Introduction to French Politics

Présentation de cours du programme universitaire


  • Professeur : Thomas Vitiello
  • Session : juillet (cours électif)
  • Langue d'enseignement : anglais
  • Nombre d'heures de cours: 24

Télécharger la présentation 2020 du cours "Introduction to French Politics" (pdf, en, 357 KB)

Objective of the Course

The main objective of the course is to enable students who are unfamiliar with French politics to understand the major political shift that occurred during the last presidential campaign and to participate in political debates during their stay in France. Students will gain the intellectual tools necessary to decipher the history of French politics in the last fifty years, the voting behaviour of French voters, as well as the news coverage of French politics.


This course is dedicated to the presentation, discussion and analysis of the main stakes of French political life, with a particular focus on presidential elections. The focus of the seminar will be on developing an understanding of the main events, actors, processes and ideas that have shaped and influenced contemporary France since the birth of the current Fifth Republic in 1958. The course will first identify the main actors within French politics by the study of its institutions, its political culture, its ideological debates, and its historical roots (sessions 1 to 5). The course will then undertake the presentation and analysis of recent electoral trends and the evolution of political discourse. This task will be based on the study of key presidential elections (from 2002 to 2017) that will shed light on the causes and consequences of the transformation of the French party system and on current electoral trends (session 6 to 9). The following questions, among others, will be addressed throughout the course:  What are the causes behind the spectacular rise of Emmanuel Macron and his ultimate victory? Can we still speak of Left and Right in French politics? How might we understand the strength of the radical right National Front in French politics?

Organization of the Course

Lecture 1: Introduction: The legacy of Gaullism and the birth of the Fifth Republic

  • Power distribution in the French political system
  • How do institutions work in France?
  • What are the powers of the President? The Prime Minister? Parliament?

Lecture 2: State, Republic, Nation in France

  • State and ‘Statism’
  • The Republic
  • National identity debates (1981-2019)

Lecture 3: Party politics (1) The Left

  • Birth and history of the Left in France
  • Contemporary evolution, strategy and transformations 
  • What role for political ecology in the French left?

Lecture 4: Party politics (2) The Right

  • Birth and history of the Right in France
  • Contemporary evolution, strategy and transformations

Lecture 5: Party politics (3) Radical political forces and protest groups: The National Front 

  • Birth and history of the extreme-Right in France 
  • Contemporary evolution, strategy and transformations 
  • Presentation topic: Nationalization and privatization

Lecture 6: French electoral behaviour and political communication

  • Voting patterns
  • How to analyse political gaps and polarisation of French politics?
  • What role the media play in French electoral campaigns?
  • Presentation topics: French cultural exceptionalism / The role of the European integration in French politics

Lecture 7: Presidential elections in 2002: the candidates’ nightmare

  • Why did Jean-Marie Le Pen reach the 2nd round of the election?
  • Did the 21st April reshuffle the cards of party politics?
  • How did the Left get over the elimination of its candidate?
  • Presentation topic: The Front Républicain

Lecture 8: From 2007 to 2012: a political renewal?

  • A real shift in candidates?
  • What were the topics around which these elections revolved?
  • Presentation topic: The National Identity debate

Lecture 9: A disruptive vote? What happened during the 2017 Presidential election?

  • How to explain the emergence of Emmanuel Macron?
  • A political world torn into pieces?
  • Old politics? New politics?
  • Presentation topics: The State of emergency / The Yellow Vests protests
Main Professor Biography

Dr. Thomas Vitiello (PhD Sciences Po, MSc UvA, BA IEPG) teaches political sciences courses (French politics, understanding and measuring public opinion, the personalization of politics…) at Sciences Po and works at the consultancy and survey company Elabe. His research focuses on online Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) and the study of electoral behaviour. He was the leading researcher in the development at the CEVIPOF (Centre of Political Research of Sciences Po) of the French VAA of “La Boussole présidentielle” for the 2017 French presidential election. His research has been published in Revue Française de Science Politique, Revue Internationale de Politique Comparée, Party Politics, and the International Journal of Electronic Governance. His most recent co-authored publication is « La République En Marche: Anatomie d’un mouvement », a sociological study on LaREM’s members.

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