Deepening public and media understanding of the 2012 French presidential election
Submitting InstitutionUniversity College London
Unit of AssessmentModern Languages and Linguistics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Language, Communication and Culture: Other Language, Communication and Culture
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Philippe Marlière's research on social democracy in Europe, and
particularly in France, extended the range and quality of information
regarding the French presidential election (2012), and thus made an
important contribution to public understanding in both the UK and France.
This was achieved through a series of high profile press publications in
Le Monde, Mediapart, the Guardian, OpenDemocracy and other outlets, which
were both widely read and led to substantial debate online and on social
media. This, along with an invitation to brief the BBC, led to far more
informed coverage of the election and the role of left and far-right
parties in its final result.
Philippe Marlière joined UCL as Lecturer of French Politics in April
1994. He became Professor of French and European Politics in September
2010. Since 1994, his scholarly work on French and European politics has
been translated into fifteen languages and has appeared in 29 countries.
The research specifically underpinning impacts and described here falls
into two key areas.
In work on Social Democracy and European politics Marlière has
particularly considered the question of whether social democracy may be
considered an homogeneous `party family' across Europe, such that it is
possible to draw a typology of the New Social Democracy beyond national
differences. In a comparative study undertaken between 1997 and 1999,he
established that there was, indeed, a movement of ideological and policy
convergence across Europe. This was further demonstrated by research
undertaken from 1996 on the `Third Way' in Britain and `Modern Socialism'
in France, in which Marlière showed that the emergence of more consensual
relationships between centre-left and centre-right parties would create a
political space liable to exploitation by both left-wing and extreme-right
With Robert Ladrech (Keele), Marlière co-edited Social Democratic
Parties in the European Union. History, Organisation, Policies
(Macmillan 1999), a project drawing on the expertise of 16 European
specialists on the subject. Following the publication of this seminal
volume, and of several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on the
topic, Marlière was awarded the Marcel Liebman Chair of political science
at the Université Libre of Brussels (ULB) in 2007, in recognition of his
contribution to the study of European social democracy. The lectures took
place daily between 19 February and 24 February at ULB and were on the
following topics: "From the Labour Party to New Labour: a new type of
party"; "The Third Way: theoretical considerations and debates";
"Blairism, from theory to practice: the economy and Europe"; "Is Blairism
the future of European social democracy?" Following these lectures Aden
Publishers (Brussels) asked him to turn them into a book (La
Social-démocratie domestiquée, 2008).
In research published in 2009 and 2010 and more specifically focused on French
political ideas and party politics, Marlière tracked the convergence
of France's two major parties, the centre-right Union pour un
mouvement populaire (UMP) and the centre-left Parti socialiste
(PS) to the political centre [a]. For instance, in [b] he discussed the
French Socialist Party's ambivalent and uneasy relationship to European
integration and concluded that despite its ambivalence, the PS's stand on
Europe was actually falling in line with the economically `moderate' and
`pro-market' orientation of mainstream social democracy in Europe. He also
documented the rise of parties further to the left or right, for instance,
analysing the political results of French political parties at the 2009
elections, and explaining the reasons for the rise of `smaller' parties on
the left and on the right of the political spectrum [c]. This work on
political ideologies and conflicts in France enabled him to anticipate the
rise of political forces to the left of François Hollande's PS and to the
right of Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP in the 2012 presidential election. Notable
among the specific research findings supporting his this insight were
expounded in two co-edited journal issues. The edited issue on the French
left [e] showed that the rise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon's Left Front was
largely responsible for François Hollande's shift to the left during the
presidential campaign. The issue on the Sarkozy presidency [f] explained
how the incumbent president's shift to the right has enabled Hollande to
occupy the political centre ground, a winning position in the two-round
French presidential election. This analysis is being further developed in
current research on the Left Party, to appear from Palgrave-Macmillan in
2014, as The Left Front and the Revival of Left-Wing Radicalism in
References to the research
[a] Marlière, P. `Sarkozysm as an ideological theme park: Nicolas Sarkozy
and right-wing political thought', Modern & Contemporary France,
17.4, Nov 2009, p. 375-390. DOI:
[b] Marlière, P. `The French Socialist Party and European integration.
Faltering Europeanism', in D. Dimitrakopoulos (ed.), Social Democracy
and European Integration, London, Routledge, 2010, p. 51-82.
Available on request.
[c] Marlière, P. `The 2009 Euro Election in France', in J. Lodge (ed.), The
2009 Euro Elections, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2012, p. 114-123:
Submitted to REF 2.
[d] Marlière, P. La Mémoire socialiste. Sociologie du souvenir
politique en milieu partisan, Paris, L'Harmattan, 2007. Available on
request. Positive reviews in the French scholarly press including: Mouvements
Social 2008 http://bit.ly/19UB26S;
Office Universitaire de Recherche Socialiste, No 382, November 2008.
[e] Marlière, P. `A quoi sert le Parti socialiste?' In Mouvements
69, March 2012, pp. 86-92 `Changer la vie, changer la gauche', co-edited
with S. Zappi. Available on request.
