This is the third edition of Split Ticket’s World Report, an article series devoted to covering foreign elections. Today’s edition will focus on France, where the 2nd round of the country’s closely-watched presidential contest will come to an end amid a backdrop of economic uncertainty and a burgeoning Russian threat.
The race is a rematch of 2017, when right-wing start-up Marine Le Pen was defeated 2 to 1 by the centrist Emmanuel Macron. After a 1st round polling surge, Le Pen has trailed the President by wide enough margins to suggest a victory for the incumbent. Regardless of the outcome, this year’s race is universally expected to be closer than 2017’s.
Background & 1st Round Results
Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron is running for reelection to a second five year term this cycle. As the inaugural nominee of the centrist En Marche party in 2017, Macron finished first in a heavily-fractured opening round before trouncing the National Front candidate Marine Le Pen 66-33. His runoff win was the most lopsided since Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, lost to President Jacques Chirac 82-18 in 2002. Before ascending to his office and achieving world renown, Macron was Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs. He has also worked as an investment banker.
Representing the National Rally, a renamed NF, is once again Marine Le Pen. Hailing from one of France’s dominant conservative political families, the younger Le Pen succeeded her father as leader of the country’s right-wing movement in 2011. She had previously entered the European Parliament, where she remained until becoming a member of the French National Assembly in 2017. Le Pen, who waged unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 2012 and 2017, is seeking the office for a third time in 2022. She is from Pas-de-Calais.
En Marche and National Rally are both technically new political parties that represent significant recent shifts in France’s electoral culture. The former was established in 2017 by Macron as a centrist alternative to the country’s other mainstream blocs. The latter is the novel version of the original far-right National Front founded in 1972 by Le Pen’s father.
Along with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left La France Insoumise movement, En Marche and National Rally form a French political scene that contributor Leon Sit has described as a tri-polar balance between the right, the left, and the center. This new dynamic was codified following this month’s 1st round results, which confirmed the complete collapse of the once-dominant Republican and Socialist parties. The vote share table above encapsulates the seismic change poignantly.
1st Round Results
Just like in 2017, the 1st round of this year’s presidential election was very competitive. President Macron once again took 27% of votes cast, a plurality higher than the 24% he received in 2017. Le Pen finished second with 24% and Mélenchon finished third with just under 22%. Far-right candidate Eric Zemmour came in fourth with 7%, while Republican Valérie Pécresse and Socialist Anne Hidalgo received just over 6% of the vote combined.
The map above by Leon Sit displays the electoral coalitions very well. Le Pen performed extremely well in the so-called post-industrial northeast closest to her home base in Pas-de-Calais. She also ran well along the southern coast and in rural areas throughout the French heartland.
Macron’s base of moderate urbanites gave him the edge in important French cities like Paris, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Lyon, and Nantes. Mélenchon did decently in his native Marseille and generally finished ahead of Le Pen in major metros. The leftist’s strongest support came from the immigrant-heavy, working-class ring communities to the east of Paris proper. The overall coalition was reminiscent of 2017’s.
1st Round – Background
As Split Ticket discussed in the last installment of World Report, the entire French campaign cycle is fairly short by American standards. President Macron’s reelection did not begin in earnest until March, with most of the unfolding political battles occurring ahead of the 1st round in April. Important issues discussed before the first canvass included the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Macron’s commitment to campaigning, inflation-driven rebate proposals, and the McKinsey consulting scandal.
The Last Two Weeks
Since the rematch was confirmed at the beginning of this month, the campaign discourse between Macron and Le Pen has grown more vitriolic. The President’s initial polling scare reignited his campaign, giving him a chance to broaden his overall lead in the latest survey averages. Part of the incumbent’s rebound might be explained by the stark policy differences between him and his right-wing opponent.
Le Pen has attempted to soften her culturally-conservative rhetoric slightly this time around in an effort to widen her appeal after a crushing 2017 loss. But her populist National Rally still supports conservative policies, including a ban on the wearing of Muslim headscarves in public.
French economic woes have opened a new avenue for Le Pen to successfully criticize the leadership of President Macron. Record inflation continues to plague the country, and the NR believes that the President’s efforts to institute rebate policies have been insufficient. As a challenger, Le Pen has been able to criticize present economic realities without bearing the burden of addressing them.
