France’s New Popular Front Has Won a Historic Victory

The French election was meant to bring victory for Marine Le Pen’s far right. But the New Popular Front rallied around a left-wing program for social change — allowing it to become the biggest force in the new National Assembly.

People celebrate the announcement of the Left's victory and the far right's defeat in Nantes, France, on July 7, 2024. (Loic Venance / AFP via Getty Images)

There is nothing inevitable about the rise of the far right, which French voters again overwhelming rejected on July 7. Last night, the left-wing Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) alliance pulled off a historic upset in France’s snap parliamentary elections, emerging in Sunday’s runoff vote as the largest bloc in the incoming National Assembly.

An alliance of parties hastily put together less than one month ago, the NFP dashed expectations of an imminent victory for Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National. After dissolving the National Assembly on June 9, President Emmanuel Macron could now be forced into a governing “cohabitation” with an opposition cabinet. Leaders of the NFP — which brings together France Insoumise, the Parti Socialiste, Les Écologistes and the Parti Communiste Français —are demanding the right to form the next government and apply their common program for “rupture” with the Macron era. Unveiled in mid-June, the NFP’s platform includes a repeal of Macron’s widely unpopular 2023 retirement reform, wealth redistribution, investment in public services, and the recognition of Palestinian statehood.

“Our people clearly averted the worst-case scenario. Tonight the Rassemblement National is far from having the absolute majority that pundits predicted barely a week ago,” said a jubilant Jean-Luc Mélenchon, minutes after the release of the first exit polls at 8 p.m. “The lessons of this election are unmistakable: the defeat of the president of the republic and his coalition is clearly confirmed,” the founder of France Insoumise, the largest party in the NFP, continued. “The president must bow down and admit defeat without trying to skirt around it in any way.”

The largest party or coalition in the National Assembly is customarily granted the first chance to form a government. Yet Sunday’s vote resulted in a hung parliament, with a tripartite political field divided between the NFP, Macron’s centrist bloc, and a Le Pen–dominated right-wing pole. These results point to a period of intense parliamentary instability that will be extremely difficult to navigate politically — especially for the governing coalition.

According to the final results, the New Popular Front will hold 182 seats in the new lower house. In second place, the Macronists won 168 seats, followed by Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, allied with a breakaway minority of the center-right Républicains, at 143 MPs. The NFP’s success builds on the 142 deputies elected under the New Ecological and Social Popular Union (NUPES) formed ahead of the 2022 parliamentary elections. The Rassemblement National likewise saw a major increase in its share in parliament, up from the eighty-eight seats it held in the outgoing legislature.

While it avoided a complete electoral rout, Macron’s centrist coalition, Ensemble, lost nearly eighty seats. The pivot party in the last National Assembly that upheld Macron’s minority government through the last two turbulent years — the center-right Républicains’ majority faction, opposed to party leader Éric Ciotti’s alliance with Le Pen — was able to hold on to forty-five seats, down from the sixty-one MPs elected in 2022.

Republican Front

The left-wing alliance was essential in preventing what for weeks had been slated as an imminent victory for Le Pen. Across the country, left-wing voters and progressives greeted the result with a huge sigh of relief, if not outright jubilation. Well into the night, car horns celebrating the Left’s victory could be heard throughout the French capital, with a large crowd gathering at Paris’s Place de la République to cheer the Nouveau Front Populaire and chant anti-fascist songs and slogans.

“France is not and will never be a skin color — all skin colors are French,” said France Insoumise caucus leader Mathilde Panot before the thousands of supporters who met outside the rotunda near the Villette Canal in the nineteenth arrondissement of Paris.

It was a stark contrast with the morose mood among supporters and cadres of the Rassemblement National, which held its watch party a few miles away at a pavilion in the leafy Bois de Vincennes park, east of the city center. Speaking to reporters, Marine Le Pen claimed that the election results meant a year of parliamentary chaos that would only strengthen the far right.

