French Presidential Elections: First Round

Yesterday was the first round of France’s Presidential election and the results are in: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will advance to the second round. The second round will be held in two weeks, on May 7th. The results are shocking for a number of reasons, including the surprising accuracy of pre-election polls, which I will discuss below.

Though expected, the most immediately arresting feature of the result is the failure of any mainstream candidate to reach the second round. Most news outlets are hailing the results as a “full-throated rebuke of France’s traditional mainstream parties” (NYT). The Wall Street Journal too stated (using almost the exact same language) that “The vote marks a stunning rebuke of France’s mainstream political forces” (WSJ). But most stunning is not that neither of these candidates are most France’s traditional left-right parties, but that neither of the candidates really fit on the traditional left-right spectrum. Marine Le Pen is not actually far-right, and Macron is centrist really only because his left-wing proposals balance out his right-wing proposals. On any issue his proposals could be easily classified as either right or left, he simply is not uniform with which side he picks.

A second take-away from the results is how close the whole thing was. The third and fourth place candidates, Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Melenchon respectively, both got about 20 percent of the vote, only 4 percent less than Macron, the leader. All four of the leading candidates received right around 20 percent of the vote. This reflects a deeply divided country. Fillion has taken his party far to the right, while Melenchon is a die-hard communist. In many respects Macron and Le Pen were actually the most “centrist” of the candidates, while still not really fitting on the traditional spectrum. The first round result shows a France that strongly desires change, but unable to articulate what kind of change.

A third take-away is that now, whoever becomes the next President of the Republic, it is quite likely that neither of the remaining candidates will have much ability to deliver on their promises. France’s Parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 11th, but neither the National Front not Macron’s “En Marche” movement are projected to win anything close to a majority. Whoever wins, Macron or Le Pen, will have to work with the mainstream parties that they have campaigned so ardently against. While Le Pen’s party has a much better chance than Macron’s of winning a parliamentary majority (though still slim), Macron will have a much easier time working with the parties currently (and likely to remain) in power.

Currently, Macron is well-positioned for victory in the second round. Le Pen’s second place finish means, obviously, that she needs to win more of the remaining electorate that Macron does. This will be quite a difficult task with France’s “Republican Front” already in full swing. The strong showing by Melechon should give Le Pen some hope however, as the National Front has strong support among former communists and in traditional leftist strongholds. Macron however, will benefit from the injection of organizational muscle from France’s largest parties and has much less work to do to win than Le Pen. But after all this is France, the land of barricades, revolutions, and just general political volatility. Macron is the heavy favorite but two weeks is a long time and anything can happen.

Author’s Note: Personally, I hope Macron wins. I don’t believe Marine Le Pen is as scary as many people think but Macron’s economic plan is much better suited for France’s current condition. Also, I like his combination of youthful energy and technocratic pragmatism. Until next time, au revoir!