Abstention threatens Macron

This Sunday the French will vote for the next President of the Republic in which is his appointment with the polls par excellence. The interest in the presidential elections has always been greater than in the European or regional ones, however, the polls predict a very low turnout, reflection of an unenthusiastic electorate. A high abstention could put Emmanuel Macron in trouble, who despite starting as the favorite in the polls, is increasingly closing the distance with which, everything indicates, he will be his rival again in the second round, the leader of the National Group, Marine LePen.

The polls show a percentage of abstention around 30%, much higher than that registered in the first round of the 2017 elections (22.2%) and above the record reached in 2002 (28.4%). The latest survey published by Ipsos establishes that only 69% of the French are “sure” about going to vote this Sunday and 11% are “almost sure”. To this should be added the role that the undecided can play. According to the Ifop consultation, 23.1% of the French who have expressed their intention to vote for the first round can still change their mind, so the hours before the election could be key. What factors explain a high abstention rate?

Low participation can be due to various reasons, as explained by the URJC Political Science professor Irene Sánchez Vitores. On the one hand, the fact that the elections are presented as a competition with a clear winner. “Knowing who is going to win the election demobilizes the electorate. When it is assumed that one candidate will obtain a wide margin of victory over the others, the potential voters of the rest may decide to stay home motivated by the feeling that it is not worth going to vote”.

On the other hand, a limited capacity to mobilize the electorate by the political elites comes into play. Despite having a large number of candidates, France faces political supply problems. “It is something paradoxical, because there are many political forces and, nevertheless, it seems that none is managing to charm the voters. There is a high level of discontent.”Sanchez adds.

Even the television schedule on Sunday night reflects a change in trend. The most watched French television channel, TF1, has replaced its usual electoral debate for the broadcast of the film ‘Visitors’, a decision that the news chief of the group justifies in the “evolution” in the “tastes and expectations” of the viewers.

Economic crisis, war and disenchantment

Emmanuel Macron was reaching the end of his term, focusing on economic recovery after the pandemic. However, the war in Ukraine came to complicate the way out of the crisis. When the invasion took place, the conflict became the second concern of the electorate, only behind purchasing power. Interest has dropped since then, but the economy remains at the height of concern of the French and the war situation feeds the restlessness. “The war in Ukraine represents a worsening of the economic crisis that we have been dragging on since 2020 and this also generates disaffection among voters,” explains Jorge Tamames, a researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute.

According to the latest Ipsos query, restlessness, uncertainty and tiredness are the main feelings that address the French population in the current context. “It seemed that with the Next Generation funds, we were entering a period of coming out of the crisis, however, the war has sown a lot of uncertainty on the price of energy and the economy in generalfor which no candidate ends up having an answer that generates a lot of enthusiasm among the electorate”, adds Sánchez Vitores.

Likewise, Tamames refers to a “inherent pessimism” in French society. “It is a country where the surveys year after year have been collecting the highest rates of pessimism for the future.” In addition, compared to other European countries, “the rates of associationism, belonging to a political party, union, etc. are very low.” However, every time a president carries out unpopular reforms, French society does not hesitate to take to the streets to claim your rights. “They combine moments of profound apathy with moments of extreme mobility.”

Young people, the great absentees at the polls

As an Ipsos analysis points out, abstentionists tend to be more numerous among the less favored population and young people. In the 2017 presidential election, almost 30% of those under 35 did not vote in the first roundwhile in the age group between 60 and 69 years the percentage fell to 16% and to 12% in those over 70. According to the latest surveys, more than 40% of those under 35 are not sure to go vote on Sunday.

“Young people in general always vote less, either because they are interested in another type of political participation or for social issues, such as having fewer obligations that involve them socially,” explains Sánchez Vitores. Young people, he explains, vote less and, when they do, tend to lean towards more radical options. In addition, as occurs in the rest of European countries, this sector of the population does not represent a very large percentage and It tends to be little mobilized, so the parties tend to pay little attention to it.. “It’s rare that the issues they care about the most get the most attention in an election campaign.”

There is, therefore, a disconnection between political supply and this sector of demand. Young people do not mobilize, but neither do they feel that the political forces call for their mobilization. In this campaign, an attempt to capture his attention by the candidate of La Francia Insumisa, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is perceived. “His insistence on the climate crisis is very much geared toward trying to activate a type of young voter,” Tamames says. However, he adds, he is running into difficulties because “it’s a more difficult vote to activate than other demographics.”

In addition, also in past presidential elections, participation evolved linearly according to the level of household income. It stood at 70% among voters with incomes below €1,250 per month and rose to 84% among those with incomes above €3,000 per month.

Macron, against the extreme right and abstention

In an electoral context marked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Emmanuel Macron delayed his campaign as long as possible, focusing on his role as a European leader in times of war. “There is no magic in this campaign. Nobody is excited, not the French, not the political journalists, not even us in the campaign”, said a source close to Macron quoted by Reuters. The latest polls give the current president 27.6% of the vote, closely followed by Le Pen, with 20.4%.

The distance between the two main candidates has been shortened in recent weeks, so the percentage of participation and the final decision of the undecided can be decisive. Perhaps that is why the president used his only rally of the campaign to call on the population to go to the polls and not believe “those who say that the election is already played.”

“It is really paradoxical that he is now worried about a high abstention, because Macron has been the first to disregard the electoral campaign,” argues Tamames. “He has projected an image of statesman in wartime without descending into the political arena, what happens is that this is an inherently demobilizing strategy, since it does not generate a powerful call-up”, he adds.

In fact, while in the 2017 elections he won a comfortable victory over Le Pen, the polls reflect a much tighter percentage in a hypothetical, but increasingly likely, confrontation between the two. a low turnout could trigger a decrease in the so-called useful vote which he managed to attract in the last elections. “The pretext of stopping Le Pen’s party has been used to defend a series of economic and social policies that do not always enjoy the support of the majority of the population. There comes a point where the threat of the radical right winning is not mobilizes with the same efficiency”, concludes Tamames.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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