France Eyes Macron-Le Pen Runoff After First Voting Round

Analysis and commentary about the first presidential voting round in France.

French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron
French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron (European Parliament/Facebook)
  • The French voted in the first round of their presidential election on Sunday.
  • The centrist Emmanuel Macron placed first with 24 percent support, followed by nationalist party leader Marine Le Pen at 21.3 percent.
  • The center-right Republican candidate, François Fillon, the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the ruling Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon were eliminated from the contest.
  • A runoff between the two leading contenders is scheduled for Sunday, May 7.
  • Surveys show Macron beating Le Pen by a 20- to 30-point margin.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 201711:12 AM


Welcome to our live blog of the first presidential voting round in France!

Throughout the day and night, we will share our analysis and opinion of the contest with you. In addition, we will be monitoring French and international media and link to interesting takes. (We’ll translate for you if it’s in French.)

Our mission is not to compete with the big guys for the latest news. What I recommend you do is keep France 24 or The Guardian or Politico or whichever publication you prefer open in one tab for updates and us in another for commentary.

Please don’t hesitate to join the conversation and leave a reply at the bottom of this page. (Note that comments are not available on mobile devices.)

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 201711:21 AM

Logistics of the day

Polling stations opened at 8 AM in metropolitan France this morning, but they were already open halfway around the globe in France’s Pacific territories. Polls close at 7 PM in most rural communities and at 8 in the cities, but voting will continue in France’s Caribbean possessions.

After 8 PM, we should see exit polls and the first results from small towns. All the results will be tallied by the French Interior Ministry here.

French-language media based in Belgium and Switzerland may publish preliminary results before the 8 PM deadline, but France-based media are not allowed to by law.

Turnout figures are released at noon and at 5 PM. In the last election, nearly 80 percent of French voters showed up. Pollsters expect a lower figure on Sunday. If it’s much lower than in 2012, that could be good news for François Fillon and Marine Le Pen, whose voters are the most committed. High turnout should benefit Emmanuel Macron, who is the most broadly acceptable candidate.

I’m not sure which would be better for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, high or low turnout. Any thoughts?

Atlantic Sentinel Atlantic Sentinel 23 Apr 201711:24 AM

Elect Macron to move France forward

Former French economy minister Emmanuel Macron speaks with farmers in Châlons-en-Champagne, September 1, 2016
Former French economy minister Emmanuel Macron speaks with farmers in Châlons-en-Champagne, September 1, 2016 (Facebook)

The Atlantic Sentinel has endorsed Emmanuel Macron as the best alternative to the anti-globalism of Mélenchon and Le Pen.

Macron’s vision isn’t radical, but nor is it timid. He rejects the instinct to turn inward and champions a France that regains the confidence and the competitiveness to lead Europe in a true partnership with Germany.

Europe needs that leadership. France needs the confidence and the competitiveness.

After a progression of presidents who did little more than manage their nation’s elegant decline, the French have a chance to elect somebody with the energy and the independence to move them forward again. We encourage them to take that chance.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 201711:38 AM

Turnout stable

Turnout at noon was 28.5 percent, which is comparable to previous elections. At this point in 2012, 28.3 percent of voters had turned out. Turnout was a little higher at noon in 2007, but lower in the preceding years.

So far, so good.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 201712:52 PM

Comparing the candidates

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels, February 24, 2016
Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels, February 24, 2016 (European Parliament)

The top candidates range from the far left to the far right, but a look at their policies suggests that these categories may have outlived their usefulness.

Mélenchon and Le Pen are supposed to be on opposite ends of the political spectrum, yet they make common cause against the European Union and NATO.

Fillon shares their friendly attitudes toward Russia, but he sides with the left-wing Hamon and the center-left Macron in arguing for a more political eurozone.

Le Pen’s economic policies have more in common with the left than the mainstream right. Fillon and Macron, on the other hand, share proposals for labor reform — but they have very different social views. The Republican is a Catholic and social conservative who agrees with Le Pen that the French ought to protect their identity. The independent Macron is socially liberal and pro-immigration.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20173:11 PM

Will terror attack influence the election?

