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The French Elections: what to expect when the right and center clash?

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Four years have passed since 2017 when Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron first faced each other in a series of presidential debates. Now, as the current president Emmanuel Macron’s first presidential term is coming to an end, France is preparing for new presidential elections scheduled for the 10th of April, 2022. This time, they are far more interesting: despite two well known candidates running for the same position, plenty of other politicians seem to be threatening their supremacy.

How does the system work and who are the candidates?

The French political world is based on a semi-presidential system. As a democratic state, France elects its president every 5 years in a two-round election: if none of the candidates win the absolute majority of votes in the first round, the top two go to the second round for the final face-off. 

This year, 32 candidates are running in total, representing 26 political parties. Apart from the already well-known Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen, the current president’s fiercest competition, is one of the candidates. It is the 3rd time that Le Pen is running for president – in the 2012 elections, she came in third, while in 2017 – second. Le Pen is well known for her nativist anti-immigration ideology, but she is not alone in that respect – running on the same conservative grounds is Eric Zemmour. The latter is a well-known TV star and a political journalist who just recently decided to compete for the presidential position. Both of them are promising harsh anti-immigration policies. Another conservative candidate is Xavier Bertrand – a man who won over Marine Le Pen in the regional elections of 2021 and is now campaigning for economic reforms that benefit middle-class households.

Although the majority of French citizens had been supporting the Left and Socialists for decades, recent years have shown a drastic increase in the support for the Right-Wing. Hence, the Left-Wing candidates are reshaping their political campaigns to attract more supporters. One such example is Jean-Luc Melénchon – a fierce critic of both Macron and Le Pen. A former socialist and a Left-Wing supporter, Melénchon puts a major focus on the environment and is proposing green policies in his political campaign. Running on similar beliefs is Sandrine Rousseau – the leader of the French #MeToo movement who’s often labeled as the ecofeminist of France. Last but not the least, among the most influential candidates is Anne Hidalgo. Although she represents the Socialist Party, Hidalgo is known to be a tough politician who has gathered plenty of experience by  serving as the Mayor of Paris since 2014 and is known for her drastic environmentalist policies. All three candidates are trying to cling onto what Macron has missed in the four year period and what might gather them more support. As a result, all of their political campaigns have strict green policies, such as greater carbon taxes or banning of all cars in specific areas, as well as policies that benefit low-income households, such as increasing minimum wages and granting social housing.

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19952002200720122017
1st round78.38%71.6%83.77%79.48%77.77%
2nd round79.66%79.71%83.97%80.35%74.56%
French Voting Turnout in The Presidential Elections in the Past 2 Decades

Despite the sudden peak in 2007, throughout the years French voting turnout has been gradually decreasing. However, with all candidates being so politically diverse, it seems like France is about to witness some incredibly fierce presidential debates and some of the most heated elections in national history, hence potentially sparking an increase in voting rates.

What do the polls predict?

The presidential poll this year is interesting for several reasons. First of all, it is very clear that Macron is leading the charts. In fact, throughout 2021 his support levels were very stable and did not have any massive downfalls. As visible in the polls, the lowest point for Macron so far has been support levels of 24% and the maximum has so far reached 25%. Interestingly enough, these results resemble the 2017 election polls, when Macron first ran as a presidential candidate and won. Prior to the elections back then, Macron had an identical level of support – 24%. This coincidence could be indicating that Macron is very likely to win the election again,  especially given that as of today his support levels exceed those of all other candidates.

Secondly, competing neck to neck are the National Rally’s flagbearer Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, the epitome of French Donald Trump. His harsh anti-immigration, anti-feminist and anti-LGBTQ opinions have made him a star of conservative news outlet CNews. Although he announced his candidacy only last week, his support level has been growing immensely. Because Zemmour has a far greater media outreach, he’s becoming more popular than Le Pen who does not have an additional huge platform to gather her support on. Therefore, even if the current support difference between Le Pen and Zemmour is 12%, it could change in the long run with Zemmour taking the lead of Extreme Right. As Zemmour is stealing Le Pen’s spotlight, there is a high probability she will end up in the third place as in 2012. This is also threatening for Xavier Bertrand whose current support level stands at 14%, only 2% away from Zemmour’s. If the latter’s support level keeps growing, Bertrand could also get pushed out of the Top 3 candidates list.

