President Emmanuel Macron is the undisputed favorite in the presidential race in France on Sunday, but a big unknown could prove decisive: an unprecedented proportion of people say they do not know who to vote for or have no intention of voting for vote, which brings a great deal of uncertainty. in the election.
The pro-European centrist is still comfortably ahead in the polls. Its main challenger, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, has been on the rise in recent days. Both are in a good position to reach the presidential run-off on April 24, which would put them back in the 2017 election which Macron won hands down.
There is “no certainty”, warned Macron during his first big rally on Saturday near Paris.
“Don’t believe polls or commentators who look definitive and tell you that…the election is already over, that everything will be fine,” he told his supporters. “From Brexit to so many elections, the seemingly unlikely can happen!”
Scenarios for this year’s second-round vote show Le Pen has narrowed the gap with Macron considerably from 2017 – when she lost with 34% support to 66%.
Polls still put her behind Macron, but much closer, apparently showing the wisdom of her long-standing strategy to soften her rhetoric and her image – allowing her to capture the anti-Macron vote as well as far-right support.
In recent days, Macron’s campaign has also hit a speed bump dubbed the “McKinsey Affair”, named after an American consulting firm hired to advise the French government on its COVID-19 vaccination campaign and others. policies. A new French Senate report questions the government’s use of private consultants and accuses McKinsey of tax evasion. The problem is energizing Macron’s rivals and harassing him during campaign stops.
Many in Macron’s camp fear his supporters will not go to the polls because they already think he will win, while those angry at his policies will make sure to vote.
“Of course I have concerns,” said Julien Descamps, a 28-year-old member of Macron’s party, pointing out that some people around him “don’t know what to do.”
“They are not entirely convinced by Macron, but if they reject the extremes, they should vote for him,” he said.
Macron called on voters to mobilize against the French far right and far left. “Don’t boo them, fight their ideas,” he said.
In third place according to the polls is the far-left figure Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has increased his support but is still far behind Le Pen. Another far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, and conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse are among the other main challengers. Sunday’s first round will qualify the top two candidates for the second round.
The presidential election is the one that most attracts French voters.
Yet voter turnout has fallen from 84% in 2007 to around 78% in 2017, and studies show abstention may be higher than five years ago. In particular, young people and the working class seem less sure of going to the polls than retirees and upper-class voters.
Low turnout could have a major impact on the vote, pollsters say. They note that a greater proportion of people do not yet know who they will vote for — or if they will vote at all.
This is the case of deputy director Liza Garnier, 45, who lives in the wealthy suburb of Montmorency, north of Paris.
“I no longer believe what politicians say. They make a lot of promises, they say candidate words, and once in power we are disappointed,” she said. “I have the impression that more and more people think it’s useless: vote for whom? Why?”
Garnier believes that politicians are too far removed from the reality of everyday French life. She said she could simply choose a blank vote, even in the second round if Macron takes on Le Pen.
“I want to show that I’m not satisfied,” she said.
The decline in the purchasing power of French families is one of the main concerns of voters in the context of rising prices for food and energy, as well as social payments, security, immigration and the environment. But many feel that these issues have not been addressed as much as they should in this year’s campaign, in part because the war in Ukraine eclipses all other issues.
Kevin, a 26-year-old history-geography teacher at a public college who has worked in an underprivileged suburb north of Paris, lamented a lack of political debate in this campaign. Describing himself as a “leftist”, he says he feels “very disillusioned” with the current French political scene.
Kevin, who cannot be identified by his last name because state employees are required to be neutral ahead of the election, said he was still hesitant. But in any case, he will vote neither for Macron nor for Le Pen, and considers the blank vote as an option.
Macron, who has recently spent most of his time in diplomatic talks to try to end the war in Ukraine, is looking to boost his short campaign ahead of Sunday’s vote, giving several interviews to French media and signing up campaign activities on his agenda almost every day. .
“Friends, you have understood: now is the time for mobilization. Now is the time to fight,” he told his supporters on Saturday.