‘Election has become a question of everyday people versus elites’

What the theme of the final vote will be, why such a poor result for the Left and how the second round is far from predictable… French political analysts have their say

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron will face off in the second round of the presidential election on April 24
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Emmanuel Macron (La République En Marche) will go head-to-head with Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement National) in the second round of the presidential election on April 24 after the pair headed up the first round.

Mr Macron finished top with 27.6%, with Ms Le Pen in second with 23.41% (with 97% of ballots counted).

See the nearly final standings in the chart below.

We spoke to political analysts Luc Gras and Jean Petaux late last night (April 10) to get their immediate reaction to the vote results.

Both said that while it was no surprise to see Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen top the first round, the second round is far from over.

Political analyst Luc Gras, faculty of Law, Political Science and Management at the University of La Rochelle

“The issue for the second round will depend on the following: Marine Le Pen has managed to create a distinction between the elites, represented by Macron, and the everyday people, defended by her.

“If she succeeds in establishing this further, she can win the presidential.

“The challenge for Macron is to break this logic from the outset, which he did not do in his speech tonight (April 10).

“It has often been said that the presidential election plays out based on the European question between sovereignists and more liberally minded people.

“The European question and the question of sovereignty are encompassed by the elite/people distinction.

“On the people's side, there is a rejection in the name of France and sovereignty and therefore a rejection of Macron.

“The main issue is that if Macron doesn't manage to come across as a candidate of the people within the next two weeks, he will lose.

“If Le Pen manages to continue in this manner, she has every chance of winning.

“The challenge for Macron is to change the image of being the candidate of the elites.

“However, many major candidates have already called on their supporters to vote for Macron to “stop the far-right”.

“If we add their votes, Macron should be easily re-elected.

“More and more, voters are independent.

“We have seen that there was an uncertainty among them.

“Many decided which candidate to vote for at the last moment.

“Someone who voted for Zemmour in the first round will not necessarily vote for Le Pen in the second.

“The appeal of the big leaders is less influential than before.

“It's going to come down to the personality of the candidates, the debate and the perception that citizens have of the candidates - which one will best embody their situation and the France of tomorrow.”

Jean Petaux, politologist

Mr Petaux outlined his five main conclusions from the results last night - and how he thinks the second round will go.

Voters converge on three candidates: Emmanuel Macron (27.6%), Marine Le Pen (23.41%), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (21.95%)

“The top three candidates got [nearly] 80% between them, which is exceptionally high (they actually got closer to 73% after a later count).

“This is quite rare because in 2017, for example, we had 80% but split between four candidates.

“We haven't seen such polarity since the 1995 elections, but even then we weren't at 80%.

“Such a polarisation - where three candidates get such a large percentage of votes - goes back to the 1965 election with Charles de Gaulle, François Mitterrand and Jean Lecanuet.”

The end of the traditional left-right parties

Mr Petaux said that in this election we witnessed a “national implosion” of the two traditional parties Les Républicains (LR) and the Parti socialiste (PS) - that have ruled political life since the start of the Fifth Republic.

He said that LR, whose candidate Valérie Pécresse, will probably not even be reimbursed for their campaign. In France, candidates who win under 5% of the vote do not receive state reimbursement for their campaign costs.

“We are still in a situation that is very hostile to the traditional formations of the Fifth Republic.

“I tend to think that this also says something about our relationship with politics in French society.

“We are moving towards having four reimbursed candidates. Look at 2002, when Lionel Jospin was eliminated, seven candidates were reimbursed.

“We have a real deep rift. The tectonic plates have continued to collapse the partisan blocks that have ruled France since 1958.

“Pécresse and Anne Hidalgo (PS) won less than 10%, that's an historic fact.

“If there were territorial elections like in the US, I am not at all sure that this explosion of the two parties would happen.

“This makes France’s political scene seem schizophrenic.

“French political life has become a shambles with a national and territorial scene that are no longer in harmony and that will not help the country.”

The collapse of the Left

“We can’t ignore it.

“Even if Mélenchon is "triumphant", in any case, his progression does not exceed one or two percentage points - he got 19.58% in 2017, 21.95% this year.

“All of the left-wing parties added together have not won more than 30%.

“The Left, in its capacity to build and shape French political life, has collapsed.”

The right wing splits, Le Pen profits

The right-wing was split between three candidates: The governmental right of Pécresse, the sovereignist and populist bloc of Le Pen and the nationalist bloc of Zemmour.

“I think that Zemmour was the main factor in the loss of votes for Pécresse.

“Pécresse's right-wing France abandoned her to her own fate and as Pécresse did not take any voter share from the centre-right, who went to Macron, she found herself on a rock attacked from all sides.

“As for Zemmour, he did not take votes from Le Pen but contributed to de-extremising her and made her an acceptable candidate to those who before hesitated to vote Le Pen.

This three-way game is what benefited Le Pen.

Macron better but second round not certain

Mr Petaux is predicting that Mr Macron will fare better in the second round than he did in 2017, but says nothing is sure yet.

“Six or seven candidates have called on people not to vote for Le Pen.

“I wonder if this anti-Le Pen front of the political class is actually going to be stronger than the anti-Macron front of the electoral class?

“With voters who don't care about instructions from political leaders, the second round is not over yet. This is clear what the political elite wants. Much less so what the voters want, I think.”

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