The French presidential election: rare features of the 2022 race

Ahead of the 10th April presidential election, our team in France explain what is different this year, and outline the central issues for French voters during the final stages of the campaign.

The author(s)

  • Mathieu Gallard Public Affairs, France
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Purchasing power at the heart of French people's concerns

This year, because of the health crisis, the French presidential campaign started very late, and it was difficult for a long time to determine what would be at stake as the French were also slow to catch on to the election.

So, what is the central issue today? Purchasing power is currently crystallizing the worries of French people, coming before other issues such as the health system, the environment, and immigration. This is a similar situation to other European countries: the surge in inflation over the past year and the economic consequences of the crisis in Ukraine are fuelling public fears about the rising cost of living.

In this context, the French believe that there is a mismatch between the political and media-driven campaign and this momentous concern, creating a widening gap that explains the public’s growing rejection of political leaders and journalists.

This dichotomy is one of the factors that explain why, at this stage, only 67% of French people say they will definitely vote, a score that is lower than previous presidential elections. We will see whether, on Sunday, 10th April, France will see a historically low participation rate that goes against the increased participation rate of the United States, Germany and Japan.

A favourable climate for the outgoing president

This presidential election is also different from previous ones in which the choice was above all about the renewal or the removal of the outgoing President. Being positioned at the center of the political spectrum, Emmanuel Macron partly escapes this pendulum effect. Faced with a right-wing candidate, he will benefit from the vote of his own camp – and also that of some of the voters on the left, and vice versa. This means that the defeat of the outgoing president is no longer as strong a probability as before.

An interesting feature of this presidential election is that the desire to "fire the incumbent" does not seem as strong as in previous elections. Not only because Emmanuel Macron is more popular than his predecessors (47% have a positive opinion), but because the Yellow Vests movement has run out of steam. The Ukrainian crisis also reinforces his “sovereign” function. In this context, the campaign is taking place in a relatively favorable climate for an outgoing President – a  first since 1988.

France is pivoting to the right

Another phenomenon that we have been observing for several years, but is particularly evident this year, is the success of right-wing values ​in France. If we add up the right-wing candidates, they represent approximately 44% of the voting intentions. If we add Emmanuel Macron himself to this (most French people perceive Macron as "center-right", even "on the right"), we reach around 70%, a proportion never seen before. This trend is confirmed when we observe the opinion of the French about issues such as racism, perceptions of Islam, and the death penalty. However, this process does not cover all issues, and on the economic and social dimensions, the demand for protection, often associated with the left, remains strong. It is interesting to wonder why, when social issues and purchasing power are so important, the candidates on the left seem to have failed to take advantage of them.

A political offer that is more fragmented than ever

The last point to note is the fragmentation of the political offer. In our latest surveys, five candidates were able to obtain more than 10% of the votes each in the first round. Thus, five left-wing candidates share a very limited political space (the sum of their votes never reached 30% during the campaign), and for the first time, the far right enters the campaign divided, with Eric Zemmour competing with Marine Le Pen. Such dispersion is unheard of in in the current French system of government. This resonates with the expanding political spectrum that we see in many democracies such as Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain. And this trend is undoubtedly rooted in the increasing invidualisation of electoral behaviour, but also in citizens' dissatisfaction with the major traditional parties.

The author(s)

  • Mathieu Gallard Public Affairs, France