At first sight, French nuclear energy policy offers a textbook example of how technical, constitutional and economic restrictions, powerful interest groups and path dependence constrain democratic responsiveness. This paper uses what might seem to be an unlikely case in order to question explanations of policy choices in terms of technocracy, path dependence and interest groups against the background of an under-estimated factor: party and coalition strategies. The original data collected on public attitudes towards nuclear energy and the attention dedicated to this issue in the media, as well as in the parliamentary and electoral arenas, show that the effect of public opinion is conditioned by party incentives to politicise the issue at stake. In other words, parties and coalition-making constraints act as a mediating variable between citizens’ preferences and policy choices. These findings point to the need to integrate this conditional variable into analyses of responsiveness and models of policymaking.