The first round shows more polarization





The result of the first round of elections in France, in which the current president, Emmanuel Macronhas been first and will face the far-right Marine Le Pen in the second round, points to a more polarized political map.

The great parties that represent the tradition of the Fifth Republic, The Republicans (neo-Gaullist conservatives) and the Socialist Party, have obtained irrelevant results. The extreme right shows its strength and the radical left gains prominence with a party that questions a good part of the economic policy. The third force has been abstention, with 25.16%.

For the second round, Macron has the advantage that many voters left and right will support him to stop Le Pen, but the results show that politics in France has long since changed.

More polarization and crisis of the traditional parties

Keep in mind that this is a presidential and not a legislative election, so it is not an exact reflection of the political map, and it has a lot to do with the personality of the president. Still, for frederick cowsdirector of Opinion and Politics of Ipsos-Francethe results confirm a “radicalization of the electorate towards the extreme right clearly, but also for the radical left”.

Macron’s own success in building a centrist alternative (his “movement” On the Move!) partly explains this polarization, according to Vacas. “Before there was no such strong centrist party, has caused the center-left and the center-right to weaken tremendously“. “To oppose a centrist president, the most effective method has been to have more radical positions,” he adds.

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Dolores RubioPhD in Information Sciences from the Complutense University and an expert in European integration and international relations, highlights the “collapse of the two parties that have structured the presidential elections and France itself” for more than 60 years. “In France it is interpreted as the breakdown of the traditional political systembut not only in France, but it has a reflection in Western liberal democracies”, he explains to RTVE.es.

In France it is interpreted as the rupture of the traditional political system, which is reflected in Western liberal democracies.

“The three candidates who have been best positioned gather the useful vote – continues Rubio – If Macron wins it will be because there is a cordon sanitaire, and the opposition will be two-headed, with a divided far right and left populists represented by Mélenchon. It is a symptom that the system is wearing out”. However, he adds, “the attrition does not happen overnight, and neither does the end, but it is on the threshold.”

Moussa Bourekbaa CIDOB researcher, highlights that the importance of useful vote in this first round is a novelty. “This is a surprise. Traditionally, the French voted for preferences in the first round and left the useful vote for the second”, he explained to RTVE.es

For Bourekba, the result “validates the reconfiguration of the political field initiated by Macron in 2017, in which the two parties have gradually collapsed that articulated the French political field. The brain-dead state of the PSF is confirmed and the Republicans have been caught between the extremes of Le Pen and Eric Zemmour and a Macron who has not stopped stealing their ideas.”

The CIDOB researcher believes that the very figure of the current president explains the polarization. “We have a person in the political center who generates a lot of rejection to the left and right“. While Macron has managed to maintain support (he is the first president in two decades to arrive in first position in the second roundBourekba points out), the votes against have been concentrated on the candidates with the most possibilities.

“On the one hand, there is a vote of the extreme right, although not anti-system. And on the other there has been a fight to see who can take the leadership of the left in France, and not everyone would agree with classifying this sensitivity as Mélenchon as extreme left”. The CIDOB researcher believes that we will have to wait for the June legislative elections to see if this polarizing trend is confirmed.

Mariam Martinez-Bascuñána political scientist, explained in TVE’s La Hora de La 1 that “the fundamental conclusion is that we still have three political models: Macron’s, liberal, centrist, pro-European; that of Mélenchon, a left-wing populism; and Le Pen, the one on the extreme right”.

The economy, one of the keys to the elections

The economic situation, and specifically the fall in purchasing power, has been one of the keys to the elections. “The two who have put it on the table are Le Pen and Mélenchon – explains Bourekba – The latter, due to his political sensitivity, is not the first time he has campaigned with this and criticized the ‘president of the rich’. Le Pen had a Zemmour obsessed with the usual themes of the National Assembly (security, Islam, immigration) and he has learned the lesson of 2017, he has opted to go beyond his traditional electorate, and he has succeeded “.

Martínez-Bascuñán also believes that Le Pen has managed to capture at the last moment a social concern about the loss of purchasing power. “The volatility of the political environment has been seen. At first the campaign revolved around the war, with a closing of ranks around the president, and then has turned to the economic consequences of the warand Le Pen has capitalized on that agenda,” he said.

Le Pen has managed to capture at the last moment a social concern about the loss of purchasing power

Dolores Rubio places the economy based on the “disenchantment” of the electorate with the political organization, which has failed to find solutions. “The welfare state in France has fallen, the French consider that they are in a crisis and many believe that there has been no response, and that ends up being seen,” she argues.

New strategies for the second round

The final game will be played in two weeks, in the second round, for which the two rivals are already fine-tuning their strategies. Le Pen intends to transform it into a referendum against Macron while the current president relies on a “Republican front” to curb the extreme right, a ‘cordon sanitaire’ that continues to function in countries like France and Germany, unlike in Spain. Both Mélenchon and the parties to the left of him and also the conservative Valerie Pecresse have asked their supporters to vote against Le Pen.

Federico Vacas, of Ipsos, foresees that abstention in the second round is also higher than in 2017. “A part of the radical left is not willing to accompany Macron after five years of government. The most dissatisfied sectors are going to have more difficulty supporting him against Le Pen”, he considers.

“On the other hand – he adds – Le Pen scares French society less than five years ago. Because she has relatively moderated her discourse, she has put more emphasis on purchasing power, less on identity, and by making Zemmour a more far-right candidate has allowed her to appear as a more moderate candidate.”

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The French complain that Macron is too elitistlittle close to the people and who is the first president of the Republic who, although not directly, has insulted the electorate, with his comments about the ‘yellow vests’ and the unvaccinated”, recalls Dolores Rubio.

The UCM doctor, however, believes that the ‘cordon sanitaire’ against Le Pen will work, as happened in 2002, with a concentration of the useful vote that will finally allow Macron to continue in the Elysee for five more years.

But even if it is so, for Mariam Martínez-Bascuñán “there is still a problem in France and that is that the extreme right remains as leader of the opposition”. “Macron has killed the traditional parties of the Fifth Republic but also the parties themselves. He leads a movement, which is very personal. When Macron is gone, is that movement going to continue? What will be the alternative to Macron? Is it going to be Mélenchon or Le Pen’s extreme right? In the long term, France should reflect on all these issues.”


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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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