The first round of the 2017 French presidential election is less than two months away, and the space between the two front-runners is extremely close.
The French system consists of two rounds, with the first to be held on April 23. In a two-round system, a general election is held, similar to the United States system of the popular vote method. Unlike the U.S. system, however, a candidate must receive at least 40% of the vote in order to win. Most often, the winning candidate wins by an absolute majority (over 50%), or 40-45% with a winning margin of 5-15%. If no candidate reaches the necessary threshold, a second round of voting is held, in which the top two candidates compete in a runoff.
Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron are the two candidates pegged most likely to face each other in a runoff. Latest reports place Le Pen at 42% against Macron, well within the historical winning margin. Le Pen polls at 45% against conservative Francois Fillon, her highest to date.
In 2012, Francois Hollande won the presidency for the Socialist Party, sometimes referred to as the Radical Party of the Left. Marine Le Pen, representing the National Front, came in third behind Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of the Union for a Popular Movement. Five years removed, all three leading contenders are conservative in nature, Le Pen being the most nationalist.
Many around the world observing the election have speculated the success of Le Pen is a direct result of a nationalist wave that has hit Western Europe and the United States. The dominoes began to fall when the United Kingdom voted to follow Nigel Farage and leave the European Union, a campaign that was widely expected to fail. In November 2016, Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States, campaigning largely on a nationalist platform.
Francois Fillon has seen his own numbers drop recently, as allegations of financial irregularities came into play. Fillon defeated the pre-contest predicted winner, Alain Juppe, to become the right-wing candidate in November. At the time, polls showed Fillon defeating Le Pen 67% to 33%. In January, Fillon was accused of paying his wife hundreds of thousands of euros for work that she may not have actually done. Though Le Pen has been hit with her own allegations of misuse of funds, but her polling numbers have not reflected the same damage.
On Feb. 28, 2017, European lawmakers made a path to strip Le Pen of her parliamentary immunity over graphic images she tweeted back in 2015. The pictures were of Islamic State atrocities, and included a picture of US reporter James Foley who was decapitated and placed on display. The charge of the investigation was “dissemination of violent images.” Authorities have stated that the investigation is not related to the investigation into financial misuse.
If Le Pen does manage to win the election in the May second round, the future of the European Union is unclear, at best. Like Farage and Trump, Le Pen has bolstered her position behind promises to put France first, and focus on French issues rather than regional or global issues. While some polls do show Le Pen ultimately losing, despite a lead, the previous year has shown that polls are not perfect. The majority of polls showed the UK staying in the EU, and Hillary Clinton defeating Donald Trump in the US presidential election.
In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father, reached the second round against conservative candidate Jacques Chirac. Various parties placed their support behind Chirac in a successful effort to block the nomination of the far-right candidate. Marine Le Pen will attempt to reach her father’s benchmark, and surpass it.