1988 French presidential election

Presidential elections were held in France on 24 April and 8 May 1988.

1988 French presidential election

 1981 24 April 1988 (first round)
8 May 1988 (second round)
Candidate François Mitterrand Jacques Chirac
Party PS RPR
Popular vote 16,704,279 14,218,970
Percentage 54.0% 46.0%

Results of the first round by department

Results of the second round by department

President before election

François Mitterrand

Elected President

François Mitterrand

In 1981, the Socialist Party leader, François Mitterrand, was elected President of France and the Left won the legislative election. However, in 1986, the right regained a parliamentary majority. President Mitterrand was forced to "cohabit" with a conservative cabinet led by the RPR leader Jacques Chirac. Chirac took responsibility for domestic policy while the President focused on his "reserved domain" – foreign affairs and defense policy. Moreover, several other prominent candidates opposed the two heads of the executive.

Chirac's cabinet advocated liberal-conservative policies, in abolishing the solidarity tax on wealth and selling some public companies. It was faced with opposition from social movements, supported by President Mitterrand.

Meanwhile, the leadership of Chirac over the right was challenged by the former UDF Prime Minister Raymond Barre. Barre gained some popularity by condemning the principle of the "cohabitation", claiming that it is incompatible with the "spirit of the Fifth Republic". He appeared as an alternative to the executive duo. In January 1988, when he announced his candidacy, Chirac was credited with 19.5% in the first round by SOFRES polls institute, against 23% for Barre. But, from the start of February, Chirac benefited from the internal divisions in the UDF, and took the lead among the right-wing candidates.

On the left, the identity of the Socialist candidate was uncertain. Mitterrand said he was not sure he would run, and meanwhile, his internal rival Michel Rocard campaigned for the nomination. The favourite to win the election according to the polls, the incumbent president announced his candidacy at the end of March. He wrote an open letter to the French, where he proposed a moderate programme ("neither nationalisations, nor privatizations") and advocated a "united France" against "the appropriation of the state by a clan", targeting Chirac and the RPR.

He benefited from the decline of the French Communist Party, represented by André Lajoinie. Lajoinie was faced with competition for the far-left vote by a "reforming Communist", Pierre Juquin and a Trotskyist, Arlette Laguiller. Meanwhile, the Ecologist Antoine Waechter refused to ally the Greens with either the left or the right. On the far-right, the National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, tried to confirm the FN's good result in the previous legislative election.

The French economy shrugging off the early 1980s recession with 4% growth that year put the economy off the minds of voters as well as popular social programs being implemented, both of which gave Mitterrand the economic argument to achieve a second term despite the fallback in the last legislative election that caused cohabitation.


The second round consisted of a competition between the two heads of the executive power, but the first was marked by the unexpectedly high vote for the National Front, and a poor result for the Communist Party. Barre endorsed Chirac.

The TV debate between the two finalists, and protagonists of the "cohabitation", was very tense. Mitterrand wanted to show his ascendancy in naming his challenger "Mr Prime Minister". Chirac answered: "Here, you are not President, and I am not Prime Minister. We are two equal candidates. You will allow that I call you Mr Mitterrand". Mitterrand replied: "You are absolutely right, Mr Prime Minister". Besides, the two candidates clashed about their attitude to the September 1986 terrorist attacks.

François Mitterrand was re-elected President of France. Jacques Chirac resigned from the head of the cabinet. Michel Rocard succeeded him, then the Socialist Party obtained a relative parliamentary majority, President Mitterrand having dissolved the National Assembly. Chirac became president after winning the 1995 elections.

e  d Summary of the 24 April and 8 May 1988 French presidential election result
Candidates Parties 1st round 2nd round
Votes  % Votes  %
François Mitterrand Socialist Party 10,367,220 34.10% 16,704,279 54.02%
Jacques Chirac Rally for the Republic 6,063,514 19.94% 14,218,970 45.98%
Raymond Barre Union for French Democracy 5,031,849 16.55%
Jean-Marie Le Pen National Front 4,375,894 14.39%
André Lajoinie French Communist Party 2,055,995 6.76%
Antoine Waechter The Greens 1,149,642 3.78%
Pierre Juquin Independent communist 639,084 2.10%
Arlette Laguiller Workers' Struggle 606,017 1.99%
Pierre Boussel Movement for a Workers' Party 116,823 0.38%
Total 30,406,038 100% 30,923,249 100%
Valid votes 30,406,03898.00% 30,923,24996.38%
Spoilt and null votes 621,9342.00% 1,161,8223.62%
Turnout 31,027,97281.38% 32,085,07184.06%
Abstentions 7,100,53518.62% 6,083,79815.94%
Registered voters 38,128,507 38,168,869
Table of results ordered by number of votes received in first round. Official results by Constitutional Council of France.

Source: https://www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/decision/1988/8856pdr.htm

See also


    Further reading

    & Bell, David. François Mitterrand: A Political Biography (Polity, 2005).

    • Dow, Jay K. "Voter choice in the 1995 French presidential election." Political Behavior 21.4 (1999): 305–324.
    • Frears, John. "The 1988 French Presidential Election." Government and Opposition 23.3 (1988): 276–289.
    • Goldey, David B., and Richard W. Johnson. "The French presidential election of 24 April–8 May and the general election of 5–12 June 1988." Electoral Studies 7.3 (1988): 195–223.