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French election: Why abstentions will hit Le Pen and Mélenchon hardest

Several experts predict that this year might break the record for the rate of abstentions, linked to complacency and disillusionment

Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon sit on either side of the political divide but could both be affected by voter abstentions Pic: Frederic Legrand - comeo, Gerard Bottino / Shutterstock

Polls and experts are predicting a high rate of abstentions at this month’s presidential election, which could notably have an effect on the chances of far-right Marine Le Pen and left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Only 62% of French people polled are definitely planning to vote on Sunday, a survey carried out for media outlets BFMTV and L’Express shows. 

This is linked to a general rejection of politics and to attention being focused on Covid and the Ukraine war, say experts and polling firms.

It has led to some to say that this year’s election could break records for the highest rate of abstentions. 

Currently, the first round of elections in 2002 has that record, when 28.4% of the electorate did not vote. 

In 2017, 22.23% did not vote in the first round, and 25.44% abstained in the second round. 

Read more: Voter abstention may hit record high at French presidential election

Céline Braconnier, Director of Sciences Po Saint-Germain and specialist in abstention, said that abstentions are most likely to affect Ms Le Pen (Rassemblement National), and to a lesser extent Jean-Luc Mélenchon (France insoumise).

It comes as the gap between her and Mr Macron is closing.

Read more: Macron-Le Pen gap, end of tradition: Six key points of French election

This is because it is particularly blue-collar workers, employees, young people and the least qualified who are most likely to abstain and these groups often make up a large proportion of Ms Le Pen and Mr Mélenchon’s voter bases. 

“It is Marine Le Pen who is most at risk," Ms Braconnier told Le Monde, adding that her move to tone down her more far-right views could also make her more “banal”. 

Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron has already warned about the risk of abstentions affecting his own chances. 

“It can happen. Don't believe the polls or the commentators…who tell you that it is impossible,” he said during a campaign meeting on April 2. 

Ms Le Pen has also called on her supporters to turn out, saying that Mr Macron is not guaranteed a victory.

“Don't listen to the little birds that tell you that this election is already over… Each of your votes is as important as that of the President of the Republic,” she said. 

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