French election: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen on track to advance to runoff, data shows

Macron, the current president of France, appears poised to garner 28.6% of the vote, putting him in first place, according to an analysis by pollster Ifop-Fiducial for French broadcasters TF1 and LCI. Le Pen, a longtime standard-bearer for the French far right, is on track for second place with 23.6%.

Twelve candidates applied for the highest position. If none of them receives more than 50% of the votes, the first two will face each other in a second round on April 24. But a second round is almost guaranteed: no French presidential candidate has ever won in the first round under the current system.

The contest was marked by voter apathy, according to Ifop-Fiducial. Voter turnout was estimated at 73.3%, the lowest in a first round in 20 years. While Macron appears on track to win the first round, he is a polarizing figure whose approval ratings have lagged during his first term.

Macron urged voters to show up for the second round in a speech after the polls closed.

“Nothing is fixed and the debate that we will have in the next 15 days is decisive for our country and our Europe,” he said. “I don’t want a France that, leaving Europe, has international populists and xenophobes as its only allies. That’s not us. I want a France faithful to humanism, to the spirit of enlightenment,” she said.

Macron is seeking to become the first French president to win re-election since Jacques Chirac in 2002. While polls have given him a consistent lead over the field, the contest narrowed significantly last month.

Support for Le Pen has steadily increased in recent weeks. Although she is best known for her far-right policies, such as drastically restricting immigration and banning the Muslim headscarf in public places, this time she has run a more conventional campaign, softening her language and focusing more on pocket issues such as rising cost of living. , one of the main concerns of the French electorate.

In her speech on Sunday, Le Pen promised to be president of “all the French” if she wins the second round and called on those who did not vote for Macron to support her in the second round.

In third place was leftist agitator Jean-Luc Melenchon with 20.1%. Melenchon enjoyed a late surge in support and was seen as a possible shadowy candidate to challenge Macron.

No other candidate got more than 10% of the vote, according to the analysis. Far-right political commentator turned presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, who enjoyed a seat among the top three candidates until March according to the Ifop poll, was fourth with 7%.

The losing candidates have quickly begun to support the first two. While Zemmour urged her supporters to vote for Le Pen, the others urged her supporters to stay away from her.

Melenchon told supporters that “Mrs. Le Pen must not be given a single vote,” and candidates from the traditional center-left and center-right parties, Socialists and Republicans, have already endorsed Macron.

The Socialist candidate, Anne Hidalgo, said that a Le Pen victory would instill in France “a hatred of everyone against everyone”, while the Republican, Valerie Pecresse, said she was sincerely concerned about the country because “the extreme right has never been so close to winning.

“Marine Le Pen’s project will open France to discord, impotence and collapse,” Pecresse said.

Rematch

Polls before the race showed that a second round of Macron vs. Le Pen was the most likely outcome. Macron comfortably beat Le Pen five years ago, but pundits have said a second race between the two would be much closer than the 2017 race.

Macron is no longer a political upstart and must run with a mixed record. While his ambitious plan to bolster the European Union’s autonomy and geopolitical clout has earned him respect abroad and at home, he remains a divisive figure when it comes to domestic politics. His handling of the gilets jaunes movement, one of France’s longest-running protests in decades, was widely criticized, and his record on the Covid-19 pandemic is inconclusive.

Macron’s signature policy during the crisis, requiring people to show proof of vaccination to go about their normal lives, helped boost vaccination rates but incited a vocal minority against his presidency.

French President Emmanuel Macron (centre), with his wife Brigitte Macron (left), talk to a resident before voting in the first round of Sunday's presidential election.

Macron has so far campaigned very little. Experts believe that his strategy was to avoid political confusion as long as possible in order to show off his image as the most presidential of all the candidates. Polls showed him consistently leading all candidates, and he was considered a surefire candidate to make it to the second round.

The Ifop-Fiducial poll released on Sunday showed Macron would win a second-round contest against Le Pen by just 51% to 49%.

“Widespread discontent with Macron (especially among young people) means the outcome is uncertain and unpredictable. Le Pen will continue to exploit this and therefore a major political setback is possible,” said Dominic Thomas, chair of the Department of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA said about the possible second round.

“As much as they may not like Le Pen, there is a world of difference between her and Macron, and how she would disrupt European and world politics.”

Le Pen has tried to present herself as a very different candidate from the one she lost handily to Macron in 2017, when she tried to position herself to France’s forgotten working classes as her country’s answer to then-US President Donald Trump. While her economic nationalist stance, her views on immigration, Euroscepticism and positions on Islam in France have not changed, Le Pen has tried to broaden her appeal.

The race was initially predicted to be a referendum on the dominance of the far right in French politics, but the war in Ukraine, another key issue for voters, turned the race upside down.

Macron has held first place in most polls ahead of this year’s election. Ifop polls found his support peaked in early March, when potential voters rallied around the flag and rewarded the president for his attempts to mediate the conflict in Ukraine before Russia’s invasion, even if it was a failure.

Many experts also expected the war to hurt Le Pen, who had been a great admirer of Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader who has become a pariah in the West due to the Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine in late February. Le Pen visited the Russian president during his 2017 campaign, but this time she was forced to throw away a brochure with a photo of her and Putin from that trip after Russia’s unprovoked attack on her neighbor.

Thomas, the UCLA expert, explained that the upcoming debates will be crucial if Macron wants to convince voters that Le Pen’s previous support for Putin should disqualify her.

“He will be vulnerable on a variety of domestic issues, but she will have a hard time convincing the electorate of his foreign policy credentials, especially given his longstanding ties to Russia,” he said.

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