U.S. Senate candidate from Ohio, JD Vance, took the time to trivialize Russia’s deadly assault on Ukraine last week to comment on France’s presidential election.
The former corporate lawyer, millionaire venture capitalist and author of a dismal book, Elegy Hillbilly, mentioned as the French results began to be tabulated on Sunday evening, “I have a buddy in France, and they just had an election there. The polls closed a few hours ago and they already know who the winners are. It must be nice living in a first world country.
Vance was tweeting about France at 2:45 p.m. Ohio time, at a time when exit polls were predicting French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to face off in the second turn of the April 24 elections. Perhaps first-time candidate Vance is unaware that television networks in the United States also conduct exit polls and winning projects. That’s what happened on the evening of Nov. 3, 2020, when networks began calling states for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who would end up winning 51.3% of the popular vote, beating the former President Donald Trump by more than 7 million ballots, toppling five states the Democrats had lost in 2016 and securing a 306-232 Electoral College mandate. Because the country has an Electoral College, as well as a complicated system in which 50 separate states and the District of Columbia hold elections on their own terms, it often takes a bit longer for all the calls to go through, like this was the case in 2020. But is Vance seriously proposing that the United States adopt a system similar to that employed in France?
If so, cool.
France does not have an electoral college. If a candidate wins more than 50% of the votes cast in the first ballot, he is elected. That means Biden would have won outright in early November 2020. No need for recounts in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin. No need for Rudy Giuliani to hold a press conference in the parking lot of the Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia. No insurrection. No big lie.
In fact, under the French system, it is highly likely that the winner of the popular vote in 2000, Democrat Al Gore, would ultimately have won the presidency. And that Democrat Hillary Clinton, overwhelming winner of the popular vote in 2016, would also have moved into the White House. While Gore and Clinton should have faced trickles, it’s likely they would have entered it with the advantage that Macron retains in France. Historically, when voting in the second round, rational people tend to oppose extremists such as Trump and Le Pen.
The replacement of the Electoral College by a system designed to give the presidency to the candidate who receives the most votes is not the only democratizing aspect of the French system. France has a universal system for organizing elections, distributing the ballots, counting them by hand, and then recording the results. France is also imposing strict limits on donations and campaign spending, protecting against manipulations like those seen in Ohio, where billionaire Peter Thiel funneled $10 million into a political action committee set up to promote Vance’s candidacy. France also provides public funding to parties and candidates, which Vance opposed in the United States, and the country maintains extremely strict rules to ensure that candidates get equal airtime on television and on the radio.
France is a multi-party democracy where, in the first ballot, all opinions are represented and where the parliament includes an ideological spectrum ranging from the extreme left to the extreme right. As such, they have real debates and governments often take the form of coalitions that cross partisan and ideological boundaries. It can be chaotic, and France is far from being a political utopia, as the bitterness of the current presidential race reminds us. But the country’s elected leaders have over the years developed a strong government-funded universal health care system, provided higher education at little or no cost, and put in place strong protections for workers – all protections that are lacking in the United States because wealthy donors, corporate interests, and right-wing Republicans like JD Vance go to great lengths to impede even minimal progress toward political and economic democracy.