July 1st, 2024 | Allan Ray

Why MArine Le Pen Can't Win France

Hopes are high, but prepare for disappointment.
In France's complex political landscape, the recent polling and electoral outcomes have presented a scenario where Marine Le Pen's National Rally (RN), despite its robust showing, faces significant challenges in converting first-round electoral successes into ultimate political power. The dynamics of the French electoral system, particularly in the legislative elections, demand more than just a plurality—requiring a majority that often necessitates broad-based alliances and coalition-building, which appears to be a strategic disadvantage for RN compared to its rivals, especially the left-wing coalitions.
Marine Le Pen's National Rally, a party known for its right-wing “populist” and nationalist agenda, has consistently increased its base over the years, culminating in a commanding 34% in recent first-round voting. This surge reflects a broader European trend where populist movements gain traction by capitalizing on issues like immigration, national sovereignty, and economic disenfranchisement. The RN’s performance in the first round of the national elections underscores a significant, though segmented, shift in voter preferences towards the right.
However, the structure of the French electoral system, particularly for the legislative elections, tends to disadvantage parties like the National Rally. This system, involving a two-round process, allows voters to recalibrate their choices based on the results of the first round. Typically, if no candidate secures a majority in the first round, the top two—or sometimes more where there is a close contest—proceed to a decisive second round. It is in this runoff that the strategic voting patterns of the French electorate come into sharp relief.
The New Popular Front, a coalition of radical left-wing parties, finished near 28%, close behind RN. However, its potential for forming government appears more robust. This coalition has the strategic advantage of potentially drawing support in the second round from other left-wing, centrist, and even some right-leaning voters who oppose RN's agenda. The coalition's platform, which likely includes progressive policies on social welfare, workers' rights, and environmental issues, has a cross-cutting appeal that can unify various smaller parties and independents under a broad tent, particularly against a more polarizing figure like Le Pen.
Other right-of-centre coalitions have vowed not to work with National Rally, posing the most significant obstacle for Le Pen.
Emmanuel Macron's coalition, Together (Ensemble), along with other centrist and left-leaning groups, has shown a willingness to block RN by endorsing candidates from opposing camps in runoff rounds. This "republican front" strategy, where parties across the spectrum unite to prevent an RN victory, has been a recurring feature in French politics. It underscores the challenges RN faces in translating first-round leads into electoral victories in the subsequent round. Macron's coalition finished round one at 22%.
The ability of Macron’s party and similar parties to negotiate and form alliances is crucial. These parties, though potentially differing on various policy fronts with the New Popular Front, share a common interest in curbing the rise of the so-called "far right". Their readiness to support left-wing candidates in the second round, often withdrawing their own, significantly diminishes RN’s chances of securing a majority.
Furthermore, National Rally's electoral strategy has been criticized for being overly focused on rural areas, which may not be enough to secure a victory. The party's message of economic nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment may resonate with some voters, but it is unlikely to be enough to appeal to the broader electorate.
The New Popular Front has been able to capitalize on the growing discontent among young voters and the working class. The coalition's platform, which emphasizes social justice, economic equality, and environmental protection, has resonated with these groups, who are increasingly disillusioned with the status quo.
In France, anti-establishment sentiments are higher than ever, but Marine Le Pen is not the only candidate to tap into them. Equally, radical left-wing parties like La France Insoumise have been successful at taking advantage of these sentiments. New Popular Front, as a whole, has also been able to tap into the anti-establishment sentiment that has been building in France, particularly among younger voters. This has allowed the coalition to build a broad-based coalition of support, which is not limited to traditional left-wing voters.
In the second round, like in France's previous election, Le Pen's chances of forming government are low. Unfortunately for National Rally, the left and centre will dominate to form the next government.

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