French election update

by Chris Bertram on April 14, 2022

As Crooked Timber readers are probably aware, the first round of the French election ended with sitting President Emmanuel Macron in the lead, followed by crypto-Fascist Putin-fan Marine Le Pen in second place, narrowly ahead of left-wing anti-globalist Jean-Luc Mélenchon in third place. Everyone else was pretty-much nowhere, although ultra-right Pétain fan Eric Zemmour won the vote among French citizens living in Israel, which is, er, interesting. With the field down to two, the big question is whether Mélenchon voters will transfer in sufficient numbers to Macron rather than going to Le Pen or not voting at all. Mélenchon himself has called for his supporters not to vote for the far right, but has not recommended a vote for Macron instead. This is a continuation of his stance in 2017, although in the past he backed right-winger Jacques Chirac against Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The anxiety, stoked by every journalist who has a story to write (since it is really the only “angle”) is that Le Pen might win because of Mélenchon transfers and abstentions. The polling doesn’t really support it, although it is worryingly close for anyone with memories of Trump and Brexit. Many journalists think that there is a sufficient hatred of Macron on the far left for Mélenchon’s voters to abstain. Well, what’s rational and what people will do are two different things, but my view is that such a refusal would be quixotic. The revival of the left in France – if such a thing is possible – relies on the opposition to Macron coming from the left, and in terms of numbers, Mélenchon has laid a foundation for that. But if Mélenchon supporters sit on their hands and Le Pen does well in percentage terms, coming as close as, say, 48 per cent, then the effective anti-Macron opposition will be identified with the nationalist right. So, paradoxically, the best prospect for a left-leaning opposition to Macron over the next five years comes from him defeating Marine Le Pen as decisively as possible.



oldster 04.14.22 at 7:22 am

“Eric Zemmour won the vote among French citizens living in Israel….”
Macron won an outright majority — 56% — among French voters resident here in München. So said the crawl in the u-bahn. Double his share in France proper. Not sure how he fared in the rest of Germany.
Expats are, almost inevitably, unrepresentative of their country of origin.


J-D 04.14.22 at 8:00 am

The polling doesn’t really support it, although it is worryingly close …

The unreliability of polls makes a good basis for histrionic commentary, but although referring to the unreliability of polls is not exactly inaccurate, it’s important to remember that every other conceivable advance guide to likely results is even less reliable than the polls. The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, nor the election victory to the pre-election leader in the polls, but that’s the way to bet.

So, paradoxically, the best prospect for a left-leaning opposition to Macron over the next five years comes from him defeating Marine Le Pen as decisively as possible.

They could also make more of an effort then they did in 2017 at turning out for the legislative election. I’ve just made a comparison of votes in the first round of the 2017 Presidential election and votes in the first round of the 2017 legislative election, and I find this instructive:
Emmanuel Macron 8.66m; his parliamentary supporters 7.32m
Marine Le Pen 7.68m; Front National 2.99m
François Fillon 7.21m; Republicans and parliamentary allies 4.89m
Jean-Luc Mélenchon 7.06m; La France Insoumise 2.50m
Benoît Hamon 2.29m; Socialists and parliamentary allies 2.15m


J-D 04.14.22 at 9:54 am

… histrionic commentary …

I have just realised that I should have explained more clearly that I was making no suggestion that Chris Bertram was engaing in histrionics, but I have seen so many other people overreacting to any mention of polls that I am reflexively defensive when the subject comes up. Being worried about the closeness of the polls, as Chris Bertram suggests, is not an over-reaction: or rather, not necessarily an over-reaction, depending on the intensity of the worrying.


Stephen 04.14.22 at 12:34 pm

Following the principle of “know your possible enemy” I have taken a look at Marine Le Pen’s election manifesto, all 144 items of it.

Some parts are difficult to classify as left- or right-wing: reduce the number of deputies and senators, simplify administration, maintain the ban on genetically modified organisms, renegotiate France’s relationship with the EU and hold a referendum on continued membership, leave NATO.

