If Marine Le Pen is elected this Sunday, in a second-round vote, it won’t be so much because a majority of the French public supported her, but because a significant portion of the electorate will have felt so alienated by both politicians, they opted to stay home. Former investment banker Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen’s rival, who currently holds a 60-40 edge over her, is failing to excite potential left-wing supporters. Apparently the warning that not voting on Sunday is the same as voting for Le Pen is not enough to convince the left to show at the polls and vote for the less loathsome of two evils.
Paris high schools were deserted last Thursday by their students, about 3,000 of whom went out to rally in the streets, yelling the slogan “Ni patrie, ni patron, ils m’effraient, je les trouve idiots,” or, roughly, “Neither homeland nor boss, they both frighten me, I think they’re all idiots.”
The far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who won 19% of the vote in the first round, landing in fourth place, has refused to endorse Macron. But he did urge his supporters not to vote for Le Pen: “I say to anyone who is listening: do not make the terrible error of voting for the National Front because you would push the country towards a general conflagration and the ending to which no-one can predict,” he told TF1 TV.
The results reflect the message: a poll on Friday showed that only 40% of Melenchon’s voters plan to vote for Macron in the final round, a whopping 41% would watch the whole thing on TV but won’t participate, and an astonishing 19% plan to back Le Pen.
That last part is reminiscent of election districts that had gone for Candidate Obama twice in a row shifted to Candidate Trump in 2016, proving that they were not voting their ideology.
Last Sunday, France remembered the thousands of French Jews who were handed over to the Nazis for extermination. In early April, Le Pen put her boot in her mouth when she argued that today’s France does not bear responsibility for the 1942 roundup and deportation of Jews. It didn’t go over well, but didn’t start the kind of brush fire that can bury a candidate, not at this stage of the race. On Sunday, she laid a wreath at a World War II memorial in Marseille.
Macron was unabashed in taking the opposite view. “The homage that I wanted to make today is this duty that we owe to all these lives torn down by the extremes, by barbarism,” he said at the Holocaust Memorial, near a wall covered with the names of 76,000 deported Jews. “What happened is unforgettable and unforgivable, it should never happen again.”
And that, too, did not seem to be a deciding issue, and Macron’s slow but persistent slippage continues.
A lot is expected to happen on Monday, May Day: union members and protesters are marching against Le Pen in Paris, and the Front National party is holding its annual gathering to honor Joan of Arc. 250 May Day events are planned across France, and as many as 9,000 police have been deployed to keep the two sides separate.
Will the tension between the two warring camps convince enough Macron voters to show up? Will a much discussed, last-minute terror attack create a shift big enough to hand Le Pen the presidency? Keeping in mind the outcome of the recent US presidential election, predictions are inherently dangerous.