Days before the election, a cop was shot dead in the Champs Elysées, leading to predictable headlines fretting that this terrorist attack might sway the vote in Le Pen’s favor.

My own sense is that the terrorism factor has already been baked into voters’ calculations. France has suffered several large Islamic terrorist attacks in recent years. This has helped Le Pen, the anti-immigrant and anti-Islamist candidate, but only a little. The French mainstream broadly agrees on the proper response, which is a combination of repression and prevention. Trust in the state’s ability to handle this problem is high.

As The Atlantic‘s Krishnadev Calamur suggests, terror attacks may have become so commonplace that, despite their nature, the public shrugs off minor ones.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20174:00 PM

Torn between progress and disaster

The Economist argues that a European democracy been seldom been so torn between progress and disaster.

A victory for Mélenchon or Le Pen would be a catastrophe:

They say that protectionism can make France richer; that less involvement with NATO and more with Russia would make it safer; that by renegotiating or leaving the EU it can prosper; and that earlier retirement and more welfare would increase solidarity. All this would make France only weaker and more indebted.

Either of the two pro-market candidates would be a blessing, but The Economist prefers Macron over Fillon:

His critics say Mr Macron is wishy-washy. But he is the only candidate who has made a full-blooded case for the open society and economy this newspaper believes in. That takes courage — the courage to step outside France’s party system, to defend complex arguments against polarizing soundbites and to stand for optimism in an age of identity politics. That is a message all democracies need to hear.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20174:32 PM

Turnout remains steady

At 5 PM local time, 69.4 percent of French voters had turned out. This compares to 70.6 percent turnout at 5 PM in 2012.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20174:05 PM

Traditional parties collapse as voters flock to extremes key

The facade of the French National Assembly building in Paris, June 21, 2011
The facade of the French National Assembly building in Paris, June 21, 2011 (cactusbeetroot)

The popularity of Macron, Mélenchon and Le Pen says more about voters’ disillusionment in the two-party system than it does about their own appeal.

Political scientists point to long-term trends to explain the dramatic decline of the two major parties, including the rise of identity politics and a sense among voters that both parties have failed to change France for the better.

Unemployment is high by European standards and has been for many years. Successive left- and right-wing governments have been unable to reform labor laws and licensing requirements that stifle entrepreneurship. Neither the Socialists nor the Republicans have a clear and simple answer to the complicated challenges around immigration and integration.

Nor have the parties adapted to a shift in the political landscape. The themes that used to divide the electorate — the economy, the welfare state — have become less divisive. In their stead have come questions of belonging. Should France remain in the European Union or not? How many immigrants can the country absorb — and how?

As in other Western democracies, the pertinent political divide in France is no longer between the left and right but rather between what the Atlantic Sentinel has called “blue” and “red”.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20175:26 PM

Belgian poll puts Macron in the lead

RTBF, the French-language public broadcaster in Belgium, has released figures from what it claims is an exit poll that found Macron leading with 24 percent support, followed by Le Pen at 22 percent, Fillon at 20.5 and Mélenchon at 18.

Those numbers are not far off from surveys conducted in the final week before the election, but they should be treated with caution. All the major polling organizations in France dispute that the figures came from them. The French polling commission says the Belgian report has “no foundation”.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20174:50 PM

Fillon has disqualified himself key

French Republican leader François Fillon arrives in Brussels for a meeting with other European conservative party leaders, December 15, 2016
French Republican leader François Fillon arrives in Brussels for a meeting with other European conservative party leaders, December 15, 2016 (EPP)

Fillon, to my mind, has disqualified himself by smearing the investigation against him.

He has dismissed charges that he paid his family hundreds of thousands of euros over the years for fictitious jobs as a “political assassination”. He has alleged that the rule of law in France “has been systematically violated” and that “the notion of innocent until proven guilty has completely disappeared.”

In doing so, Fillon has mimicked Brexiteers, who last year rejected all independent analyses of the economic consequences of leaving the EU as biased.

