Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen
Dear Commons Community,
Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, a political centrist, for months looked like a shoo-in to become France’s first president in 20 years to win a second term. But that scenario has begun to blur in the campaign’s closing stages. The pain of inflation and of food and energy prices that are hitting low-income households particularly hard have roared back as dominant election themes. They could drive many voters today into the arms of right-of-center leader Marine Le Pen, Macron’s political nemesis. As reported by the Associated Press.
Macron, now 44, trounced Le Pen by a landslide to become France’s youngest president in 2017. The win for the former banker who, unlike Le Pen, is a fervent proponent of European collaboration was seen as a victory against populist, nationalist politics, coming in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the White House and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, both in 2016.
In courting voters, Macron has economic successes to point to: The French economy is rebounding faster than expected from the battering of COVID-19, with a 2021 growth rate of 7%, the highest since 1969. Unemployment is down to levels not seen since the 2008 financial crisis. When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, sparking Europe’s worst security crisis since World War II, Macron also got a polling bump, with people rallying around the wartime leader.
But the 53-year-old Le Pen is a now a more polished, formidable and savvy political foe as she makes her third attempt to become France’s first woman president. And she has campaigned particularly hard and for months on cost of living concerns, capitalizing on the issue that pollsters say is foremost on voters’ minds.
Le Pen also pulled off two remarkable feats. Despite her plans to sharply curtail immigration and dial back some rights for Muslims in France, she nevertheless appears to have convinced growing numbers of voters that she is no longer the dangerous, racist nationalist extremist that critics, including Macron, accuse her of being.
She’s done that partly by diluting some of her rhetoric and fieriness. She also had outside help: A presidential run by Eric Zemmour, an even more extreme far-right rabble-rouser with repeated convictions for hate speech, has had the knock-on benefit for Le Pen of making her look almost mainstream by comparison.
Secondly, and also stunning: Le Pen has adroitly sidestepped any significant blowback for her previous perceived closeness with Russian President Vladimir Putin. She went to the Kremlin to meet him during her last presidential campaign in 2017. But in the wake of the war in Ukraine, that potential embarrassment doesn’t appear to have turned Le Pen’s supporters against her. She has called the invasion “absolutely indefensible” and said Putin’s behavior cannot be excused “in any way.”
Barring a monumental surprise, both Macron and Le Pen are expected to advance again from the first-round field of 12 candidates, to set up a winner-takes-all rematch in the second-round vote on April 24. Polls suggest that far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon is likely to finish out of the running in third place.
In early March, pollsters had Macron leading Le Pen by double digits. Although a Le Pen victory still appears improbable, much of Macron’s advantage has subsequently evaporated. Kept busy by the war in Ukraine, Macron may be paying a price for his somewhat subdued campaign, which made him look aloof to some voters.
The results of today’s French election will be closely watched!