As always, it is impossible to know how much of the manifesto is intended to be put into practice, or is a much watered-down version of the author’s real intentions. But I was particularly struck by the sections on immigration and Islamists:
24 Rétablir les frontières nationales et sortir de l’espace Schengen (un dispositif particulier pour les travailleurs frontaliers sera mis en place pour leur faciliter le passage de la frontière). Reconstituer les effectifs supprimés dans les douanes par le recrutement de 6 000 agents durant le quinquennat.
25 Rendre impossible la régularisation ou la naturalisation des étrangers en situation illégale. Simplifier et automatiser leur expulsion.
26 Réduire l’immigration légale à un solde annuel de 10 000. Mettre fin à l’automaticité du regroupement et du rapprochement familial ainsi qu’à l’acquisition automatique de la nationalité française par mariage. Supprimer les pompes aspirantes de l’immigration.
27 Supprimer le droit du sol: l’acquisition de la nationalité française sera possible uniquement par la filiation ou la naturalisation dont les conditions seront par ailleurs plus exigeantes. Supprimer la double nationalité extra-européenne.
28 Revenir à l’esprit initial du droit d’asile qui ne pourra par ailleurs être accordé qu’à la suite de demandes déposées dans les ambassades et consulats français dans les pays d’origine ou les pays limitrophes.

which I would translate as
Bring back borders that protect us and end uncontrolled immigration
24 Restore national borders and leave the Schengen area (a specific system will be put in place for workers in border regions, to facilitate their crossing of the border). Restore the diminished customs workforce by the recruitment of 6,000 agents during the five- year term.
25 Make impossible the regularisation or the naturalisation of foreigners in who are in an illegal situation. Simplify and make automatic their expulsion.
26 Reduce legal immigration to a balance of 10,000 annually. Put an end to automatic family reunification, also to the automatic acquisition of French nationality by marriage. Remove the forces driving the hopes of immigration.
27 Abolish the jus soli: the acquisition of French nationality will be possible only by line of descent or naturalisation, the conditions for which will also be made more demanding. Abolish dual extra-European nationality.
28 Return to the original spirit of the right of asylum, which cannot be granted except after requests have been submitted to French embassies and consulates in the countries of origin or in neighbouring countries.

and on Islamism:
29 Interdire et dissoudre les organismes de toute nature liés aux fondamentalistes islamistes. Expulser tous les étrangers en lien avec le fondamentalisme islamiste (notamment les fichés S).
30 Fermer toutes les mosquées extrémistes recensées par le ministère de l’Intérieur et interdire le financement étranger des lieux de culte et de leur personnel. Interdire tout financement public (État, collectivités territoriales…) des lieux de culte et des activités cultuelles.
31 Lutter contre les filières djihadistes: déchéance de la nationalité française, expulsion et interdiction du territoire pour tout binational lié à une filière djihadiste. Appliquer l’article 411-4 du Code pénal sur l’intelligence avec l’ennemi et placer en détention préventive tout individu de nationalité française en lien avec une organisation étrangère suscitant des actes d’hostilité ou d’agression contre la France et les Français. Établir la liste de ces organisations.
32 Rétablir l’indignité nationale pour les individus coupables de crimes et délits liés au terrorisme islamiste.
33 Renforcer les moyens humains et techniques des services de renseignement intérieurs et extérieurs et créer une agence unique de lutte antiterroriste rattachée directement au Premier ministre, chargée de l’analyse de la menace et de la coordination opérationnelle.

