French presidential election – some hope for a future progressive, anti-EU Left

Australia will go to a federal election on May 21, 2022 with the current conservative government looking in bad shape and the Opposition Labor Party has been helped a little by interventions from the French president. Emmanuel Macron candidly called the Australian Prime Minister a liar which further dented his already fractured image as the most untruthful politician in Australia. I hope the conservatives are routed but, in saying that, I know it means the Labor Party will take power and continue their embarrassing pretence to be progressive, while preaching the very mainstream economics that has damaged so many of the people that the Labor politicians claim to represent. A bad situation really. We are not yet in a situation where the traditional conservative and labour parties are being challenged by new entrants to the field. The first round of the French presidential election for 2022 were held at the weekend with some very interesting results and definitely showed that the traditional political voices in France are dead – something we could only wish for in this country.

Imagine an election where the traditional conservative party – Les Républicains – received less than 5 per cent of the vote and the traditional Left party – the Socialist party – could not even get 2 per cent of the vote.

In the – 2017 French presidential election – Les Républicains gained 20 per cent of the vote (with François Fillon as the candidate) and the Socialist Party gained 6.4 per cent (with Benoît Hamon as the candidate).

The following table shows the percentage votes in the first-round by candidate and party leaning.

The far right voice gained 31 per cent of the vote, which is telling. Zemmour did not run in the 2017 election, so his vote capture represents a growing far right voice in French politics and will make it interesting in the second round.

The next graph shows the per cent vote in 2022 (bars) against the 2017 results (vertical line) for the first-round presidential voting.

Where there is no vertical line – there was no applicable 2017 result. For example, Éric Zemmour was a new force in 2022.

You can find the official results from the Ministère de l’Intérieur – Election présidentielle 2022 – site.

The 2017 first-round attracted 77.8 per cent of eligible voters, whereas the turnout in 2022 was 74.86 per cent.

That amounts to around 1,390,970 less voters voting in 2022 compared to 2017.

There have been substantial changes in preferences since the Russian invasion.

Polico.eu poll of polls for – France – 2022 presidential election – produced this excellent graphic – visit their site if you want a larger version with some alternative viewing options.

Since the Russian invasion, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon have made very significant gains.

– Le Pen from 17 per cent according to the polls at the time, to 24 per cent in the actual vote.

– Mélenchon from 12 per cent according to the polls at the time, to 21.6 per cent in the actual vote.

Zemmour’s vote fell from 14 per cent intended at the time of the Russian invasion to 7 per cent in the actual vote, probably as voters moved towards the more moderate but still far right Le Pen.

The decline of the Valérie Pécresse representing the traditional ruling – Les Républicains – from 15 per cent at the time of the Invasion to 4.7 per cent indicates a spectacular decline in traditional voting patterns.

Further, the Socialists have been in the doldrums for a long time and showed no recovery under the candidature of the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.

The graph that really starts to tell a story (apart from the map) is the next one, which shows the breakdown of the vote by age.

And here is the voting map for the first round.

The map is from – France24 – and shows the spatial divide in France.

Marine Le Pen dominates the north and north-east, while Emmanuel Macron is the most popular elsewhere (west and south-east and south).

Jean-Luc Mélenchon enjoyed strong support in the northern suburbs of Paris and is several regional centres.

I am still analysing the results but here are some observations from a long way from France (although Australia isn’t far from New Caledonia!):

1. Emmanuel Macron won the first-round on the back of the over-65 year old but his once unassailable lead over Marine Le Pen is gone and the second-round on April 10, 2022 has become more interesting.

2. This vote revealed the on-going but large shift in French politics (from my understanding). The traditional dominant parties – Les Républicains and the Parti socialiste – are in a death spiral.

Both, in various ways have failed to provide a voice for the times and have become corrupt, complacent parties of the establishment (right and left).

They have been in decline since it became obvious that the adoption of the common currency and the dysfunction of the European Commission and its bullying policies have left a generation disenfranchised.

I traced this shift in my book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale (published May 2015) and we analysed it further in – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017).

The traditional parties represent the ruling class in France.

The people have rejected them.

Good.

3. Marine Le Pen was the most popular among the prime-age voters – 35 years to 64 years, and given her heartland is the industrial north and the south.

She has reinvented the Far Right to some extent but remains Far Right ceding the mad fringe to Éric Zemmour.

The problem for her now is that she is unlikely to be successful in the second round as a result of the operation of the so-called – Cordon Sanitaire – which refers to a refusal of the voting population to embrace an extremist viewpoint.

In the context of French politics, that refusal has traditional cost Marine Le Pen’s group the chance of major success.

The other aspect of this refusal is that Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is now the voice of the Left in France, gained 7,605,225 votes (nearly 22 per cent).

At the press conference following the vote, the spokesperson for the Party Alexis Corbière said (Source):

… il est clair qu’à aucun moment le choix du Front national n’est posé … Il s’agit de notre ADN politique. Pas une voix ne doit aller pour le Front national, pas une.

(It is clear that there has been no choice made for the National Front. This is our political DNA. Not a single vote should go for the National Front, not one).

Which makes it easier for Macron, unless most of the Left abstain from voting.

Then Zemmour’s vote becomes a threat to Macron and he has pledged support for Marine Le Pen in the second-round.

4. The demise of the traditional parties has seen a new dichotomy emerge – pro-EU-euro Macron versus the anti-EU-nationalist Le Pen.

In fact, the anti-EU vote also embraces Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Nicoloas Dupont-Aignand and Éric Zemmour among others.

There are now more voters who are sympathetic to their position on Europe than there are strong voices for Europe.

5. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is now clearly the dominant voice on the Left, attracted spectacular support from the youth and 25-34 year olds in France, which I take as a really good sign.

Macron’s power base will die off soon enough and the fact that the younger voters are attracted to the Left agenda should provide a lot of hope for progressives in France and beyond.

He is also caught between a rock and a hard-place in advising his support base on what to do in the second-round run-off because he also doesn’t want to endorse the centre-right Macron.

It is too hard to know how his votes will distribute among Macron and Le Pen or be lost through abstention although the opinion polls are predicting 53 per cent will go to Macron.

But in the French press, I have read that around 50 per cent will abstain, which still leaves a huge number of voters who could swing between Macron and Le Pen.

Probably, the fact that Jean-Luc Mélenchon is out is an advantage to Macron given the ‘cordon sanitaire’. If he had to face off against the Left candidate, things might have been very interesting because more of Le Pen’s votes would have leaked to Jean-Luc Mélenchon than the other way.

The good thing from the poll is that the Far Right loony candidate Zemmour failed after previously being seen as a contender.

There is some maturity in the French electorate.

Conclusion

I guess Macron will win on April 10.

But what interested me the most was that Jean-Luc Mélenchon captured the votes of the younger French voters and the youngest cohort – the 18-24 year olds – rejected Le Pen and Zemmour.

If that trend continues, and as time passes with those age cohorts getting older, there might be a future for a progressive, anti-EU Left in France.

That is something to be cheerful about despite the likelihood of a Macron victory overall in 2022.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2022 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.