French voters prefer pro-EU Macron over nationalist Marine Le Pen

8 May 2017


French citizens elected Emmanuel Macron as their new President yesterday. This election has been exceptional in many ways, and could steadily move France into a new era politically. This is a crucial year for Europe, with voters in the Netherlands, Germany, and elsewhere also going to the polls.

The clear overall message from the results is that Emmanuel Macron has won by a clear landslide, taking two-thirds of the votes and winning in all but two of France's electoral departments. More than 90% of voters in Paris chose to support his En Marche! movement. Having won the first round two weeks ago by some three percent, polling suggests that Macron benefited from support from those who had earlier voted for Benoît Hamon and, to a lesser extent, François Fillon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Although the 33.94% of the vote that Marine Le Pen received is a considerably better showing than the 17.8% that her father managed in 2002, the National Front struggled to pick up large numbers of votes outside of areas where it has been traditionally strong, in the deindustrialised north and rural south-east of France. Furthermore, the fact that Le Pen only managed to gain an additional 3 million votes in the run-off round compared to the first round suggests that her divisive rhetoric was off-putting to those other than the FN's core supporters.

The results follow the trend set by the other national elections held in Europe this year. Leaders in Brussels were pleased to see a liberal, vocally pro-EU politician move in to the Élysée Palace, just as they were to see centrist, mainstream parties hold power in the Netherlands and Bulgaria. Among others, Commission President Juncker said he was "happy that the French have chosen a European future".

Despite many in the media billing 2017 as the year that could spell the end for the EU in its current form, support for Europe – at least in political terms – appears to be, if anything, stronger.

Another way that the French election mirrored that in the Netherlands is the collapse in support for the incumbent, centre-left party. In the first round of voting the Socialist Party took just 2.3 million votes, a huge drop of 77% compared with their winning performance in 2012. If the takeaway point today is Macron's decisive victory, in future this election may be remembered for being the first in the Fifth Republic in which it was two insurgents who made it through to the final round to fight for the French presidency.

To be able to fully implement his programme, the President-elect will have to run a successful campaign ahead of the legislative election and secure a majority in Parliament. In such an unusual political climate and turn of events, it is hard to predict whether French voters will grant the President such majority in June.

John McStravick, Policy Specialist
John McStravick
Political Specialist

John works as a Policy Specialist within the DeHavilland Content Team, where he has a special focus on Brexit and business. He holds a Masters degree in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Bath, and has also studied at the University of York and Universität Regensburg, Germany. John has previously worked at PEN International and European Movement.