French Election and Grumpy Voters

voter looking at campaign ads in France A woman observes the panels of various candidates running in the French election in Vannes, France, April 5, 2022.

When we see the choice the French are left with in this year’s presidential elections, we understand why they are grumpy: their only options are the bad or the worse. With a Macron-Le Pen duel in the second round, the 2022 French elections give “a strong impression of déjà vu.” The elections that had taken place five years ago already pitted the two candidates in a head-to-head race, much to the exasperation of the French people. With 27.8% of the votes, Emmanuel Macron, rallying under the banner of his campaign “La République En Marche ” (The Republic on the March) is once again entering the presidential race as a favorite. Marine Le Pen, fierce representative of the National Rally — commonly known as the National Front — seconds him with 23.1% of the votes. The Socialist Party experienced another disappointment with the defeat of Jean Luc Mélanchon, who chairs the party “La France Insoumise ” (Rebellious France), and lost its place in the second round with only a 1.1% difference from Le Pen. The 2022 French elections thus appear like a rematch of the 2017 election, only this time with uglier debates, wrinkled candidates, and angry voters. Unfortunately, the act of voting is no longer an indication of preference or opinion for the French, but rather a means to avoid damage between a president who has proven himself incompetent in various fields and a far-right extremist who represents a major threat to the values France has stood for since the Enlightenment era.  

At 39, Macron is the youngest French president to have ever been elected. With a party less than a year old forged by an ideal of neutrality, in hopes of bringing together conservatives and liberals, he won the 2017 election against Marine Le Pen with 66.1% of the vote. Nevertheless, his most recent stay at the Élysée was turbulent, eventful, and marked by national and international disasters, beginning with the yellow vest protests due to economic injustice, then a mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, and finally the war between Ukraine and Russia, where the position of France plays a major role. 

Macron’s popularity first deteriorated dramatically with the rise in the price of crude oil and fuel, disproportionate taxes, a high cost of living, and worsening socio-economic inequalities. These unsolved problems particularly affected the working class and the middle class, which gradually melded with the socialist ideals of Mélanchon. Macron remains, after all, a “man of the elite,” with the project of making France an entrepreneurial country, often at the expense of social equality. The slogan “Macron: resignation” was still resounding in the ears of all French people when the pandemic began. The management of the pandemic on the part of Macron was controversial, and seriously undermined the freedoms of the French people, leading to demonstrations against the unpopular and mandatory health pass. 

On the other side, Le Pen’s strong conservative legacy predates her political career, with her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, accused of Holocaust Denial and Islamophobia. Le Pen has led a movement to soften her image by expelling members accused of antisemitism, petainism, and racism, revoking her party’s support for the death penalty, and relaxing its opposition to abortion and same-sex partnership. However, despite her attempt to “de-demonize” the National Front, Marine Le Pen still advocates for the same historical policies of her party, marked by drastic anti-immigration measures and a nationalist, conservative, and protectionist ideology. The alt-right remains opposed to globalization and multiculturalism, conflicting with the fundamental values of democracy for which the E.U. and NATO stand for. 

Why, then, did the extreme-right receive almost a quarter of the votes? In fact, polls revealed a polarized France, with 50% of the votes apiece for the alt-right and the far-left. On top of the economic and environmental crisis, France is philosophically challenged with questions of immigration. Influenced by far-right politician Eric Zemmour, the population sees immigration as a threat to the perceived white race. The fear of being replaced, or that “France is no longer us,” is a widespread phenomenon among the French, which is used by Le Pen to support her campaign. On the other hand, the country’s experience with terrorism has bolstered Islamophobia, which holds a particular political significance since France has the largest population of Muslims in the West. In a way, Le Pen’s extreme measures are a promise for change, for better or for worse.

If the elections represent a violent disappointment for all of the French socialist parties, Mélanchon —  “a man of the old left” — expresses his gratitude toward the progress that the Socialist Party has seen during the elections and reminds them of “the power of the left”. Very subtly, he avoids mentioning President Emmanuel Macron, instead calling to vote against Marine Le Pen. “We know who we will never vote for,” he says, “We must not give a single voice to Madame Le Pen.” 

Falling unemployment and Macron’s position on the war in Europe reassures the French, but for those of whose lives have been destroyed by Macron’s policies, it is difficult to swallow the anger to vote against Le Pen while giving Macron the legitimacy to govern for another five years. A certain weariness is felt in seeing Macron in the second round: a promise, but this time of non-change. “They weren’t surprised with the result. They were expecting it. But we felt a great sense of disappointment among left-wing voters. We feel a certain feeling of weariness to once again block the far right,” said a journalist from the France 24 channel. Yet, Macron’s victory in the second round not only represents a desire to maintain the current neoliberal order over a populist one, but also gives Macron a chance to redeem his fractured legacy.

By Yasmine Tazi