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Macron, Le Pen and the possible end of traditional parties in France

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will contest the second round of the French presidential elections, for the second time in a row. Last Sunday, the French went to the polls to vote in the first round of their presidential elections and the second round of the election is scheduled for the day 21 Of april. In the next two weeks, a lot could happen, making the election almost unpredictable. What are the chances of each and what can the results of the first round say about French politics?

First, let’s get to the election results. The centrist liberal Macron took 27, 8% of the vote, while Le Pen, from the nationalist right, received 23, 1% of votes. In third place was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, from the radical left, with 21, 9% of the votes. The difference between him and Le Pen was just over 400 a thousand votes. In fourth place was Éric Zemmour, from the extreme right, with 7%. Valérie Pécresse, from the conservative Os Republicans, took 4.7% of the votes, while the green Yannick Jadot had 4.6% of the votes.

Close the list Jean Lassalle, from the center, had 3, 1%, communist Fabien Roussel, with 2.2%, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, of the extreme right, with 2%, Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris of the Socialist Party, with 1,75%, Philippe Poutou with 0.7% and Nathalie Arthaud with 0.5%, both from radical left parties. Consecrated the winners of the first round, Dupont-Aignan and Zemmour declared their support for Le Pen, among the defeated names. The rest declared support for Macron, even if in a critical and indirect way. Mélenchon, for example, did not support Macron, but asked for “no vote for Madame Le Pen”.

That is, at first glance, it seems, we will have a repetition of the electoral scenario of 2017, in which the majority “held their noses” and voted for Macron in the second round, a much more anti-Le Pen vote. On that occasion, Macron won the first round with 35% of the votes, against 66 , 3% of Le Pen, a lead of less than three points. In 2022, his lead is almost five percentage points. The second round of 2017 ended with Macron winning with 66% of the votes, with almost five million voters leaving vote between one round and another.

The same phenomenon of a smaller electorate should be repeated in 2022, and the second-round polls point to a narrow victory for Macron, with between 27% and 55% of votes. And there are two main unknowns when viewing the runoff this year. First, it may sound surprising, but not all of Mélenchon’s electorate will vote for Macron. Most of those who voted for the radical left candidate have a critical stance of the European Union, Macron’s economic agenda and the relationship between France and NATO..

War in Ukraine and second round

Paradoxically, all this brings them closer to Le Pen. A survey by the Ipsos Institute points out that around % of Mélenchon voters are expected to migrate to Le Pen, while half of the same electorate ” at least consider” abstaining in the second round. The second unknown is the most important, the war in Ukraine. A lot can happen in the next two weeks. Macron, in his constant diplomatic dialogue in the midst of the conflict, can emerge as an architect of peace, someone who has made possible an agreement or a rapprochement.

Macron can also be left with a scratched image, as someone who it was used or made a fool of by Putin, Zelensky, or both. There were almost two dozen calls between the French president and his counterparts involved in the conflict. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki even taunted Macron, asking if he would “negotiate with Hitler”. It is important to remember, however, that in addition to the basic need to keep a diplomatic channel alive, many of these dialogues were held at Zelensky’s request.

The conflict can also influence the French election in other ways. For example, an escalation of the war in Ukraine could be the topic of a NATO meeting, or refugees could be the topic of detente within the EU, with France leading the European Council this year. There are myriad possibilities in two weeks of conflict in the middle of an election. There is another factor that could favor Le Pen in a second round, the rise of Zemmour.

By explicitly and openly advocating ideas such as the Ministry of “Deimmigration”, euphemism for the deportation of around one million people, he shifted the French Overton Window even further to the right. The term, referring to its creator, the political scientist Joseph Overton, explains the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse at a given moment and context, that is, what is politically considered “reasonable” and what is considered extremist.

A more extreme candidate than Le Pen makes the leader of the National Rally more “palatable” for many people. At the very least, “less extremist”, by simple contrast. The fact is that Marine Le Pen is in a difficult situation and that Macron is likely to win with a large “anti Le Pen” vote and a lower electoral presence, but she is alive in the race. That’s exactly what we said here in our space in July 2021, in the column ‘Marine Le Pen is defeated in France, but still alive’, which leads to another interesting discussion about the elections of the last weekend.

Traditional parties

The hypothesis that France is yet another case in which traditional parties are waning is much debated. The results left the Republicans, the main conservative party, at less than 5%, and Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and the Socialist Party, historically the strongest on the left, at less than 2%. From the perspective of the column, however, it is a bit hasty to speak of the end of traditional parties in France. As we saw in the column cited, last year, the Republicans and the Socialists were the big winners in the regional elections.

The two coalitions govern fifteen of the eighteen French Regions, the French “states”, in a analogy. The On March! won only in Guadalupe, while Réunion Nacional won none. In other words, the traditional parties show capillarity, presence and dominance in the public machine, strong coalitions and a regional performance that favors renewal. Can the end of these parties occur? Yes, of course, but on a day-to-day basis, the vast majority of French citizens will be in the governments of these two parties for at least a few years yet.

The point is that regional and national elections differ. Only 27% of voters showed up in regional elections, while turnout at nationals last weekend was 74%, more than doubled. National issues are now seen as more important and present in the French public debate. Examples are immigration and cultural aspects, important in Le Pen’s and Zemmour’s platforms. Or, the relationship with the EU, with NATO and the labor and social security reforms, all of which are very present in the platforms of Macron, Le Pen and Mélenchon.

The column from last July spoke of exactly that, but in the opposite direction, that Le Pen’s crushing regional defeat did not mean that she was a card out of the national deck. So much so that she came in second in the presidential election. Regarding the traditional parties, the fact is that the two candidacies that go to the second round are very personalist. Macron’s party has his name on the legend, and Marine Le Pen is heir to her father’s political activism. This personalist focus leaves both with little capillarity in the rest of the political structure.

The Republicans or the Socialist are more likely to find a viable candidate than Macron or Le Pen to create a solid structure around them. Their political movements are their names and revolve around them, not a conventional party organization. It is a phenomenon similar to the fact that Jair Bolsonaro, president in Brazil, was courted by several parties in 2021, repeating the scenario in 2021, needing to enter into a party already structured.

Again, the presidential race points to a victory for Macron, with the majority of voters voting for him as a way to avoid a triumph for Le Pen. If there is any sudden change in the electoral score, it will probably be because of the war in Ukraine. This, however, is not the only issue under debate, and Le Pen will keep an active campaign, trying to reverse the scenario. It will be two interesting weeks and the size of the voter turnout will be the essential number to understand the results.

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