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Key Takeaways from France’s Presidential Election

April 11, 2022
4 min read
Photo credit: GERARD BOTTINO / Shutterstock.com
As opinion polls had forecast, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will contest the second round of France’s presidential election on April 24, which will be a rematch of the 2017 election.

In the first round on Sunday, the incumbent president came first with 27.8% of the vote and the leader of the National Rally party second with 23.1%. They did better than in the first round in 2017 when they scored 24% and 21.3% respectively.

The Macron-Le Pen runoff will certainly be much closer than it was five years ago, when the vote spread was 66.1% to 33.9%. The first polls carried out following the first round have Macron at 51% and Le Pen at 49%.

Sunday’s results showed Macron’s resilience in the face of mounting criticism regarding his leadership style, public concern about the rising cost of living, and the coronavirus crisis.

Sunday’s results showed Macron’s resilience in the face of mounting criticism regarding his leadership style, public concern about the rising cost of living (embodied by the Yellow Vests protest movement), and the coronavirus crisis. Meanwhile, Le Pen’s score confirms the success of her “normalization” strategy to soften her party’s far-right image and more professional presentation this time.

27.8%

In the first round on Sunday, the incumbent president came first with 27.8% of the vote and the leader of the National Rally party second with 23.1%.

Finishing close behind Le Pen, the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon scored 21.9%, based on his ongoing appeal to the youth vote (winning around 33% of those aged 18-24) but also to executives (around 25%).

Three-way Reconfiguration

The results confirm the reconfiguration of French politics, which started in 2017 with Macron’s successful campaign, into three main camps: the center-right (Macron), the far-right (Le Pen), and the far-left (Mélenchon). Macron’s vote base has swallowed the traditional mainstream parties, leaving only a large central pole between two extremes. This partly follows the Western European trend of a weakening of the large traditional mainstream parties that results in a more complicated, fragmented political scene.

Support for the center-right Les Républicains and the center-left Socialist Party and has eroded to such a point that they had their worst results in their history: 4.8% and 1.7% respectively. They represented 56% of the electorate ten years ago. Their presidential candidates collectively received fewer votes than the far-right Éric Zemmour, who created his party only three months ago, and less than a third of Le Pen’s vote.

This partly follows the Western European trend of a weakening of the large traditional mainstream parties that results in a more complicated, fragmented political scene.

As the state will only reimburse the campaign expenditures of those candidates who received more than 5% of the vote, Les Républicains and the Socialist Party face an existential challenge. Though they remain relevant at the local and municipal levels, the two parties have lost most of their voters at the national level to Macron and his La République En Marche! party.

Meanwhile, the protest right and left are consolidating their hold on the electorate on either side of the centrist president. More than half of voters opted for candidates on the anti-establishment extremes, principally Le Pen, Zemmour, and Mélenchon. Today, France’s largest political camp is the far-right, whose voters are spread among Le Pen, Zemmour, and the right wing of Les Républicains, amounting to about 38% of the electorate.

Breaking Down the Vote

In terms of socioeconomic categories, Le Pen was largely ahead among working-class voters (36%), followed by Mélenchon, while Macron won the support of higher-income (35%) and retired voters (38%).

There was less of a geographical divide. Macron won 25% of the rural vote and 29% of the vote in cities of 200,000 or more inhabitants. Le Pen, who targeted rural voters heavily during the campaign, won 27% in rural areas and 20% in these larger cities.

Strategic voting was a major factor: 50% of those who voted for Mélenchon did not do so out of conviction but based on his chances of winning the election. These apparently pragmatic, and most likely center-left or green, voters might be open to voting for Macron in the second round.

31%

The voting also showed a stark generational divide. Mélenchon was ahead among those aged 18-35 with 31%, Le Pen among those aged 35-60 with 28%, and Macron among those aged 60 and over (30% in the 60-69 group and 41% in the 70 and older group).

The voting also showed a stark generational divide. Mélenchon was ahead among those aged 18-35 with 31%, Le Pen among those aged 35-60 with 28%, and Macron among those aged 60 and over (30% in the 60-69 group and 41% in the 70 and older group).

If there is a low turnout in the second round, the generational divide could help Macron. His core, older constituency is much more likely to turn out on April 24—on Sunday 77% of those aged 70 and over voted. By comparison, less than 60% of those aged 18-34 did. Accordingly, mobilizing and convincing young voters—especially those who voted for Mélenchon—could in deciding who will be elected president.


Data sources: first-round results, Ministère de l’Intérieur; generational divide and sociodemographic categories, Ipsos France; urban and rural vote, Insee/Le Monde; strategic voting: Opinionway.