French presidential election: what is the situation one month ahead of the first round?

by Nicolas Ponchut and Angie Charbonneau

 

On April 10th, French citizens will vote for their candidate during the first round of the presidential election. The second round on April 24th will then designate the country’s leader for the next 5 years. In this article you will find key understanding elements on the election and a focus on health priorities. Emmanuel Macron has not announced his candidacy yet but he is expected to do it before the end of February. He has already got the 500 supports from local representatives.

 

The situation on the left-wing side…

The left-wing gathers many candidates from the centre left to the far left. Being sometimes united in past elections, the left parties did not come to a mutual agreement this year. It therefore led to a multiplication of candidacies and a diminution of each candidate’s score in the polls. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of his own party La France Insoumise (far left) leads the polls on the left-wing since the beginning of the campaign with around 12%. He is followed by the MEP and Green party candidate Yannick Jadot with 6 to 7% on an average.

The Socialist party is in difficulty since the 2017 election. That year, their candidate arrived in 5th position with only 6% even after 5 years of socialist presidency led by former president François Hollande. The mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo is the Socialist party’s candidate in this election and still struggles to make her voice heard in the campaign. She is credited of approximately 2 to 3% of vote intentions for the first round.

An interesting fact is the rising of the Communist party’s candidate Fabien Roussel. Fuelled by a sincere and warm personality, he is very popular on the left-wing side. He gives a fresh start to the traditional left values such as work and social issues, that have sometimes been left apart by other left-wing parties. It contrasts with the usual communist candidates who are not often this popular.

Thus, the left-wing electorate seems very divided between the far left and the ecologists, with no « in-between ». The sacred left alliance that brought François Mitterrand at the head of the country in 1981 is, for now, excluded.

 

… And on the right-wing side

The fight is going to be tough on the right-wing side. The polls show one of the three right-wing candidates as the challenger to Emmanuel Macron during the second round. Programmes will therefore make the difference.

The 2017 second round duel between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement National, far right) was expected to happen again in 2022. Yet, the nomination of the candidate of the conservative party Les Républicains and the candidacy of the controversial writer Eric Zemmour changed the game.

So far, Valérie Pécresse (Les Républicains, conservative) and Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement National) are running the second-place side by side with 15-16%, Zemmour not being far behind with 13%.

Valérie Pécresse emerged victorious from the conservative primary election and gained much popularity after that. Short after her victory, the polls even gave her the win in a second round against Emmanuel Macron. She is currently running an active campaign in all regions.

The writer Eric Zemmour also disrupted the game initially planned, in which only Marine Le Pen and Valérie Pécresse would have been the main challengers. Author of several books on the societal situation in France, he is popular among supporters of the far right. However, he often meets controversial issues because of his radical speech. He left it unclear whether he would be a candidate for the presidential election until 30 November, when he officially declared himself as one. He launched his own political movement called “Reconquête” (Reconquest), but suffers from his lack of political experience.

In the meantime, Marine Le Pen has seen her electorate absorbed by Eric Zemmour's candidacy and many of her supporters shifted to Zemmour. MEP Gilbert Collard, for instance, brought his support to the polemist. The possible support of Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal, to Zemmour could also reshuffle the cards. She is not politically active since 2017 but could bring her support to the writer. She is also likely to announce her candidacy for legislative elections in Vaucluse department (Southeast) without precising under which party.

This is then expected to be very tight between those three candidates.

 

Emmanuel Macron’s candidacy is official

On Friday 4th March, the current French President declared himself as candidate for the presidential election through an open letter published in regional newspapers. In fact, Emmanuel Macron was not so popular in the beginning of his mandate having a reputation of a monarch and not close to French people. Therefore, this strategy seems to be a way to improve his image and to be seen as close to the different regions of France.

The current war in Ukraine has also changed the game in the French presidential elections. Indeed, it particularly impacted the way Emmanuel Macron is perceived in the general opinion: both as President and war leader, as well as candidate. A recent poll shows that the war changed the way people see him and acknowledge his competences in leading the country and the EU in these dark times.

 

What about health for the next 5 years?

In the context of the pandemic, health appears to be one of the major subjects of concern in the public opinion, along with purchasing power, security, and education.

The pandemic has increased and highlighted the growing difficulties of the hospital system and, above all, the difficult working conditions of hospital healthcare workers and their underestimated pay levels. There is a common consensus on all political sides on the urgent need to transform the French health system, which is no longer adapted to face challenges or crises.

As the problem could no longer be ignored, the government introduced several measures to improve healthcare workers’ working conditions and increasing their pay. As changes take time, this issue will remain at the heart of public policy for several years to come.

The demographic transition and the care for elderly are topics that are becoming increasingly important. All candidates are making proposals on the matter, especially after the latest revelations on the alarming situation of care within certain establishments.

Most candidates would also like to see the regional agencies for health removed and to include them directly as a regional administrative competency. The Covid crisis has indeed proven that the regions were more efficient than the regional health administration in many issues. For instance, at the beginning of the crisis, regions were providing masks more quickly than the regional agencies. This would also be a way to get rid of one of the numerous layers in the French administrative system, often described as too heavy.

To sum up, we can expect the continuation of the health system transformation whoever the President turns out to be. Innovation, industry and sovereignty also appear as major campaign themes.

 

What can we expect as the result?

For now, Emmanuel Macron leads the polls of the first round with approximately 30% of intentions to vote. Various scenarios can be imagined for the second round. The most uncertain and tightest one would be a dual between Valérie Pécresse and Emmanuel Macron. A scenario opposing Marine Le Pen to Emmanuel Macron is more likely and he is estimated to win against Marine Le Pen with over 60%.

The election seems to be focused on the right-wing side for the moment, but carefulness is still required, as past elections have shown that situation can switch unexpectedly. As an example, in the 2017 election, Nicolas Sarkozy was expected to win the conservative primary election and François Hollande to run another mandate. In the end, François Fillon won the conservative primary election and was weakened by justice problems, and François Hollande did not run for candidate. In the end, Emmanuel Macron announced his candidacy and won the election while he was only at 16% intentions of vote in the polls at the end of 2016!

 

Stay tuned in June, as the legislative elections (election of the representatives in the National Assembly) will take place and be interesting to follow, especially given the context. Indeed, the score of each party could differ quite considerably between the presidential and legislative elections, leading to uncertainty about the political side of the future majority in the National Assembly.

The French Parliament is composed of 2 chambers: the Senate which represents local representatives (majority to the conservative party), and the National Assembly whose majority is currently En Marche, Emmanuel Macron's party. If the majority in the National Assembly is not the same as the President’s party, then a “cohabitation” is set up. It means that the Prime Minister must be of the majority party in the National Assembly. This scenario happened between 1997 and 2002 under Jacques Chirac (conservative party) presidency, when he named the socialist Lionel Jospin as Prime Minister due to the socialist majority at the National Assembly.

RPP Paris will follow the evolution closely and will provide elements of analysis on both presidential elections results and the situation ahead of the legislative elections. Stay tuned, and don’t hesitate to reach out for any question!

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