1974 French presidential election

Presidential elections were held in France in 1974, following the death of President Georges Pompidou. They went to a second round, and were won by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing by a margin of 1.6%. It is to date the closest presidential election in French history.

1974 French presidential election

← 1969 5 May 1974 (first round)
19 May 1974 (second round)
1981 →
  Valéry Giscard d'Estaing 1976 White House.jpg Conferentie van leiders sociaal-democratische partijen EEG-landen in Den Haag, Bestanddeelnr 927-5559 (cropped).jpg
Candidate Valéry Giscard d'Estaing François Mitterrand
Party RI PS
Popular vote 13,396,203 12,971,604
Percentage 50.8% 49.2%

Élection présidentielle française de 1974 T1 carte départements & régions.svg
Results of the first round by department

Élection présidentielle française de 1974 T2 carte départements & régions.svg
Results of the second round by department

President before election

Alain Poher
(acting President after Georges Pompidou died in April)

Elected President

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing


In 1969, Georges Pompidou, formerly Prime Minister under the presidency of Charles de Gaulle, was elected President of France for a seven-year term. However, he died in office on 2 April 1974, and the French voters were called to elect his successor. The political classes were caught unawares by Pompidou's death.

On the Left, the Socialist Party (PS), the French Communist Party (PCF), and the Movement of Left Radicals (MRG) campaigned for the Programme commun that they agreed in 1972. Whilst the PCF was the main force of this coalition (at least in terms of popular support), they united behind the candidacy of the PS leader François Mitterrand. Indeed, they thought the "Union of Left" could not win if it was led by a Communist in the presidential race. The fear of communism was often an argument used by the French Right to win elections. Furthermore, Mitterrand had succeeded in forcing an unexpected second ballot when he was candidate in 1965 against General De Gaulle. Only two smaller Trotskyist parties refused to support Mitterrand and the Common Program, as well as the Social Democratic Party founded by a split of Socialist elects who disapproved the alliance with the PCF. For the first time since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958, the Left had a serious chance of victory.

The situation in the "Presidential Majority" was very confused: no "natural candidate" had appeared. Prime Minister Pierre Messmer had announced he would run if he was the only candidate of the majority. This condition being not satisfied, he withdrew. Four men declared their will to run: former Gaullist Prime Minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas, the Chairman of the National Assembly Edgar Faure, the former Craftsmen and Shopkeepers Minister representing the ultra-conservative wing of the Gaullist Party Jean Royer, and finally the Economy Minister and leader of the Independent Republicans Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. Quickly, Faure withdrew and the real competition on the Right was between Chaban-Delmas and Giscard d'Estaing.

Chaban-Delmas conveyed an image of being a reformist Gaullist and invoked his proposals for a "New Society", which he had tried to apply when he led the cabinet (from 1969 to 1972), but he was supported by the "Barons of Gaullism" who held the bulk of ministerial offices for 16 years. His challengers denounced the continuation of the UDR-state, that is to say the appropriation of the state by the Gaullist Party.

Giscard d'Estaing portrayed himself as "the change in the continuity", a "modern turn" for the French politics, in the incumbent majority and more reassuring for moderate voters than the Common Program which was characterised as a collectivist project. He benefited from the divisions in the UDR. Indeed, 43 Gaullist personalities close to Pompidou and led by the young Interior Minister Jacques Chirac published an appeal insinuating that Giscard d'Estaing was more likely than Chaban-Delmas to defeat Mitterrand. As a result, the left-wing candidate faced the leader of the Independent Republicans in a very competitive run-off.

For the first time in the history of the French presidential elections, a Radio-TV-debate between the two finalists was organized. Mitterrand presented his competitor as the representing of the elites who pursued unfair policies, while Giscard d'Estaing criticized his opponent to be "a man of the past". The turnout reached a record and Giscard d'Estaing was elected with a margin of only 424,599 votes. He nominated Chirac as Prime Minister.


e • d Summary of the 5 and 19 May 1974 French presidential election result
Candidates Parties 1st round 2nd round
Votes % Votes %
François Mitterrand Socialist Party PS 11,044,373 43.25% 12,971,604 49.19%
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing Independent Republicans RI 8,326,774 32.60% 13,396,203 50.81%
Jacques Chaban-Delmas Union of Democrats for the Republic UDR 3,857,728 15.11%
Jean Royer Independent right-wing conservative 810,540 3.17%
Arlette Laguiller Workers' Struggle LO 595,247 2.33%
René Dumont Independent environmentalist 337,800 1.32%
Jean-Marie Le Pen National Front FN 190,921 0.75%
Émile Muller Democratic Socialist Movement of France MDSF 176,279 0.69%
Alain Krivine Revolutionary Communist Front FCR 93,990 0.37%
Bertrand Renouvin New Royalist Action NAR 43,722 0.17%
Jean-Claude Sebag European Federalist Movement MFE 42,007 0.16%
Guy Héraud European federalist 19,255 0.08%
Total 25,538,636 100% 26,367,807 100%
Valid votes 25,538,636 99.08% 26,367,807 98.66%
Spoilt and null votes 237,107 0.92% 356,788 1.34%
Turnout 25,775,743 84.23% 26,724,595 87.33%
Abstentions 4,827,210 15.77% 3,876,180 12.67%
Registered voters 30,602,953 30,600,775
Table of results ordered by number of votes received in first round. Official results by Constitutional Council of France.

Source: List of candidates · First round result · Second round result

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Bell, David. François Mitterrand: A Political Biography (Polity, 2005).
  • Berstein, Serge, Sergej Natanovič Bernstejn, and Jean-Pierre Rioux. The Pompidou Years, 1969–1974 (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
  • Criddle, Byron. "The French presidential election." The World Today 30.6 (1974): 231–238. online
  • Hayward, Jack, and Vincent Wright. "'Les deux France' the French presidential election of May 1974." Parliamentary Affairs 27.1974 (1974): 208–236.

External linksEdit