The results of the second round seem to indicate that left-wing voters did not behave in a mechanical and uniform way. A significant proportion opted for Marine Le Pen, particularly in rural areas and in the overseas departments and territories. In the latter, she attracted many who had voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round: she obtained almost 70% of the vote in Guadeloupe, where he had won 56% of the vote a fortnight earlier. Still, a slightly larger fraction voted for Emmanuel Macron, especially in the big cities where Mélenchon’s supporters have a sociological profile fairly close to that of the incumbent president.
Refusing to choose
Even more numerous are those who refused to choose. More than 12% of voters cast a blank or invalid ballot, compared to 2.2% for the first round. The abstention rate was also significantly higher than that of the first round of 2022 (28% versus 26.3%), and was also higher than that of 2017’s second round (25.4%).
The electorate’s three-way split does not sit well with the two-round majority vote. In 1969, the low proportion of votes cast in relation to the number of registered voters (63%) was already proof of this. 2022 serves as an even bolder example, with turnout sinking below 60% – a record for a French presidential election. Emmanuel Macron is therefore both one of the “best elected” presidents of the Fifth Republic (behind Jacques Chirac in 2002 and himself in 2017) if we compare his score to the votes cast, and “worst elected” if we look at the percentage of registered voters (barely 35%, against 38% for Georges Pompidou in 1969 and 43.5% for himself in 2017).
The scattering of left-wing, and to a lesser extent, of traditional right-wing votes, has caused Macron to fall back by more than 8 points and nearly 4 million voters compared to the second round of 2017. This drop is unprecedented in the history of presidential elections: Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, in 1981, and Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2012, had respectively lost 3 and 5 points compared to the previous election.
This has less to do with a punishment vote than the erosion of the “Republican front” – or the French political tradition consisting in setting aside political differences to prevent the far right’s rise to power. It had a huge impact in 2002, was less effective in 2017 and only worked partially in 2022. Hence although Le Pen has lost again, voting for a far right candidate is no longer seen as unacceptable in France.
The victory of Emmanuel Macron, while anticipated, should not mask the election’s two main lessons. First, the far right obtained a level never before reached in France, thanks to its ability to bring together a heterogeneous, predominantly working-class electorate. Second, the country’s political landscape, now structured around three poles, is out of step with a voting system adapted to two dominant parties. These two issues make the outcome of France’s upcoming legislative elections, which take place in June, all the more uncertain.