The French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron did very well last weekend after receiving almost 24% of the vote in the first round of France’s presidential elections. But the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen also secured a very good outcome coming second with 21.3% of the vote. Around 7.6 million people voted for the erstwhile Front National leader (she’s temporarily stepped down from the position) and she improved her vote from 2012 when she came third in the presidential elections that year with 18% of the vote.
Now the pair will compete with one another in the final vote on May 7th. The prevailing opinion strongly indicates that Macron will easily win the run-off vote because the other main parties will urge their supporters to vote for him in an effort to ensure Le Pen doesn’t come anywhere near the Élysée Palace.
That strategy is very likely to pay off for Macron unless some extremely dramatic events occur within the next 2 weeks that would see the majority of French voters opt for the surly MEP who promises to give France back to the French people and threatens to take the country out of the EU. If things remain stable over the next fortnight then it looks like the 39-year old political newcomer is set for the Palace.
So let’s assume that will be the outcome. What happens then to the millions of disaffected voters who supported Le Pen?
Their frustration is similar to that displayed by Trump and Brexit supporters in the US and UK whose fears of globalisation, immigration, radical Islam and Eurocrats (for Brexit) influenced their votes.
A sizeable chunk of Le Pen’s followers come from rural areas and small towns located far away from sophisticated urban centres. They have felt the brunt of industrial decline with factory closures, declining services and ongoing unemployment fostering growing dissatisfaction with successive governments. Add to that resentment against immigrants and suspicion of Muslims and you have a potent mix that Le Pen can ably exploit.
Her vow to radically curb immigration and stamp out Islamic fundamentalism and give priority to French people is resonating with many voters who previously supported mainstream parties. During Sunday’s election you had the bizarre situation where previously communist and socialist voters ticked Le Pen’s box. They figured they’d nothing to lose by supporting a more extreme candidate.
Macron’s centrist, liberal, pro-business, pro-EU, internationalist policies are unlikely to appeal to these voters. And unless he can magically transform the economies of the places they’re living in, they will continue to feel unrepresented by a ruling elite who they believe are out of touch with their own realities.
Their economic circumstances are very unlikely to change unless Macron can find a way to attract new businesses to those areas of France that are struggling with the realities of twenty-first century globalisation. Le Pen’s promise of protectionism is far more appealing to them than Macron’s globalist approach.
Those voters won’t disappear even if Le Pen doesn’t win on May 7th. They will continue to resent the Paris elites which means she can continue to grow her support base with a view to winning more parliamentary seats in the June assembly elections and ultimately the next big prize in 2022 when the presidential elections come around again.
Le Pen’s playing a long political game here and her endurance in politics so far indicates she’s got plenty of patience to continue hawking her radical policies around for future gain.