Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to win a second term in 20 years, but the win appears to be more of a rejection of his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen than a vote of confidence for the 44-year-old centrist.
Exit polls put Macron at the top with 58% of the vote, compared to Le Pen’s 42%, a much narrower gap than when the two candidates dueled in 2017’s presidential election. Turnout was low, another sign pointing to voters’ dwindling enthusiasm for their president.
The results stave off worries that under Le Pen France could cut political and economic ties to the EU, or harden its positions on immigration. But they also show how she’s been able to broaden her reach by softening her image and focusing on key economic issues.
Le Pen makes inroads
The presidential election’s first-round results two weeks ago showed the French public moving away from the center, and towards the far left and the far right. Le Pen’s gains on Sunday vs. five years ago underscore the trend.
Since her 2017 run, the politician toned down her rhetoric, for example, by abandoning her proposal for France to leave the EU. Instead, she zoomed in on domestic economic issues, including rapidly rising prices. That resonated with many French voters: Consumers’ purchasing power was the top issue cited by 58% of participants in an Ipsos poll ahead of the election.
Macron faces a divided country
Macron’s government tried to assuage voters’ inflation concerns by setting aside $15.5 billion euros ($17.6 billion) to cap electricity and natural gas costs. But during his tenure, the president’s economic policies, including proposals to slash the wealth tax and lift the retirement age, have been met with opposition.
Despite his victory, during his next term Macron will be facing the growing divisions among French voters fanned by Le Pen’s campaign.