French Election Predictions

A Professor's Perspective On Current Events

Image of Professor Ann Williams, Ph.D.
By Professor Ann Williams, Ph.D.

The final French elections are coming this Sunday. What do both the candidates stand for, and what would their victory mean for France and the world?

Of the eleven candidates present in the first round of the 2017 French presidential elections the top two remain: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are in the run-off on May 7.  The pundits and polls got it right.  For the first time since the creation of the Fifth Republic in 1958, neither a traditional conservative candidate nor an established left-wing party candidate is present in this second round.  Partial explanations for this unprecedented situation include financial scandal (in the case of François Fillon, center-right) and disarray on the left (the disastrous ratings of incumbent Holland and the inability of Jean-Luc Mélanchon to form alliances and create a strong base as a leftist outside historical party lines).

That leaves us with, interestingly enough, two candidates with very different political trajectories and two radically different notions of what the France of the future needs to look like.


Emmanuel Macron’s new party En Marche!, roughly translated as “Moving Forward!” is, according to him, neither on the left or on the right.  On major issues ,Macron has proposals that appeal to voters at the center of both the right and left.   Some of his domestic economic reforms correspond to leftist values that support those in precarious positions, such as the unemployed and immigrants. Increasing unemployment benefits would, for example, balance out his proposals that recognize globalization, international trade and participation in Europe as assets to French business and thus to the strengthening of the French economy. Although criticism has fallen heavily on Macron for his progressive pro-market stance, he appears to be working more from a position of realistic change than his opponent who wants to recreate a traditional France that, if one looks closely at history, never really existed.


Nonetheless, 21.3% of French voters came out in the first round to support the ideas of the Front National (National Front), Marine Le Pen’s far-right party. Founded by her father in 1973, the FN has long been a part of the French political landscape even garnering enough support in 2002 to allow Le Pen senior a spot in the second round against Jacques Chirac.  Although he lost by a landslide, the FN has maintained a strong presence in many parts of France touched by unemployment and disillusionment.

This article is part of our Professor’s Perspective series—a place for experts to share their views and opinions on current events.

Perhaps even more central to the FN’s continued rise is a deep-rooted fear that France is losing its identity, something that Marine Le Pen promises to defend by shutting borders, providing social programs for French people as opposed to immigrants and by drastically reducing France’s involvement with European institutions and global trade initiatives.


It appears that French voters have become fed up with the mainstream political parties that have held sway in France for 60 years.  In a country known for its revolutionary spirit, perhaps it’s not surprising that such an election should come to pass.  May 7 will be a turning point for France.  But in which direction?

For more with Professor Williams, check out “Learning French: A Rendezvous with French-Speaking Cultures” on the Great Courses Plus!