- Emmanuel Macron, France’s centrist former economy minister, defeated Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, in Sunday’s presidential election with 66 to 34 percent support.
- Macron is slated to be inaugurated as the eighth president of the Fifth Republic next week. He will serve a five-year term.
- His next test will come in June, when France holds parliamentary elections. Macron’s party, En Marche!, has no seats in the National Assembly yet. He could be forced into cohabitation with a prime minister from another party.
- Le Pen has announced a “new political force” for French “patriots”. It is unclear if she has a whole new party in mind.
What to expect today
Welcome to our live blog about the second presidential voting round!
The logistics of the day will sound familiar to those of you who read our first-round blog: polling stations opened across European France at 8 in the morning, but they were already open halfway around the globe in the French Pacific. Polls close at 7 PM in rural communities but at 8 in the cities. Voting will continue late into the night in France’s Caribbean possessions.
After 8 o’clock, we should get an exit poll and early results from small towns. In the first round, the projections were pretty accurate.
French media are not allowed to publish projections or results before 8, but French-language media in Belgium and Switzerland are likely to. These should be taken with a grain of salt.
The only hard news we’ll get during the day are turnout figures. At noon, just over 28 percent of French voters had turned out. That is down a bit from 2007 and 2012. The next turnout figure should be released around 5 PM.
What we will do in the next few hours is share our analysis and predictions with you here, including links to interesting takes elsewhere in both English and French. (French quotes we’ll translate, don’t worry.) I hope you’ll enjoy reading!
Le Pen needs a gargantuan polling error
Le Pen has been so far behind in the polls, it would take a gargantuan error for her to win, writes Harry Enten for FiveThirtyEight:
That’s possible. [Hillary] Clinton, for example, led Bernie Sanders in polls of the Michigan Democratic primary by 21 percentage points before Sanders’s shocking win there. But that upset was one of the biggest in US presidential primary history. Polling misses of that magnitude don’t happen very often.
In the cases of Brexit and Donald Trump, it weren’t really the polls that were off; it was conventional wisdom (including mine).
In this case, Macron’s lead has been so big and so consistent that a different outcome is almost impossible to imagine.
Elect Macron to move France forward
The Atlantic Sentinel has endorsed Emmanuel Macron as the best alternative to the anti-globalism of 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.
Mélenchon’s supporters must not make the same mistake as Bernie Sanders’
The only thing Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s voters would achieve by spoiling their ballots or staying home today is making it possible for Le Pen to win.
Their ideological counterparts in the United States know this all too well.
Close to 100,000 votes for the Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, in the 2000 election enabled the right-wing George W. Bush to eke out a victory in Florida and thus the nation.
Something similar happened last year. Support for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, combined with non-voting by supporters of Bernie Sanders may have made the difference in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where mere tens of thousands of votes separated Hillary Clinton from Donald Trump.
It is impossible to say if left-wing purists cost Clinton the election, but they certainly didn’t help. By staying home, or voting for the hopeless Stein, they made it easier for Trump to prevail.
Click here to read more.
Today’s contest is in many ways a rerun of the most recent American election.
Macron, a former investment banker, is a mainstream progressive not unlike Hillary Clinton. His policies include lower taxes, labor reforms and closer European integration.
Le Pen has a lot in common with Donald Trump. She wants tariffs to protect aging French industries, sees Islam as a threat to Western civilization, proposes to take France out of the euro and switch to a Russia-friendly foreign policy.
Click here to read more.
Why Qatar is watching
Middle East relations have not featured prominently in the French election campaign, yet today’s vote could be of significance to Qatar. Both Macron and Le Pen have bashed the Persian Gulf state.
“I will put an end to the agreements that favor Qatar in France,” Macron said last month. “I think there was a lot of complacencies, during Nicolas Sarkozy’s five-year term in particular.”
Sarkozy, a conservative, intensified cooperation with Qatar. His left-wing successor, François Hollande, did not reverse the policy.
A spokesperson for Le Pen’s National Front has similarly called for limiting “economic and diplomatic exchanges with countries which openly or bluntly support Islamic fundamentalism,” naming Qatar and Saudi Arabia in particular.
