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What’s behind the elections results in France and the U.K.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Dramatic results in elections in France and in Britain over this past week. Britain's center-left Labour Party swept away the long-ruling conservatives. That was a landslide. And in France, in a blow to the far right, voters beat back a surge from Marine Le Pen's populist party National Rally. For more, we turn to NPR's global democracy correspondent Frank Langfitt, who has been tracking results in this record year of elections around the world. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So results from the U.K. first, a landscape that you know well as our former London correspondent. There, what polls predicted actually happened. This was expected, but how do the results fit into what you're seeing globally?

LANGFITT: Yeah. What it really fits into, Mary Louise, is this anti-incumbency that we've seen this year and we've seen in recent years. What you're seeing is angry voters holding parties to account. This is exactly what happened in the U.K. Voters were not so much giving this big enthusiastic endorsement to Labour. They were much more motivated to punish the conservatives after 14 years in power.

And we've reported a lot on this. Under the conservatives, there was a lot of political chaos, worst cost-of-living crisis since World War II, really hard to see a doctor for routine health issues in terms of getting appointments and rising immigration, which Brexit was supposed to stop. I was talking to this guy, Mujtaba Rahman. He analyzes politics in Europe for Eurasia Group, and this is what he said.

MUJTABA RAHMA: There's a general sense in the country that the government has been incompetent. It's a very good sign that U.K. democracy is alive and kicking, it's healthy, and it's working. However, it has taken a very long time for the electorate to get to this conclusion.

LANGFITT: And, Mary Louise, I should add, you know, turnout was the lowest in more than two decades, and that's also a sign that people do not necessarily have high hopes for Labour in the coming years.

KELLY: Interesting. So a story in there in Britain about accountability, it sounds like. Now, what about France? - where the results were totally surprising to a lot of folks.

LANGFITT: Yeah, and this is fascinating because people expected that there would be this anti-incumbent anger there as well. You know, voters' main concerns - they've been very unhappy with Emmanuel Macron, and they have been very concerned about falling purchasing power, immigration and crime. And what happened though, is it didn't quite go that way, even though there was a lot of bad feeling about Macron. I was talking to Florence Faucher. She teaches political science at Sciences Po in Paris. And here's what she said about how people viewed Macron.

FLORENCE FAUCHER: Like the British, they believe that politicians are not paying much attention to their plight, and in particular, that President Macron is very dismissive of their situation, doesn't understand them and looks down on them.

LANGFITT: But here's the thing, Mary Louise. It was so interesting - is when it came to the second round of voting, which was yesterday, many voters prioritized what they really valued. And they were less concerned about punishing Macron's party, more worried about National Rally taking power. So in many cases, instead of voting for the people they wanted to win, they voted for whoever could beat National Rally. The idea was deny the party the largest number of seats in the legislature. And I should also add, unlike the U.K., there was enormous turnout in France. It showed how seriously people took this election and how engaged they were.

KELLY: Well, and the backdrop for this, of course, is that right-wing populism has been growing in Europe, and that's not new. I'm thinking of the parliamentary elections for Europe last month. The far right made gains in Italy, in Germany, in Austria. Where do yesterday's results in France fit into that?

LANGFITT: Well, I think this was humbling for them because they seemed very confident they would get the most seats. Instead, they ended up getting the third most. But they also - this is important - they got more votes than ever before. And as Faucher says, for National Rally, this is still a step forward.

KELLY: So in the minute or so we have left and speaking of populist parties that set records, the U.K. set one of its own - Nigel Farage.

LANGFITT: Yeah.

KELLY: His Reform party did really well.

LANGFITT: It did.

KELLY: Where does that fit into all this?

LANGFITT: Well, it's interesting. You know, like National Rally, Reform is a nationalist and anti-immigration party. They got 14% of the vote. That's also a record. They hadn't seen that. They siphoned off a lot of votes from conservatives, but they only won a handful of seats 'cause it's a winner-take-all system in Britain.

KELLY: All right. That is NPR global democracy correspondent Frank Langfitt. Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Mary Louise.

KELLY: And if you would like to know more about other elections taking place around the world this year, and there are a whole lot of them, you can type these words into your search engine - year of global elections NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Frank Langfitt
Frank Langfitt is NPR's Global Democracy correspondent based on the Investigations desk in Washington, D.C. He covers threats to democracy at home and abroad. Please send tips to Frank Langfitt on Signal or Telegram.