Apr 11, 2022 - World

What to watch as Macron and Le Pen compete for French presidency

Macron and Le Pen on a projections screen
Vote projections are broadcast on a screen at an election night event for Le Pen, following the first round of voting in the French presidential election, in Paris, France, on April 10. Photo: Jonathan Alpeyrie/Bloomberg via Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen are headed into a run-off for the French presidency on April 24 after topping Sunday's first round with 27.8% and 23.2% respectively.

Driving the news: Both candidates hit the campaign trail on Monday, with Macron visiting towns in the north that voted heavily for Le Pen. He was criticized for neglecting campaigning prior to the first round, focusing instead on Ukraine while Le Pen toured the country, criticized the high cost of living and climbed in the polls.

Key takeaways

1. Macron fared slightly better than expected given Le Pen's late surge in the polls, beating her by slightly more than in 2017.

  • Macron won 66% to 34% in the 2017 run-off, but polls show a much closer race this time around, with Macron leading 53% to 47%, according to a Reuters aggregate, and Le Pen holding the momentum.

2. Sunday's results were a brutal blow for France's traditional leading parties, the center-right Republicans and the center-left Socialists, which combined for a mere 6.5% of the votes.

  • Candidates who receive less than 5% of the vote aren't eligible for campaign reimbursement, and Valérie Pécresse — who at one point polled neck-and-neck with Macron after winning the Republicans' nomination— told reporters Monday that she is personally indebted 5 million euros after receiving just 4.8%.

3. Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who finished third with 22%, emerged as a potential kingmaker and the only viable candidate on the decimated French left.

  • In his concession speech, he advised his supporters not to vote for Le Pen in the second round, but pointedly made no mention of Macron.
  • Extreme-right candidate Éric Zemmour called on his supporters to back Le Pen, while Pécresse, Greens candidate Yannick Jadot, and Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo endorsed Macron.

What to watch for: At 73.7%, turnout was down from 2017 but not by as much as some analysts predicted.

  • Still, abstentions are a danger for Macron in the second round. An Ifop poll conducted after the results were announced on Sunday found that 44% of Mélenchon's voters planned to sit out the second round.

What's next: Macron and Le Pen will face off in a prime-time television debate on April 20, a critical moment ahead of the election's second round on April 24.

  • Le Pen's poor performance in the televised debate against Macron in 2017 helped him pull further ahead in the last leg of the race.
  • This year's debate will be one to watch given Le Pen's now more polished image and the fact that Macron drew flak for refusing to debate his rivals ahead of the first round.

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