French legislative election, 1978

French legislative election, 1978
12 March and 19 March 1978

All 491 seats to the French National Assembly
246 seats were needed for a majority
  Majority party Minority party
Leader Jacques Chirac Jean Lecanuet
Leader's seat Corrèze-3rd Seine-Maritime (Senator)
Last election 183 seats (UDR) 119 seats (Reforming Movement, Centre, Democracy and Progress, and Independent Republicans)
Seats won 150 121
Seat change Decrease 33 Increase 2
Popular vote 6,462,462 (1st round)
6,651,756 (2nd round)
6,128,849 (1st round)
3,489,363 (2nd round)
Percentage 22.62% (1st round)
26.11% (2nd round)
21.45% (1st round)
23.18% (2nd round)

  Third party Fourth party
Leader François Mitterrand Georges Marchais
Party PS PCF
Leader's seat Nièvre-3rd none
Last election 102 seats 73 seats
Seats won 104 86
Seat change Increase 2 Increase 13
Popular vote 6,451,151 (1st round)
7,212,916 (2nd round)
5,870,402 (1st round)
4,744,868 (2nd round)
Percentage 22.58% (1st round)
28.31% (2nd round)
20.55% (1st round)
18.62% (2nd round)

PM before election

Raymond Barre

Elected PM

Raymond Barre

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The French legislative elections took place on 12 March and 19 March 1978 to elect the sixth National Assembly of the Fifth Republic.

On 2 April 1974 President Georges Pompidou died. The non-Gaullist center-right leader Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was elected to succeed him. Because the Gaullist UDR was the largest party in the pro-Giscard majority in the Assembly, Giscard chose Jacques Chirac to lead the cabinet. This period was one of renovation for Gaullism.

The presidential will to "govern towards the center" and to promote a "modern liberal society" disconcerted the Gaullist party. The Abortion Act and the reduction of the age of majority to 18 years worried a part of the conservative electorate. Furthermore, a personal conflict opposed the two heads of the executive. In August 1976, Chirac resigned because he considered that he "(had) not the means to carry on (his) function of Prime Minister".

Three months later, the UDR was replaced by the Rally for the Republic (Rassemblement pour la République or RPR). This, Chirac's electoral machine, was officially a member of the Presidential Majority, but frequently criticized the liberal and pro-European policy of President Giscard d'Estaing and his new Prime minister Raymond Barre. The executive duo reacted by federating the non-Gaullist center-right in the Union for French Democracy (Union pour la démocratie française or UDF).

While the right-wing majority was divided, and the economic situation deteriorated, the "Union of Left" won the mid-term local elections. According to the polls, it was favourite to win the legislative election. In his Verdun-sur-le-Doubs speech, President Giscard d'Estaing warned the French voters that he could not prevent the enforcement of the left-wing Common programme if the "Union of Left" won. However, Socialists and Communists did not update their Common programme due to increasing tension between the two parties resulting from the PS gaining in electoral success at the PCF's expense.

Contrary to what polls indicated, the Presidential Majority won but it obtained only 2,284 votes more than the "Union of Left". For the first time since 1936, the Socialists obtained more votes than the Communists. Furthermore, the French electorate appeared evenly shared between four equivalent political parties (RPR, UDF, PS, PCF). Raymond Barre was confirmed as Prime Minister. Until the French legislative election, 2007, it was the last time that either the right or the left had won back-to-back legislative elections.


Parties and coalitions 1st round 2nd round Total seats
Votes % Votes %
Rally for the Republic (Rassemblement pour la République) RPR 6,462,462 22.62 6,651,756 26.11 150
Union for French Democracy (Union pour la démocratie française) UDF 6,128,849 21.45 5,907,603 23.18 121
Presidential Majority (Majorité présidentielle) MAJ 684,985 2.39 305,763 1.20 16
Total "Presidential Majority" (Right) 13,276,296 46.46 12,865,122 50.49 287
Socialist Party (Parti socialiste) PS 6,451,151 22.58 7,212,916 28.31 104
French Communist Party (Parti communiste français) PCF 5,870,402 20.55 4,744,868 18.62 86
Movement of Left Radicals (Mouvement des radicaux de gauche) MRG 603,932 2.11 595,478 2.36 10
Total "Union of Left" 12,925,485 45.24 12,553,262 49.24 200
Miscellaneous including the Unified Socialist Party (Parti socialiste unifié) 793,274 2.77 57,418 0.22 1 PSU
Ecologists ECO 621,100 2.14 - - -
Far-Left 953,088 3.33 - - -
Total 28,560,243 100 25,475,802 100 488
Abstention: 17.22% (1st round); 15.34% (2nd round)


Popular vote (first round)

6th National Assembly by Parliamentary Group

Group Members Caucusing Total
  RPR Group 143 11 154
  UDF Group 108 15 123
  Socialist Group 102 11 113
  Communist Group 86 0 86
  Non-Inscrits 15 0 15
Total: 454 37 491
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