In Focus

Who will win the 2022 French election?

Emmanuel Macron leading in polls in final hours until run-off vote

Emmanuel Macron won the first round of the French presidential election and will once again face Marine Le Pen in a deciding poll that promises to be an extremely close contest.

The incumbent led the pack in the first round of voting, taking 27.8% of the vote compared with Le Pen’s 23.1% and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 22%. The results mean a rerun of the 2017 fight for the presidency that put Macron in the Elysée Palace.

It was a “convincing” first-round victory for Macron, said the BBC, but polls suggest that the run-off, which will take place on Sunday, “could be much closer”.

Here is everything you need to know about the election campaign, the two candidates and their chances of winning.

1

The latest

As France prepared to go to the polls this Sunday, “finding a French election poster for either top candidate” that hadn't been defaced was “almost like a treasure hunt”, said BBC Europe editor Katyla Adler.

The “violent dislike” that many voters express for either Macron or Le Pen, or for both, “can take your breath away”, Adler wrote. But the far-right challenger for the French presidency is at least “used to it”, as the daughter of  “infamous anti-immigration, nationalist politician” Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Following her two previous failed bids for the presidency, the National Rally leader has presented “the softest public version of herself yet” this time round, adopting a “notably warmer speaking tone”, Adler continued. But while Le Pen’s “focus on the working French struggling to make ends meet” has also boosted her popularity ratings, “large swathes of France simply don’t buy it”.

And Le Pen “is not the only one with a reputation problem”, with Macron struggling to shake off his reputation as a “president of the rich”.

The “biggest challenge” for both Le Pen and Macron, said The Guardian, was to “catch reluctant floating voters”, particularly the 7.7m who backed left-wing candidate Mélenchon in the first round of the election.

Almost a quarter of the eligible population failed to turn out for the first vote, “and many of those politically orphaned by the result are unlikely to have their arms twisted into voting for either of two candidates they dislike”, the paper predicted.

Voter apathy aside, a victory for Macron would be quite a “feat” by the incumbent, who “remains the strong favourite to win”, according to The Economist.

“Under the Fifth Republic, the French have never re-elected an incumbent president holding a majority in parliament,” said the paper. But if he secured a second term, as the head of a “fractured, discontented country”, Macron would be faced with “managing the dismay as much as the expectations”.

2

The candidates

Macron is widely considered the favourite to win re-election on 24 April. The president has pointed to “new foreign investment projects in France and a booming economy as proof his economic reforms have been bearing fruit”, Reuters said.

Macron, who leads La République En Marche (Republic Forward), has also set himself up for a conflict with those who refuse to be vaccinated, “ramping up his rhetoric against France’s minority of non-vaccinated people – less than 10% of the population – in part as a way of setting the political battle lines for the election”, The Guardian reported.

Running for a third time, Le Pen is once again the candidate for her far-right Rassemblement national (National Rally) party. The daughter of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is opposed to globalisation, which she has previously blamed for negative economic trends, as well as standing against any expansion in the EU’s power.

She has previously called for a referendum on leaving the bloc, but since 2019 has said she no longer advocates France leaving the EU or the euro currency. Her party also calls for the “de-Islamisation” of French society, while Le Pen has argued in favour of the establishment of a privileged partnership with Russia.

Unlike previous campaigns, she has “bet on dropping the populist messaging that once characterised her”, The New York Times (NYT) said, pushing efforts to “un-demonize” her party and its association “with flashes of antisemitism and xenophobia”.

3

Out of the race

Le Pen’s decision to detoxify her image is in part a result of the rise of far-right candidate Zemmour. Dubbed “the French Donald Trump” by Politico, the controversial former television pundit racked up “far more prime-time TV slots and front-page stories than many of his rivals” during his campaign.

Zemmour “admires the former US president”, according to The Guardian’s Paris correspondent Angelique Chrisafis, and has been “convicted for inciting racial hatred”. But those criminal convictions have not stopped his “meteoric” rise to fame as first a journalist and now the “new face” of the French far-right. 

After he failed to reach the run-off stage, Zemmour called for his supporters to back Le Pen in the second round of voting.

Valerie Pécresse, the candidate for the centre-right Républicains, declared her candidacy in July 2021 following the party’s internal primary. Nicknamed “the bulldozer”, she stated that she would become France’s first female president, describing herself as “one-third Thatcher and two-thirds Merkel”, France 24 said.

From the left of the French political spectrum, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the socialist Groupe La France insoumise, is also running for the top job. Like Le Pen, he was also on his third crack at winning the presidency. 

A socialist, he stands for increased labour rights and the expansion of French welfare programmes. He also argues in favour of mass redistribution of wealth to rectify socioeconomic inequality and is an outspoken critic of the EU, which he claims has been corrupted and is now a tool for neoliberal ideology.

He has told his backers not to vote for Le Pen in the final round, but has not endorsed Macron’s bid for a second term. 

Christiane Taubira, the leftist unity candidate elected during the unofficial “people’s primary”, previously served as justice minister under president Francois Hollande. She also sat in the National Assembly of France for French Guiana from 1993 to 2012 and was a member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 1999.

4

How the election works

The French public went to the polls on 10 April to place their votes in the first round of the election.

As no candidate won 50% of the first-round vote the election will continue into a second-round run-off on 24 April. In the second round, the top two candidates from the first round – in this case, Macron and Le Pen – will compete and the candidate with a majority wins.

5

The polls

According to Politico’s Poll of Polls, Macron is set to win 55% of the vote in the run-off. Le Pen is currently trailing on 45%.

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