When he was first elected president in May 2017, Emmanuel Macron vowed to ensure that French voters would “no longer have any reason to vote for extremist parties”. Macron’s pledge was part of a wider goal to tackle discontent with France’s political system and, therefore, reverse the tide of growing support for the far-right Front National (now called the Rassemblement National, RN).
Five years on, however, the far right is even stronger. Macron’s victory – the first by an incumbent president for two decades – was more comfortable than many pollsters expected. But Le Pen’s vote share – 42 per cent, compared with 34 per cent in 2017 – is an ominous sign for many across Europe who fear the ramifications of a future far-right presidency in France.
Like many right-wing populist candidates in Europe, Le Pen has proved popular among voters who feel underserved by the existing political establishment. Exit poll data from Ipsos found that almost four in five voters who felt dissatisfied with their current life situation backed the RN leader.
The election was also noteworthy for the high number of abstentions – 28 per cent of registered voters chose not to cast a ballot in the second round, the highest figure for half a century. Abstention rates were especially high for young voters – around 40 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 chose not to vote, compared with just a third in 2017, according to Ipsos.
The low turnout marks a stark contrast from 2002, when turnout rose by eight percentage points between the first and second rounds as French voters issued an emphatic rejection of the FN. That year, Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had progressed to the runoff in a shock first-round result.