From Reuter’s data deep dive:
Marine Le Pen’s 2nd place win was not unexpected; analysts have been calling for that for months. What was more unexpected was Emmanuel Macron’s win, as well as the total collapse of the Socialist party. Final polls indicated it would be a Macron-Le Pen runoff; in that, believers in data can take some comfort.
Now there are some key questions that will be answered by the final round on May 7th.
First, how will the supporters of the now-defeated Socialist and Republican voters behave? Will they rally around Macron because Le Pen is too awful to consider? Will they stay home? Or will some decide Le Pen’s presidency is worth the gamble, much as once Democratic Midwestern voters in the United States handed the election to Trump and post-industrial working class cities in the UK pushed Brexit over the line?
Second, if Le Pen is defeated, does this mean the beginning of a new French political era, or just more chaos to come? For if Macron becomes president but achieves nothing, Marine Le Pen, or another leader of the National Front, can run again in 2022 and try the same trick twice. We shouldn’t forget that Macron, while a relative outsider, still has deep connections in the French Establishment: his mentor is sitting (and deeply unpopular) President Francios Hollande. Worse, Macron’s relative inexperience can backfire: he may spend so much time learning the world of politics he achieves little beyond basic competency in an age that needs excellence to survive.
Moreover, if neither the French Socialists nor the neoliberal Republicans can govern, and if Macron ends up being just an awkward compromise between their dying ideologies, how does that bode for the future?
The tumult of French politics does have dark presages in the 1920s and 30s, when government after government failed to solve the Great Depression and instead opened social space for the rise of the French Communists and fascists. These two forces rotted away the Third Republic until it collapsed in the face of Nazi tanks.
While today is not as dire as then, we should not presume that just because Macron wins that France’s political destiny is written. He must achieve results, or he will bury his own nascent movement beneath the same dirt as the Republicans and Socialists. That will leave the field wide open for a Le Pen presidency and a deeply uncertain European future.