He has also mimicked Donald Trump, who alleged during last year’s presidential election that the vote would be rigged and who maintains to this day that any and all actions taken by institutions that hurt him politically, whether it is a federal judge overruling his Muslim ban or the intelligence community investigating his team’s ties to Russia, are the work of his opponents.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20176:09 PM

First polling stations close

Polling stations across France closed at 7 PM, but they will remain open until 8 in most cities. No updates for another hour.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20175:10 PM

Mélenchon is not the French Bernie Sanders key

France's Jean-Luc Mélenchon gives a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, November 25, 2015
France’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon gives a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, November 25, 2015 (European Parliament)

Mélenchon’s late surge has invited comparison with the unexpected success of Bernie Sanders in last year’s Democratic primary in the United States.

The comparison is not altogether off in the sense that Mélenchon’s rise is largely due to the unpopularity of technocratic socialism under the incumbent president, François Hollande. Sanders’ candidacy similarly reflected a disillusionment in the centrist incrementalism of Hillary Clinton.

But there is no comparing the policies of the French candidate, who is backed by the Communist Party, to those of the senator from Vermont, whose views would be mainstream in France.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20176:46 PM

What numbers will we see at 8?

Soon after polls close at 8 PM French time, we should receive an estimate of the result. This is not an exit poll. Rather, it’s an extrapolation of partial voting results from some 200 polling places across the country, carefully selected to represent the nation at large.

The Guardian explains how it’s done:

When the polling stations close — all are among those that close early, at 7 PM — and as the votes are being counted, a polling official records, for a sizeable sample of the ballots, the number of votes for each candidate.

Those numbers are then run through a sophisticated computer program that adjusts them for past results and assorted variables and produces a national vote estimate. This is not the official result, but nor is it an opinion poll.

It has proven accurate in the past, usually within a percentage point or so of the final result.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20176:50 PM

Bread-and-butter issues

I argued earlier today that traditional bread-and-butter issues like the economy and the future of the welfare state are less important in this election than questions of belonging and French identity. But it’s still worth taking a look at those issues.

The Financial Times lists four:

  1. Balancing the budget: Something French politicians haven’t been able to do since 1974. Their deficit is worse than Italy’s and could easily breach the European maximum of 3 percent this year. Fillon wants to avoid that by cutting spending dramatically and lowering taxes. Macron proposes to bring down expenditures more gradually. Mélenchon and Le Pen have campaigned against austerity. The former would raise income taxes instead.
  2. Future of the public sector: 5.2 million French workers, more than one in five, are employed by the government. Their wages make up a quarter of public spending. The outgoing president, François Hollande, has avoided cutbacks. Fillon has pledged to slash half a million public-sector jobs and increase the workweek. Macron wants to cut 120,000 jobs. Mélenchon, by contrast, would raise public wages.
  3. Industry: France has lost more than two million manufacturing jobs since the 1970s. Mélenchon and Le Pen believe the answer is protectionism. Macron calls for reindustrialization through innovation.
  4. Unemployment: Stuck at 10 percent. The problem is a two-tier labor market, which — despite some reforms under Hollande — discourages companies from hiring. Fillon and Macron argue for more flexibility. Le Pen wants a tax on employing foreigners in order to encourage native hiring.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20177:04 PM

Macron first, Le Pen second

Macron is predicted to have placed first with 23.7 percent support against 21.7 percent for Le Pen. Fillon and Mélenchon would share third place with 19.5 percent support each. Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate, places a distant fifth with 6.2 percent.

Given the 4-point difference between Macron and Fillon/Mélenchon, it’s hard to imagine the first not qualifying for the runoff once more votes are counted. Maybe, just maybe Fillon or Mélenchon will eke into second place. I wouldn’t be too comfortable if I were Le Pen.

But right now, given what we know from the second-round surveys, it looks like Macron is on his way to become the next president of France.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20177:14 PM

Socialists argue among themselves

French Socialist Party presidential candidate Benoît Hamon, March 2
French Socialist Party presidential candidate Benoît Hamon, March 2 (PS/Mathieu Delmestre)

Hamon’s doomed candidacy has divided the once-mighty Socialist Party. Moderates, like former prime minister Manuel Valls and the incumbent defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, publicly threw their support behind Macron, their former colleague. The hard left called them “traitors” and “saboteurs”.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20177:43 PM

Rubbing it in

Sorry to rub it in, but the Republicans really should nominated Alain Juppé and the Socialists really should have nominated Manuel Valls.

