When the war in Ukraine began at the end of February, Emmanuel Macron sought to project himself as a protagonist in diplomatic negotiations, alternating conversations with Russian Vladimir Putin with leaders such as German Olaf Scholz.
A week later, after confirming his candidacy for reelection, with French saying that the conflict was the second most important issue to decide his vote, the president appeared high in the polls and isolated in the leadership. A month later, the conflict in Eastern Europe continues, but the scenario that emerges in France is that of a dispute with an uncertain outcome.
Macron maintained his isolated lead in the polls, but saw the advantage narrow with a drop of four points between the Ipsos survey carried out at the beginning of the war and the one released this Wednesday (6) – from 30.5% to 26.5%. That’s because Marine Le Pen, from the far right, rose seven points in the period and today appears with 21.5% (the margin of error is 0.2 to 0.9 points). The difference between the two, which a month ago was 16 points, has dropped to 5.
The curves also approach in an eventual second round. A month ago the president would beat the candidate by 59% to 41%, but today the range has gone from 18 to 8 percentage points (54% to 46%). In 2017, by way of comparison, he beat Le Pen by 66% to 34%.
With the first round to be held this Sunday (10th) and the likely second round on the 24th, analysts avoid making a prediction. “Weeks ago I would have said that Macron would win, but now things are more unlikely than ever. The margin is getting smaller every day, and we still have four days to vote,” he tells sheet Vincent Martigny, professor of political science at the University of Nice.
The Ipsos survey shows that, for the French, the war in Ukraine has gone from second to sixth most important issue when it comes to deciding the vote, helping to dilute the immediate benefit that Macron obtained from his role on the anti-Russian front.
At the same time, he needed to make room on the president’s agenda for the campaign. So, without enough time, it is estimated that the president has not yet managed to convince voters that, in an eventual second term, he will bring solutions to what remains the Frenchman’s main concern when it comes to voting: money in his pocket.
In a scenario where the conflict puts pressure on energy prices, with annual inflation of 5.1% in March (in January it was 3.3%), Le Pen uses purchasing power as one of its main banners. “I will lower the tax on gas, electricity and fuel from 20% to 5.5%. Energy must be considered a basic necessity. We will act immediately to restore the purchasing power of the French”, he repeated this week, in one of his most announced promises.
More than talking about numbers, it is in everyday life that Le Pen seems to have found the way to touch Macron. With an intense travel schedule and TV appearances, she stands in stark contrast to her main opponent’s shy melee. “He did a non-campaign”, assesses Martigny. “A little bit because he really couldn’t, a little bit because he was confident of the advantage. He also refused to debate with the others, which proves to be a wrong choice, which benefits Le Pen.”
In her travels through the countryside, she bet on rural areas and smaller, peripheral cities. Its electorate has not changed in relation to the contests before the presidency, in 2012 and 2017: it is a support that comes mostly from workers, with lower education levels than the country’s average.
“She has been trying to prove that she is the candidate from the countryside, from real France, as opposed to Macron, from the big cities, on whom she tries to paste the image of being disconnected from the country, unaware of what is really happening to people.”
The strategy of focusing the campaign on themes related to purchasing power also helped to shift the focus away from its relationship with Moscow, of which it was allied within France. Before the war, her party (the National Reunion) even released a pamphlet on the trajectory of Le Pen, which, among the photos, showed an old portrait of her with Putin. In 2014, her legend obtained a loan of 9 million euros in a Russian bank.
The government’s program may have changed in the images it now prefers to highlight or disguise — and it may seem moderate compared to that of another far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour — but, according to analysts, Le Pen’s essence remains authoritarian and radical.
The Jean Jaurés Foundation, a think tank linked to the socialists, this week published a dossier article that concludes that, if the candidate’s economic position has become less liberal (which differentiates her from Macron), her party’s positions on cultural issues are still are as rigid as ever.
Two of the first points of his program focus on measures to “stop uncontrolled immigration”, including the proposal for a referendum to, among other things, prioritize French people in access to social housing and employment and “eradicate Islamist ideologies” from the country.
“The first way to reduce the insecurity that rots the lives of our compatriots is to stop this anarchic and massive immigration. I want to make the French masters of their immigration policy again!”, said the candidate this week.
Another demonstration of his radical bias took place on Sunday (3), when he was among the first figures to congratulate Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for his fourth consecutive term in Hungary.
“It’s not because she says she likes cats and has taken on a more refined image that she’s changed — she’s the same extreme right-wing personality who believes in vertical power. In a political system like France’s, with so many powers in the hands of the president, it would be a devastating election, here and in Europe”, concludes Martigny.
According to Ipsos, although Macron and Le Pen are ahead, the scenario for the second round is, today, undefined. Third, with 16%, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is also on the rise, benefiting from the useful vote on the left. Furthermore, for Sunday, a high abstention rate by French standards is forecast, which could approach 30%.