The previous legislative elections in 1951 had been won by the Third Force, a coalition of center-left and center-right parties, but it was divided about denominational schools question and, when faced with the colonial problem, the governments had gradually moved towards the right. A part of the Rally of the French People (RPF), the Gaullist party, joined the majority in opposing the leadership of Charles de Gaulle, who then retired.
The far-right, led by Pierre Poujade, re-appeared at about the same time. He was a critic of "fiscalism", and leader of a shopkeepers and craftsmen's movement. Many voters seemed tired of the political system's numerous ministerial crises, and he had much support in the rural areas, which were in decline.
The coalition cabinet was led by the Socialist leader Guy Mollet. At the beginning he was also supported by the Communists, but pressure from the pieds-noir in Algeria incited him into leading a very repressive policy against the Algerian nationalists. This policy was criticized by Vice-Prime Minister Mendès-France and other members of the cabinet, who resigned, thus splitting the Republican Front. Mollet and his successors floundered in the conflict until May 1958.