The incumbent president and his populist rival will meet in a runoff after leading the field in Sunday’s voting
French President Emmanuel Macron and populist firebrand Marine Le Pen have set the stage for a head-to-head battle to determine the presidency later this month after emerging as the leaders from Sunday’s first round at the polls.
Projections by polling firms showed that Macron garnered as much as 28.4% of the first-round votes, exceeding the maximum estimate of 24.2% for Le Pen. Socialist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon came in third, at around 21%, while anti-immigration candidate Eric Zemmour finished a distant fourth at 7%.
The first official results from France’s Interior Ministry actually showed Le Pen’s count exceeding Macron’s. However, with tallies from Paris and other urban areas not yet available, the early numbers were likely skewed in Le Pen’s favor. With 84% of the votes counted, Macron was slightly ahead with 27,41% against Le Pen’s 25,41%.
France’s election system requires a candidate to win a majority of votes to secure the presidency without a runoff – a tall order when there’s a crowded field, such as this year’s 12-person race. The top two vote-getters are now set to square off in the final round on April 24.
The runoff will likely feature a different dynamic than the preliminary round, as was demonstrated in France’s last presidential election. In the 2017 race, Le Pen trailed Macron by just under three percentage points in the first round, but was then trounced by a 66-34 margin in the runoff, when most supporters of the other contenders consolidated behind Macron, the establishment candidate.
Several of Sunday’s also-rans have reportedly thrown their support behind Macron. Candidates Valerie Pecresse, Anne Hidalgo, Yannick Jadot and Fabien Roussel – who combined to win about 14% of first-round votes – said they will endorse Macron to block the “far right” from winning the presidency. Zemmour, meanwhile, is backing Le Pen.
However, far-left voters aren’t expected to support Macron to the same degree as they did in the 2017 runoff. In fact, an Atlas Politico poll conducted last week showed that Le Pen had overtaken Macron, by a margin of 50.5% to 49.5%, in the head-to-head race. The incumbent was favored by wide margins in head-to-head polling against the three other leading candidates.
France, Atlas Politico poll:
Presidential run-off election
Le Pen (RN-ID): 50.5%
Macron (EC-RE): 49.5%
Macron (EC-RE): 54%
Mélenchon (LFI-LEFT): 46%
— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) April 7, 2022
“We will win, we will win,” Le Pen told her cheering supporters on Sunday. She called the runoff a “choice of civilization,” saying she would campaign on making France more independent and protecting the weak.
Legacy media outlets have tried to shape the contest as a referendum on the Ukraine crisis, portraying Le Pen as a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s military offensive against Kiev. One US outlet, the Daily Beast, called her a “fascist” and a “Putin fangirl.”
However, that strategy was unsuccessful in last week’s elections in Hungary and Serbia, where incumbent leaders won handily despite being vilified for being insufficiently supportive of Ukraine.