[f] Marlière, P. `The Sarkozy presidency: from rupture to crisis?', Modern
& Contemporary France 17.4, Nov 2009, co-edited with Joseph
Details of the impact
Philippe Marlière's research and analysis of the 2012 French presidential
election extended the range and improved the quality of evidence about
this important election, notably through his contributions to media
coverage of that election in Britain and France. It provided the vital
contextualisation required for the British media — especially the BBC — to
present a more nuanced and informed picture of the changing French
political landscape in their coverage of the presidential election and, in
turn, helped to inform the British public of likely electoral and
political outcomes and the social and political contexts in which they
would occur. In particular, his research facilitated an improved public
and media understanding of the role of third party candidates in both the
election itself and the political landscape thereafter.
Contributions to French coverage of the 2012 presidential election:
The first round of the presidential election was held in France on 22
April 2012. Nicholas Sarkozy, the incumbent and leader of the centre-right
Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP), sought re-election to a
second five-year term against a presidential challenge from François
Hollande of the increasingly centre-left Parti socialiste (PS).
The election was widely held to be a two-horse race between these
candidates, and was treated almost exclusively as such by the UK media.
However Marlière argued, on the basis of the research outlined above, that
Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Left Front) and Marine Le Pen (National Front) would
also perform well. In 2010-2011, he shared these insights with a broad
non-academic audience through a series of articles for Le Monde,
the world's principal French language daily with a circulation of some
340,000 copies per issue, 35,000 of which are distributed outside of
France . In those articles, Marlière analysed Mélenchon's potential to
be an important figure in the 2012 election, the PS's transformation into
a de-ideologised `catch-all' party, and the likelihood that the left would
defeat Sarkozy. He also contributed regular blog posts to Mediapart, a
major left-leaning French journal. These posts, which commented on the
French elections and were likewise informed by the research outlined above
typically attracted over 20 comments each, with analyses of Mélenchon and
the socialist primaries garnering 118 and 154 respectively .
Transfer of expert knowledge informing British media coverage and UK
public understanding of the presidential election:
In the British
press, Mélenchon's campaign went virtually unreported until the Guardian
publication in April 2012 of two lengthy opinion articles — one by Marlière,
the other by Seumas Milne. Both argued that the popularity of Mélenchon's
ideas and policies was attributable to the fact that no other major
candidate was engaging working-class voters. Marlière further suggested that
although Mélenchon's policy proposals might be described as `radical' they
were sufficiently coherent to be taken seriously . Both articles, in a
newspaper with a print and online readership approaching 2m , received a
great deal of attention: Marlière's attracted 320 comments, and Milne's 562,
most of them sympathetic to this view. The electronic version of Marlière's
article was tweeted over 200 times, and shared over 1,800 times on Facebook
. Those impacts were compounded by Marlière's production of an election
diary, which appeared in 11 instalments between 23 April and 4 May 2012 on
OpenDemocracy, a leading UK news website with over 3.5m unique views per
year. Here, Marlière used research findings to demonstrate the potential for
`small' candidates to capitalise on both negative factors (the unpopularity
of the main candidates and their very similar policy proposals) and positive
factors (good campaigning by the Left Front and an improved image for the
National Front) .
Recognising and seeking to redress the imbalance and gaps in its own
coverage, the BBC's Analysis and Research Unit invited Marlière to brief
journalists during the run-up to the election. This off-the-record
briefing was delivered to some 50 journalists, anchors, UK and Europe
reporters, programme editors and researchers on 4 April 2012 at White City
Television Centre (London), a month before the first round of the
election. It comprised a forty-minute talk providing context on developing
issues and contacts for further insights, followed by questions from the
floor. Explaining that his analysis showed no strong political momentum
for the main candidates (Sarkozy, Hollande and Bayrou, a centrist),
Marlière predicted rises that both the left-wing candidate Jean-Luc
Mélenchon and the extreme-right candidate Marine le Pen would rise in the
polls and eventually come in third and fourth position.
This intervention helped BBC journalists understand the major issues at
stake in the election and significantly increased the attention they paid
to the `smaller' candidates who, as Marlière predicted, did eventually
fare better than had been suggested by the media at the start of the
campaign . The event organiser noted the very positive feedback from
journalists, who had found it `useful', `interesting', `relevant' and
`well-timed'. Marlière himself received personal thanks from several
journalists, who said that they would take his advice on board when
reporting the election. Indeed, such was its usefulness that the BBC used
the original briefing as the basis for its development of digitalised
resources for use by its journalist: thus the College of Journalism, which
oversees training for BBC editorial staff, filmed two clips for an
internal website accessible only to BBC journalists. The briefing
organiser also made an audio recording and transcription of the session.
These valuable information and resources were subsequently accessed at
least 100 times by journalists working on the election . Coverage of
the election on the BBC's website, which had previously almost entirely
excluded consideration of Mélenchon's election prospects, showed a
markedly increased inclination after Marlière's briefing to provide much
fuller treatment .
Marlière's analysis proved accurate, and thus instrumental in ensuring
that BBC journalists covered the election fairly and accurately. Le Pen
eventually received over 15% of the share of the votes nationally and came
third, while Mélenchon received over 11%.
