France:  Macron vs. Le Pen

The world is watching

I am worried for France, for Europe, for the world.   Could Macron vs. Le Pen 2022 be a Clinton vs.Trump 2016 scenario? I was convinced Hillary would win.  The polls said so.  How could intelligent people vote for Trump?  The polls were wrong, although Clinton did win the popular vote.  French polls are predicting a Macron victory, but many detest the country’s president, just as many detested Hillary.  This is Le Pen’s third bid for the presidency.  In 2017 Macron triumphed with 66% of the vote.  It will be much, much closer this time.  And, the similarities between Le Pen and Trump are frightening.

 I am now a French citizen. I voted for the first time in France in round one of the country’s presidential election, and will vote in round two on April 24.  Much like the U.S., France is very divided. Macron, a centrist, is considered a president of the rich by many.  Too many feel left out, ignored by the political elite. They blame Macron for inflation just as so many Americans blame Biden for inflation.  They are against immigration and want to reclaim France for the French.

There was a mind boggling field of 12 candidates in round one. Macron and Le Pen beat out all others.

The French are also disillusioned with politics.  In the first round, 26% of voters abstained, the lowest turnout since the 2002 election.  This could be higher in the second round as many voters dislike both candidates. 

Le Pen, representing the far-right National Rally party, has softened her extreme right image. She is a die-hard cat lover and has appeared on television at-home interviews cuddling her felines. Her campaign is all about pocket-book issues, appealing to those suffering the pain of inflation. Her supporters believe she cares more about them than Macron does. She has gained mega points on the likeability chart.

Town hall in Roquebrune Cap Martin, France, where I vote.

“I’ll be the president of real life and above all of your purchasing power,”  she told a cheering crowd at a rally.  Although she has toned down her anti-immigration rhetoric, she is still a racist at heart. She wants to ban the hijab in public places and curb immigration.   She blames immigration for “feeding crime and ruining our social services.”  At the rally, her attacks on “anarchic immigration” drew the loudest applause.   She wants to withdraw France from NATO.  She has had close ties with Russia. 

While many dislike Macron, he has been given high marks for his handling of the economy, the pandemic and European affairs. He has been actively involved in diplomatic efforts to end the Ukraine war. He met with Putin. But, as the cost of living soars, all this takes a back seat.

In a guest essay which appeared in the New York Times, Dominique Moisi of the Institut Montaigne, a Paris-based think tank, had this assessment: “What is at stake on April 24 is nothing less than the future of democracy in France and in Europe.” 

Voting in r0und one of the French presidential election

I asked several friends and acquaintances whom they would vote for and why.  This is by no means an accurate sample of all French voters.  Nonetheless, here are their views:

Michele, caregiver for the elderly

“I am very disappointed in Macron.  He is for the rich.  I will vote for Le Pen.  She cares about inflation and the average person. But, it’s very difficult.  We don’t really have a choice.  I am not convinced one is better than the other.”

Thomas, retired American designer with dual citizenship

“I don’t’ like Macron.  I don’t like his style, his story. He is like an actor. It’s a shame the choice is so limited…Le Pen is a hard-working, dedicated politician. I like her.  I listen to her speeches.  She makes sense.  She is bright, intelligent.  We need change.  I will be forced to vote for her.  I think she will win.  A lot of people feel l like I do.”

Nicole, retired admin assistant

“I am not entirely in agreement with everything Macron has done, but in any case, I will not vote for Le Pen.  Macron is a positive image for France.  He is intelligent. He speaks English.  He has been good for foreign trade, but not for internal trade.”

Christophe, physical therapist, osteopath.

“I was against Le Pen and the extreme right for many years.  I am among those who think politics is under the control of world power… Macron was elected with the assistance of banks and powerful people… He thinks of Europe, not France.  I think many people will vote for Le Pen even if they don’t like her.  They want to block Macron. “

Christophe is an anti-vaxxer. Macron imposed strict vaccination controls, requiring medical personnel to be vaccinated to continue to work. Many refused and lost their jobs.  “Le Pen is against the vaccinations,” he said.  “She will assure that those who lost their jobs are rehired and repaid for their lost salary.”

 “I will vote for Le Pen.  I want to breathe.  I want change… Le Pen is not as bad as Macron… If we had another choice, I would vote for someone else.  We have a choice between la peste et le cholera (the plague and cholera).

Christine, retired teacher

“I will vote for Macron.  I am not against all he has done.  I agree with his program for Europe… He has not done badly for the economy.  During the pandemic he gave money to businesses and workers.  Inflation is 4 % in France, but 8% in Germany and 10% in Spain…. Le Pen is a racist.  She wants to withdraw from NATO.  She is against Europe.  She is an ally of Putin…. She wants to change the constitution…” Christine likens Le Pen to Viktor Orban, the anti-European nationalist prime minister of Hungary. 

Evelyne, retired veterinarian

“I will vote for Le Pen. I would like to see a woman president.  I cannot support Macon because of his vaccination policies.”

Arnaud, pharmacist

“It’s very close, but I will probably vote for Macron. Le Pen is too dangerous”

Veronique, caregiver for the elderly

She will vote blanc. In France voters are given an envelope at the polling stations. There is a table with separate stacks of the names of the candidates, each on a separate paper. And, one stack with blank papers.  Voters take a paper with the name of their candidate, or a blank piece of paper, go into a voting booth, and insert the paper naming their choice into the envelope which is then deposited into a transparent plastic box.

Depositing the envelope in the plastic box.

After casting their vote, they sign a register to confirm that they have voted. Several officials oversee the process. This is distinct from abstention. A blank vote shows the citizen has an interest in participating in the process, but refuses to make a choice.

“I suffered too much because I was not vaccinated. I lost my job.”  Veronique said.  However, she calls herself a “woman of the left,” She could not vote for Le Pen, hence she votes blanc.

The results of my poll give three votes to Macron, four to Le Pen, and 1 blank. If you add my vote for Macron, he gets four. A tie. Fortunately he is ahead in national polls, yet a Le Pen win is not impossible. Polls are not infallible.

The televised debate between Macron and Le Pen on April 20 could help Macron, who is known to be a skillful debater. He took Le Pen, who was poorly prepared, to the cleaners in the 2017 presidential debate. However, she learned her lesson and will be prepared this time

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