Click here to read more.
Janan Ganesh argues in the Financial Times that Macron’s success argues against discounting the role of personality in politics:
We have lost ourselves in analysis of populism, globalism, elitism and the other abstract nouns of the day but, other than in the most extreme times, there is no ideological zeitgeist too strong for a good politician to buck.
Whatever economic hardship drove working-class Americans to Donald Trump, Ganesh points out those same voters twice elected Barack Obama.
Ordinary British voters may be fed up with elites, yet they twice returned David Cameron, “a ruddy-cheeked pastiche of the ruling class,” as prime minister.
Macron is another to prosper despite the times:
A 39-year-old former banker of liberalish bent and haute-bourgeois provenance may govern a nation with a seniority bias, a suspicion of finance that verges on the superstitious and a deeper vein of populism than Britain.
The first voting round laid bare many of the same cleavages that have opened up in other Western democracies recently.
Macron drew most of his support from the big cities and the prosperous west of the country. Le Pen came in second overall but placed first across the economically depressed north of France and in the socially conservative southeast.
Recent elections in Europe and the United States have revealed similar urban-rural splits.
Click here to read more.
Two visions of France
Simon Kuper makes a similar argument in the Financial Times about Macron and Le Pen representing opposite visions of France: one is the secular republic of the Enlightenment, the other La France profonde: a country of church clocks, traditions and native people fused with their ancestral soil.
The disaster of Vichy shamed supporters of the “real France” into a decades-long silence, writes Kuper, but no more. Respectable conservatives, who possibly voted for François Fillon in the first round, have switched to Le Pen and share her hostility to Muslim immigration and financial elites.
For any politician selling the fantasy of the “real France”, Macron is the perfect opponent, according to Kuper:
His angelic unmarked face, his suits and slight figure mark him out as a technocrat distant from the soil. He worked for Rothschild, the bank that [has long] figured in the French nativist imagination as the supposed locus of the international Jewish conspiracy.
Collapse of the traditional parties
This election is as much about the rise of Macron and Le Pen as it is about the collapse of France’s traditional major parties: the Republicans and the Socialists.
François Fillon, the Republican candidate, got only 20 percent support in the first voting round last month. Benoît Hamon, the Socialist, did worse, winning only 6 percent of the votes.
Politico reports that political scientists point to long-term trends to explain the dramatic decline of the two 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 questions 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.
Battle over French identity
Kim Willsher reports for The Guardian from a small town in the north of France where Le Pen’s anti-globalism resonates:
Le Pen’s verbal triggers — sovereignty, border security, delinquents, Islamists, immigration — are the markers of what has been the FN’s great strategic success in this election: the division of France into two clear camps, the winners from globalization and the losers, the forgotten “peasants” and Paris’ “arrogant elite”, town and country, pro-Europe v anti-Europe, haves and have-nots, those represented by Macron — cue boos from the crowd — who are “diluting” the nationalists’ idea of French identity, and those led by Le Pen — cheers — defending it.
Willsher cites Joël Gombin, one of France’s leading experts on the far right, saying Le Pen has managed to shift the debate from the traditional left-right divide to a dynamics she describes as “globalists” versus “patriots”.
“The second round is a clash of these two ideologies,” argues Gombin. But it doesn’t look like the “patriotic” camp is big enough: “There is nothing to indicate that the FN can win on the basis of this divide.”
Jean-Yves Camus, another National Front specialist, said there is something more sinister about Le Pen’s division of French society:
What worries me very much is that this “neither right nor left” has been replaced with a detestation, verging on hatred, of everything that is not oneself. The idea that there is no common destiny, that the “other” is your enemy — this idea of a concerted attempt to dilute French identity, this replacement theory, is a very old theme and is likely to keep coming back.
British see election through prism of own politics
While we in United Kingdom do not have a vote in today’s presidential runoff, the election in France has dominated conversation and news. Which is somewhat remarkable, given the state of Britain’s own politics.
Despite this unusual attention for a French election, the British do not appear to have a strong preference for either Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen.
