Controlling the Presidential Election Madness: Lessons from France

By Hilary McDaniel


France will elect its next president on April 23, 2017—just over four months from today. Yet, the official presidential election has yet to begin. Juxtaposed to elections in the United States, this seems almost unfathomable. In fact, “in the time that elapsed between [Ted] Cruz announcing his presidential bid and Cruz endorsing Donald Trump, France could have elected 39 presidents.”[1] In both France and the United States, “the president is the most important political figure.”[2]  The presidential race in the United States, however, is “among the world’s longest political campaigns.”[3]

Methods to Control the Madness

Before voting stations had even closed on November 8, 2016, people across the United States were stunned by the exit poll results and media predictions of who would become the 45th president of the United States: Donald Trump. As the evening progressed, I watched as media forecasting sites such as Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight and The New York Times’ 2016 Election Forecast took a complete 180. On the Morning of November 8, 2016 FiveThirtyEight gave Donald Trump only a 28.6% chance of becoming president,[4] but over only a few hours, Donald Trump’s likelihood of becoming the next president skyrocketed. I repeatedly refreshed the forecasting sites, unable to believe what they were reporting. Meanwhile, I watched Wolf Blitzer on CNN becoming more shocked every time the network projected that Donald Trump had won another state.

CNN made its first projection at 7pm Eastern time.[5] “Adak, Alaska was the last polling place in the United States to close on Election Day”[6] closing at 1am Eastern time.[7] In other words, CNN made its first projection six hours before voting had even ended. In France, this never would have happened. There, media outlets are prohibited from estimating or predicting the winner of the presidential election before the last voting station has closed.[8] In the case of general presidential elections, voting always takes place on Sunday, and campaigning must conclude at midnight on the Friday before the election.[9] As such, candidates may not campaign the day before the voting takes places.

Perhaps I found Trump’s victory was especially surprising because I had watched CNN cover the 2016 presidential election for over a year. It was almost as if the election had become a reality television show. It certainly seemed like it in the month preceding the election, when the infamous Access Hollywood video was released. For days, it seemed like that was the only story reported by any news network. Americans were inundated with news about Trump’s alleged attitudes toward woman and previous indiscretions. But Trump may believe that this coverage actually helped his campaign. Donald Trump himself has said that any publicity is good publicity.[10] So then shouldn’t the amount of coverage be regulated? France certainly thinks so.

In France, formal campaigning is limited to two weeks.[11] During the formal campaign period, laws require media to provide “equal exposure to all contestants, whether they’re a favored incumbent, or marginal candidate getting 0% of vote in the polls.”[12] Additionally, candidates are provided equal and identical space to display outdoor posters.[13] Such regulations would seemingly prevent individuals from being inundated by stories of one candidate. It is important to note that although the official campaigns in France only last for two weeks, unofficial campaigns actually begin well before that time. Nevertheless, the final two weeks likely have an effect on the outcome of the election. During those final two weeks in France, it is not possible for one candidate to monopolize news coverage.


This blog may seem to be an attempt to persuade Americans to adopt an election system like that in France. But, in reality, the United States would never successfully pass similar election regulations. In the United States we cherish individuals,’ and the media’s right to freely engage in political speech. A right secured by the First Amendment. In fact, political speech is arguably the most coveted genres of speech protected by the First Amendment. For better or worse, Americans will continue to glean their political knowledge from extensive news coverage. Rather than advocating for an election system like that in France, this blog is meant to explore how French elections could negatively change if it adopts procedures similar to the United States. French political parties are currently “experimenting with U.S.-style primary elections.”[14] For the reasons explored above, it is my opinion that France would be wise to stick with their current election regulations. In the United States, not only have elections begun to feel like a reality television show, but “60 percent of Americans say they’re exhausted by the glut of election coverage.”[15] Equalizing the exposure of every presidential candidate and preventing pre-mature election predictions likely keeps campaigns from spiraling out of control in France.

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[1] Uri Friedman, American Elections: How Long is too Long?, (Oct 5, 2016),

[2] Immanuel Wallerstein, Elections in France and the United States: The Same and So Very Different, (Apr. 1, 2012),

[3] Friedman, supra note 1.

[4] Who Will Win the Presidency? FiveThirtyEight, (last updated Nov. 8, 2016).

[5] CNN Election Night in America 2016,

[6] State Poll Opening and Closing Times (2016),

[7] Rachel Cao, Poll Closing Times for Each State on Election Day, (Nov. 8, 2016, 2:59PM),

[8]  Angela Diffley, How the French Presidential Election Works, (last updated Sept. 2, 2012).

[9] Id.

[10] Dara Lind, Donald Trump Perfectly Explains His Entire Campaign Strategy, in One Bizarre Tweet, (July 20, 2016, 12:57 PM)

[11] Bruce Crumley, France’s Stringent Election Laws: Lessons for the America’s Free-for-All Campaigns, (Apr. 20, 2012)

[12] Crumley, supra note 8.

[13] Id.

[14] Friedman, supra note 1.

[15] Id.