French president Emmanuel Macron (LREM) has defeated his opponent Marine Le Pen (RN) for the second time. Macron won 58.6 percent of the vote while Le Pen trailed with 41.5 percent of the vote. Interestingly, however, Le Pen shrunk Macron’s margin of victory compared to the presidential runoff in 2017, suggesting that the French public may be warming up to her party’s nationalist ideology.
Macron ran on a platform that promoted investment in nuclear energy to reduce carbon emissions, tax cuts and exploration of new technology to make France more industrially competitive. Throughout the election cycle, he was criticized for not engaging with voters. However, he was able to bolster domestic support through his diplomatic leadership during the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Le Pen, member of a nationalist far-right party, promised to restructure corporate tax laws to support small to medium size businesses, curb illegal and legal immigration and check the “totalitarian” power of the European Union. Le Pen was able to expand her base by “softening” her politics this election cycle. As reported by “Slate Magazine” first-time Le Pen voters saw her as “far-right, but nice.”
While extreme political polarization is sometimes thought to be uniquely American, this simply is not the case. In response to a multitude of factors like immigration, economic instability and rapid social transformation, there has been a rise in isolationism and nationalism. France is no exception.
Like many other European countries, France has many safety-net programs designed to ensure citizens have access to healthcare, education and housing. While these programs are debated, it seems as though in this election cycle, the French public was predominantly concerned with tax reform, immigration and the role the EU has played in curtailing domestic industries. Le Pen was able to bolster support throughout the country, most notably in the rural south, where many business owners and farmers are struggling to compete with premiums placed on local goods and low import costs. Voters were impressed with the way Le Pen toned down her arguably radical platform, and this feeling guided their behavior on Election Day.
Le Pen also touched on voters’ fears about multiculturalism. She has been a proponent of many controversial legislative mechanisms like banning religious symbols in public and the law known as the “Burqa Ban”. These nationalist (and arguably xenophobic) ideas seem to be gaining traction throughout France, posing interesting questions about the future for immigrants in France. Her party’s ideology mirrors the American Republican Party and many other nationalist parties throughout the EU.
It is important to pay attention to shifts in political rhetoric nationally, as globalization has led to an interconnected world where these kinds of changes often reverberate globally. France’s political shift to the right is an indication of things to come throughout many democracies. I urge all students to pay attention to these developments as they will have an impact on our politics as well.