or for non-Francophones
Eradicate terrorism and break Islamist fundamentalist networks
29 Prohibit and dissolve organizations of any kind that are inked to fundamentalist Islamists. Expel all foreigners related to fundamentalist Islamism (especially those indicated by law enforcement agencies as being a serious threat to national security).
30 Close all mosques identified as extreme by the Ministry of the Interior and prohibit the financing by foreigners of places of worship and their staff. Prohibit all public funding (by state, local or territorial authorities) of places of worship and their activities.
31 Fight against the jihadist sectors: forfeiture of French nationality, expulsion and prohibition from the territory for any person of dual nationality linked to a jihadist sector. Apply article 411-4 of the Penal Code, concerning intelligence with the enemy, and place in preventive detention any individual of French nationality connected to a foreign organization seeking to create acts of hostility or aggression against France and the French. Draw up a list of these organizations.
32 Bring back national indignity [deprivation of civil rights, introduced as a a punishment for lesser collaborators with the Germans] for individuals guilty of crimes and misdemeanours related to Islamist terrorism.
33 Reinforce the human and technical resources of the intelligence services of the interior and exterior and create a single agency for counterterrorism attached directly to the Prime Minister, responsible for threat analysis and operational coordination.

CB will doubtless correct any errors or infelicities in the translation. He would, I expect, share my doubts as to how far all these objectives could, or should, be achieved, and how far the attempts to achieve them would make matters worse.


Ingrid Robeyns 04.14.22 at 2:41 pm

Marine le Pen is not just bad for France, she’s bad for Europe. And if we need anything, it is a stronger Europe, not a weaker and more divided one, let alone one in which more of its elected leaders are Putinistas.


Sashas 04.14.22 at 4:09 pm

So, paradoxically, the best prospect for a left-leaning opposition to Macron over the next five years comes from him defeating Marine Le Pen as decisively as possible.

Hopefully it’s not too much of a tangent. I’d like to explore this a little. I’m not by any means an expert on France, French politics, or the French electoral system. What I know I’ve learned here on this website. I know quite a bit more about these topics as they apply in the US, and I’ve heard similar points raised about US leftist parties. My understanding is that the French elections basically function in two phases with a general phase followed by a runoff between the top two vote-getters.

When we talk about the “best prospect” for a group, I see that as meaning either their best strategy for a potential win in the runoff, or their best strategy for potentially getting second by reaching the runoff but losing in it.

If we’re talking about the second goal (the “come in second” goal, if you will…) then I would agree with the OP. A sound defeat of the most prominent second faction demoralizes that faction, moving the leftists–currently in third–relatively closer to being second in the initial phase of the election. A leftist would obviously rather move a LePen supporter to Macron to achieve the goal of a sounder defeat of LePen, but since there aren’t any leftists in the runoff anyway it’s not like voting for Macron costs the leftist much at this point. I doubt you’ll get many of them to campaign for Macron, since that does cost and demoralizing the chief rival is perhaps not the most effective use of funds, but voting is cheap. (Note: I don’t know how effective it is, actually. I strongly suspect “not very”, but that’s an empirical question.) Secondarily, at the end of the day, most leftists would rather have Macron’s France than LePen’s.

Let’s talk about the first goal though. If I’m a leftist and I want my candidate to win at some point, what should I do? It’s very easy to say this is simply impossible. Keep in mind, however, that most leftists are used to being told by everyone else that everything we want is impossible, regardless of whether or not it is. (See, for example, everyone telling us in the US that socialized medicine is impossible when a solid chunk of the rest of the world already has it.) But practically speaking, what can I do?

In the runoff, my basic options are to vote for Macron, to vote for LePen, or just not to vote. If I take an incremental approach, I might argue that the first step towards winning is to move my standing from third to second. That brings us right back to the argument above and indicates a vote for Macron. If I take a (mildly) accelerationist approach, my goal is to disrupt the status quo and achieve victory by siphoning voters who become willing to attempt the “impossible” rather than accept the current state of affairs. Another way of putting this is that Melenchon wins more votes in a Melenchon-LePen runoff than in a Melenchon-Macron runoff. This logic indicates a LePen vote. I think there might be arguments for non-voting as well based around undermining and/or accurately reporting the level of investment in the election or its results, but I’ll save those for a later comment if others have interest in this exploration.


Howard Frant 04.14.22 at 8:02 pm

I find it astonishing that after 2002, the French did nothing to reform what was obviously a badly flawed electoral system. And please don’t say “What about the US?”; it would be a lot easier in France.

