Explainer: The second round of the French election

Opinion polls point to Macron as the likely winner but with a much smaller margin than in 2017.

People walk past official campaign posters of Macron and Le Pen
People walk past campaign posters of French presidential election candidates Marine Le Pen and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, France, April 4, 2022 [File: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]

Sunday’s second round of the French presidential election will determine who governs France for the next five years: Pro-European centrist President Emmanuel Macron or the far-right, anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen.

Who will win?

Opinion polls point to Macron as the likely winner, but with a far smaller winning margin than in 2017 when he previously beat Le Pen by taking 66.1 percent of the vote.

Le Pen winning cannot be ruled out, though it is the least likely of the two scenarios.

French President and centrist presidential candidate for reelection Emmanuel Macron casts his ballot on the day of the first round of the presidential election
French President and centrist presidential candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron casts his ballot on the day of the first round of the presidential election, in Le Touquet, northern France on April 10, 2022 [Thibault Camus/Reuters]

What will be decisive?

Which of the two candidates voters dislike or fear the most.

Neither candidate has enough diehard supporters to take them to power.

So the key is to convince undecided voters that the other candidate is worse, which Macron is doing by honing in on fears of the far-right, and Le Pen is doing by banking on voter disenchantment with Macron’s tenure in power.

The decisions of left-wing voters will be crucial to the outcome.

Macron’s style and policies have upset many on the left, and he will find it harder than in 2017 to win enough of them over to keep the far-right out of power.

What happens next?

Whoever wins on Sunday will only have done so after a bitter, divisive campaign and probably with a small majority.

If Macron wins, he will face a difficult second mandate as president. There will be little to no grace period, and voters of all stripes are likely to take to the streets over his plan to continue pro-business reforms, including on pensions.

If Le Pen wins, a radical change in France’s domestic and international policies can be expected, as well as street protests that could start immediately.

Either way, one of the first challenges for the winner will be to win the June parliamentary elections.

What are the main issues for voters?

Purchasing power is at the top of concerns for voters, owing to a huge increase in energy prices and rising inflation.

Le Pen has successfully focused her campaign on these issues.

Campaigning for the election started amid the war in Ukraine and opinion polls showed an initial boost for Macron, but that has waned.

Surveys now show voters are unhappy with Macron’s economic policies even though unemployment is at its lowest in years. Those polled did not think any of Macron’s opponents would do a better job.

How Macron handled the COVID-19 pandemic could also play a role in their decision.

When will we know who won?

Voting starts at 06:00 GMT on Sunday, April 24.

Voting ends at 18:00 GMT, exit polls will be published, and French TV will announce the predicted winner.

The official results will trickle in throughout the evening, but the exit polls are usually reliable.

Source: Reuters