might be to make voting compulsory as it is in countries such as Belgium and Australia which , as a consequence, regularly deliver turn-outs well in excess of 90 %. Or perhaps British politicians just need to re-engage with the electorate ?
If there is any consolation for the Brits, it is that even the majority of French electors are overcome with apathy as far as EU elections are concerned, with only a little over 40% voting in the 2007 elections. This was still ahead of the stay-at-home Brits, of whom only 34.5% turned up to vote on the day in the UK ( although even this was still better than in 6 of the 27 EU countries where less than 30% of the electorate participated ).
The one exception to this generally proud record of upholding republican values unfortunately falls to the French expat community in London, with the first round turn-out in 2012 currently thought to have been only 20 to 30%. Maybe the French in London feel disconnected from French politics, disenfranchised even. Or perhaps it had more to with the chaotic disorganisation of the voting process in South Kensington, which led to many people queuing for hours , with more than a few giving up and going home ?
Surely it would not be beyond the organisational ability of the ‘fonctionnaires’ in London to open up a few more voting centres and recruit and train a few more volunteers ? Maybe things will be better next time round in 2017 when the voting is likely to be done on the internet.
In the meantime, ‘venez nombreux’ and brave the queues around the Lycee in South Kensington and the newly opened Kentish town bilingual school for the second round.
We have been informed by the Consulate that in order to minimise the queues on Sunday 6th May, two additional Polling Stations will be in operation within the French Lycee in South Kensington. Firthermore, more helpers have also been recruited to ensure that people will be better directed and informed.