France election predictions: Voters punish Macron, boost far-right

PARIS – French voters appear to have boosted the chances of the far-right, according to projections released after polls closed in the first round of French legislative elections on Sunday.

Forecasts by France’s public broadcaster show the far-right National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen and her supporter Jordan Bardella, leading with 34 percent of the national vote. The New Popular Front, a coalition of leftist parties, was predicted to get 28 percent of the vote. Macron’s Together coalition trailed behind with 20 percent.

Projections show the National Rally falling short of a majority in parliament. If it widens its lead and wins a majority in a runoff vote on July 7, it would put 28-year-old Bartella as the country’s first far-right prime minister since World War II, replacing Macron’s pro-European, pro-business agenda with its populist, Eurosceptic and anti-immigration platform.

Macron may remain president until his term ends in 2027 – and has said he will not resign. But he could not do much to prevent the adoption of nationalist laws.

Alternatively, if a clear majority is not achieved in the second round, it could paralyze French politics and make it impossible for the lower house of parliament to agree on a new government.

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“The French crisis has just begun,” said Gérard Arad, former French ambassador to the United States.

Election results scheduled for Sunday could cause alarm in many European capitals. France is one of the original members of the European Union, its second largest economy and a driving force in EU affairs. The National Rally party does not support leaving the bloc, but many of its proposals are outside EU policies.

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Another concern is whether a far-right victory could erode support for Ukraine and undermine Europe’s stance on Russia. Le Pen has already challenged Macron’s grip on French foreign policy and security, suggesting the president should take on a more prestigious role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

In many ways, Sunday’s vote was a vote on Macron, who founded a movement in his own image and elevated French politics when he became the first modern president elected from outside the center-left and center-right parties that have dominated French politics for decades. But he has become a very unpleasant leader.

Arad compared the French emperor to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812 when he launched his unsuccessful campaign to invade Russia. Many politicians who have supported him for years now face the prospect of losing their seats, leaving Macron politically isolated.

Some of his critics say he has destroyed the traditional center, making radical parties the only viable outlets for anyone disillusioned with his plan.

The National Rally party grew out of a fringe movement co-founded by Le Pen’s father, a Holocaust denier. But efforts by Le Pen and Bardella to make the party more broadly appealing have yielded significant results: support has almost doubled in the past two years, from 19 percent in the 2022 legislative election to 36 percent now.

After his coalition suffered a humiliating defeat in European Parliament elections on June 9, Macron announced snap elections. Although he did not need to dissolve France’s National Assembly, he said he had no choice. If he did not call for a vote, he told reporters: “You would have said to me: ‘This guy has lost touch with reality’.”

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Macron probably believed that higher turnout and the higher stakes of a national election would boost his coalition’s chances. But opinion polls show that public sentiment in France has remained largely unchanged since the European elections.

“He may have underestimated the animosity he would generate in a segment of the population,” said Chloe Morin, an author and political analyst.

Macron may also have underestimated the French left. Despite its deep divisions, the left has managed to cobble together a broad coalition that is now second in the polls, overtaking Macron’s allies.

Macron has frustrated some left-wing supporters by sometimes portraying the far left as just as dangerous as the far right. The vitriolic rhetoric and conspiracy theories spread by National Rally candidates and grassroots supporters continue to raise concerns about how far it has evolved from its anti-Semitic and racist roots.

Nearly 1 in 5 National Rally candidates for parliament have made “racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic comments,” Macron’s outgoing prime minister Gabriel Attal said in a televised debate Thursday night.

National Rally voters were not swayed by these concerns. “Maybe the party is racist and bigoted, but France needs change,” said Maud, 32, who lives in Arnoville, north of Paris.

Moud, who did not give his last name to protect his privacy, is of Moroccan-Jewish descent and initially considered voting for Macron’s party. But in the end, he said he voted for Sunday’s national rally because he felt “French people should have more privileges than foreigners.”

Exit polls from European elections three weeks ago suggest the far-right is benefiting from rising concerns over living costs, despite the fact that governments under Macron have spent more to reduce inflation than many European countries. Voters blame Macron’s unpopular decision to raise the retirement age last year. Immigration and security concerns are on the rise, polls show.

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Rouhala reported from Brussels and Timsit from Nice, France.

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