Voting First With the Heart, Then With the Head

31 Mar 2022
General, MUN

Perspectives on the Upcoming French Presidential Election

ScarlettWritten by Six One student Scarlett – Deputy Secretary General, Benenden MUN.

France, the third largest country in Europe in terms of land area and the second largest economy within the EU, is due to have an election in April to determine who will serve for the next five years as president. However, unlike other voting systems, France has a series of two rounds, introduced by Charles de Gaulle in 1962, in order to decide.

The first round consists of candidates who have managed to receive 500 endorsements from 40,000 elected officials (such as MPs and senators) from 30 different departments and overseas territories; this year the round will take place on 10 April, for which 12 candidates have qualified. If none of them gain over 50 per cent majority in this vote, as predicted, the second round will consist of the two most popular candidates two weeks later.

The main benefit of this framework is that it is effective at preventing extreme parties from gaining power, and it is often said that people vote first with their heart, and then their head, to make a balanced decision.

The second round traditionally consists of one member from the left and another from the right. However, in 2017 Macron blew up the chain of events by creating a new party, En Marche, and won presidency on his first attempt.

There has been controversy this year as the Guardian reported in February that over 47 per cent voters still hadn’t decided on their preferred candidate and 30 per cent had changed their views in the past two months. Despite this, Macron appears to have a substantially high level of support and the polls indicate the succession of events going in his favour; Politico believe he will gain 24 per cent votes in the first round, and then win the second with 56 per cent.

Although he has a national approval rating of below 40 per cent and has received much criticism from both the left and right about his style of leadership, some say the growing economy and new foreign investment projects are proof of his successful reforms, and it isn’t uncommon for French presidents to be unpopular following the first term.

Additionally, the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine has produced reports detailing the view that a lack of change is now a requisite for an increased feeling of safety amongst citizens of the country. This is subsequently expected to augment the incentive to re-elect Macron. Amidst the contemporary context and the focus of media coverage having shifted from electoral campaigns to coverage on the state of affairs, will questions and doubts raised result in a considerable proportion of the population deciding to change who they will vote for?

Amongst the other candidates, Valérie Pécresse, leader of the Republicans, who is nicknamed the ‘bulldozer’ and describes herself as ‘one-third Thatcher and two-thirds Merkel’, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the Rassemblement National who is running for the third time, campaigning for anti-globalisation and the de-Islamisation of French society, appear to be the most popular.

However, Marine Le Pen was fascinatingly pioneering the notion of an accomplished partnership with Russia only two months ago, and with the major recent events, attention should be brought towards updates on her views on this, if there are any, over the coming weeks before the final election.

Other candidates include Éric Zemmour, who is named the ‘French Donald Trump’, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a socialist fighting for increased labour rights and supporting welfare programmes, and Christiane Taubira, a leftist candidate who previously served as justice minister to François Hollande, but only Zemmour and Mélenchon are said to have a chance of gaining over 10 per cent in the first round.

This election will be especially important due to the backdrop of Covid-19, the problem of the nation’s identity, rising unemployment rates, and decisions to be made over the economy. Furthermore, it will be particularly interesting to observe how the events in Ukraine over the next few weeks affect its development alongside this. If Macron does win, he will be the first president to be re-elected since Jacques Chirac in 2002.