A woman walks past damaged election posters of the French presidential election for En Marche! (From!) Movement Emmanuel Macron and President of the National National Front (UN) President Marine Le Pen, candidates for the French presidential election on May 4, 2017 in Paris, France.
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While Emmanuel Macron may have breathed a sigh of relief that the vote was no closer to Sunday night, digging deeper into the election data shows a worrying trend for the French president.
The result of the first round of France’s presidential election on Sunday was a sharp awakening for the incumbent leader. Visibly shaken, the former center-right investment banker turned to supporters after coming out ahead of far-right opponent Marine Le Pen by five percentage points.
“Make no mistake, nothing has been decided,” Macron told the audience at a meeting Sunday night. “Let us be humble, determined … I would like to extend my hand to all those who wish to work for France.”
The result, in which Macron took 28.3% and Le Pen took 23.3% of the vote and put a re-election between the two on April 24, means that a lot is at stake, not only for France but for Europe as a whole. , as the candidates have dramatically different visions.
This photograph taken in Toulouse in southwestern France on April 10, 2022 shows screens showing TV shows showing the expected results after the closure of the polls in the first round of the French presidential election.
Lionel Bonaventure | Afp | Getty Images
In third place came left-wing socialist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon with 21% of the vote, followed by far-right newcomer Eric Zemmour with 7.2%, whose anti-immigrant comments have made Le Pen look moderate. Le Pen and Macron must now try to win as many of these voters as they can before the final vote in two weeks.
Faced with a war on Europe’s eastern flank, the extent of which has not been seen on the continent since World War II, and the highest inflation levels in decades, efforts for France can hardly be higher.
And in stark contrast to political tendencies in other parts of the Western world, older French voters, especially those over 70, are more liberal, while younger voters are increasingly attracted to the far left and right.
According to poll data from Ipsos, Macron only came out on top among voters over 60 years of age and Melenchon and Le Pen received a larger share of the votes from the 18-24 age group. While younger people in France tend to vote less, which in this case may bode well for Macron, he will still have to appeal to a more left-leaning audience to conquer many of those votes for the bypass.
Data from the voting group Harris Interactive showed that the hard-line left-wing Melenchon won the majority of voters aged 18-24 with 34.8% of the vote, with Macron and Le Pen following with 24.3% and 18% of the vote respectively. Le Pen took the largest share of voters aged 25-49 by 30%.
She also came in front among the 35-49-year-olds with 28.8% of the vote. Macron only beat his rivals among the seniors, winning 37.5% of voters over the age of 65 and 28% among the 50-64-year-olds.
More than reflecting a shift in social values, some analysts say that much of the younger electorate’s slings to the far right and far left reveal the appeal of economic populism that Le Pen and Melenchon are in favor of, and a rejection of globalism and status quo.
As Macron faces a nationwide cost of living crisis and widespread belief in the country that he is a “president of the rich”, his message to younger voters and those further out on the political spectrum looks far more challenging than he may have previously had expected.
The rise in popularity of candidates at the far ends of the spectrum “is a manifestation of anger at the lost years of their lives due to the Covid pandemic and government shutdowns; part of it is an anti-establishment position against the French government,” Brussels-based international political expert Julien Hoez told CNBC.
“On top of this, there are the generational, economic, employment and cultural stressors across French society that have been picked up and armed by parties like the RN and LFI,” Hoez said, referring to Le Pen’s National Rally and Melenchon’s La France Insoumise.
Problems with bread and butter
Le Pen, which has softened its image and the image of its National Rally party in recent years, has shifted from a focus on immigration and national identity to bread-and-butter issues such as the cost of living. And with eurozone inflation at its highest ever, her message resonates.
According to a poll by Ipsos published on April 10, purchasing power and cost of living are the single most important issue for 58% of voters and a clear majority in all age groups except for the 18 to 24 year olds, for whom the environment ranks first. .
Le Pen has appealed to voters with proposals for tax cuts on energy, whose prices are at historic highs thanks to inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Macron, meanwhile, has promised some tax cuts, but is also pushing for an increase in the retirement age and cuts to employment in the public sector – something that will not find much support among the left-wing voters whose support he now needs.
Macron wants to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 and is the only candidate aiming to abolish the special pension system that is in place for some government employees, which includes large benefits and a lower retirement age. Zemmour wants to raise the retirement age to 64, and Le Pen plans to leave it unchanged, but bring it down to 60 for those who started working at the age of 20 or younger. Melenchon wanted to lower it to 60.
In a speech after Sunday’s election, Zemmour urged her supporters to give their vote to Le Pen, while Melenchon asked his supporters to vote for everyone but her. Yet he did not go so far as to support Macron, something the incumbent president would have appreciated.
Macron has been pushing for European unity at a crucial time when the EU is facing an aggressive Russia. His focus on the war in Ukraine initially gave him a huge advantage in the polls, but just in the last fourteen days before the first vote, the focus has shifted to the domestic market for the cost of living crisis.
Le Pen has been able to take advantage of this and pushed her economic promises to the forefront as her anti-NATO and anti-EU stance and friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin has been put under scrutiny.
But make no mistake, a shift in topic focus does not mean a move away from the problems that made Le Pen a controversial fiery soul in the first place, said Mujtaba Rahman, head of the Europe desk at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultant.
Le Pen “is no more moderate or reasonable today than she has been historically,” he said in a note prior to the vote. “She remains an extreme right-wing force in French politics.”