Those hoping for an upset were disappointed: the first – and in this case, the decisive – round of the French presidential election came out exactly the way the polls said it would. Emmanuel Macron led the field by more than two points, and unless he is unmasked as a lizard person in the meantime, he will be the next president of France.
With 97% of the vote counted, Macron has 23.9% against 21.4% for the far right’s Marine Le Pen, whom he will now face in a runoff on 7 May. François Fillon (centre-right) was third with 19.9%, just 116,000 votes ahead of the far left’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose 19.6% was the best-ever fourth place finish.
Benoît Hamon, candidate of the incumbent Socialist Party, could manage only 6.3%, 1.6% ahead of Eurosceptic Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. The other five candidates collected 4.1% between them, LaRouchite Jacques Cheminade finishing last on 0.2%. Turnout was 78.2%, down slightly from 2012’s 79.5%.
Leaders of both centre-right and centre-left, including Fillon and Hamon, have endorsed Macron for the second round. President François Hollande will do the same during the week, although there has been no word yet from his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. Mélenchon has also made no commitment yet, saying he needs to consult his supporters, but there is little doubt that he will back Macron. No-one of national standing outside of her own National Front is expected to endorse Le Pen.
The only question is how big Macron’s victory will be. It will not be the 82.2% that Jacques Chirac won against Le Pen’s father in 2002, but he can reasonably hope to reach the high 60s; a Harris poll yesterday puts him at 64%.
There has been a fair bit of talk about the crossover between Mélenchon and Le Pen voters (their views on economic and foreign policy are, after all, very similar); there’s as yet no sign that Le Pen will pick up much from that quarter, but it’s something to watch for over the next two weeks.
Leakage to Le Pen is more likely to come from the right. That, for example, is what almost delivered Austria’s presidency to the far right last year. But France’s Republican politicians seem alert to the threat. Here’s Fillon’s statement from last night (my translation):
The National Front is known for its violence and its intolerance, its program would lead our country to failure, to European chaos. There is no other choice than to vote against the extreme right. I will be voting for Emmanuel Macron.
His colleagues were equally forthright, including his rival from the primaries Alain Juppé, former party president Jean-François Copé and former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.
The Republicans, however, are now setting their sights on June’s parliamentary election. They see themselves as the majority party in the nation, deprived of the presidency only by Fillon’s nepotism scandal, and if they can win a majority in the National Assembly they can impose their own government on President Macron.
The Socialists, in their advanced state of disintegration, have no such hopes, but they will at least be trying to deny the right a majority and put themselves into a position where Macron will need their support.
Both major parties have some soul-searching to do; this is the first time on record that neither of them will be represented in the second round. But working out just what sort of realignment might happen will have to wait – first for the runoff itself, and then for the test of how sympathetic a legislature Macron can assemble.