In April 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron’s first term in office will expire and France’s citizens will decide whether he will return to power for five more years. Macron is likely to face Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally party in the second, or run-off, round of voting, just as he did in 2017.
A race between the two will make the election a battle between Macron’s centrist politics and Le Pen’s populism. According to a poll conducted by Politico in late August, both candidates are polling at 24%. However, Macron, whom only 38% of voters believe would be a good president in 2022, faces a tough re-election battle as he campaigns to lead a country that has historically voted for change.
The rise of populist sentiment among the French population will also pose a challenge to Macron’s re-election bid. Support for the yellow vest movement, which protested rising fuel prices and the cost of living in France during Macron’s tenure more generally ranged from 60-80%. The movement drew support from those opposed to Macron’s politics on all ends of the political spectrum. Le Pen capitalized on the movement, claiming to stand up for the poor, disenchanted French.
The general decline in faith in democracy and institutions is similarly indicative of the prevalence of populist ideals among the French population. According to a study conducted by French think tank Fondapol, 28% of the middle and working classes and 31% of the upper class prefer a regime in which a strong elected leader would unilaterally decide on and execute policies without concern for what parliament and the media say. The study also found that 80% do not trust political parties and that 64% distrust the Government.
Le Pen will likely stand to gain from the French discontent with the status quo political environment. The common sentiment among the French that the media does not cover issues relevant to their lives will also benefit her party, and other populist parties. The Fondapol study reported that 83% of those who felt that the media covered issues irrelevant to them were likely to vote for a populist or anti-establishment party in 2022.
Macron will also have to counter Le Pen’s increasingly moderate stances on the EU and immigration. In contrast to her 2017 platform, Le Pen no longer supports leaving the EU or abandoning the euro currency. According to political scientist Ugo Palheta, her moderation has earned her platform support from voters traditionally not known for supporting far-right parties including young people, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and Jewish people.
While a Macron-Le Pen faceoff is a likely scenario next April, there remains a possibility that the former will be challenged by candidates from mainstream parties on both the left and the right. According to Ifop, a French polling firm, 70% of voters do not want a replay of the 2017 Macron-Le Pen ballot next year.
Furthermore, it is rare that the most likely matchup a year before the election actually occurs. Macron’s campaign had gained minimal traction a year before the 2017 election and he was not expected to make the run-off. Le-Pen and Alain Juppe, an ultra-conservative Republican were favored to appear in the second round of voting. However, Macron’s centrist platform attracted a broad coalition of voters from both the left and the right, and he ended up handily defeating Le Pen in the run-off.
Understanding that the French usually vote for change and accounting for the unpredictable nature of the country’s presidential elections, a clash of Macron’s centrist and Le-Pen’s populist ideologies may appear imminent now, but should not be taken for granted. As France 24 correspondent Tracy McNicoll writes, “spectacular surprises are the norm in French presidential elections.”
Image: Lorie Shaull via Flickr