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The French presidential election, explained

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George Washington University

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The French presidential election, explained

What's at stake and why you should care.

Devon Fitzgerald

5.5.17

The first thing I did after the 2016 election results came in was email my academic advisor in France. Win, lose, or draw, I was headed to Paris for 6 months. The French election was on the horizon and I was, like any good Elliott student would be, scheduled to take an intensive study of the French presidential election – between an ex-establishment centrist and a racist blonde.

Excuse my French but, fuck that.

So I emailed my advisor, asking her to very kindly drop it like it’s hot. I would under no circumstances be taking that class.

So here I am. Four-plus months into my study abroad, on the edge of yet another crucial, world-altering election – wondering why I didn’t pick a less anxiety-inducing career path. But unless you're a huge Francophile, you probably haven't been following the French elections - because why would you? Why should you?

Here's why.

  1. France is one of many major world powers on the brink of succumbing to right-wing populism, another conservative win could drastically alter the global political landscape
  2. "Frexit" is a possibility
  3. Someone may bring it up, and if you read this you can contribute and impress people with your knowledge of French politics

So let's get started...

Wait...I thought this already happened?


Sort of. There are two rounds of voting in French presidential elections. The first round was Sunday, April 23, and was between all candidates running. The second round will be Sunday, May 7th, between the top two candidates of the first round. This is when the "real" vote goes down.

Who's in the running?


Marine Le Pen

- Her party is called the National Front (Le Front National)
- Her father invented this party in 1972, but is a known anti-semite and (in his old age) has become an outspoken holocaust denier
- Only one Front National (FN) candidate has made it to the second round of the presidential elections, her father and founder Jean-Marie Le Pen (2002)
- Marine kicked her father out of the party a few years ago to "clean up their image"
- She has promised her first act as president will be to begin proceedings for a "Frexit"
- Her poll numbers have seen a rise since Trump's victory
- She will most likely pick up the votes of the mainstream right candidate who lost to her in the first round

Emmanuel Macron

- Has never held elected office but worked for current president Hollande as an economic advisor
- Served as economy minister from 2014 to 2016
- Resigned to create his own party
- Leader of centrist party "En Marche"
- He is married to his high school drama teacher (ew.)

What makes this so different than past elections?


This election is really interesting. Partially because it's high stakes. After Brexit and Trump, the world took a major hit to the right. France electing Marine Le Pen would cause major disruption in Europe and the world. Le Pen has promised her first act as president would be to enact the dreaded article 50, and begin the process of leaving the EU, so the EU specifically would take a huge, very tangible hit.

Also, something that we really don't see in US elections - there are no major parties left in the election. Le Pen's party is somewhat of a fringe alt-right-esque group that has gained traction in the last decade or so with the rise of global terrorism, etc. Macron's party is a brand-new centrist movement created in opposition to the traditional French party system.

So what's going to happen?

Most political pundits don't see Le Pen beating Macron in the second round, but you never know...