Supporters of both Le Pen and Mélenchon have also influenced economic concessions from the Macron campaign. According to the Associated Press, widespread electoral opposition has forced the President to walk back his prior commitment to unconditionally raising the French retirement age. It remains unclear if this change in rhetoric will attract more Mélenchon voters to the En Marche camp.
Macron has ultimately focused the campaign more on foreign policy, implying that his administration should be sustained if France expects to maintain both its European and worldwide influence as a prominent democracy. With Le Pen openly pledging to reevaluate France’s EU role and NATO defense commitments amid grave Russian aggression, Macron’s points have garnered a particular salience.
Given the recent rise of right-wing politics throughout Europe, though, it is unclear if the French share the same reservations about Le Pen as the international community. If a majority of the electorate does not, the National Rally may find itself riding an unlikely wave to victory. A Le Pen win may be unlikely, but it is certainly not impossible. An outcome of that sort would pose a major disruption to European geopolitics while marking a consequential change in French political directionality.
- Le Pen has historically underperformed her polling benchmarks, suggesting that Macron’s recently-widening lead will be enough to sustain his Presidency. Ipsos showed Macron ahead 56-44 on 4/22.
- Split Ticket expects President Macron to be reelected to another five year term in office by a closer margin than his initial 2017 victory.
- Regardless of the eventual outcome, abstentions will be a critical piece of the coalition puzzle. Recent polling suggests that around 25% of voters are planning abstentions.
- Split Ticket will be watching to see if Le Pen wins a statistically-significant amount of Mélenchon’s non-abstaining first round voters. Zemmour’s initial support, meanwhile, is expected to shift into the National Rally column.
- A slight caveat: turnout projections show participation rates in Macron’s home base of Paris & Seine-Saint-Denis to be lower than elsewhere in the country. Follow our Twitter feed for continuing coverage this afternoon and evening.
Last Wednesday, José Ramos-Horta won the presidential election in East Timor. Ramos-Horta, a member of the National Congress for Reconstruction, took 62% of the vote against incumbent President Francisco Guterres of the Revolutionary Front. The CNRT is the center-left alternative to Fretilin, a party with marxist-leninist origins. Ramos-Horta, who assumes office in May, previously served two stints as President from 2007-2008 and 2008-2012.
Slovenia will hold its closesly-watched parliamentary contest today. The conservative Slovenian Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Janez Janša, is attempting to maintain its plurality in the 90 seat National Assembly. But the current LMS-SD-SMC-SAB-DeSUS coalition could be in jeopardy, with recent opinion polling showing the center-left Freedom Movement gaining ground. Hungary and Serbia, both located in the vicinity, held elections earlier this month in which the status quo was sustained.
Further developments have occurred in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, both of which are currently in states of tumult. On April 10th, the parliament of Pakistan successfully held a no confidence vote on the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Khan, who leads the populist PTI party, had attempted to dissolve parliament to avoid the vote, a move that Pakistan’s high court deemed illegal.
While the exact roots of the groundswell of opposition to Khan remain unconfirmed, his lack of rapport with the Pakistani military could be to blame. Pakistan’s defense class is close to the United States and did not appreciate Khan’s anti-American posturing, a political tact that moved Pakistan closer to the Chinese sphere of influence. The former cricket star has since blamed the U.S. for his loss of power.
Conservative PML(N) leader Shebaz Sharif, head of opposition, is the new Prime Minister. No PM in Pakistani history has ever served a full five year term, and new elections expected to happen in 2023 leave Sharif’s fate in doubt.
In Sri Lanka, intense economic hardship has cast doubt on the leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rolling-blackouts, unpayable foreign debt, and food shortages have led Sri Lankans of all types and persuasions to take to the streets in protest of the Rajapaksas.
Originally buoyed by “war hero” status from the country’s long Civil War, the political family has since been forced into a state of contrition. Top ministers have resigned and the parliament has rejected a Rajapaksa-based call for a unity government. President Rajapaksa has begun to shoulder some of the blame for his country’s woes, but his long-term status appears uncertain. Sri Lankan parliamentary elections were last held in 2020 and the next separate presidential contest is scheduled to occur in 2024.