Ohio US Senate candidate J.D. Vance took time out from trivializing Russia’s murderous assault on Ukraine last week to comment on the presidential election in France.
The former corporate lawyer, millionaire venture capitalist, and author of a lamentable book, Hillbilly Elegy, said as the French results were beginning to be tabulated Sunday night, “I have a buddy in France, and they just had an election there. Polls closed a few hours ago and they already know who the winners are. Must be nice to live in a first world country.”
Vance was tweeting about France at 2:45 pm Ohio time, at a point when exit polls were projecting that French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen would face one another in the April 24 runoff election. Perhaps Vance, a first-time candidate, is unaware that television networks in the United States conduct exit polls and project winners as well. That’s what happened on the evening of November 3, 2020, when networks started calling states for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who would eventually win 51.3 percent of the popular vote, defeat former President Donald Trump by more than 7 million ballots, flip five states the Democrats had lost in 2016, and secure a 306-232 Electoral College mandate. Because the country has an Electoral College, as well as a convoluted system in which 50 separate states and the District of Columbia conduct elections on their own terms, it often takes a little longer to get all the calls made, as 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 percent of the popular vote in the initial round of voting, he or she is elected. That means that Biden would have won outright in the beginning of 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 Philadelphia’s Four Seasons Total Landscaping. No insurrection. No Big Lie.
In fact, under the French system, it’s quite likely that the winner of the popular vote in 2000, Democrat Al Gore, would have ultimately won the presidency. And that Democrat Hillary Clinton, the overwhelming winner of the popular vote in 2016, would have also moved into the White House. While Gore and Clinton would have faced runoffs, it’s likely they would have entered them with the advantage Macron retains in France. Historically, in second-round voting, rational people tend to coalesce in opposition to extremists such as Trump and Le Pen.
The replacement of the Electoral College with a system that is designed to give the presidency to the candidate who wins the most votes is not the only democratizing aspect of the French system. France has a universal system for organizing elections, distributing paper ballots, counting them by hand, and then recording the results. France also puts strict limits on campaign donations and spending, guarding against manipulations like those seen in Ohio, where billionaire Peter Thiel moved $10 million into a political action committee set up to promote Vance’s candidacy. France also provides public financing for parties and candidates—something Vance has opposed in the United States, and the country maintains extremely strict rules to assure that candidates get equal airtime on television and radio.
France is a multiparty democracy where, in the first round of voting, all views are represented and where the parliament includes an ideological spectrum that ranges from the far left to the far right. As such, they have real debates, and governments often take the form of coalitions that cross partisan and ideological boundaries. It can be messy, and France is far from a political utopia, as the bitter character of the current presidential race reminds us. But the country’s elected leaders have over the years developed a robust government-funded universal health care system, provided higher education at little cost, and built strong protections for workers—all protections that the United States lacks because wealthy donors, corporate interests, and right-wing Republicans like J.D. Vance go to great lengths to obstruct even minimal progress in the direction of both political and economic democracy.