In French village, the Macron and Le Pen camps have set up their stalls – POLITICO

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SAINT-DIDIER, France — Ten activists from Emmanuel Macron’s party descended on the weekly market in this sleepy village, determined to convince voters to give the French president a second term.

But activists – feisty pensioners, local politicians and a recent university graduate, armed with pro-Macron leaflets – faced an uphill battle on two fronts as they sought to win over wavering locals earlier this week.

This picturesque corner of southeastern France is home to many supporters of Marine Le Pen, Macron’s far-right challenger. And, unlike his first term five years ago, their man isn’t so pristine: He has a record, and some people don’t like him.

“I was disappointed with Macron,” said Frédérique Genson, a 56-year-old employee at the local grocery store. Although she voted for him in 2017, Genson said she would opt for Le Pen in Sunday’s deciding second round of this year’s election.

She complained Macron was not forceful enough with Russia in the Ukraine war, criticized his ‘ever-changing’ pension proposals and lamented inaction in the face of rising living costs .

“I don’t completely agree with everything Marine Le Pen proposes, but I know that she will not be the only one to make decisions as president. said Genson.

Frédérique Genson, a store employee in Saint-Didier who will vote for Le Pen this Sunday | Victor Jack/POLITICS

While Wednesday night’s televised duel between Macron and Le Pen was a key moment in the presidential race, the election will also be decided by on-the-ground campaigning across France in towns and villages like Saint-Didier, a sun-drenched community. of about 2,000 inhabitants located between the gentle hills and the formidable Ventoux.

Polls suggest Macron has a national lead of around 10 percentage points heading into Sunday’s second round. But that gap is much narrower than his margin of victory over Le Pen five years ago, when he won by more than 30 points.

In Saint-Didier, Le Pen is taking advantage of the local strength of his National Rally (RN) party and disillusionment with Macron, who has had a tumultuous tenure that has included the anti-establishment protests of yellow vests, COVID and the war. in Ukraine.

Stephen Rickerby, a 66-year-old pensioner who lived in Saint-Didier for a decade said there was a feeling in the village that “there was much more hope for Macron than was realised”.

Macron’s ground game

Le Pen came out on top in Saint-Didier in the first round of the April 10 elections, with more than 29% of the vote, around six points higher than his national score. It is also posting good performances on the territory in the broad sense – in the Vaucluse department and in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region.

But, in 2017, Le Pen also led first-round polls in those areas – only for Macron to win the second round in each of them. Supporters of his centrist La République en Marche (LREM) party aim to repeat that trick this time around, often by appealing to people who didn’t vote in the first round or who voted for other candidates.

“The difference is that compared to 2017, today we have a record to defend,” said Michèle Malivel, a 58-year-old municipal councilor and main LREM activist for Vaucluse. “But if [voters] stop to talk, after a while systematically they always agree [Macron] do good things. »

Malivel said the Macron camp faced frustration with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and also faced a challenge to overcome voter misinformation or lack of knowledge.

She also said the campaign had been more aggressive than usual. Malivel found dozens of pro-Macron posters vandalized with graffiti and placards pasted even in officially designated areas, which is illegal. (The local RN campaign said it was not responsible.)

The big prize for the Macron camp is the voters who chose far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round. In the Vaucluse, he won 20.75% of the vote, including a majority in the largest city in the department, Avignon.

Mélenchon told supporters not to give Le Pen “a single vote” in his concession speech after he came third in the first round, but did not explicitly endorse Macron.

About a third of his voters will vote for the incumbent president, according to polls. But if they do, it will be without any official encouragement from Mélenchon’s France Insoumise party.

Mathilde Caillé, the party’s main activist in Avignon, the capital of Vaucluse, said she would not actively campaign against Le Pen. “It’s not our fault that the second round is like this – it’s not our fault [campaigners] take on that responsibility,” she said.

Despite the lack of support from Mélenchon’s camp, Malivel said she was “reasonably confident” of victory. The team began campaigning earlier than usual, in September – with posters, home visits and talks at street markets.

Malivel oversees 100 active activists and 3,100 official supporters, and she said five or six more are joining every day — significantly more than in 2017. “Our strategy is elbow grease,” she said, “Work, be present and more work.”

The confident Le Pen camp

But Le Pen’s home camp is also expressing optimism about his chances – and claiming to have more foot soldiers on his side. The RN has 200 active activists and more than 5,000 official supporters in the Vaucluse, said party campaign leader Thierry d’Aigremont.

D’Aigremont said he was “fairly confident” about Le Pen’s prospects in the region, estimating his chances of beating Macron locally at around 55%. “It was a good campaign ‘on the ground’,” he said, saying the biggest issue for voters was the cost of living, which has been a major concern for Le Pen this time around.

But the RN faces its own challenges in trying to win over voters who have backed other candidates in the first round.

Le Pen did less well in Vaucluse and PACA than in 2017, which D’Aigremont attributed to the rise of rival far-right candidate Eric Zemmour. The former expert obtained 11.7% in PACA and more than 10% in Vaucluse, against 7.1% nationally.

Mathieu Gallard, director of research at pollster Ipsos, said that while four out of five Zemmour voters are likely to support Le Pen – as the candidate called for in his concession speech – around 15% could abstain.

Le Pen attempted to contact Zemmour voters in the area on local radio last week. “The project I present must suit them,” she said.

Philippe Vardon, the party’s regional adviser in Nice, said he made similar arguments to voters in Zemmour, pointing to the ideological closeness of the two camps.

Far-right factor

The PACA region has long been fertile ground for the far right. Félicien Faury, a lecturer at Paris Dauphine University specializing in RN, said “significant deindustrialization since the 1980s and a strong migratory presence” which created a xenophobic backlash were important factors in its rise in the region.

Le Pen’s support base in PACA – including small business owners and agricultural workers – differs markedly from his grassroots support in northern France, where his voters more often come from poorer, working class and lower backgrounds. left.

Faury also said there has traditionally been a “significant Black feet vote for the far right,” referring to people of French descent who were born in Algeria but left the country after France declared independence in 1962.

He added that anti-vaxxers, who had a particularly strong presence in PACA, might also be more inclined to vote against Macron – especially after the president said in January he wanted to “piss them off”.

A question hanging over the election, both regionally and nationally, is whether Muslim voters worried about Le Pen and the xenophobia associated with the candidate and her party will turn out in large numbers to support Macron.

Parts of PACA are home to many French Muslims, including cities like Avignon, Marseille, and Carpentras.

According to a poll, 69% of Muslims voted for Mélenchon in the first round, and Gallard says it is “quite possible that Muslim voters in Mélenchon will rise strongly against Le Pen” in response to policies such as the ban on the headscarf in the street. .

“I fear for my family, my mother is wearing a headscarf,” said Smaïne Belkacem, a 21-year-old Muslim from Carpentras who said he voted for Mélenchon but would support Macron in the second round. “I will do everything so that Marine Le Pen does not win.”


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