There were no great surprises in yesterday’s first round of the French presidential election, but centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron can be pleased with his performance, having slightly outperformed his recent polling. In a rematch against his 2017 opponent, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally, he will go into the second round as a solid favorite.
(It’s after midnight in France and counting is only 90% complete; you can check the official figures here, but for now I’m working off the latest version of the exit poll, which is adjusted as results come in. Updates to come if there’s a major change.)
The top three candidates all had something to boast about. Macron took first place more easily than expected, with 27.6%, up 3.6% on his 2017 result. Le Pen also was up, but less so, gaining 1.7% to 23.0%. And far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon was eliminated but got very close to Le Pen, picking up 2.6% for 22.2%, continuing the trend already apparent in the polls. (Compare my preview here.)
After Mélenchon, daylight. Fourth place went to extreme right provocateur Éric Zemmour, but his 7.2% was less than his recent poll results and only half what he was attracting prior to the invasion of Ukraine. No-one else was above 5% (the threshold on which most public funding depends), with the Republicans’ Valérie Pécresse next on just 4.8% – somewhat below her already low expectations.
That’s the worst ever result for the centre-right, but remarkably enough it was still more than double the vote of the centre-left Socialists, whose candidate, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, was humiliated with just 1.7%, in tenth place and ahead of only the two Trotskyists. If there was any doubt that Macron has demolished the old party system, this election should have dispelled it.
Pécresse and Hidalgo have both endorsed Macron for the second round, as have Green Yannick Jadot and Communist Fabien Roussel, who scored 4.7% and 2.3% respectively. Mélenchon has not quite done the same, but he has come close, telling his supporters that it was “necessary not to give a single vote” to Le Pen – rather more than he was able to bring himself to say in 2017. Zemmour and Nicholas Dupont-Aignan (2.1%) have, as expected, both endorsed Le Pen.
If voters all followed their parties’ endorsements, Macron would win easily, with well over 60% of the vote. But he seems unlikely to get that. Votes on both centre-right and far left will bleed to Le Pen, and almost nothing will come back in the other direction. Instead of the 66% that he won in 2017, Macron will be happy with 55%, and it could easily be closer than that.
But Le Pen’s momentum does seem to have stalled. For the last three weeks the gap between her and Macron had been steadily narrowing, from about twelve points in mid-March down to about three. Now it has blown out again, to 4.6. That’s still much too close for comfort, but with a lead of that size you’d rather be first than second.
UPDATE, midday Monday (French time): Overnight the official results have come up to 97% counted. Macron leads with 27.6% to Le Pen 23.4%, Mélenchon 22.0%, Zemmour 7.1% and Pécresse 4.8%. What’s left to come is the overseas vote, which will run in favor of Macron and against Le Pen, so the gap between them should widen and the gap between Le Pen and Mélenchon will probably narrow.
But turnout among overseas voters is usually low, so the actual number of votes outstanding will be rather less than 3% of the total and therefore the totals won’t change much. They will probably end up, as usual, very close to what the exit poll said, although Mélenchon looks like doing a little better than the original estimate.
FURTHER UPDATE, 4pm Monday: The overseas vote is now in, and Macron has come up to 27.8%, Le Pen down to 23.2% and Mélenchon steady on 22.0%.