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How do people in your French region typically vote and why?

We look at French voting maps for presidential elections dating back to 1965 – and how an area’s soil type may play a part

Different areas of France traditionally vote for left- or right-leaning presidential candidates Pic: Regormark / Shutterstock

French citizens will vote for their next president in the twelfth presidential election of the Fifth Republic on April 10 and 24. There are 12 candidates listed in the first round ballot.  

Read more: ‘When I am president’: The key policies of final 12 French candidates

We look at every French presidential election voting map since the first Fifth Republic election in 1965, and the potential reasons behind the tendencies that have emerged.  

Granite soil or limestone? 

One surprising theory on France’s voting habits came from André Siegfried, a geographer, sociologist and historian whose study published in the 1913 “Tableau politique de la France de l’Ouest sous la Troisième République” (Political Map of Western France under the Third Republic) is considered to be the first dedicated work on the subject.

Mr Siegfried looked at the geology of different regions of France, observing that people who lived on granite soils traditionally opted for conservative politicians while people who lived on limestone soils historically tended to vote for more progressive candidates.

He put these inclinations down to water access. People who lived on granite soils had easier access to water, and so their communities were normally characterised by concentrated farming under few landowners. People therefore often lived and worked in one place, and were heavily influenced by their landowners and priests, who traditionally voted for conservative ideologies. 

People who lived on limestone soils needed to travel more to access water, causing them to meet more people outside of their church community, and diminishing the Church’s influence on their beliefs and voting tendencies. 

“Granite votes for the right while limestone votes for the left,” is a common sentence political scientists and students like to use when summarising Mr Siegfried theory. 

Brittany is almost entirely composed of granite ground while pockets of limestone ground are disseminated across the country such as, in eastern France mainly and southwest and southeast France.

Although critics questioned some of the book’s claims, the work is considered to be the first reliable source when explaining France’s voting habits. It does not necessarily correspond to voting tendencies today. 

France’s presidential voting evolution from 1965 to 2017

April’s election will be the eleventh since 1965, when General Charles de Gaulle was elected the first president of the Fifth Republic, beating socialist François Mitterrand. 

An analysis of ten electoral voting maps shows that the country has historically been divided into left and right-leaning regions.  

Most of the departments in Hauts-de-France and Nouvelle-Aquitaine have been voting for socialist or left-affiliated parties since as early as 1974. Some departments in Brittany also began to follow this pattern from 1988. 

Below is a map showing the electoral result during the second-round of France’s 1988 presidential election, when socialist president François Mitterrand was re-elected for a second term. 

You can see how both candidates performed broken down into departments by selecting their names from the drop-down menu in the top left corner. 

For each candidate, the darker the colour of the region, the bigger the margin of their victory. 

Place your cursor over a region to see how many votes they received in total in each department.
In the 2013 book Le Mystère français (‘The French mystery’), anthropologist Emmanuel Todd and demographer Hervé Le Bras linked the trend of southwest France supporting more progressive / leftist candidates to the structure of the families there. 

They said that the families tended to be more in favour of egalitarian ideas because they were composed of families with an egalitarian heritage split between children and were more affected by dechristianisation. 

This is compared to more traditional, hierarchical families found in northern parts of France. This is particularly the case in more rural areas. 

Political scientists have suggested that this right-leaning tendency may also be linked to declining industry in these parts, where far-right, nationalist messages may resonate more with local populations. 

Paris, eastern France, parts of central France and southeastern France have been voting with very few exceptions for conservative parties since the first Fifth Republic elections in 1965, 1969 and 1974. 

However, the last two elections have seen the voting tendencies of these regions evolve away from traditional right-left divisions and go more towards candidates of the far-right party such as Marine Le Pen.

Central France, Paris and coastal-Atlantic regions, meanwhile, look to centrist candidates like François Bayrou (a candidate in the 2002, 2007 and 2012 presidential elections) or Emmanuel Macron, who ran his 2017 presidential campaign under the claim that he belonged neither to the right or the left. 

The map below shows the results of the top four candidates in the first round of the presidential election in 2017, broken down into departments. 

You can see how the candidates performed by selecting their names from the drop-down menu in the top left corner. 

For each candidate, the darker the colour of the region, the bigger the margin of their victory. 

Place your cursor over a region to see how many votes they received in total in each department. 

This final map shows how Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen did per department in the second round of the 2017 elections.

Read more: French presidential election: Which candidate does your mayor support?

Read more: Greens surge to victory in French local elections

Pro-environment candidates are also gaining in popularity in France, at both national and local level. 

At this year’s election, voters who prioritise climate-related issues can choose between Yannick Jadot (Europe-Ecologie Les Verts), Anne Hidalgo (Parti Socialiste) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise), who have all made pledges on several key ecological policies for this year’s election.  

The second-round candidate who would pick up the most votes from this part of the electorate will be one of the decisive questions if none of the aforementioned candidates reach the second-round.

This article is part of a series aimed at exploring the key features and concerns of the French political landscape in the run-up to April’s election. 

We will publish related articles three days per week until the second round of the 2022 French presidential election on April 24. 

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