TPG editor STUART RICHARDSON sits down with three French-American dual citizens at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) to discuss transatlantic politics in advance of Sunday’s présidentielle.
Mercedes Moya broke the news of Donald Trump’s victory in last November’s U.S. presidential election to her mother over the phone. Moya’s mother was on vacation at the time, and like most Americans who had been following the polls and 24-hour news cycle prior to 8. November, she did not believe what she was hearing at first.
For Americans dismayed by the outcome of the previous election, 2017 has been a year of diligent vigilance. Having lost the fight to keep Donald Trump out of the White House, progressives have since resolved themselves to keep the new President’s power in check. But, for French-American dual-citizens, like Moya, who was born in France to American parents, 2017 is yet another time of heightened politics, bristled nerves, and uncertain consequences.
On the eve of the présidentielle, Moya confides that she hopes Emmanuel Macron, the centrist newcomer, will win.
“I could see how the results would be very close, though, and I think the second round will definitely be a nail-biter,” she confesses.
Only a handful of countries around the world allow for its citizens to hold multiple citizenships, France and the United States among them. At Sciences Po Paris, a smattering of students call themselves French-American. For them, the upcoming contest between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen smacks a lot of the last American election: two candidates, unpopular in their own right, possessing backgrounds and interests unpalatable to large swaths of the public.
Although eleventh-hour polling predicts Macron will handily best the far-right Le Pen, many French-Americans have not called the election just yet.
“There is a lot of stigma from others when a person says ‘I am voting Le Pen’”, says Angelique Talmor, who intends to vote for Macron. “I am not sure people would even be truthful [when talking to pollsters].”
In addition to dishonesty, most polls do not account for non-voters whose absence could swing the election results.
“[The polls] don’t take into account abstentions or blank votes,” says Guillaume Biganzoli, who was born in the United States to French parents. “This election has been particularly unpredictable, much like the American one, but this is rather new for us in France. If a scandal or attack were to happen right before the second round, this would definitely make the polls unreliable.”
Still, each is keen to point out key differences between French and American politics, and unlike most citizens who jealously defend their home country’s political institutions, all three find that both systems have something to learn from each other.
“They [have] such distinct political traditions and fairly distinct political systems although they are both republics,” Talmor maintains.
Chief among these differences is the Electoral College, a singular characteristic of American, presidential politics. Both Biganzoli and Moya note that their frustrations with the 2017 U.S. presidential race–in particular, the fact that Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump despite winning the most votes–could not be repeated in France, where direct election makes for a cleaner outcome.
“The [U.S. presidential] election has highlighted the limits of the American Electoral College system to both Democrats and Republicans,” Biganzoli says. “I think that the U.S. could really benefit from adopting a suffrage universel direct, as we call it in France, direct elections.”
About half of all Americans agree, according to a Gallup Poll conducted after last year’s U.S. presidential election.
The two-round system which comprises the French présidentielle moreover seems to be an adequate barrier for preventing populist candidates from winning the country’s highest public office.
“With the French, it’s pretty well-known that they vote with their heart in the first election and their head in the second round,” says Moya. “I see that a lot with the French people I talk to. I think that some young people in France don’t really understand the danger of what a Front National administration can do, and that they are a bit complacent. But I still think they will end up voting Macron.”
Unlike in the United States, where a rash, ideological vote could have dire consequences, France’s two-round system allows voters to deliberate their choice over the course of two weeks during which the electorate tends to gravitate toward more centrist candidates.
The French and American political systems depart outside of their institutional frameworks as well. It is often the case in the lead-up to American elections that Republicans and Democrats must cobble together precarious alliances among far-flung, political factions. (One need only consider the many failures of Congressional Republicans to repeal Obamacare to understand how enduring and unstable these relationships truly are.) In France, where multiple minor parties can capture niche voting blocs, larger parties do not have to reach toward the political margins in order to win. They can therefore avoid the possibility of renegade, ‘dark horse’ political figures, like Donald Trump, usurping power from within the party itself.
There are also marked differences between American and French campaigns. Caps on campaign finance, which is strictly regulated in France but not in the United States, seem to make for more substantive political debates. For Moya, tighter regulations of election spending would take away the more spectacular theatrics of American politicking.
“[Tighter caps on campaign finance] would take out the showmanship part of [American elections] and force people to be really informed about the issues,” she insists.
When money is tight, petty and ineffectual attacks on political opponents lose their utility.
Of course, this year’s présidentielle has been unprecedented. The failure of any mainstream party to advance to the second round of voting was surprising given French politics’ usual predictability. Otherwise famous for its colorful political figures, France’s field of candidates this year has been largely uninspiring. In fact, all three respondents expressed only reluctant support for their candidates in the lead up to the first round of voting last month. This want of personal appeal has allowed for third-party politicians Le Pen and Macron to muscle their way into the last leg of the election.
As the world braces for Sunday’s vote, dual citizens in France and the States reflect on last November and prepare for the future. But having been through watershed moments in politics before, Moya, Biganzoli, and Talmor believe an unfavorable outcome would not cause them to abandon France. Surely, politicians come and go, but one’s love for home endures.