Israelis think Americans are very right-wing, based on the sample they see. Obviously, they are not a good sample of either American opinion or Israeli opinion.


Howard Frant 04.14.22 at 8:22 pm

Sorry about the two uses @7 of “obviously.” It sounds a bit patronizing. But those things are obvious, right?


nastywoman 04.15.22 at 4:18 am

and how in the World could it ever happen that somebody like Mélenchon and somebody like Donald Le Pen are both friends of Putin?

Doesn’t Donald Le Pen know that Putin is ‘a War Criminal Communist’ and doesn’t Mélenchon know that Putin is a War Criminal Capitalist?

So why inTHIS WORLD did/do they both (still?) LOVE the Worst War Criminal on this planet?!

BE-cause he is… ‘Anti’… ‘Anti’… -Mainstream’? And it is soooo cool to be ‘Anti-Mainstream’ or being against… ‘masks and vaccines’ and the ‘gubernment’ makes US wear masks and doing this vaccines stuff and that’s why we LOVE Putin? (like some Crazy Germans who now run around with Russian Flags)

AND whassup with this being ‘Anti-German’ -(or and ‘Anti-EU’ of Marine Mélenchon Trump?) and as Stephen mentioned all this… this… ‘national indignity [deprivation of civil rights, introduced as a a punishment for lesser collaborators with the Germans] for individuals guilty of crimes and misdemeanours related to Islamist terrorism’?

I thought Mélenchon knew that Putin was a ‘Russian Nationalist’ and NOT a French one and that there is something called ‘the Forever French-German Friendship’ and we need to learn more German and/or French in school – AND we really NEEED to STOP being so damn confused?



MisterMr 04.15.22 at 8:53 am

@Howard Frant 7

What are the problems of the french electoral system?

Some 20 years ago here in Italy we had many changes to the electoral system and it was common for politicians to discuss about the french model and the german model of elections, and I remember that I liked the french model a lot: there is a first round where every party can try to push their own candidate and, unless in the first round one candidate wins 50%+1 of the vote, there is a second round where the two candidates with the most votes face off directly.
Basically the first round is the equivalent of the primaries in the USA and the second is the actual presidential election, but taking away from the parties the power to twiddle in the primaries and removing also the problem of having just two parties – so it weakens the inside party bureaucracies.

Even this problem with Melenchon is just the usual anti-Bernie argument where people who vote for the more center left candidate are pissed off against those who vote for the more far left one, however people in a democracy are supposed to have different political views.

I wander if Bernie won the primaries or if Melenchon came ahead of Macron and there were a Melenchon VS Le Pen face off how many center left guys would vote for the leftish candidate and if the one who didn’t would also be seen as traitors of sorts.


Howard Frant 04.16.22 at 5:36 pm

The problem with the French system is that with so many candidates in the first round, you can get into the final round with very low levels of popular support. In 2002, the final candidates were Chirac, a center-right candidate, who got 20% in the first, and Le Pen senior, a pretty hard-core fascist, who got 17%. All the other parties united against Le Pen, and Chirac ended up winning 82% to 18%. Happy ending, unless you wanted to vote for the left.

The results were even worse in Egypt’s first democratic presidential election. There the two candidate who made it to the final were the two most extreme candidates, an Islamist and a representative of the old guard that had just been overthrown. The Islamist ended up winning a narrow majority, but soon people were demonstrating against him by the millions. Eventually the army took over, and that was the end of democracy in Egypt.

In general, you can’t go by how it sounds; you have to look at how it actually works in practice.


John Quiggin 04.17.22 at 3:16 am

Runoffs are dominated in almost every respect by instant runoff (aka preferential aka alternative vote). This lets you rank the candidates in order. With three candidates, it’s literally an instant runoff. With more than three, you can vote for your most preferred candidate in the knowledge that, if that candidates is eliminated, your vote flows to the second-best and then on until one candidate emerges with a majority.
In the French case, this could easily have seen a more appealing leftist candidate (say, the Green) ending up running against Le Pen in the final round (this assumes that at least some of Melenchon’s votes were tactical, supporting him as the left frontrunner, rather than as the best left candidate)


J-D 04.17.22 at 9:40 am

In general, you can’t go by how it sounds; you have to look at how it actually works in practice.