One or two years ago, the choice would have been simpler. Macron stands for a liberalism that is familiar to Britons: he advocates free trade, privatization, deregulation and cuts to bureaucracy and welfare. David Cameron won the 2015 election on just such a platform. Macron would have been the favorite.
But much has happened in the last few years. Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union has changed everything. Le Pen is seen as part of the same populist backlash that prompted a majority of British voters to support Brexit last year.
Click here to read more.
First polling stations close
Polling stations across rural France closed at 7 PM tonight. The polls will remain open for another hour in urban areas, after which we should see the first projections.
Turnout was 65 percent at 5 o’clock in the afternoon; down from 2007 and 2012, but roughly in line with expectations. It is likely due to a lack of enthusiasm for Macron from left- and right-wing voters, but it should still be high enough to offset Le Pen’s enthusiasm advantage. Her voters are the most committed, but they’re also in the minority.
“We vote for others”
Libération has done its part. The left-wing newspaper counsels readers against staying home because there isn’t a socialist on the ballot, pointing out that a victory for the National Front could have “immediate consequences” for non-natives: “police tracking, expulsion or, if they have papers, discriminatory laws that will make their lives much harder.”
We vote not only for ourselves, we vote for others; those who have no civic means of defending themselves and whom the xenophobes have in their sights.
National Front: left or right?
Le Pen’s economic nationalism makes it hard to place her on the traditional left-right spectrum.
Renaud Lambert writes in Le Monde diplomatique that even the National Front itself seems confused whether it ought to be socialist or support the free market:
Le Pen recently condemned the EU directive on “posted workers” (sent to work in another member state), forgetting she had not opposed it in the European Parliament in April 2014. Last May she demanded that the El Khomri labor law be withdrawn, though MPs from the FN were tabling amendments to make it more liberal.
Partly this is because the Front has changed. Under Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, the party was fiercely anticommunist and hence, in the context of the Cold War, it made sense to be pro-capitalism. This appealed to the coterie of Algerian War veterans, Pieds-Noirs and Vichy apologists, mostly living in the south of France, who formed its original base.
Under the leadership of his daughter, the Front has adopted a protectionist program in order to appeal to blue-collar workers in the north.
But it hasn’t completely shed its small-state instincts. Lambert points out that Le Pen seldom criticizes liberalism or capitalism without adding an epithet such as ultra-, hyper-, extreme or globalized, “suggesting that what she condemns is not so much an economic regime as its tendency to excess.”
The Guardian explains how the vote estimate we’re going to get from French media works.
It’s not an exit poll, but rather a projection based on partial vote counts from 200 polling stations across the country.
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.
The result is usually accurate to within a percentage point.
Does Le Pen even want to win?
There has been so much turmoil in the National Front in the final two weeks of the campaign, from its appointment of a Holocaust-denying chairman to a bizarre debate performance by Le Pen to a U-turn on leaving the euro, that Arthur Goldhammer wonders if they even want to win:
Really, there’s no upside in winning. She’d probably face violent protests even before taking office. Why shoulder the burden of bloody repression when you can parlay failure into a healthy income stream?
At the time of the Dutch election in March, I wrote something similar about Geert Wilders, Le Pen’s ideological counterpart. He didn’t release a serious manifesto, skipped half the election debates — and ended up with far fewer seats than the polls had given him only two months earlier.
Unlike most European populists, Wilders has actually been in power. He was part of a ruling coalition in the Netherlands from 2010 to 2012. The experience didn’t do his Freedom Party much good. Wilders learned that it’s better to remain in opposition. Le Pen may be thinking the same.
Macron projected winner
Macron is projected to win the election with around 65 percent support. That would be up a few points from the polls in the final weeks of the campaign.
Assuming the result is confirmed and Macron has won, he should be inaugurated as the eighth president of the Fifth Republic next week.
On the day of the inauguration, he would first meet with François Hollande, the outgoing president, at the Elysée Palace in downtown Paris, where Macron is given the access codes to France’s nuclear arsenal. Hollande would leave the palace before Macron is sworn in. He is then due to pay his respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier underneath the Arc de Triomphe before meeting the mayor of Paris at the Hôtel de Ville for a celebration.
