Paris, France – About six months from the deadline, the presidential election of 2022 is already debated in France.
Much of the French media does not focus on Macron’s chances of becoming the first president to be re-elected since Jacques Chirac in 2002, but rather on the rise of the far right.
In the latest electoral survey, published on October 6, two far-right personalities constitute the bulk of the expected electorate with 32%; 17% for Eric Zemmour and 15% for Marine Le Pen.
Macron, individually, is still considered the favorite, with 24%.
On the left, the total expected vote is 25%, including four parties – the Green Party, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and La France Insoumise (France Unbowed).
The recent poll, showing Le Pen is not Macron’s main opponent like she was in the 2017 vote, shocked observers.
His far-right competitor, polemicist Zemmour, has not officially announced his candidacy, but his ubiquity on French television channels has propelled his popularity.
The rise of Zemmour and the far-right discourse
On September 16, Zemmour published La France Did Not Say Its Last Word (France Did Not Have Its Last Word), which topped the bestseller list on Amazon France, selling around 130,000 copies. within two weeks of release.
The wide dissemination of his ideas, which critics see as even truer than Le Pen’s views, has worried officials from all walks of life.
Of great concern to many, he believes that French citizens with “non-French” first names should change their names and supports the so-called “great replacement” theory – the idea, also championed by white supremacists in the United States, that Western populations are “replaced” by immigrants.
Zemmour has also been accused by seven women of sexual harassment and has repeatedly faced in court for hate speech considered racist, Islamophobic, sexist or homophobic – but has almost always been acquitted.
According to Aurélien Mondon, professor of politics who studies racism and the extreme right: “Zemmour does not expect to become president, what he wants is to somehow shift the discourse towards the extreme right… He wants to win the battle of ideas.
Many compare him to Donald Trump, the former US president, as scandals only seem to make him more popular.
He could steal Le Pen’s support, which in some ways toned down his rhetoric.
Mondon described Le Pen’s election poster as a “desperate attempt to pretend it is addressed to the general public”.
Its green background implies a pivot towards climate issues, there is an absence of party names – long considered obsolete in French presidential elections – and the slogan “Libertés, Libertés Chéries” is taken from the French national anthem, but nods to the crowd of vaccine refusals in France, Mondon said.
Le Pen’s main challenge in these elections, Mondon said, is that “the whole spectrum has shifted to the right, which means it’s very crowded for her now.”
Le Pen is also competing with candidates from the traditional right-wing party, Les Républicains, which will elect its candidate in December. Xavier Bertrand is pointed out as the favorite, with 13% in the polls, but Valérie Pécresse and Michel Barnier – the EU’s former chief negotiator for Brexit – are close competitors.
If the far right is dynamic, eco-consciousness is also rising, especially among young people.
Three in four French people agree that the only way to deal with the climate crisis is to adopt a low-carbon economy, according to a study published earlier this year.
Albin Wagener, a researcher on environmental issues, said more than 80% of French people see the environment as their number one concern, but the data shows that this well-meaning speech has not led to action.
“Between the reality of the facts and the wishes of the French, something is missing. It lacks a strategic political vision, ”he said.
The Greens, known as Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, were the only group to hold a primary election in France, with 122,000 voters registered to vote for their first candidate – a record for the party.
Yannick Jadot narrowly won the primaries, beating Sandrine Rousseau, an outspoken activist, who for the first time in mainstream politics, spoke of ecofeminism.
With 6% of Jadot in the polls, the Greens must make a significant effort to reach even the first round, even as the climate has become a key issue across the political spectrum.
But Wagener said: “It remains to be seen how much weight security and identity issues will have, as they risk erasing the climate challenge. [issue], which is infinitely more important.
The French left in a “catastrophic” state
Other notable left-wing parties, such as the Socialist Party and La France Insoumise, have seen their bases of support collapse.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of La France Insoumise, impressed in 2017 with nearly 20%, the highest for a left-wing candidate.
But, as he prepares for his third presidential campaign, he is seen as an aging figure and has lost his main supporters.
The Socialist Party is still recovering from its disastrous 2017 result of 6%.
The mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo should be chosen as a candidate.
According to Philippe Marlière, professor of French and European politics at University College London, Hidalgo has so far failed to convince much of the French left and will struggle to secure votes outside Paris.
“She is going into this election trying to save the party instead of hoping to win or even qualify for the second round,” he said. “The French left is in an absolutely catastrophic situation.
A widening gap between politics and the public
But political scientists warn that it is too early to call anything and that polls and surveys are not necessarily representative of the French population.
What is alarming, said Marlière, is the “great disconnect between the general public, which is largely disillusioned with politics … and the sphere of media and professional politics, where in recent years there has been a massive shift to the right, where ideas like racism, sexism and all the rest have kind of become acceptable ”.
As more and more people are disappointed with mainstream politics, abstentions could increase in the 2022 vote.
The 2017 vote recorded the highest abstention rate – 25% – since 1969.
Meanwhile, as the left scrambles for support and the right and far right fight each other, Macron continues to rule. He is expected to announce his candidacy for re-election next year.
According to some media, many of those who voted for Macron in the second round in 2017 would no longer vote for him next year, even if he faces a far-right candidate.