The value of the briefing to BBC journalists is further suggested by the
numerous requests for interviews and comment from Marlière. Media
appearances during the election run-up included:
- BBC Radio 4 Westminster Hour, 22 April 2012. On the 2012 French
presidential results (first round), reaching over 10.5 million (RAJAR all
regions, 3 months ending June 2012).
- BBC Radio 5, Breakfast Programme, 2 May and 7 May 2012. On the
television debate between Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, and on
the second round of the French presidential election, reaching over 6
million (RAJAR all regions, 3 months ending June 2012).
- BBC World, 6 May and 15 May 2012. Special programme on the
election (including live coverage of election results), and contribution
to coverage of Hollande's inaugural ceremony (on air 9am-12.30pm): BBC
World TV attracts a global audience of 97m .
These led, in turn, led to appearances on other international news
outlets, notably including Sky (on `Adam Boulton and Co', 15 May 2012) and
the American public broadcaster NPR (on Background Briefing Production:
thirty-minute interviews on 23 April and 6 May 2012). Meanwhile, Mélenchon
himself was invited to a series of media appearances, reflecting the new
recognition in the UK of his role as a left-wing player in French
politics. These included a video interview with the Guardian (416
viewer comments ), and interviews for the New Statesman and
Subsequent contributions to UK public understanding of the French
political landscape: The contribution made by the research to
enhancing UK public understanding of the French political landscape
continued even after the election ended. On 6 December 2012, in
collaboration with the European Institute at UCL, Marlière invited
Mélenchon to present his ideas as a prominent French politician to a mixed
audience of some 440 students, academics, ambassadors, politicians,
trade-unionists, journalists and members of the public. Marlière was
responsible for deciding the terms of the event and, in his introduction,
presented an analysis of the role of left wing politics in France in
austerity Europe. The event gave UK journalists and the public a rare
opportunity to hear at first hand the views of a French leftist
politician; the academic contextualisation of those views provided a
nuanced assessment of the French political landscape.
The event was extremely successful: though organised at short notice all
tickets, in three separate issues, sold out immediately. In total 440
people attended, though emails received by the European Institute suggest
that as many as 650 ticket requests were made . The benefits from this
presentation of information and analysis were maximised by its live
streaming, and the development of information and learning resources whose
online accessibility extended the reach of the original benefits to a much
wider public. More than 2,500 viewers watched the live stream and the
video on UCL's Vimeo account showed it had been played over 7,000 times by
31 July 2013, including over 3,000 from Facebook alone . Partly thanks
to the increased understanding of Mélenchon's position among British media
professionals, the event was well attended by journalists, including
representatives from the Independent, Guardian, OpenDemocracy,
the New Statesman and the Morning Star. Although
Mélenchon's speech was delivered in French, OpenDemocracy recognised its
importance and had it transcribed and translated for its own website
(15/1/13); it also published an interview with the candidate (11/1/13), as
did the New Statesmen (12/12/12), the UK's biggest political
website, with over 1.1m unique users .
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Marlière's Le Monde articles: `Le PS peut enfin tourner la
page Strauss-Kahn', 20 May 11, p. 24; http://bit.ly/19gTyLH;
and `L'effet Mélenchon, un risque pour l'avenir de la gauche', 20 Nov 10,
p. 23 http://bit.ly/1g2V19F
 Mediapart posts and comments: http://bit.ly/15y2RRe;
see e.g., 30/9/11, 29/3/12, 5/4/12.
 Marlière's Guardian article, `Jean-Luc Mélenchon's policies
are no left-wing fantasy', 15/4/12: http://bit.ly/1ftYDE5.
Readership figures from National Readership Survey-Padd (http://www.nrs.co.uk/nrs-padd/).
Daily readership figures for adult readers June 2012-July 2013 are 2.2
million: we assume that in April 2012 the figure was lower but not
 Social media share reports from Topsy and Facebook Share Counter
available on request.
 OpenDemocracy blog series: http://bit.ly/1777WDT.
 A Google search analysis on www.bbc.co.uk
found twice as many articles (24) mentioning Mélenchon in the fortnight
between Marlière's briefing and the first round of the election (6-22
April 2012) than in the entire year preceding it (12). Available on
 BBC World audience numbers: http://bbc.in/19EGCLY.
UK radio figures from RAJAR http://www.rajar.co.uk/listening/quarterly_listening.php.
 Mélenchon's video interview with the Guardian and viewer
 Statement about the number of attendees at Marlière's briefing for
the BBC's Analysis and Research Unit, and feedback received from the BBC's
Foreign Affairs Manager.
 Statement about the attendees and value of Mélenchon's public
appearance on 6 December from the Deputy Director, UCL European Institute.
 UCL Vimeo video stats; also available on request. http://vimeo.com/55621150.
 OpenDemocracy transcript: http://bit.ly/1bKS6Cp
and interview: http://bit.ly/15zyyyX.
New Statesmen article: http://bit.ly/1ftZiFi
Web traffic figures for Jan 2013: http://bit.ly/15y3Y3m