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French election: 'a decisive victory for an unpopular president,' expert says

EVANSTON, Ill. —Michael Loriaux, professor of political science at Northwestern University and an expert on French and European politics, said voters were so repelled by the prospect of “quasi-fascist” Marine Le Pen winning the presidency that they handed the keys of the Elysée to a technocratic, somewhat-unpopular incumbent.

Loriaux, who directs Northwestern’s French Interdisciplinary Group, is available to speak with media. He can be reached by contacting Mohamed Abdelfattah at

‘A decisive victory for an unpopular president’
Said Loriaux: “The French election was a decisive victory for an unpopular president. He owes his unpopularity both to his technocratic style, which is seen as arrogant and uncaring, and to the fact that his electors in 2017 feel betrayed by his policies. He had served as minister of industry and the economy under a center-left government, but as president had pursued center right policies. In the months preceding the election there was significant doubt in public opinion that he could be re-elected. The yellow vests of 2018-19, and threats on the left not to vote again for a center right candidate just to save France from an extreme right candidate, as they had done in 2017 and before that in 2002, augured poorly for Macron’s chances.”

Voters were repelled by Le Pen
Said Loriaux: “If voters turned out for Macron, it was not because they liked him but because they were repelled by the prospect of an extremist government on the far right. Marine Le Pen has invested much effort over the past decade to soften the nationalist party’s image. She failed. Voters still perceive the party, accurately, as a traditional far-right quasi-fascist organization whose main tenets are the need to combat an enemy, Islam today, but enemies are invented as the occasion permits; the need to over-ride normal parliamentary procedures in order to wage this combat, notably by governing through binary, polarizing referenda; and by adopting a cavalier attitude toward the rule of law. There is no real mystery to Le Pen's success in procuring funding from Vladimir Putin.”

What’s next for Macron’s party?
Said Loriaux: “The French system is a presidential system. The electorate was convoked to choose a president and only a president. Parliamentary elections will follow in the coming months. The presidential system has placed the person of the candidate at the center of attention. Successful personalities like Macron, Sarkozy, Chirac and Mitterrand have crafted parties in their image. Parties are dependent on the personality of the presidential candidate they support and they have rarely survived the departure of their candidate from office. “Traditional” (though, in fact, relatively young) parties crafted for past presidents failed miserably in this election - generally attracting fewer than 5% of the voters. Macron’s party, La République en Marche, might fade from view, perhaps before the end of his term. The left vote tended to support Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He was a controversial figure however who repulsed as many left-leaning voters as he attracted. The future of the political left is a question mark at this point. It needs a Mitterrand-like leader.” 

What’s next for Le Pen?
Said Loriaux: “Le Pen inherited her father’s marginal movement on the right and turned it into a contender. This is probably her last election, however, and one can anticipate that the party she has cobbled together will go the way of other parties. Her niece, Marion Maréchal Le Pen, is poised to assume the succession, but her profile is more extremist than Marine’s. It is difficult to imagine that she would enjoy the same success.”