Despite everything that’s new in French politics, some things don’t change: neither a hardline social conservative, who still won’t allow gay couples to have children, nor an inexperienced left-wing idealist, who seriously campaigned for a universal basic income, can win majority support.

Juppé, a center-right statesman with relaxed social views, could have won the election. Valls, the center-left former prime minister, might not have won, but he would certainly have done better than Hamon’s miserable 6 percent.

András Tóth-Czifra András Tóth-Czifra 23 Apr 20177:46 PM

Motivation will be key

Tonight’s results are reassuring to all (including me) who feared that an historic first-round victory might boost Marine Le Pen’s chances in the second round.

However, with a strong showing for Mélenchon and the televised disagreement between two leading members of the Republicans over the way to proceed in the second round, Macron’s victory — also predicted by pollsters — is far from certain.

Motivation to turn out will be key: Marion Maréchal Le Pen invited those who “cannot vote for Macron” to support her aunt in the runoff, referring to an apparently large number of protest voters.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20178:02 PM

Endorsements for Macron

Hamon and Fillon have both conceded defeat and thrown their support behind Macron.

Hamon went so far as to call Le Pen an “enemy of the republic”. Not a smart choice of words, perhaps, if you’re trying to win back working-class voters from the nationalists.

Justifying his endorsement of Macron — “not a man of the left” — Hamon said, “We have to defeat the extreme right.”

Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, a Socialist, similarly warned that Le Pen “would take France backward and divide the French people.”

Alain Juppé, who lost the Republican presidential nomination to Fillon in December, also urged a vote for Macron, saying the National Front would “drive France to its ruin.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20177:55 PM

Next president could lack legislative majority key

The sun sets on the Bourbon Palace, seat of the French National Assembly, in Paris, June 8, 2007
The sun sets on the Bourbon Palace, seat of the French National Assembly, in Paris, June 8, 2007 (jrrosenberg)

If indeed Macron and Le Pen qualify for the runoff, the next president of France would not be assured of a majority in the National Assembly.

It is not unusual for a president’s party to lack a majority, but it is unusual for either of the two major parties to fall short of absolute control.

Nor has there yet been a president in the history of the Fifth Republic from outside the two major parties.

Both are now likely to happen.

If Le Pen defies predictions and prevails in the second voting round, the mainstream parties could follow the example of Republicans in the United States. Once they were in the majority, they blocked every Democratic policy proposal during the remainder of Barack Obama’s tenure.

Macron would rouse less opposition but could still be hamstrung by reactionary forces in both parties.

Click here to read more.

András Tóth-Czifra András Tóth-Czifra 23 Apr 20179:04 PM

Russian support for Le Pen

I expect Russia’s information warfare to switch to the next level in the next couple of weeks.

The first round, if indeed Le Pen comes in second, may be considered a setback in Moscow, but the Russian government still considers her by far its best chance to deal a blow to the European Union this year.

This warfare will be a formidable challenge to both French law enforcement and Macron’s campaign team. Le Pen represents Russia’s interests — but in today’s Europe, this in itself is insufficient to assure Macron’s victory. He is best placed to win the second round, but he cannot be complacent.

Shaun Riordan Shaun Riordan 23 Apr 20179:14 PM

National Front could emerge stronger from defeat

Marine Le Pen, leader of France's Front national, listens to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 1, 2014
Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s Front national, listens to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 1, 2014 (Wikimedia Commons/Claude Truong-Ngoc)

Optimists argue that moderates in the National Assembly will unite around a President Macron, but I am skeptical. With the immediate threat of Le Pen out the way, the center-right and center-left parties may be more likely to return to their usual bickering, and in particular their resentment of the young upstart. Macron could find his agenda under attack from both sides.

