French elections are often considered to be exotic, with many extreme parties left and right manoeuvring to produce unpredictable, explosive outcomes. The 2002 presidential election, when right-wing National Front extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen beat Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round of the presidential contest, is the most recent contest in support of that view. However, as this book shows, the French voter is a political animal that can be explained, despite its sometimes exotic colouring. Traditional factors, such as region, religion, class, and enduring partisan ties do much to make the French voter predictable, regardless of the special circumstances of a particular national election. In addition, the unusual French political institutions - a dual executive of president and prime minister, cohabitation, a two-round voting system - operate to constrain the electorate, even in the face of strong economic and social issues. Nevertheless, the 2002 contests challenged certain orthodoxies of the French political system. The French Voter attempts to explain the continuities in the national elections of the Fifth Republic, while at the same time recognizing - and trying to absorb - the shocks of the 2002 results.

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