President Emmanuel Macron and far right candidate Marine Le Pen are set for a rematch in the second round of the French presidential election on April 24.
The tripolarisation of France’s political landscape
Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen respectively gathered 27.84% and 23.15% of the votes during the first round on April 10. Marine Le Pen was closely followed by La France Insoumise (radical left) candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon (21.95%). According to a post-election study, the “useful vote” – a tactical vote consisting of going for a tolerable candidate with the best chance at the top prize, rather than the ideal pick in a perfect world – played a determining role in those first-round results. Jean-Luc Mélenchon would have benefited from it at 50%, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen at 34%.
The abstention rate reached 26% of the citizens registered to vote (12.8 million people), a level four points higher than in 2017 (but which remains slightly lower than the record of 2002, set at 28%). According to post-election surveys, young voters mainly mobilized for Jean-Luc Mélenchon (34.8% of the 18-24), while retirees supported incumbent President Emmanuel Macron (37.5% of the 65 and over), with Marine Le Pen winning in the age groups between 25 and 49 (30% among 25-34 and 28.8% among 35-49).
Purchasing power was a primary criterion for voters to choose their candidate in the first round, especially in the context of the war in Ukraine and the induced rising inflation.
This election marked a collapse of the two major parties that have structured the French political arena over the past 50 years: the conservative party Les Républicains only obtained 4.78% of the votes and the Socialist Party only 1.75%.
Macron, Le Pen set for a tight rematch
The first polls released after the 1st round show a narrowing of the gap between the two finalists compared to 2017. According to the polling institutes, Marine Le Pen would win between 46% and 49% of the votes, a jump of 12 to 15 points compared to 2017. Today’s political situation is completely different than in 2017. Her image in the public opinion’s eyes has improved considerably and the “republican front” that usually unites to oppose a victory of the extreme right proves to be more complicated to implement.
In this situation, the radical left Jean-Luc Mélenchon appears to be the king maker of this election, given the pool of support up for grabs in the second round. Despite his call not to give “a single vote” to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, his electorate seems to be divided into three thirds, between abstentionists, Macron vote and Le Pen vote.
For their part, the ecologist, communist and socialist candidates have called to vote for Emmanuel Macron. For the conservative party, "no vote can be cast for Marine Le Pen”. Unsurprisingly, far-right candidate Eric Zemmour expressed his support for Marine Le Pen.
The current President will have a lot to do between both rounds to gather a majority in the second round and has already started wooing the left-wing electorate to broaden his political base in this perspective, especially by committing to enrich his program, particularly on ecology, youth and work, subjects dear to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s electorate.
The face-to-face national televised debate between both candidates, which will be held on April 20, could play a key role with the volatile electorate.
Given the political lessons of the first round, the winner of the 2022 presidential election will face an uphill battle to get a majority at the National Assembly (lower house) after the legislative elections, which will be held on June 12 and 19, 2022.
In case of President Macron’s reelection, the radical left movement La France Insoumise is already ready to try to impose a political cohabitation (parliamentary majority being from a different party than the President) to Emmanuel Macron.