Yesterday's by-election in the Doubs is yet another demonstration of the crumbling of France's party system. The FN candidate, Sophie Montel, came in first with 32.6% of the vote. The PS candidate, Frédéric Barbier, narrowly avoided elimination with 28.6% of the vote, just ahead of a lackluster UMP rival. The UMP is split about what to advise voters in the second round: Nicolas Sarkozy is refusing to join a "republican front" and is sticking to a "ni-ni" position, supporting neither candidate, while others in the party are calling on voters to block the election of a third FN deputy.
Yes, it's just another by-election, but there are factors that give this election national significance. First, this was Pierre Moscovici's seat, and since Moscovici was finance minister and is now EU finance commissioner in Brussels and therefore partially held responsible for the EU's austerity policy, the vote has a transnational dimension. Second, the PS lost half of its votes compared with the last time Moscovici won the seat. Third, the abstention rate was very high, over 60%. Fourth, this is a working-class district, which includes the famous Peugeot plant at Sochaux. Despite this, the Front de Gauche has gone nowhere, while both the right and extreme-right parties have improved their position. There was a massive shift of votes from the PS to the FN, and even the UMP candidate picked up 3%, so to the extent that this vote was a referendum on national policy, the news remains bad for the PS, even after its presumed post-terror attack bump, which nearly doubled President Hollande's popularity rating. The following graph tells the story: