Analysis: with France going to the polls on Sunday, will the average voter, the Monsieur et Madame Tout-le-monde, vote for Macron or Le Pen?

By Ciarán Crowley, Université de Lille

When we go on holidays we often head to the capital city first: London, Tokyo, Paris. But like many capitals across the world, you will only see a microscopic, rose-tinted version of the country.

Here, the young will always be beautiful and the old will always be rich. Politics is more of a mild afterthought when there is so much else going on and where life is, by and large, very pleasant amidst the boulevards of cafés, bistros, bars and fashionistas.

Next Sunday, Emmanuel Macron will overwhelmingly win the capital in the presidential election. In the first round he won 35.3% of the vote there, with Marine Le Pen attaining a meagre 5.5% in the capital.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ News, French presidential hopefuls Eammanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen clash on issues like Russia and the EU in this week's TV debate

While many French voters live in such vibrant, manic metropolises as Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux where the vast majority will back Macron, one has to go a little further to find the more mundane reality of the median voter. In any election the candidates will go on a final, frantic quest to seek out the undecided, the persuadable, the silent majority and the man on the street.

The last week of campaigning in any election involves winning the hearts and minds of these mysterious, elusive voters. Promises will be made, though rarely kept. Candidates will say anything to win. Dirt will be thrown at one's opponent in the hope it will stick. All is fair in love, war - and elections.

But who is this average Joe, this mythical Monsieur et Madame Tout-le-monde that the politicians pursue? In all likelihood it will be your cousin or your neighbour, living the most ordinary life imaginable. It will be a working man or woman, around the age of 45. They will live in an average 3-bedroom, semi-detached house on a quiet street in an unexciting small town, such as Denain, where Macron began his campaign for the second round.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, analysis of Sunday's election

Their annual take-home salary will be around €22,040 (or about €1,836 net per month). Their home will be worth about €212,000, which is the average price of a house in France, or €2,420 per m², if we take the average in price per m², as is the custom in France. Our hypothetical median voter lives far from the big, lively cities.

It is no coincidence that the working-age population has been amongst the hardest-hit from recent inflation. Many have to drive to work and have felt the rise in petrol prices much more than other groups (such as the retired). The further you are from work, the more you have to pay in petrol. Again, this impacts most on average earners, as many cannot afford to live close to their job. This is particularly so in big cities where more and more jobs are located and where property prices have grown enormously in the past 20 years. In Paris, the average price of property sold in 2021, was €10,780 per m² (nearly €500,000 for a 1-bedroom apartment), way beyond the reach of the average salary-earner.

Your average voter will be hard-pressed for time, working and commuting all week, and very possibly trying to keep two or three kids occupied on the weekends. Politics may only play a small part in their lives as family and financial responsibilities take precedence. They see little change in their daily lives from one election to the next.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's This Week, Dr Emmanuelle Schon-Quinlivan, lecturer in European politics at UCC, on France's presidential election

Perhaps this is why Le Pen marginally beat Macron in this demographic group in the first round. She honed in on an issue that struck home to the squeezed-middle, that of le pouvoir d'achat (or 'purchasing power’). It is not yet clear, though, if she can convince middle-income earners that a break from the political status quo is worth the risk.

Macron won the 'grey vote' by a landslide (41% to Le Pen’s 9%). The reasons are multiple; pensioners in France have the lowest risk of poverty in the EU at 7% and were a lot less upset than younger voters with Macron's strict lockdown response during the Covid crisis. Retired voters will (naturally enough) not be affected by Macron’s divisive proposal to raise the retirement age to 65 and have tended to back the incumbent in French presidential elections historically.

Older voters would also have memories of Jean Marie Le Pen, Marine's father, and his convictions for denying the Holocaust. To have any chance of victory, Le Pen will have to maintain her middle-aged voters and somehow seek to make inroads into the 'grey vote’, something her campaign has fallen short on.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, Brigid Laffan from the European University Institute on what a Le Pen victory would mean for the future of the European Union

Then, there's the 'hard Left', the young and the disaffected. In a late-surge in the first round, Jean Luc Mélenchon from the radical Left party La France Insoumise won 22% of the vote, coming only 400,000 votes short of Le Pen. The last-minute rally was helped largely by young voters in the big cities, as well those from the traditional Left, Green voters and Muslim voters. Many of these voters loath Macron for his pro-rich policies (such as the suppression of a wealth tax upon entering office), authoritarian response to the gilets jaunes protests and the Covid crisis, as well as his refusal to campaign during the first round and what was seen as his arrogant or ‘disdainful’ behavior to the common people during his presidency.

Mélenchon has called for his voters to boycott Le Pen in the second round declaringIl ne faut pas donner une seule voix à Mme Le Pen!('Not one vote for Le Pen!), will all his voters listen to him? Many will stay away from the polls and others will ‘vote blanc', in what is essentially a protest vote where they hand back a blank ballot, voting for neither Macron nor Le Pen. Recognising the 'vote blanc' has been the subject of much debate on the Left and in universities in recent years, However, many warn such an idea is not a helpful solution to deal with public apathy towards politicians and the political system and is dangerous for democracy. It could allow a radical candidate (such as Le Pen) to reach power through the back-door due to a low turnout.

Le Pen's best chance is if those who have never voted before, those who are disaffected and those who are anti-Establishment and ras-le-bol (or 'fed-up’) with the ‘system’ come out and vote in droves. When Donald Trump won a surprising victory in the 2016 US presidential election, one reason was his ability to mobilise the 'forgotten' voters who had never previously voted (or rarely) to come out and vote for him.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, journalist Agnès Poirier on Emmanual Macron's chances of winning a second term as French president

Those who did not come out in the first round of the French election amounted to nearly 13 million people or 26% of the electorate, 33% of whom were 'ouvriers' or workers (usually, though not always, among the lower-paid). Equally, 46% of people between 25 and 34 years of age did not vote, nor did 42% of 18-24 year olds. Corsica and overseas territories French Polynesia had low turnouts but their populations are small in the grand scheme of the election.

Le Pen’s meandering tour of provincial French towns, where she has been on the charm offensive, is likely to help her draw some new voters out. It is a fascinating to speculate on how many, but is unlikely to be enough. Suspicions of her party’s murky history in the minds of many new or undecided voters could also play in Macron's favour.

Shock waves would be felt across Europe were Le Pen to win this Sunday. For that to occur, all the stars in the political skies would have to align in her favour. The small chance that she has brings an air of silent suspense across the country. We always watch a dramatic play or gripping finale to the bitter end because we can never say for certain what is going to happen.

Ciarán Crowley is professeur certifié affecté dans l'enseignement supérieur at Université de Lille, France.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