The last official count, two hours after the closing of the first polling stations, confirmed the trend detected since the morning of a lower turnout than five years ago. According to the Ministry of the Interior, at five in the afternoon, the percentage of votes was 65%, compared to 69.42% in 2017.
Only in the year that everyone now looks with apprehension, 2002, when the extreme right qualified for the second round for the first time, the level was even lower, at 58.45%. Estimates after the polls closed confirmed that abstention, 26.2% according to the Ifop institute, was stronger than in 2017, but has not broken the record of two decades ago, when it reached 28.4%.
Queuing for the bus to return to the neighboring town of Stains, where she lives and works as a municipal official, Sandrine, a French woman of Moroccan origin in her fifties, admitted that she still did not know who she would vote for. Normally, she would have voted first thing in the morning. This time, she preferred to give herself a little more time. “This is the first time I really doubt. I don’t know who to vote for, I have the feeling that all the candidates could be put in the same bag , ”she sighed.
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Sébastien, a 40-year-old resident of Saint-Denis, had just cast his vote, but he was not satisfied either. “There is no candidate that excites me,” he acknowledged. If he had decided to go to his electoral college, it was to avoid what analysts and polls have been warning for a long time: that the extreme right not only reaches the second round, as planned, but even wins or loses by a minimal margin. of votes. “It is terrible to have to make a strategic vote, not out of adherence or conviction,” lamented this “left-wing” voter, as he defines himself.
If abstention was on the minds —and the fears— of many analysts and political leaders, it is because it was feared that it could reach a level never seen in a presidential election of 30%, according to the polls. Finally, the estimates place it at about four points more than in 2017, but below the record of 28.4% of a date that these days also brings back many (bad) memories: April 21, 2002, now almost 20 years, the extreme right managed to get through to the second round led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front and father of Marine Le Pen. Today’s candidate is at the head of the same party renamed National Regrouping (RN), with a basic ideology —nationalist, anti-immigrant, protectionist— nuanced, but still similar. Also then, like today, many French people thought that the first round had already been decided (the favorite, the socialist Lionel Jospin, and the conservative Jacques Chirac would pass) and that nothing would happen if they did not vote, that they would do so in the second round.
The fact that the polls have been saying for weeks that the presidential duel will be resolved between Macron and Le Pen could discourage many voters from going to the polls this Sunday. With the danger that the advance of the RN now is not a circumstantial accident, but a stable progression —Le Pen already managed to get to the second round in 2017 and his party has maintained a stable vote base for years— and that, for the first time Once again, some polls and analyzes indicate that it would not be impossible to have a Le Pen as president, with the national and international consequences that this would have.
In an attempt to set an example, candidates and politicians were seen early this Sunday at their polling stations. The socialist and mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, was the first of the 12 presidential candidates to cast her vote, in the 15th district of the capital, shortly before nine in the morning. It was his only first place in a day that has been confirmed catastrophic for the Socialist Party, which did not even reach 2% of the votes, behind not only the communist candidate Fabien Roussel, who also voted early, but even the ruralist candidate and almost anecdotal Jean Lasalle.
The only left-wing candidate who managed to take off, although without making it to the second round, was the populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who confirmed his third place with more than 21% of the vote, after Macron and Le Pen. No other candidate from the left even reached 5%. All attempts to present a single candidacy of the left have failed miserably since the great debacle of the left in 2017. “It is deplorable”, Sébastien in Saint Denis was outraged. “Then they will come to cry because the extreme right is advancing.”