Forcing the electorate into a vote against the National Front is a dangerous tactic

28th Apr.
Albane De Rochebrune
28th Apr.
Albane De Rochebrune

As the final round of the French elections approaches, the population has been left with a difficult choice- Macron the centrist reminder of the past, or Le Pen an extreme right nationalist. The key for each is how they deal with the undecided right-wing voters who wanted Francois Fillon to win. Will either be able to convince this bloc that they are the right candidate?

4 Mins (1036 Words)

Faces were tense in the long queues leading to the polling stations in London last Sunday. French voters living in the UK were scrutinising each other, trying to guess who the others would vote for. A few hours later, the first-round results were indeed showing the French electorate’s new division into four categories each representing more or less 20% of the voters. They can be loosely divided as such:

- The young urbanised and educated elite who voted for Macron
- The older educated and more traditional group that voted for Fillon
- The young suburban working class who voted for Mélenchon
- The rural white labouring class who voted for Le Pen.

Despite the ban on publishing polls until the vote ended, Belgian media RTBF released an exit poll during the day, announcing what would later prove to be the correct results: Emmanuel Macron had won the first round and would fight against Marine Le Pen for the second. For the first time in the history of the 5th Republic, neither of the two traditional parties will compete in the second round of a Presidential election.

For François Fillon’s supporters, the first round has been a bitter shock. In their opinion – as well as that of many Macron supporters - even though they know their candidate made mistakes, he was first and foremost the victim of a smear campaign. The objective was not only to eliminate him, but to go further and remove his right-wing ideas from the first-round debate, helped by a Socialist Party candidate in disguise, and a very complacent ‘establishment’. What was even more shocking to them is that Jean-Luc Mélenchon came fourth - only a half point behind Fillon - despite his public adoration for Latin American autocrats and his radical semi-communist manifesto.

According to polls published since Sunday’s results, there seems to be no doubt about the fact that Emmanuel Macron will be the next French President. And yet, the “En Marche!” candidate would do well to think about his tactics in the coming days.

Firstly, while the anti-elite vote has never been that big in France, Emmanuel Macron and “En Marche!” are the very embodiments of this elite.  Macron attended the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the most elitist - and hated - French college, famous for educating senior civil servants and de facto most politicians for decades. He also worked at Rothschild as an investment banker before serving President Hollande as a special adviser for two years. In 2014, he was appointed as the Minister of Economy and Finance for a year until he resigned with theatrical flourish in order to run for President.

“En Marche!” supporters are made up of senior figures of the Socialist Party and famous members of the Parisian intellectual and economic elite along with many centre-right “Les Républicains” defectors; all strong defenders of a liberal globalist vision of the world. They epitomise exactly what the populist parties have vilified during the campaign.

On top of this, there has been a rapprochement between the ideas presented by both extremes of the right and left. Marine Le Pen’s manifesto is equivalent to Mélenchon’s with added nationalism. Her economic program is far from right-wing: a stronger State, more interventionism, more protectionism, keeping the 35-hour working week and a denouncement of globalisation and any free trade agreements. Like Mélenchon, she wants France out of NATO, Schengen and the EU. Her stances on the ‘establishment’ share the same populist motifs. Thus, from a rational point of view, Mélenchon’s supporters, along with those who voted for candidates such as Philippe Poutou, Nathalie Artaud, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, François Asselineau or Jacques Cheminade should vote for her if they were to be consistent.

Indeed, for most of them, the proletariat’s enemy is not only the employers and the listed companies, but also the foreign workers from Poland, India or Turkey. Those votes make 27.11% of the first-round voters. If added on to Le Pen’s score, she could already get 48.41% without touching Fillon’s voters.

Of course, those predictions are not entirely realistic as many do continue to strongly oppose the National Front’s anti-migrant principles.  The real uncertainty of the second round will actually be the blank votes and the turnout.

Regarding François Fillon’s voters, the uncertainty is high as well. While most are naturally hostile to Le Pen, they now share a profound anger towards the ‘establishment’ which destroyed their candidate, insulted their values and now placidly demands that they vote for Emmanuel Macron for the sake of France’s future. They feel that their tactic was always to force them into this terrible non-choice situation where they would have to vote either for François Hollande’s heir or for the populist statist Marine Le Pen. 

Although François Fillon announced he would support Macron for the second round, it is certain that many of his voters are now tempted by a protest vote. They will either stay at home, spoil their ballot, or take revenge against the irresponsible ‘establishment’ and vote for Marine Le Pen. 

Whether Emmanuel Macron preaches to the contrary or not, in Fillon’s backers’ view, he belongs to the centre-left liberal pack which has neither been able to reform France’s paralysed economy, nor to address any of their societal fears. While he is likely to win the French elections, he must not underestimate the anger that this insalubrious campaign has instilled in mainstream right-wing voters.

While it seems quite improbable that he will manage to seduce Poutou’s or Dupont-Aignan’s voters, Emmanuel Macron must meet Fillon’s supporters’ highest expectations if he is to win and govern France. His lyrical speeches must morph into concrete and realistic policies. He must be vigorously pro-business, while showing respect for the traditional values that some of Fillon’s supporters want defended. Unfortunately, so far it seems that his charm offensive has only been targeting some big fish individuals from “Les Républicains” leadership, overlooking the legitimate concerns of millions of right-wing voters.

Emmanuel Macron could have started this process by decrying the fact that the populist vote did better than the mainstream right-wing vote. Instead, he celebrated his victory in a posh Parisian restaurant. Ten days ahead of the second round, complacency is a dangerous tactic and this could make his defeat quite possible.


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