Le Pen promises “new political force”
Le Pen has conceded defeat and promised supporters “profound reform” in order to create “a new political force”.
It isn’t clear if she means starting a whole new party or overhauling the National Front.
Doubtless there will be tensions in the weeks and months ahead. The old guard accuses Le Pen of making the party too left-wing. There is a coalition around her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, concentrated in the southeast, that advocates a return to the Front’s economically more liberal and socially more conservative roots. They believe they can pry traditional conservative voters away from the Republicans.
Marine’s loyalists, on the other hand, believe the party’s future lies in disillusioned young and working-class voters who, a generation ago, would have supported the Socialists or the Communists. These voters mostly live in the deindustrialized north of France.
These demographic, geographic and family splits could now come to the forefront.
Macron’s parliamentary challenge
Macron could be hamstrung by reactionary forces in both major parties if his En Marche! doesn’t win a legislative majority next month.
The Socialist left so opposed his reforms — which allowed small companies to opt out of collective bargaining agreements and liberalized shopping hours — that Hollande was forced to enact them by decree. These lawmakers are not going to come around, especially when they worry more about losing reelection to the far left than to the right.
Center-left Socialists who supported Macron’s reforms are in the minority and they are most at risk of losing their seats.
Centrist Republicans could support a program of economic liberalization, but conservatives in the party worry that Macron’s globalism could cause their voters to switch to the National Front.
Click here to read more.
National Front could emerge stronger from defeat
Macron’s lack of a national party organization hasn’t mattered much in the presidential election, but it could be fatal in the parliamentary elections. His progressive movement, En Marche!, may not win many seats in June.
Optimists argue that moderates will unite around 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.
Will there be consequences for Russia’s interference?
With Macron’s landslide election over the Kremlin-backed Le Pen, we’re now about to see what happens when Vladimir Putin’s choice loses — and the target of a Moscow-based media and cyber smear campaign wins.
Hillary Clinton never got the opportunity to respond to Russia’s hacking against her. And the Trump Administration has done very little to hold Russia to account. After all, Trump was the beneficiary of this foreign effort.
Therefore, the lesson for Putin is that there is minimal downside to meddling in Western elections. And while Le Pen’s campaign was a long shot from the start, Russia has yet to see any real consequence for its subversion — so why not roll the dice and at the very least undermine the French electoral process?
Macron is now in a unique position. He can take meaningful action against Russia or he can send the message that there is indeed no cost to interfering in Western elections.
Here, defending the republic equals defending the integrity of Western democracy.
Macron’s party to group with liberals
The Belgian newspaper Le Soir reports that Macron intends for his party to group with the liberals in the European Parliament.
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe is currently the fourth-largest in Strasbourg and led by former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt.
Macron to name prime minister next week
Macron will name a prime minister next week, the secretary of his party, En Marche!, has said.
Bernard Cazeneuve, who took over from Manuel Valls when he resigned to run for the Socialist Party’s presidential nomination in December, is due to step down soon.
Macron’s first prime minister may not last long. After the legislative elections in June, he or she might not have a majority in the National Assembly. Macron could then be forced into what the French call cohabitation with the leader of the largest party.
The last time this happened was from 1997 to 2002, when the right-wing Jacques Chirac was forced to appoint the left-wing Lionel Jospin as premier.
Advantages of the French party system
Matt Yglesias of Vox points out on Twitter:
You see in Trump vs Le Pen once again that authoritarian nationalist movements only win with the support of the establishment right.
There are two particular reasons why this may be the case.
First, Macron’s party, En Marche!, currently has zero seats in the French parliament. A Macron victory doesn’t have to mean the disempowerment of everyone else. In fact, it gives each party supporting him a seat at the table — assuming En Marche! is unable to manage the impressive feat of winning control of the National Assembly next month.
Second, France’s system encourages temporary polarization, not permanent, structural polarization as in the United States, where one party wins and one is utterly defeated.
Click here to read more.