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Voter abstention may hit record high at French presidential election

Candidates have failed to connect with voters, show a ‘lack of vitality’ and campaign with ‘political blindness,’ say experts

French voting cards

Candidates accused of ignoring the public’s concerns Pic: FreeProd33 / Shutterstock

April’s presidential election in France could see record levels of abstention.

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.

President-candidate Em­manuel Macron has warned supporters against thinking his victory is a done deal, with Interior Minister Gérald Darminin saying Marine le Pen is “dangerous” and “can win”. 

Partly to combat the problem, proxy voting has been made easier. It is no longer necessary to have a proxy from your own commune (see here for how to designate one, including online).

Read more: Low regional and departmental election turnout prompts reform call

Several candidates are going on talk shows and social media, trying to fend off abstention, though communist Phi­lippe Poutou told FranceInfo abstention was “perfectly legitimate”.

Candidates do not have ‘vision for the future’

Abstention of 35-31% was likely, said an Ipsos poll on March 22, which would be the lowest turnout in the Fifth Republic. 

The first round of the 2002 election recorded a previous high of 28.6%, helping far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen to qualify for the second round. 

Emeritus history professor Gilles Richard said: “Abstention will be fuelled by a political offer that does not meet popular demand.” 

Joëlle Zask, philosophy lecturer at the Université d’Aix-Marseille, added: “Politicians in office seem to suffer from political blindness when identifying the leading democratic forces of our time.”

Dr Zask said new forms of political activism were taking root outside the voting booth. 

These were often ‘bottom-up’ and associated with a wish for ‘self-government’. 

Meanwhile, people are looking for politicians with a vision for the future, ecology, equality and liberty, but struggle to identify candidates who match up.

Over one third of electorate not interested, poll says

The last time voters really united behind campaign programmes was the 1974 second round when Giscard d’Estaing united centrists and conservatives and Mit­terrand appealed to socialists and communists, the two experts said.

Dr Zask said the process of representative democracy is suffering a “lack of vitality” and the election result is, in her view, a foregone conclusion. 

Read more: Comment: Macron election win would prove poor state of French politics

However, she said abstention could itself be a political act. 

Only 62% polled were interested in the presidential election, said an OpinionWay Kéa Partners poll for Les Echos.

Even so, some 48.7 million people are on the electoral list, – 1.5 million more than for 2017’s presidential election. 

A total of 95% of people with voting rights have registered.

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