The winner of Macron’s political martyrdom could very well be Le Pen. If Macron struggles to implement his economic reform and pro-European agenda, she would be able to present herself again as the defender of French values and the French social model.

In other words, a Macron presidency, marked by his political inexperience and the absence of a solid legislative majority, rather than putting an end to the fragmentation of French politics, could encourage it to move further to extremes.

Click here to read more.

Marc Pilkington Marc Pilkington 23 Apr 20178:22 PM

Macron succeeds where Bayrou failed key

Everything seems to indicate that the young and gifted Macron will be elected president of France next month.

He would succeed where François Bayrou failed in 2007, namely to overcome the historical divide between the left and the right by creating a new cleavage between exacerbated (and often xenophobic) nationalism versus centrist and pragmatic Europeanism.

I admire Macron’s will and ambition, although I did not vote for him in the first round. Given the choice, he is most likely to lead this country, which currently finds itself in both a domestic and international crisis of unprecedented gravity and complexity.

But let us not overlook the fact that for the first time in fifteen years, a far-right candidate is again in the second round of the presidential election. Democratic principle now calls for the mobilization of all French voters for the crucial second voting round.

At the same time, I will not morally condemn those people — more than a fifth of all French voters — who have voted, or are about to vote again, for Marine Le Pen. I believe the underlying structural reasons are best apprehended within a broader perspective, that which recently led to the election of Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit.

Even if Macron prevails, the problems that have spurred this global wave of populism and mistrust in elites will not go away.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20179:40 PM

Le Pen is not like Trump

Nate Silver argues against thinking Le Pen stands as good a chance as Brexit and Trump. Neither was predicted by commentators, but both actually polled neck and neck with the other side. In France’s case, Macron has consistently outpolled Le Pen by up to 26 points.

Anyone who says “Le Pen can win because Trump!” is basically innumerate. Their situations are not at all comparable.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20179:51 PM

Trump rooting for Le Pen

American president Donald Trump is openly rooting for Le Pen, telling the Associated Press a few days ago that French nationalist is “strongest on borders and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.” (Whatever that means.)

He predicted, “Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election.”

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo points out that the United States used to work against neo-fascist and far-right parties. “Here we’ve weighing in in favor.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 20179:57 PM

“The France of patriots”

Macron is not allowing Le Pen to monopolize French patriotism, telling supporters tonight there is “not more than one France. There is only one, ours, the France of patriots, in a Europe that protects and that we must reform.”

He said he wants to be president for all “patriots” in the face of the nationalist threat:

A president who protects, transforms and builds; who allows those who want to create, innovate, do business and work to do so more easily and more quickly. A president who helps those who have less, who are fragile.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 201710:43 PM

Pro-EU youngsters back anti-EU candidates

Mélenchon and Le Pen were the most popular candidates among young voters, Euractiv reports, even if few youngsters share the candidates’ anti-EU views.

Ifop-Fiducial found that 30 percent of voters under the age of 25 intended to support Mélenchon today and another 29 percent backed Le Pen.

Macron was in third place with 20 percent support.

The reason most often cited by young voters for supporting the two fringe candidates is a rejection of the traditional parties and the need for change.

Another recurring theme is the failure of mainstream left- and right-wing parties to bring down unemployment. Youth unemployment in France was 24 percent last year, far above the EU average.

Yet the vast majority of young French voters also feel European and want France to stay in the EU. Mélenchon and Le Pen have argued for an exit from the European Union.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Apr 201711:46 PM

Quiet night

Macron remains in the lead with 23.5 percent of the counted votes, followed by Le Pen at 22.3 percent. Fillon is at 19.9 and Mélenchon at 19 percent.

Once more results come in from the cities, Macron’s lead could expand. But so far, it all looks pretty close to the “exit poll” — which, in turn, wasn’t far off from the polling average of the last few weeks. French pollsters know how to do their jobs.

Given that we’re not expecting an upset tonight, I’m going to conclude our live coverage. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading us and I look forward to seeing you again in two weeks’ time, when we’ll provide similar analysis and commentary about the second voting round.

Good night.

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