President Emmanuel Macron remains the frontrunner to emerge victorious from the French presidential election. The Economist gives Macron a 98% chance of making it to the second round, and a 78% chance of winning re-election. But Average of the last three measurements It shows that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen (23.8%) is now less than three percentage points behind Macron (26.5%).
Le Pen’s party, the National Rally, is the prototype of a radical right-wing party, characterized by populism (undifferentiated elite criticism), authoritarian tendencies and exclusionary nationalism (originalism).
A Le Pen victory would have unforeseen consequences for everything from France’s liberal democracy, NATO cooperation, the Western alliance against Putin’s war to the future of the European Union itself.
As a US Francophone scholar, there are five events and developments in US politics that strike me as lessons relevant to the French election:
1. Eric Cantor shocked in 2014
In 2014, Republican Congressman Eric Cantor dramatically lost the nomination election and immediately disappeared from American politics. Cantor set his eyes on the job of a great speaker and neglected his constituents.
The Cantor incident shows the danger of underestimating the election campaign. Macron’s sluggish election campaign makes him similarly weak.
2. Domestic policy means more than foreign policy
After the 1991 Gulf War, 89 percent of Americans supported President George H.W. Bush, and he was seen as unbeatable in the 1992 election. But a weak economy meant more to voters, something that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton knew how to play. Macron’s international fame may send a negative signal to voters about where to focus.
Le Pen’s true support may be higher than the measurements show
It is difficult to systematically measure true support for extremist candidates. Reaching their constituents is often more difficult to vote, and the tendency to provide socially desirable answers creates uncertainty about the accuracy of opinion polls.
I’ve always assumed that support for Donald Trump could be up to five percentage points higher than what the polls show. So the French measurements may be too low for Le Pen.
Weaker desktop feature
US presidents are re-elected in part because the presidential function makes them so dominant in American politics. France is the so-called semi-presidential system that combines presidential and parliamentary government.
The French president has a strong position, but such regimes naturally distribute power and interest among many actors. President Nicolas Sarkozy lost his re-election term in 2012, and President François Hollande did not seek re-election in 2017.
5. The Populist Spirit of the Age
Political scientist Cas Mudde wrote in 2004 about the zeitgeist of the populist era in Europe, and it only strengthened. Populists gain power when voters test that “old” parties are unable to solve contemporary problems. Far-right parties have taken over government positions in more and more Western countries, and France can now take its turn.
It is important to have a comparative perspective for any choice. The outcome of the elections can be explained by a combination of unique national circumstances and trends that we know from several countries. Then it remains to be seen how that turns out in this year’s French presidential election.
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