When it comes to more alternative parties, such as The Greens, the only person leading the way is Melénchon. As of now, his support level outgrows that of all other Left wing environmentalists such as Rousseau, Jadot or even the socialist Hidalgo. However, given that all of the latter’s support levels have been gradually decreasing, while Melénchon is the only one experiencing stable growth, he is the only Left-Wing candidate who could win the elections.

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What happens if one of the Top 4 wins?

As explained prior, the current polls show that Macron has the highest support level and as of now, is most likely to win the elections. Although his form of ruling is well-known, there might be some new policies that he’d pass, which can be explained by Macron’s support base.

Just as in the past 4 years,  Macron stands for policies that benefit general society. Macron has recently introduced a plan to combat corruption in all regions. Simultaneously, his newest reform is focused on a complete reformation of France’s 2nd largest city, Marseille. The latter has been experiencing gang crimes and poverty for decades, yet Macron’s new policy is promising an inflow of €1.5 billion to combat crime, invest in transport, housing and schools. Simultaneously, given that a great amount of people working in trading and liberal occupations support Macron, they’re likely to become the target of his policies. Ever since 2017, France’s unemployment rate dropped by 1.8% and 5 Labour Law reforms were introduced. Hence, Macron is likely to continue passing laws that make employment more efficient and grant better labor rights to all. Lastly, given that 44.5% of pensioners support Macron, France is likely to see the relaunch of the expensive pension payment program that was cancelled last year due to COVID-19. Although the current president plans to increase the retirement age by one year, he has also proposed a reform that would increase the minimum pension to €1000 per month. Hence, if Macron gets reelected for the second term, in the long run the country is likely to see major domestic investments in the police force, the education system and pension systems as well as more reforms that would benefit workers.

Unlike Macron, the three other candidates representing the Right-Wing have a different support base, as the majority of it is concentrated in areas with high unemployment rates or lower incomes. This is particularly true for Marine Le Pen, given that these are the areas where she recently campaigned about stopping immigration and transforming France’s position in the EU. Le Pen has long advocated for smaller corporate taxes, lower prices of crucial resources such as gas and electricity and stricter protectionism. In the case where she is elected, we are hence likely to see a decrease in taxes particularly for bigger companies as well as more protectionism in international trade, which could affect France’s relationship not only with fellow EU states, but global partners as well. More peculiar is Le Pen’s position on immigration. Given her strict nationalist views and past propositions, in case of her election we are likely to see a sharp decrease in welfare benefits given to migrants as well as far more strict immigration laws. Eric Zemmour has also spoken out for a similar position. Interestingly, he does not have precise propositions for political changes, however, given the similarity of both candidates’ positions, in case of their election we are likely to see France putting up big borders for anyone trying to enter the state.

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Last on the list is Xavier Bertrand, a former sales-man and conservatives’ hope to win the election. Bertrand stands out as the man easiest to resonate with – never been to a prestigious school and coming from a province, he comes out as a simple family man. As a representative of the moderate Right, Bertrand is promising quotas on immigration and re-industrialisation of the country. Hence, given his background and current political stance, we are likely to see anti-immigration reforms as well as policies that benefit the general middle-class.

Conclusion

In the light of all this, the candidate most likely to win the election as of now is Emmanuel Macron. However, it must be acknowledged that as elections will only take place 6 months from now, the current predictions might change drastically. France still has chances of electing a Right-Wing representative that would transform the country, but all of that is dependent on how candidates’ political campaigns will evolve. Despite all this, one thing is for sure – this election is about to be one of the most diverse in French history and will lead to implementation of policies that France is unlikely to have seen before.

References

Author profile

1st year BSc in International Politics and Government. Key interest areas: politics, international relations, history and social movements. Incredibly passionate about debating tournaments and techno raves.

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