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LONGUEAU, France — Forget home advantage.
In this economically depressed region of northern France, near where Emmanuel Macron grew up, there isn’t much love for the local boy who has become one of his country’s youngest presidents.
On the contrary, several residents described him as a rich man and disconnected from the daily concerns of “little people”. Some have said they plan to vote for her rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, in the final round of the April 24 presidential election.
“I really don’t like Macron. He’s a rich man’s president,” said retired account Didier Balesdens as he queued at the Longueau market, on the outskirts of Amiens, in the north of the country, where Macron spent his childhood.”He lent money to big companies during the pandemic, but couldn’t he have taken some of their profits to help people?”
Balesdens, who voted for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round, is not comfortable voting for Le Pen and worries about the tensions her immigration policy would create if she becomes president . But his hatred of Macron and “his inability to understand ordinary people” outweigh those worries and could lead him to vote for Le Pen in the final round.
Such contempt on his home turf underscores broader challenges for Macron.
Despite beating Le Pen by five percentage points in the first round of elections last Sunday, Macron must now convince a much wider part of the electorate – namely leftist voters – to support him in the second round. . But if Balesdens and others like him are ready to move to the far right, Macron could face a much tighter race against Le Pen than he did in 2017, not just in his home region but in all the countries. (POLITICO’s poll of polls suggests Macron will win with 53% of the vote against Le Pen.)
Aware of the challenge, Macron was quick to soften his image as the final round approached. He backtracked on his proposal to raise the retirement age to 65 and offered to rehire unvaccinated nurses who had been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Balesdens and others like him are unconvinced by the last-minute changes. Hostility towards Macron was widespread this week among locals who spoke to POLITICO in Longueau, a short drive from where Macron grew up in the Somme department.
“He didn’t leave good memories here,” said Longueau mayor and left-wing independent Pascal Ourdouillé, recalling Macron’s failed attempt to keep a local Whirlpool plant open. Even though the Macron government boasts of having brought unemployment down to its lowest level since 2008, it is local job losses that have grabbed the headlines here.
The closure of the white goods factory during Macron’s tenure has become a symbol of his fight to keep industrial jobs in France. While campaigning for the 2017 presidential election, Le Pen and Macron met with Whirlpool workers and pledged to try to keep the plant open if elected.
“He came here, put on a show, made promises and did not keep them,” says Ourdouillé, who recalls that in 2018, the factory closed despite several attempts to save it.
The breakthroughs of the National Rally
Others in Longueau said that despite their disappointment, they would hold their noses and support Macron in the second round.
“I don’t like either of them, but especially not Le Pen,” said retired left-wing sympathizer Jacqueline Mast. “Macron does not make me lose my footing. He makes promises and breaks them, but the far right and its hatred of foreigners – no thanks.
Mast echoes left-wing parties like socialist Paris mayor Anne Hildalgo and the Greens Yannick Jadot, who are calling on voters to vote for Macron to keep the far-right out of power after he was knocked out of the race in the first round .
In 2017, Macron took advantage of what is known as the “republican front” against the far right whereby left-wing voters, reluctant to see a far-right candidate gain power, vote for the other side despite their reluctance.
But this time, things are not so simple. Le Pen’s National Rally party is making inroads in low-income towns like Longueau.
Ten years ago, this former suburban city of railway workers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Socialist Party. In the first round of voting on Sunday, 27% supported Le Pen against 23% for Macron.
Many here say Le Pen’s strategy of detoxifying the National Rally is helping him. Not only did she abandon unpopular pledges to leave the EU and tone down her anti-immigration rhetoric, but she pursued a more down-to-earth agenda, campaigning on bread-and-butter issues and promising to cut taxes. on basic foodstuffs and fuel amid soaring inflation.
“[Her proposals] have an echo here. Railway workers don’t have high salaries and they’ve been hit hard by inflation,” said retired teacher and communist Joel Brunet.
In the last presidential election, 60% of voters in Longueau voted in favor of Macron in a runoff against Le Pen, although only 23% voted for him in the first round. Brunet thinks Macron is unlikely to enjoy the same support this time around.
“I don’t think it’s going to swing in favor of Le Pen, but it’s going to be much tighter,” he said.
“It’s getting annoying that every time you have to vote for a candidate you don’t approve of just to keep the far right out of power,” he said.
Back at the town hall, Ourdouillé is convinced that the national balance will tip in favor of Macron in the second round of April 24.
“I’m not worried at all. He will beat her 52-48,” he said.
Some would prefer stronger odds.