On a recent trip to Paris, a friend despondently informed me that she belongs to France’s largest political party – les “abstentionistes”.
This type of “none of the above” voter is on the rise. The World Bank’s 2017 World Development Report showed that in the last 25 years, election turnout has fallen by more than 10% across the world, despite the advent of democracy in many countries during this time.
Declining trust in government and establishment figures is well documented – the Economist Intelligence Unit’s recent ‘Democracy Index’ is a good measure of this in 2016, when France, Greece, Japan and the United States all ranked in the ‘flawed democracy’ category. Indeed, in the United States presidential election last year, voter turnout hit a 20-year low.
In this climate of apathy with the status quo, protest – either through vocalising opinions on the streets; voting for radical new players (Trump) or choosing change despite high uncertainty (Brexit) – is also on the rise.
As the political landscape becomes increasingly polarised, established parties must begin to rethink how they attract and secure their talent pipeline and, most importantly, who they select to stand in national elections.
Tony Blair, David Cameron and Justin Trudeau, were all fresh-faced candidates offering voters change, in the form of an individual who is a comparatively sensible option.
The upcoming French presidential election presents the next major test for the establishment, and for this theory, during 2017.
Unfortunately for the right wing Republicans, they not only failed to put forward a new candidate, (Francois Fillon has been a member of the National Assembly since 1981 and Alain Juppé’s political career started in the 1970s) but their winner has also allegedly abused the privileges of long public service for their own financial benefit.
With the left out of the question, and Marine Le Pen unlikely to win the second round, the relatively unknown candidate, Emmanuel Macron and his new En Marche! party, is well positioned to cut through the established order and win.
But that said, whether he, or any other candidate in France, beats the ‘abstentionistes’, remains to be seen.