France’s presidential election will be a rematch of the 2017 competition when far-right Marine Le Pen met political newcomer Emmanuel Macron.
Macron won that race by almost two votes to one.
But even if the candidates remain the same, the 2022 race is set to be a very different affair.
Here’s everything you need to know.
How does the election work?
To elect their new president, French voters go to the polls twice.
The first ballot, Sunday, saw 12 candidates line up against each other. They qualified for the race by securing endorsements from 500 mayors and / or city council members from across the country.
Macron and Le Pen received the most votes, but as neither of them won more than 50%, they go to a re-election on Sunday 24 April.
This is not the only national vote France is facing this year – parliamentary elections are also due to take place in June.
What dates do I need to know?
The re-election will then take place on Sunday 24 April.
Candidates are not allowed to campaign the day before the election or on election day itself, and the media will be subject to strict reporting restrictions from the day before the election until the polls close at 8pm on Sunday in France.
What do the polls show?
A much closer competition than the 2017 election.
Macron and Le Pen both increased their overall share of the vote in the first round of the year compared to 2017, but surveys ahead of the first round on April 10 showed that Le Pen enjoyed a late increase in support in March.
Political analysts often say that the French vote with their heart in the first round and then with their head in round two – which means that they choose their ideal candidate first and then choose the lesser of two evils in the second round.
Macron saw this unfold in 2017. He and Le Pen obtained 24% and 21.3% of the vote respectively in the first round and then 66.1% and 33.9% in the second round.
In order to be re-elected, Macron will likely have to convince supporters of far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon to support him. Melenchon came in third with 22% of the vote. On Sunday, Melenchon told his supporters, “we must not give a single vote to Mrs Le Pen,” but did not explicitly back Macron.
Most losing candidates urged their supporters to support Macron to block the far right from winning the presidency.
Eric Zemmour, a right-wing former TV expert known for his inflammatory rhetoric, urged his supporters to support Le Pen.
What do the French expect?
Then Russia invaded Ukraine.
With Europe’s eyes fixed on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bloody war, priorities have shifted rapidly: ammunition depots, senior diplomacy and even the threat of a nuclear attack have all entered the national debate.
What else has changed in the last five years?
France’s political landscape, for one.
Macron’s election effectively blew up the traditional center of French politics. In previous years, many of his voters would have flocked to the traditional center-left and center-right parties, the Socialists and the Republicans.
But Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist candidate, and Valérie Pécresse, the Republican candidate, failed to persuade voters to abandon the center-right candidate already in office. Both measured below 5% in the first round.
What else do I need to know about Macron and Le Pen?
Emmanuel Macron is a former investment banker and alumnus of some of France’s most elite schools. He was a political novice before he became president, and this is only the second political election he has ever participated in.
But he is no longer an upstart and has to ride on a mixed plate.
Macron’s domestic policy is more divisive and less popular. His handling of the yellow vest movement, one of France’s most protracted protests in decades, was far-reaching panned, and his record of the Covid-19 pandemic is not unequivocal.
Prior to the first round of this election, Macron refused to debate his opponents, and he has hardly even campaigned. While his pole position in the race has never really been threatened, experts believe his strategy has been to avoid the political mudslinging for as long as possible in order to stay focused on his image as the most presidential of all the candidates.
The younger Le Pen has tried to rebrand the party as it has long been perceived as racist and anti-Semitic.
This is her third shot at the presidency. This year and in 2017, she fared better than her father in the first round of elections.
In 2017, Le Pen campaigned as France’s answer to Trump: A right-wing zealot who promised to protect France’s forgotten working class from immigrants, globalization and technology that made their jobs obsolete.
Since then, she has given up some of her most controversial political proposals, such as leaving the EU.
But by and large, her economic nationalist stance, views on immigration, skepticism towards Europe and attitudes towards Islam in France – she wants to make it illegal for women to wear headscarves in public – have not changed. “Stopping uncontrolled immigration” and “eradicating Islamist ideologies” are her two manifestos’ priorities.
However, Le Pen has tried to soften his tone, especially around Islam and the EU in the wake of Brexit.
The strategy seems to have worked.
Le Pen’s performance in the first round of the 2022 presidential election was her best result in the three times she has run.
What are the biggest problems for French voters?
The cost of living is among the most important issues for French voters this year. Faced with the economic downturn from the pandemic, high energy prices and the war in Ukraine, voters are feeling it, despite generous government support.
While economic pressure may be insufficient to launder the extremism of some candidates in the minds of voters, they may pressure some to look for unorthodox answers to their problems.
The fighting in Ukraine is far from the bistros and cafes in France, but the conflict is certainly in the minds of voters. Just shy of 90% of French people were worried about the war in the last week of March, according to Ifop. Given his challengers’ uneven record in standing up to Putin, this has probably played in Macron’s favor so far.
Particularly absent in the first round debate was the environmental crisis. Although the importance of climate protection is gaining ground globally, it is less of a concern in France, which extracted 75% of its electricity needs in 2020 from nuclear energy, according to the French Ministry of the Environment. Most candidates in the first round supported the kind of nuclear development that Macron has already announced, so there is some disagreement on this issue.
However, Macron and Le Pen have sparred on wind and solar energy. Le Pen claims the two are expensive and inefficient – she also says wind turbines have scarred the landscape of the traditional French countryside – so she wants to scrap subsidies for both. Macron wants to invest further in both technologies.
The Macron and Le Pen campaigns promise two very different visions for the future of France.
Macron promises to continue working with a globalized, free market-focused France at the head of a powerful EU. Le Pen wants to completely abolish the status quo with protectionist economic policies and a renewal of Paris’ relations with its allies and opponents.
But in the end, the choice can only come down to which candidate France dislikes the least: the president, who is widely perceived as elitist and out of touch, or the challenger best known for his inflammatory rhetoric about Islam and support for authoritarianism .