It follows that even if you were making a specific recommendation for an alternative system (something which so far you haven’t done), there’s no way of knowing how that alternative system would work in practice in the specific circumstances of contemporary France* and therefore no way of knowing that it wouldn’t, in practice, turn out even worse. An alternative system might have all the faults you perceive in the one the French currently use, and perhaps others in addition.

*Experience of how an alternative system works in practice under other conditions has some value as evidence, but not as much as many people think. Ireland and Malta use very similar systems with substantially different results. The UK and Canada use very similar systems with substantially different results.


MisterMr 04.18.22 at 7:48 am

Thanks for the answers. I don’t think the election of Chirac in 2002 shows that the system has problems .
For example, suppose that the top candidates this year were Melenchon and Macron, then likely many right wing electors would vote for Macron in the second round: it seems to me it is the normal situation.


roger gathmann 04.18.22 at 11:11 am

i don’t think Le Pen’s party can just magically capitalize on her gaining 48 percent. Macron is not just hated on the left – some of the people I know, here in France, who adore the neoliberalism find him personally repugnant. Macron comes off on tv and in speeches much like the Alex Baldwin guy in Glengarry Glenn Ross who comes to fire the salesman, and shows everybody his expensive bling to ram home the point. He is especially disliked among the 18-30 year old set. His stronghold is the rentier set 60 and over. I voted for Melanchon, and have contemplated abstaining in the second round, just as Macron, ever the anti-democracy prez, abstained from running or debating in the first round, sucking the air out of it and benefiting Le Pen, who he has wanted to run against since he was elected. But I will reluctantly vote for the con artist who legalized emergency decrees and has torn up the social compact between the government and organized labor that was still going even under Sarkozy. They are both anti-democratic figures, with Macron having a party composed of the refugees of the wrcck of other parties with nowhere to go and no other skill set. I hope that Melanchon’s party can actually mount an opposition this time around, but I doubt it. The French system is deeply autocratic, and the legislature is about the feeblest thing around. Macron’s governing style, which has set fire to this situation, will only get worse as his autocratic moves pay off for him. It is bad news all the way around.


Ebenezer Scrooge 04.18.22 at 2:14 pm

Nobody ever went broke overestimating quixotic behavior from the far left. And it is worth remembering that much of Le Pen senior’s support came from the wreckage of the French Communist Party, destroyed by Mitterrand.


nastywoman 04.19.22 at 6:33 am

and @15 made me think:

Right-Wing Racist Science Denying Nationalistic Idiots like Le Pen are not just hated on the left – some of the people I know, in France, who adore the neoliberalism find them personally repugnant in such a way that Macron comes away as… ‘ton gentil voisin’ –
the anti-democracy Right-Wingers, never abstaining from running or debating in the first round, sucking the air out of it and benefiting themselves and Le Pen, are
when it comes to being ‘anti-democratic’ and no Macron – or anybody else – even comes close to their sick pro war-criminal anti-democracy.

So every vote and voice against such repugnant Nationalists – who would not only legalize emergency decrees and who lie through their teeth about keeping some social contracts between the government and organized labor – COUNTS!

And why in the world are there so many people in so called ‘Western Democracies who have forgotten all to the above?
BE-cause ‘The French -(like all the other European systems) is ‘deeply autocratic’?
Or some very confused people in a lot of Europeans Countries believe – that ‘their systems’ are ‘deeply autocratic’?

Compared to what?

To the system. of the US or the UK?
to ‘PutinsSystem’?

Or is is just like my aunt Hilda – who every morning – even before breakfast tells her whole family: ‘It’s bad news all the way around’ – and then everybody starts the new day with the utmost possible…
mauvaise humeur?

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