The French are days away from electing their next president. In one corner you have Marine Le Pen, a far-right nationalist who could become the first woman president of France. In the other corner you have Emmanuel Macron, a young millionaire who is both a political outsider and the groomed favorite of the establishment. The backdrop is an election cycle so similar to Brexit and the U.S. election of Donald Trump that many people have deja vu.
Much like Donald Trump entering the Republican Primary, no one thought Marine Le Pen would get very far. Her far-right party, the “National Front” had to deal with bad publicity stemming from her father’s anti-semitic comments and a general association of the far-right with fascism. Marine worked hard to distance herself from her father’s erroneous comments and conservative voters heard the label of “Nazi” and “racist” thrown at them so often that the insults lost all meaning.
Then, the conservative shoe-in, Francois Fillon, who is associated with France’s establishment Republican party, faced insurmountable trouble in the polls. There were accusations that he used public funds to pay his wife and children to act as his “assistants,” although they hardly did any work. The scandal caused French voters to reject him.
The vacuum created by his rejection made a space for a right-leaning candidate–the perfect space for Marine Le Pen. In addition to a devoted group of core supporters, more moderate Republicans turned to her in rejection of the left-wing candidates. She beat out nine others in France’s preliminary election, the first time the National Front has done so. She is currently in the run-off with Emmanuel Macron.
Macron–young, rich, and ambitious–is a character himself. Married to his high school teacher, who he met when she was 42, Macron made millions as a banker before becoming France’s economic minister.
Although labeled as a centrist candidate, his opponents point out that he is only to the right of the outgoing, extremely left-wing socialist government. While both candidates have attempted to brand themselves as anti-establishment outsiders, Macron received endorsements from almost every other candidate after the first round of voting and is the clear favorite of the politicians, bankers, and financiers in France.
In both the personal and political, Macron is left-wing. He has been compared to Barack Obama because of his grassroots style organization, and the former U.S. President telephoned him after the first round of elections with a message of support. And few miss the comparisons between Macron and Hillary Clinton–a shoe-in, a candidate groomed for political office, but up against a wild card no one really expected to get this far… or to win.
The polls show Macron with a comfortable lead of 60 percent to Le Pen’s 40 percent. Yet few are comfortable trusting polls after they not only failed to predict Brexit or Donald Trump’s election–they were wildly off. This poll, from The New YorkTimes on November 8, put Trump’s chances at 15 percent. Reality explains why many on the left find the Macron/Le Pen 60/40 split uncomfortable, and why many on the right are jubilant that their underdog candidate might pull through.
If Marine Le Pen wins, she will be the first female president of France. She will also be the third knockout victory for the quiet nationalism that appears to be sweeping western nations. Analysts predict that under an American electoral system, Marine would have already won. Her appeal is spread far and wide, while Macron’s voters are concentrated in the cities.
Echoing the sentiments of some Americans, many French are displeased with corruption in their political system and plan to abstain. Disgusted with both candidates, they say they will let the chips fall where they may–while others are ready to shake things up, sure that Le Pen offers the change that France–which is plagued by economic troubles and the bloodiest terrorist attacks in Europe–is looking for.
[Featured Image by Eric Feferberg/AP Images]