“I have too much experience to be upset,” Le Pen said, with supporters chanting “Marine présidente” in the background. “We will lose one more year: another year of uncontrolled immigration; another year of lost purchasing power; another year of exploding insecurity.” The National Assembly cannot be dissolved until June 2025.

For much of the last month, the prevailing narrative of this election had the far right on the cusp of national power. Nearly all opinion surveys and seat projections pointed toward the Rassemblement National and its allies winning a commanding place in parliament, if not an absolute majority. On June 9, Macron’s dissolution of the National Assembly came on the heels of the far right’s first-place finish in the elections to the European Parliament. Their strength was confirmed in the June 30 first round of the snap legislative elections, when Le Pen’s party won over 33 percent of the vote, five and thirteen points ahead of the NFP and Macronist blocs, respectively.

Speaking on Sunday evening, the Rassemblement National’s official president and presumptive prime-ministerial candidate Jordan Bardella blamed the particularities of France’s two-round voting system. Bardella lambasted a runoff election skewed by “unnatural political alliances designed by any means to prevent the French from freely choosing a political alternative.”

A critical ingredient for blocking a far-right victory was the revival of the so-called “republican front,” with the NFP and the Macronist center withdrawing over two hundred competing candidates before the July 7 run-ff. Although it finds itself again in third place in the seat count among the three blocs, the Rassemblement National topped popular vote totals in the second round, with over ten million people across France opting for its ballot — something that was to be expected given that Le Pen’s party fielded the most candidates in the runoff. The NFP won over 7 million votes in the second round, closely followed by the Macronist bloc at roughly 6.3 million. July 7 again saw a major surge in voter participation, at its highest level for parliamentary elections since 1997.

Balance of Power

The balance of power in the incoming parliament is complicated for the Nouveau Front Populaire. An absolute majority in the National Assembly requires 289 seats, meaning that the chamber remains tilted heavily in favor of the right. Although NFP leaders maintain that some items on their agenda, such as an increase in the minimum wage and a price freeze on basic necessities, could be enacted by governmental decree, other elements would need to win a majority in parliament. The upper-house Senate, meanwhile, is dominated by the center-right Républicains.

Barring another surprise maneuver from Macron, the Nouveau Front Populaire will have to propose a figure for prime minister who can defend the alliance’s program all while navigating the near-constant risk of a no-confidence vote from the combined opposition forces to its right. Parti Socialiste leader Olivier Faure affirmed in his victory speech on Sunday that “our only compass will be the program of the Nouveau Front Populaire,” before demanding that the Macronist center “recognize defeat and that in the coming year they never combine votes with the far right to prevent the Nouveau Front Populaire from governing.”

If France Insoumise remains the leading force in the alliance and can point to the electoral success of a program for “rupture,” the center of gravity in the NFP could be tilting towards tactical governing concessions. Relative to the outgoing National Assembly, these elections have slightly shifted the balance between France Insoumise and the center-left Parti Socialiste in the latter’s favor. The leading forces in the NFP alliance, the two parties won seventy-seven and fifty-nine seats, respectively.

Several incumbent France Insoumise deputies deselected in June — in a purge of figures working toward a new left-wing alliance beyond the influence of Mélenchon — won reelection as dissidents against the party’s official candidates. Reelected on Sunday in a tight race in the Somme, François Ruffin left France Insoumise late last week, consummating his growing rift with the Mélenchonist force. Last week, Ruffin laid out his three conditions for a national-unity government that would include the Left: a repeal of Macron’s pension reform, the restoration of wealth taxes, and a constitutional reform to facilitate referendums.

For his part, Macron seems eager to bide his time and is looking for any chance to divide the left-wing alliance. On Monday morning, Macron pushed back “for the time being” against Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s offer of resignation, with figures in the presidential coalition predicting that negotiations and maneuvers for the creation of a government could last several weeks. Having already shocked the country with his dissolution of the National Assembly, the president is no doubt seeing if he has any other tricks up his sleeve.