Macron, a centrist running for a second five-year term, faces a much tougher race than when he beat Le Pen by more than 30 percentage points in the 2017 presidential run-off.
The latest polls on voter intent indicate that he will now win by just four to six percentage points in the second round against her – reflecting dissatisfaction with his presidency, public concern about the rising cost of living and Le Pen’s efforts to revamp her image.
Shortly after French public radio released a first-round show by Ipsos-Sopra Steria On Sunday evening, Le Pen cited “two opposing visions of France’s future” that will be put to a vote within two weeks.
She told her supporters that the second round of voting would be “society’s choice, civilization’s choice”.
Addressing a crowd of jubilant supporters, many of them waving French and European Union flags, Macron said he wanted France to be “part of strong Europe”, not a France of “retreat for all”.
Le Pen’s second-round victory would be the first far-right presidency in French history. It would also turn politics in Europe on its head – replacing the most ardent advocate of EU cooperation with someone known for his anti-EU rhetoric, and giving an official platform to the far-right at a time when nationalists in many other European countries were struggling.
Some of the French candidates who were defeated, on Sunday, immediately called on their supporters to vote for Macron in the run-off to prevent Le Pen’s victory. They included left-wing candidates Fabian Rosell, Anne Hidalgo and Yannick Gadot, as well as centre-right candidate Valerie Pecres, whose voters in the polls seemed particularly inclined to consider supporting Le Pen.
“Tonight, I am deeply concerned: the far right has not been very close to winning,” said Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris.
“You must not give Madame Le Pen a single vote,” said Melenchon, repeating the sentence several times.
In his speech, Macron appeared eager to build on that momentum on Sunday night, thanking rivals across the political spectrum for their electoral efforts, and reaching out to voters who abstained or supported other candidates.
“I want to convince them in the coming days that our project offers a much stronger response to their concerns than those of the far right,” he said.
Macron will have to do a lot of persuasion in the next two weeks.
“If you look at the vote reserve, in principle Emmanuel Macron should win” in the second round, said Vincent Martini, a professor of political science at the University of Nice. “But two-thirds of the French did not vote for him and the question is: What can he say to these people?”
“Things can move very quickly now, as you can see for the past two weeks,” Martini said.
Macron was well ahead in the field of 12 official candidates, but batch evaporation It happened almost immediately after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, coinciding with a belated rise in support for Le Pen, casting uncertainty over whether the centrist politician elected as France’s youngest president in 2017 could claim a second term.
While Macron performed above expectations on Sunday and better than he did in the first round in 2017, Le Pen’s result was also higher than it was five years ago, when she came in by 21 percent in the first round.
Six weeks before this election, it looked like Le Pen You may not even collect enough signatures to enter the poll. But she has campaigned seriously, portraying herself as a much more moderate figure than she has been in the past. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has distanced itself from Russian President Vladimir Putin and modified its tough stance on immigration to exclude Ukrainian refugees.
Meanwhile, Macron held only one large election rally, did not engage in any direct discussions with his rivals and did not make any of the visionary speeches for which he is known.
Although it is not uncommon for French incumbents to avoid the course of an election campaign, this strategy may not have helped his reputation in the eyes of people who see him as an elitist politician far from the interests of ordinary people.
Macron, as usual, cast his vote on Sunday in the coastal holiday town Le Toke. Le Pen waited in line to vote Henin BeaumontIt is a stronghold of the far-right and a former coal-mining town in a region particularly affected by deindustrialization and unemployment.
At a polling station in the southern Paris suburb of Paray-Ville Post, Sabrina Famibel, 38, echoed criticism that Macron’s campaign lacked sincerity, and said she voted for Le Pen on Sunday.
“Maybe I could have changed my mind … and in the end I said, ‘Well, why don’t I change Emmanuel Macron?'” His parents are both outsiders, said Famibel. “But from his point of view, we don’t deserve his attention or conviction.”
Macron has also alienated left-leaning voters who opposed his shift to the right on issues such as national security and who have become disillusioned with his efforts to combat climate change.
Throughout the campaign, Le Pen largely avoided emphasizing her more controversial proposals and instead focused on echoing popular concerns about the economy and rising inflation. But in essence, many of Le Pen’s positions are as radical as they were five years ago. Last week, she vowed to impose fines on Muslims who wear the headscarf in public.
The campaign of her main rival from the far right, Eric Zemmour, played a role in Le Pen’s hand. Zemmour is an extreme right-wing agitator at times Compared to President Donald Trump was Several times convicted of inciting racial hatred.
“It’s so disrespectful” that Le Pen has increasingly come across as relatively moderate to voters, said Vincent Teiberg, a researcher at Sciences Po Bordeaux. “But she didn’t move,” he said.
Zemmour, who finished fourth with 7 percent on Sunday, called on his supporters to vote for Le Pen in the second round.
The prospect of such a narrow round stunned some political analysts.
“It surprised me, because it doesn’t make much sense,” said Emmanuel Riviere, director of international surveys at Kantar Public, a data analytics company.
A relatively large number of French, “43 percent, said they trust Emmanuel Macron as president to tackle major issues,” adding that Le Pen’s former closeness to Putin should have hurt her position and helped Macron.
Riviere cited weakening resistance to the idea of a Le Pen presidency within parts of the electorate and a “deep-rooted tradition of French voters dismissing the incumbent every time we have the opportunity” as possible reasons that the second round is expected to be much closer than in 2017.
At a polling station near the Eiffel Tower on Sunday, Eric Tardy, 57, said he did not agree with Macron’s criticism. He voted for the incumbent because of his “morbid record” and said he hoped Macron would continue to pursue the reforms he had launched.
But many voters on the left say they are disappointed with Macron and what they see as a shift to the right during his tenure. Mélenchon’s narrowly third place finish on Sunday was one of the most visible indications of the left’s frustration with Macron’s policies. The findings also highlighted a growing split in French politics into three camps: a strong far left, a bolder far right, and a center embodied by Macron.
“Macron will try to seduce left-wing voters – and risk to him that he may appear too artificial, in a way that may annoy or annoy left-wing voters,” said Pierre Mathiot, director of Sciences Po Lille.
The question of how to vote in the second-round scenario will loom large in the coming days. In Amiens, Macron’s hometown, which voted for him by an overwhelming majority five years ago, left-leaning voters were torn apart this weekend.
Marie Raoult, 61, said she was not voting for Macron in the first round, but might support him in the run-off, but only to “prevent Le Pen”. She said her final decision would likely depend on how close the two got to the election.
Left voter Claude Wattel, 62, said he’s already made up his mind: he’s going to vote blank.
He said the “Republican Front” – a coalition of voters to stop Le Pen in 2017 – had proven “not a huge barrier” in hindsight. “Five years on, the far right is getting stronger.”
Lenny Brunner in New York contributed to this report.