Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron came out on top in France’s April 10th first round election results. He got 27.9% of votes, followed by Marine Le Pen with 23.2% of votes. The two will go to a run off vote on April 24th.
Rounding out the top five were left wing populist Jean Luc Melenchon with 22%, populist Eric Zemmour with 7.1%, and establishment right candidate Valerie Pecresse with 4.8%. Socialist candidate and mayor of Paris Annie Hidalgo got 2%.
Post-Election Moves and What’s Next
As the results of the first round was announced, the various candidates had to react. Zemmour gave his concession speech and said despite his differences with Le Pen, Macron is the greater enemy, and endorsed her. Pecresse, as many expected, gave her support to Macron, but several in her party refused to follow suit. Melenchon has not said much publicly, and many of his voters will refuse to vote for Macron.
Le Pen, for her part, said there would be no positions for Zemmour officials in her cabinet and seemed to reject his endorsement. Given her not great support in the first round, this seems to be a big error, rejecting potential supporters in a tight second round. Many of Zemmour’s voters had transferred their votes to Le Pen in the first round, as France’s two round system forces voter to choose ‘the more viable’ candidate at some point. But given that he still received 30% of her vote total, she should be fighting for every last supporter to join her side.
Polls before the first round were showing roughly 51% or 52% for Macron in a runoff to Le Pen’s 48% or 49%. The first polls released Monday and Tuesday show roughly the same results, perhaps slightly stronger for Macron.
Le Pen’s second round result in 2017, when she lost 66 to 34%, ended up being several points lower than the polls suggested. In addition, the combined right vote in this 2022 first round was below 40%, suggesting a protest vote against Macron split between right and left wing. Leftist voters have not shown much inclination over the years to support Le Pen, despite her move left on some economic issues. Her cool reception to Zemmour and Pecresse voters could hurt her totals too.
Given these missteps, it seems difficult for her to present a united front that can comfortably get over 50%, but we hold out hope. On the other hand, turnout was lower than prior elections this time by several points. A continued low turnout favors Le Pen, as many center right or far left voters will stay home rather than vote Macron.
In the end, we are giving Macron the edge to win in a close election. Absent the war in Ukraine, this would have gone the other way. The populists mounted a strong challenge and forced several concessions and policy shifts out of Macron, but it looks like they are not quite strong enough to win this round.
Another interesting question to ponder is the result of the legislative elections. Unlike most democracies, France does not hold Presidential and legislative elections together. The legislative elections will be held in mid-June this year. Macron’s party currently has a dominant lead, with almost half the seats for his party, and a strong majority for its coalition. It will be very interesting to see the results of that election, and how strong the populist challenge continues to be.
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